Off the Merry-Go-Round combines the writing talents of seven women–all working moms who strive to put their families first. Grab a cup of coffee and get to know us!
Jennifer (Jen) P. Ashenfelter
Jennifer is a freelance writer who established Pen & Page Communications in 2011. She writes blog entries, articles for online and traditional publications, marketing copy, and press releases for several local business owners. She graduated from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania—where she met two of her fellow Off the Merry-Go-Round bloggers—in 1990 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Before becoming a full-time mother with the birth of her first child in 1998, she was a communication specialist for global R&D at a large pharmaceutical company. After her two children entered school, she returned to work as a marketing assistant for a real estate agent and earned her real estate license in 2009. A desire to spend more time with her busy family and a passion for writing and social media, led to her jump off the merry-go-round…again. She lives northeast of Philadelphia in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons.
Mary Ann Filler
Mary Ann, also known as “MA,” was born in Frederick, Maryland to a 16 year-old birth mother. At three days of age, her foster mother picked her up at the hospital. She lived with her foster family for 13 months prior to being placed in her adoptive family’s home in rural Frederick County, MD. MA was told that she and her older adopted brother, not genetically related, were chosen and special. Despite that, the transition from her foster family to her adoptive family was not an easy one.
Living in the same small town during all of her formative years, MA was eager to leave and go to college. She attended Salisbury University, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and earned a B.S. in chemistry with a minor in mathematics. Today, when people ask her why she majored in chemistry, her answer is “to prove I could.”
After graduation, MA moved to Annapolis, MD to work for an environmental company on an Environmental Protection Agency contract. After a year, she returned to Salisbury as a teaching assistant; two years later she earned her Master degree in Mathematics Education and became certified to teach math in the state of MD.
In the fall of 1990, MA was hired by Frederick County Public Schools to teach mathematics for grades 9- 12. Shortly after earning her master degree and beginning her teaching career, MA “earned” her M.r.s. degree. (Despite making a pact with herself to never date any of her brother’s high school friends, she married one!) She and her husband moved back to their hometown, but began discussing where they would raise their future children.
In 1995, Mary Ann, 6 months pregnant, and her husband moved to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where they currently reside. After the birth of her first son, MA gave up her full-time teaching position to be a stay-at home mom. However, in between the births of her first, second and third sons, MA dabbled in part-time teaching assignments such as evening high school, GED prep classes, and math classes at Harrisburg Area Community College Gettysburg Campus. Now that all three boys are school age, she teaches 12 credit hours per semester at HACC Gettysburg Campus with Fridays and summers off!
Frequently, MA wonders if she truly is off the merry-go-round as life is so busy and full. One thing she realizes is that everyone has a different capacity to handle the day-to-day stresses of parenting and career. She believes that God has blessed her with the great gift of family. As a result, her highest priority is to God and her family!
A retired Army Logistics Officer, Beth spent twenty years living and working many places, both in the United States and abroad. During that time, she developed a love of travel and a passion for cooking. She has traveled to over a dozen foreign countries, and sampled the cuisine in all. He favorite place to visit is Copenhagen, her favorite “foodie” place is France – all of it! Her latest travel included a course at the famous Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland. Her current interests include developing her skills in Pennsylvania Dutch foods, Asian cuisine, authentic Italian recipes, and Vegetarian and Vegan cooking. Her family is very happy to be her test kitchen.
Beth grew up in rural Iowa, and spent many of her formative years working on farms. She is very excited about the reemergence of farmers markets and local food movements, and firmly believes in buying local whenever possible. Fresh ingredients means fresh taste!
Beth, her husband Jim, and three teenage children currently reside in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. She is developing plans to start a “home cooked meals” business for busy families in the local area. She holds a bachelors degree in Finance with a minor in Psychology, and a Master in Business Administration. This is her first venture into blogging.
Karen Hendricks, Founder and Editor
A writer at heart, Karen Hendricks’ communications career included numerous positions in television and radio news, as well as the newspaper industry. She also worked as an event coordinator, and marketing and public relations director. Her intuitive ability to listen, focus on a message(s) and craft engaging stories earned her numerous awards and accolades along the way. However, she had a revelation during a visit to the ER with one of her three children in early 2012 and decided to take a leap of faith, jumping off the merry-go-round of 60-70 hour workweeks.
Currently, with a healthier mix of professional and family life, she manages her own communications firm, Hendricks Communications, and provides compelling public relations, marketing, social media and freelance writing services to a select group of clients.
Karen lives in historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with the loves of her lives—her husband and their three children. She enjoys being a soccer mom, dance mom (not THAT kind of dance mom) and the kind of mom who insists on making home-made pie crusts. In her “spare” time she enjoys photography, cooking, gardening, scrapbooking and playing piano, as well as many forms of exercise–pilates, ballet, yoga, running (when her knees allow it) and walking (although she misses the companionship of her greyhound Stanley, pictured above).
Karen grew up in the shadow of Philadelphia, in the Valley Forge area, which means she will forever be a Phillies and Eagles fan. She attended college in the mountains of upstate PA at Lock Haven University where she graduated magna cum laude with a BA in Communications/Media Studies. It was there that she met her husband, along with fellow Merry-Go-Round pals Jen and Jennifer.
It is her hope that by founding this blog and website, it becomes a place of community for parents everywhere who are jumping off the proverbial merry-go-round and putting their family lives first.
Christine Brandt Little
Christine Brandt Little has been writing pretty compulsively since the fifth grade, when she set up a booming business writing up pieces, mailing them out to magazines, and collecting primarily rejection slips—though she did sell a couple prose poems to The Chronicle of the Horse in the eighth grade before ultimately deciding poetry was Not For Her.
Chris studied philosophy as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, where she worked on the school’s paper, The Cavalier Daily, and for the local weekly, the Charlottesville Observer. She went on to earn a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, focusing on health-related communications. Her career included work in corporate communications, advertising, and full-time freelance writing and editing before she stepped “off the merry-go-round” in 1994 after the birth of her first child.
Today Chris lives in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with her husband and two children, now ages 18 and 15. She does freelance writing and editing work for a wide variety of clients, from regional magazines and local nonprofits to an area college and an international theology journal. You can find her work at christinebrandtlittle.com.
Jennifer (Smith) Schuler
Jennifer Schuler, a published writer and freelance proofreader/editor, also has a diverse background in the education and public health fields. Jennifer graduated from Lock Haven University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism/Media Studies and a Minor in English. She also holds a Master of Education degree from Cabrini College. After marrying her husband, she ended her full-time teaching career to support his work in parish ministry. When their dream of having children both biologically and through adoption seemed it would never happen, she took a very demanding job as an assistant director at a leading child enrichment center in Washington, DC. Then, the phone rang with news from their adoption agency – it was a boy! Jennifer finished her center’s contracted school year, and then happily and permanently stepped off the merry-go-round to raise her son. Her family lives on a beautiful 2 ½ acre property in Maryland surrounded by 1,100 acres of preserved reservoir and woodland. Recently certified by The National Wildlife Federation for its ability to sustain and preserve wildlife, their home makes a peaceful and inspirational place to write and to spend her days at a more relaxed pace!
Ruth (Gohl) Topper
Ruth was raised on a farm near Jersey Shore, PA and has all the good growing-up “hardship” stories. Within weeks of high school graduation, after the death of her father, she moved into the town of Jersey Shore, to her mother’s childhood home. She attended Shippensburg University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and minor in German. After graduation, Ruth moved to Harrisburg and began working at the Navy Ships Parts Control Center in Mechanicsburg. She worked there for less than a year, but the best thing that came from her time at the Navy was meeting her future husband in a training class. Ruth didn’t even make it through the entire class before she changed jobs & began working at Dauphin Distribution/Exel Logistics. Two milestone events happened in 1990–her wedding day and a move to the Gettysburg, PA area. Ruth continued working at Exel Logistics full time until the birth of her second child in 1997.
In 1998 Ruth was introduced to the scrapbook/photo preservation company Creative Memories and she became a consultant. Nearly 15 years later, she is a Creative Memories Unit Leader and a “stay at home” mom who is rarely home. Her family includes three children, two sons and one daughter in their tweens/teens. Ruth enjoys running, biking, swimming, taking classes at the local YWCA, scrapbooking (both traditional & digital), reading, baking, taking “furry” family member Fletcher on walks and attending a multitude of kids’ sporting & music events.