(published first week in January)

Feast on!

I’m stuffed. How about you? If you’re like countless other Americans, you’re about to follow up your Christmas feasting with January fasting. Diets abound around this time of year. Low-carb. Low-fat. Watch your weight, your cholesterol, your portion size. It’s relentless.

Let me offer some relief. There is a way that your family can keep on indulging in the coming year. You can fill up until you’re fit to burst then come back for more – with no heartburn, no extra pounds, and no guilty feelings.

How? It’s simple: don’t stretch your stomachs; stretch your minds.

There exists all around us a smorgasbord of experiences for hungry minds. There are paintings, novels, poems, sculptures, songs, cultures, foods, heroes, and stories just waiting to be sampled. But many of us pass by without noticing. We feed our souls fast food – whatever is within reach as we zip past, pushed by our busy schedules. That snack may be the one author whose novels feel comfortable. Perhaps it’s the one radio station that plays our favorites tunes. More likely, it’s television.

As I work with kids in elementary schools, I have found that they’re aesthetically starving. But sadly, they don’t even know it. Most kids have no idea of the banquet that they could be tucking into. They don’t know the work of Charlie Chaplin, Winslow Homer, or Brahms – to name but three. They do know SpongeBob, Jimmy Neutron, and Shrek.

But how do we get kids to savor this feast of experiences? How do we even get them to want to? I’m going to try to answer that over the life of this column. Here’s a good starting place: this coming year, make a commitment to widen the menu. Not just for them; for you, too. Stop by the library, and take out a book of paintings by someone you’re not familiar with; leaf through it at the dinner table. Or serve a new food. Or simply watch something different on TV with your kids. (You can see some of ideas I’m trying with my pre-schooler.)

Okay, I’ll admit, sampling a work of art doesn’t pack the pleasurable punch of another slice of pecan pie. But what you gain from it you’ll never want to lose.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter