It's midwinter, and the family's lumped together. Soccer season hasn't begun, the science fair project isn't due, nobody wants to do the taxes, and everyone's tired of the suggestion that we clean the house. You could turn on the you-know-what, and watch G.I. Joe and He-man endlessly plot to bash Cobra Killer Bad Guy. Or you could do the taxes.
Our family has been looking for a third option, poring through books like Frances Moore Lapp'e's ``What To Do After You Turn Off the TV''( Ballantine Books, $7.95), and ``Purple Cow To the Rescue'' (Little, Brown and Co., $14.95 hardcover, $8.95 softcover), and asking friends and neighbors how they get their families to enjoy the time together. Here's what we found: Excursions:
Small Airports. This makes a good quick trip, several people mentioned. You can watch the Cessna's and Lear Jets in a way a big airport would never allow, and get a closer look at how the business people-cum-mechanics-cum-pilots take off.
Bowling Alleys. Fun to watch the players with your preschooler, or try a game with your school-age children.
Roller Skating. For the cost of a movie, you get three hours of exuberant fun. Take your littlest ones into the center of the ring for safety, or have them practice on the carpeted area.
Hang-Gliding and Parachuting. Look in the yellow pages to see if anyone teaches these skills nearby, and call to see if you can observe. Skydivers often have accuracy meets, which are fun to watch.
Rummage and Yard Sales. The best for kids are those run by churches, schools, and neighborhoods with children (call ahead). A good place to stretch allowance monies, and pick up clothes for the children.
College or Community Theater. The seats are cheap, the acting can be wonderful, and the atmosphere is usually tolerant of children. Community theater does classics like ``Arsenic and Old Lace'', and ``My Fair Lady''; colleges tend to do more experimental theater.
High School Sports. Try rooting for the local basketball team, or trucking the kids along to see things like wrestling or badminton. Makes an interesting alternative to TV sports.
Archery. Call your local parks or recreation centers to find who has the archery field. Many places have private clubs as well. This is for your preteens and teen-agers.
Bus, Train, or Subway Ride. S. Adams Sullivan, author of ``The Father's Almanac'' (Doubleday & Co., $5.95), advises that you ``climb on board any train or trolley, bus, or boat - for a preschooler, the ride will be more interesting than the destination.'' That's also true for ferries.
Ethnic Festivals. Check the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, or Serbian Orthodox Church to see if they hold this kind of fund-raiser. Then go for dinner, dancing, and crafts - the best ethnic restaurants in town, once a year.
Ship-launching. - Marilyn Heimberg Ross recommends this in ``Creative Loafing'' (A Communication Creativity Book, available at the library) as ``an unusual family fun spectacular.'' Ask your local shipyard when the next one's coming up. Around the house:
Chores. This sounds suspiciously like Let's Clean the House, but Ms. Lapp'e suggests a fun way to do it. First thing Saturday morning, you decide with the family what needs to be cleaned, then divide up the chores (see who wants what, and then assign the ones nobody likes), and work like the dickens to get them done. When you're through, take everyone out for a big breakfast - one of those breakfast buffet bars would be good - and come home full, to a clean house.
Pizza. The Smithsonian Institution suggests that you design a dough base in the shape of the United States, and decorate it geologically (pepperoni mountains, green pepper rivers, etc.). Or you could design it as a floor plan, with everyone ``decorating'' their own room. Or try a park, a kite, a museum, or an abstract design. You can make pizza dough, buy it prepackaged, or use pita or afghan bread for a base.
Climb the Chairs. A good way to wear out your preschoolers. Get every portable chair in your house into a line (or circle) in the living room, and tell your children it's a mountain to climb. It can also be a train or subway (with doll or stuffed bunny riders, if they like), or a house with different rooms (have the chairs face each other), or a tent (have the chairs face the outside, and cover the whole thing with a blanket).
Marble Raceway. This one's from ``Purple Cow.'' You need a large piece of cardboard or a blank wall, and a bunch of cardboard tubes, paper cups, egg cartons, small boxes, construction paper, scissors, masking tape, and things that roll. Tape the tubes, boxes long strips of folded paper, etc. to make the runs in zig-zag patterns, being careful to make the connections so the marbles don't get stuck in between. Then experiment to see how it works - you may want to keep redoing it for a better effect, or try ping pong balls (or a jacks ball) instead of marbles.
Marble Tilt. Also from ``Purple Cow,'' this one requires a large box lid, scissors, a marker, and a marble. Draw a few circles inside the box, making sure they're smaller than your marble. Poke the scissors through the cardboard and cut out the circles. Draw a design around each hole, and assign numbers to each for scoring points (give one a score of zero, if you like - or negative points). Then, with the whole family holding the lid, drop in the marble, and tilt. See how many points you can get together.
Tape Recorder Tales. Many people suggested this. Take a story everyone in your family knows (``Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,'' ``Curious George,'' or a Bible story, for instance), assign roles, get together some props for sound effects, and tape it. You may need to rehearse a couple of times. Music works well here - either singing or records. The kids may want to hear this tape before going to sleep at night - for months.
Photo Album. Here's a way to force yourself to put all those pictures in an album. Get the kids to help you sort through, decide on an order, and then write the captions (or dictate them to you). You can type these, if you wish, or just pen them onto strips of paper. Dates and names (Julie, Christmas 1986) will be helpful to future generations, but descriptions will be more fun (``Here's Julie looking hungry for that Christmas cake'').
Dancing. Roll back the rug and teach your kids the Twist, the Locomotion, and the Jerk. Guaranteed giggles.
Self-Portraits. Get some butcher paper, a roll of craft paper, or just tape together some cutout grocery bags, one long sheet for each person (and the dog, if you like). Then trace around each person (and creature), and use crayon, markers, paint, glue, and glitter, etc., to color in your self-portraits. Or trade off doing each other's. Or (this is from Jacqueline Onassis) fill the portrait with descriptions of what you like best about that person. A full afternoon.
Mazes. Dig a maze in the snow; draw one with chalk on the driveway; set one up with sticks and lawn chairs. Then time yourself going through it. Even the mailman might like this one.
Blow Bubbles. A container will run you 50 cents or less, and provide more than that in fun. You can make blowers from Mason jar lids (the screw-tops) or any bent wire (try squares). Babies love this.