Archive | May 2013

A Unique Party Idea – Pies, pies and more pies!

One of the many pies at a pie party!

One of the many pies at a pie party!

By  Ruth Topper

Are you planning a party for a graduation, milestone birthday, anniversary, house warming, or a “sending off” to a new city or college in the next few months?    You might be looking to do something a little different from the backyard picnic or the cake & ice cream open house.  I’d like to suggest an idea that my mother invented over 30 years ago – a pie party!  She came up with the idea in 1976 when my oldest sister was leaving home to spend the bicentennial summer vacation season working at Mt. Rushmore.  Mom wanted to have a “sending off” party for her, and she came up with the idea to make lots of different kinds of pies for friends and family to sample at this open house event.  She and my sisters made the majority of the 20 different kinds of pies with a few being made by church members, family or friends.  The secret for the guests in attendance is to cut very small pieces so that you can try as many different kinds as possible.  This is an event where no one keeps track of the number of pies sampled – nor the calories that go along with it!  Needless to say, the “pie party” was a huge success!  Guests were soon asking when the next one was going to be!  We continued to hold pie parties as my sister was “sent off” to Zion National Park the next summer and when I was confirmed at church another year.

The “pie party” was retired for awhile since it does require some work to make 15 or 20 different pies in a 24-48 hour time period!  It was brought back, upon the request of my mother, to celebrate her 75th birthday in 1997.  My sisters & I agreed to do it with the promise that she would help make the pies!  She has held up her “end of the bargain” as she has celebrated her 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays with pie parties held at her church.  (Perhaps this is the secret to her longevity!  Also Happy 91st Birthday to my mom this week on May 29th!)  I introduced the “pie party” to Gettysburg with the celebration of confirmation for my oldest son, Seth in 2010 and just last week with the confirmation of my daughter, Rachel.  And yes, my mom came a few days early to help supervise and make the pies!  Everyone thoroughly enjoyed trying samples of the 15 different kinds of pies we had to offer!  One of our guests told me that this was the BEST kind of party to have!

My mom with her grandchildren at her 90th Birthday Party - May 2012!

My mom with her grandchildren at her 90th Birthday Party – May 2012!

A table filled with lots of pies to sample!

A table filled with lots of pies to sample!

So – what is your favorite kind of pie?  See if you can find it here in the list of pies we had last week at Rachel’s Confirmation Celebration:  apple, blueberry, cheesecake, cherry, chocolate pudding, coconut custard, peach, peanut butter, pecan, pumpkin, rhubarb strawberry, shoofly, strawberry, tollhouse and vanilla pudding.  If you didn’t see your favorite listed – here are a few other pies that we have made in the past for our parties:  banana mallow, butterscotch pudding, carmel, chocolate fudge, coconut crème, date crumb, lemon coconut, lemon meringue, lemon sponge, mandarin orange, mincemeat, out of this world, peach cranberry, pear cranberry and raisin crumb!  Who knew there were so many different kinds of pie to choose from!  Here is the recipe for a popular one in Pennsylvania “Dutch” Country:

Shoofly Pie

Note:  This recipe makes 2 pies!

Need:  2 pie crusts

Filling – 1 cup brown sugar

3 Tablespoons flour

2 cups hot water

½ cup molasses

1 beaten egg

Mix together & bring to a boil.   Add 1 teaspoon baking soda and cool.  Pour cooled mixture into 2 unbaked pie shells.  Add crumbs before baking.

Crumbs – 2 cups unsifted flour

1 cup brown sugar

¼ cup Crisco

¼ cup butter

Mix and form crumbs.

Bake 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until done.  Enjoy!

The "Tollhouse" Pie was the first one gone at Rachel's confirmation celebration!

The “Tollhouse” Pie was the first one gone at Rachel’s confirmation celebration!

Mouth watering yet??

Mouth watering yet??

I bet you have an undeniable urge for some pie now – don’t you?!  The problem will be…….which kind do you want?  Share with us what your favorite kind of pie is.  What makes it so special?

Home is Not a Place: Strategies for Staying in Touch with Your College Student


By Chris Little

Sleepaway camp. College. Junior year abroad. A post-graduate fellowship in Europe. A job transfer to another coast. As our kids grow up, they increasingly will find themselves presented with opportunities to do things far from home. If they take those opportunities, we should rejoice! And pat ourselves on the back for raising kids with the self-assurance to explore the world far from their hometown.

And of course, we may mourn just a little bit. We also may secretly hope they’ll change their minds and come right on back home! I’m here to tell you that it’s perfectly fine to have those feelings—just not to share them with the kids!

It’s 95 days to First-Year Move-In Day at my son’s university. So naturally I’ve been remembering that first day of kindergarten, when his teacher literally had to peel him off me (both of us sobbing). I’m fairly confident we won’t see a replay of that drama come August, but still, I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to what his leaving will mean to our family. How will we maintain that sense of family-ness that provides the foundation for our lives—or at least my life (I realize the kids may not feel quite the same …).

It’s done me good to keep in mind that just because my son will be off at college, he’ll still be part of the family. Because our home is not a place. I like to think that we can be connected no matter how far from the kitchen table we may roam. Nice as that may sound (or awful, depending on how well you get along with your family), it seems to me that it will be comforting to have some strategies planned for making those connections felt, especially when my family is far flung. So I’ve been picking the brains of folks whose kids are older than mine for ideas for staying connected (but not too connected). Here’s what I’ve learned:

4729801304_d50a7c1dae_bConstant Contact?

Okay not constant contact, but surely regular contact. I’ve heard over and over again that it’s important to let your college kid take the lead regarding how often—and by what means—you keep in touch. (Within reason, of course—it seems appropriate to request at least a weekly check-in!)

That said, there’s still plenty of room for creativity. For example, if you think your kid would enjoy them, send photos and videos as attachments to your texts and emails. If your family is like mine and you love watching goofy YouTube videos after dinner, send a few of your latest favorites to your college kid.

But keep in mind that there is definitely such a thing as too much contact. FaceBook and Twitter seem like a great way to keep in touch—but this strategy has a double edge, as any parent who’s winced at her son’s or daughter’s late-night posts can tell you. In fact I’m considering not following my kid on Facebook or Twitter … until the grandchildren arrive.

LARGE-FRB-01-main-900x695A Little Touch of Home

Everyone loves getting real live mail—especially if it’s a care package from home. These days you can buy a prepaid Priority Mail shipping box at the post office and send anything that’ll fit inside for the same flat rate. I’m going to stock up on a few boxes to have around when inspiration—or a tough exam week—strikes. Here are some ideas for filling that box that I’ve picked up from friends with kids away:

  • Favorite home-baked (or store-bought) goodies—include enough to share with roommates!
  • Gift cards to local restaurants and shops.
  • A few of your kid’s favorite childhood toys—Play-Doh and Tinker Toys could be a lot of fun in the hands of some creative college kids, don’t you think?
  • If your kid needs downtime, how about a couple copies of her favorite magazines, or a Netflix membership?

Other ideas:

Don’t forget greeting cards and letters. When I went off to school my little sister sent me all kinds of greeting cards—Congratulations on Your Retirement cards, Bridal Shower cards, Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary cards—just for fun and so I’d have something in my mailbox. I loved it. Also it kept my roommates wondering …

Make a local delivery. When I was a freshman and away from home for my birthday for the first time, my family called a local bakery and had a birthday cake delivered to my dorm room. Great birthday surprise! It might take a little research, but you can probably find a bakery or pastry shop that provides a similar service in your kid’s college town.

Face Time

Sometimes the best care package there is, is you. Just ask first to find out when is a good weekend. Take your college kid and her roommates out to dinner someplace nice, see if she needs anything from the local Target. But respect her space and her privacy—there’s no need to hang out in her dorm room, and don’t expect to dominate her free time for the entire weekend.

What else?

These are some ideas I’ve picked up as I prepare to watch my first-born leave the nest. What strategies have worked for you to stay connected to your fledglings? What lessons have you learned that we should keep in mind?

Images: Some rights reserved by Sam WolffKeith Williamson, and the U.S. Postal Service.

Dreaming of Summer: Vacation Tips

By Karen Hendricks

Every year around February, it hits me. The winter blues. Time to start thinking about summer and reminding myself that it’s right around the corner—hopefully—before any more snowstorms hit. Planning and dreaming about a summer vacation help to get me through the winter blahs! That is traditionally the time our family plans, makes reservations, and marks the calendar for our summer destination(s).

When Memorial Day weekend comes, “the unofficial start to summer,” we know those vacation plans will soon be here, whether we’re headed to the beach, mountains, cities or amusement parks, and whether travel is for a day trip, weekend and/or vacation week. I loved fellow writer Jennifer’s post earlier this week about “Summer Fun in Your Own Backyard.” Lots of great, money-saving tips! I realize not every family has a vacation budget, but there are some wonderful, thrifty ways to “get away” without breaking the bank. My husband and I feel that taking a vacation is a priority so even during times when finances were tight for us, we found a way to make getaways a reality. We even keep one specific scrapbook specifically for vacation highlights through the years—and they are some of our fondest memories.

I recently conducted a family poll and we made a list of some of our favorite, family-friendly destinations through the years. Hopefully some of our tips and ideas will inspire you! (Please note, as is the case with every article on Off the Merry-Go-Round, we do not accept compensation for reviews or endorsements—of products, services, events, other websites, etc. All ideas and suggestions are truly our own.)

Footprints in the sand, in Bethany Beach, Delaware

Footprints in the sand, in Bethany Beach, Delaware

1. Bethany Beach, Delaware

This family-friendly beach has everything we love: clean beaches, a boardwalk, cute shops and plenty of activities nearby such as mini-golf, restaurants, museums, etc. The beach is not a huge sprawling beach, which we like because you don’t feel lost in a sea of people, and it’s easier to keep track of the kids. We like to stay in South Bethany, which is quiet and mostly residential. There’s a good mix of affordable rental houses just a short walk to the beach, and we always come prepared to cook dinner in-house several nights so that we can splurge and go out to dinner several nights as well. Entertainment and dining options are close-by in two larger beach towns–Rehoboth Beach, DE and/or Ocean City, MD. The town of Bethany is simply charming, with a style similar to Cape May, NJ. (Click here to visit the Delaware Tourism website for more info on Bethany).

One of our favorite spots in Bermuda: exploring Horseshoe Bay

One of our favorite spots in Bermuda: exploring Horseshoe Bay

2. Bermuda

We splurged and took the family on a cruise to Bermuda several years ago to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We chose Bermuda on the advice of our travel agent at AAA and it turned out to be excellent advice. Bermuda is not only beautiful, but very family-friendly with numerous gorgeous beaches and things to do. The cruise itself was wonderful—I highly recommend Norwegian Cruise Lines. Leaving out of New York City was an awesome experience! We took the train from PA directly into NY (and avoided parking fees), then cruised out of Manhattan past the Statue of Liberty and other NYC landmarks. It started the vacation with a bang! We stuck to our budget as planned and did not opt for add-in packages such as additional guided excursions; we still had plenty of fun, both on-board the cruise and during our stay in Bermuda. We purchased 3-day bus passes (for pink buses!) to get around Bermuda, which was an ideal, affordable way to travel and see the entire island, visiting different beaches and landmarks every day. My son was thrilled to enjoy at least one (sometimes two) ice cream cones a day on the cruise ship… that was one of the highlights of the vacation for him! (Click here to visit the Bermuda Department of Tourism’s website… the photos are breath-taking.)

I think it’s important to plan a “big” trip every few years, especially to celebrate milestone moments. We celebrated our 15th anniversary with a family trip to Disneyworld which was incredible and still very affordable. That will have to be a separate blog post for another day!

Family pic after climbing to the top of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Family pic after climbing to the top of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Racing down the sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park, Kitty Hawk

Racing down the sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Kitty Hawk

Learning how to ride the waves along the Outer Banks

Learning how to ride the waves along the Outer Banks

3. The Outer Banks, North Carolina

From Duck to Kill Devil Hills, Cape Hatteras to Ocracoke Island, the Outer Banks are dotted with lots of family-friendly beach towns. Prices for vacation rentals and/or hotels vary widely but there are plenty of affordable options. When our children were younger, I preferred staying near beaches that were patrolled by lifeguards; lots of the smaller beach towns do not have lifeguards on duty. Cape Hatteras is an example of one beach where lifeguards are present. There are plenty of things to do nearby, if you have a rainy day or if you need a break from the beach. One excursion I highly recommend is Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Kitty Hawk, where you can not only learn about the Wright Brothers taking flight, but you can trek across and run down the huge sand dunes. Fun and great exercise! There are plenty of great restaurants and touristy areas, but many of the towns along the Outer Banks also retain their quiet, residential status for a true “getaway.” (Click here for the official Outer Banks tourism website.)

The Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park

The Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park

4. Shenandoah National Park

Renting a cabin for a week at Shenandoah was a great way for my family to experience “camping” without truly roughing it with tents, etc. (We have stayed in cabins/lodges at a number of national and state parks and both are fun, affordable options.) Located in Virginia, the Skyline Drive through the park is literally beautiful at every winding turn. We saw plenty of deer and even several bears during our trip a few years ago. Our family really enjoys adventures such as going on nature hikes and there are plenty of trail options at Shenandoah. One specific hike will remain a topic of conversation for years to come, because mid-way through a 10 or 12 mile hike one day, it began raining. A gentle shower turned into torrential rains and a “shortcut” trail turned out longer than our original route. Once we reached a key road, my hero of a husband ending up running two miles (still in the rain) to the car in order to pick us all up. We were drenched, several times over, but we can laugh about it now. Events like that are never “planned,” but they sure do make memories… and we can laugh about it now. (This link will take you to the National Park Service’s website for Shenandoah.)

The classic carousel at Hershey Park is the one pictured at the top of our website!

The classic carousel at Hershey Park is the one pictured at the top of our website!

5. Hershey Park / Knoebel’s Grove

It’s hard to imagine summertime without a trip to an amusement park! Two options in our “backyard” are Hershey Park located in Hershey, PA and Knoebel’s Grove located in Elysburg, PA. Our family has enjoyed a day trip to Hershey every year for as long as I can remember—it must be 15 summers now. We always spend a full day there, from opening to closing. There are plenty of kids’ rides, family-friendly rides such as the park train, and then thrill-seeking rides (for the teens and brave adults). When the kids were younger, we especially enjoyed taking a break from rides by visiting the zoo that’s located in the park for a change of pace. There are also performers here and there throughout the park—my family really enjoyed a rhythm performance similar to “Stomp” a year or two ago. There is also an entire section of the park devoted to water slides which we’ve enjoyed on super-hot days. Since it’s an expense for those of us with larger families, we usually look for discounted tickets available through area grocery stores, and we usually pack a lunch (picnic facilities are available near the parking areas) but purchase dinner inside the park. (Here’s the link to Hershey Park.)

You're never too old for a photo with the Hershey's characters!

You’re never too old for a photo with the Hershey’s characters!

Knoebel’s Grove is the quintessential old-fashioned amusement park with lots of charming rides. A huge, old-fashioned ferris wheel at the park entrance sets the tone. Mixed in with plenty of kiddie rides for younger family members are thrilling rides to keep teens on the edge of their seats. They offer a twist on admission and pricing: Admission to the park is free, with several options available for ride tickets. There are special days when you can “pay one price” to enjoy all/any rides, or you can purchase ride tickets in batch quantities to use them as you go through the park (but don’t put the tickets in a shirt pocket and ride an upside-down roller coaster as your first ride of the day… as one of my family members learned, you WILL lose your tickets… oops). There is a large picnic grove where you can enjoy lunch or dinner if you’d rather pack your own meals. Knoebel’s is especially a good option if you have family members who want to join you for a day at the park, but really don’t enjoy riding rides. Since admission is free, it’s easy for them to still get “in” on the family fun. (Click this link to visit the Knoebel’s Grove website.)


Knoebel’s classic ferris wheel lights up the night

What are some of your family’s favorite vacation destinations? Feel free to share your ideas and tips below and join the conversation. Wishing you a fun-filled summer!

“Summer Fun in Your Own Backyard”

Find simplicity and balance in your summertime activites

Find simplicity and balance in your summertime activities

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

We have been reading and sharing many bloggers’ stories of graduating children, growing pains, and emptying nests. I feel a little left out because my son is only 3 years old. However, though I don’t have a child heading off to college, my family is preparing to feel a similar financial strain when he begins attending private school in the fall.

For us this will mean we need to shift our priorities in some areas of our household budget. Although little tweaks can make big differences in a bottom line, we fear there may be no grand family vacations for awhile!

Therefore I have been thinking about what we can do for some family fun – not only closer to home, yet perhaps even right here in our own backyard. With a little clever thinking, I’ll bet my young son won’t even know the difference. All he’ll know is that he is having a great time!

It’s wonderful to be able to get out of town and escape with your family on a fun-filled vacation during the summer. Yet sometimes that just isn’t possible – either with work or other commitment schedules, or because finances are tight. Here are some ideas for how to have a little summer fun with your children – right in your own backyard! Remember, summertime is for slowing down and letting go of some of those school year stresses. So as the famous song goes … “don’t worry, be happy!” Enjoy just being together even if you are simply hanging out and spending uninterrupted quality time with each other!

And don’t miss a photo gallery at the bottom of this post, illustrating all of these activities!

Turn Your Location into a Destination!

+ Add a twist to what your children learned during the school year. Just because school is out doesn’t mean the learning needs to stop. Kids learn best through play and engaging in the world around them anyway, so this also doesn’t need to come in the form of an indoor rainy day lecture. My son studied metamorphosis in preschool so we spent time around our butterfly bushes looking for different species and checking them out as they gathered nectar. Since the bushes border our deck, we sat leisurely at our picnic table – sharing snack while we observed nature around us hard at work!

+ As you spend time outside, tell your child a story. When you create a story from your surroundings, it is almost like you are in a book and gives a new twist to story time. You can create one based on a story you already know – such as the heart-pounding adventure tale we spun about the great giant Abiyoyo – or make up a new one. Either way, it’s fun to narrate your playtime!

+ Invite a close family friend to visit. Sometimes just a fresh face in your house – and someone new to play with (and spoil) your children brings excitement!

+ Turn unexpected expenditures into unique adventures! When we lost an enormous tree due to a summer storm, our planned trip out west was cancelled by the $4,000 removal bill. Instead of taking a family vacation, or purchasing the playground set we wanted, we let the chopped logs and sawed off stumps entertain our son. In fact, he continues to play in that area and doesn’t beg for a jungle gym! You’d be surprised what a child will enjoy doing using common outdoor and household items.

+ Let your children help with outside (or inside) chores, and teach them new responsibilities. Chores do not have to be mundane; my son and I have sung, danced, and paraded our way through many a household task. They also don’t have to be complicated. Whatever the experience, though, make it age-appropriate, simple (for a young child), and most   important – fun! My son loves to garden with his daddy, and is learning lots about nature and caring for the land at the same time.

+ Introduce a new outdoor toy. New doesn’t always mean large, complex, or expensive. We bought a nice sand & water table for a reasonable price. It came with a sun umbrella, sand tools, and water toys! Being able to relax in a comfy deck chair and watch my son enjoy the simplest of toys already had me less worried about entertaining him through the summer. Your child can even have water play in a tub filled with bubbles and bath toys if you can’t get outdoors or make it to a pool.

+ Eat ice cream! Need I say more?

Take a Trek Around Your Neighborhood for More Fun!

+ “Dine out” at an unexpected (and less expensive) place. My son and I have taken to eating an occasional lunch or dinner at our grocery store. You know the familiar saying, “Never go shopping when you’re hungry.” We have taken that to heart, and to him it is pretty cool!

+ Or just eat in! For a true money saving meal, we have started cooking more at home. Teaching your children to cook is one of the most important life skills you can help them master. There are also many “academic” skills you can subtly weave into food preparation – from reading (recipes), to math (measurement), to critical thinking (what to do if an ingredient is missing). Move your meal outdoors to put a unique spin on the usual dinner routine. Picnic table or picnic blanket – either way will give your kids a thrill!

+ Check out your local library’s summer class schedule. Ours runs classes for all ages year-round yet during the summer, program themes increase and so does the fun! It is good for your children to hear new people read, as well as to experience activities and crafts led by someone other than their parents. These classes have saved our rainy days and our let’s-get-out-of-the-house days, yet they are good for any day!

+ Let your children see you having fun! Once in awhile, take your child with you to a class (as long as it’s okay with your instructor, and safe and appropriate for kids to be present); or let them see you engaged in a hobby or exploring an interest.

+ Make a friend! Even a short, low-key play date with a new pal can make for a more interesting and lively day!

+ Dress-up, arts and crafts, and indoor/outdoor games are engaging and fun. Although I don’t consider myself a “crafty” or “athletic” person, I do try to offer my son materials to create various forms of art media and engage in a variety of physical activities.

+ Simply relax. In our society, often motion = productivity or fun. Yet just slowing down a bit during what is supposed to be those “lazy, hazy” days of summer can be refreshing. Wind down, take time to smell flowers, and nap. At the very least you’ll have energy for all the fun you’ll be having with your family in your backyard!

Hopefully some of these activities will bring you and your family a simple, inexpensive, and fun-filled summer. You may find that it takes less effort to entertain, keep happy, and even tire out your children than you think. Enjoy!

Click on any of the thumbnail images below, to open a photo gallery:

What are your ideas for simple, inexpensive summer fun? Please share with our community so we can all get ready to hit the … well – backyard!

Prayers for Oklahoma



By Karen Hendricks

Prayers and thoughts are with everyone whose lives were suddenly affected by tornadoes in Oklahoma yesterday. The images, the loss of life, the stories, and the destruction are all difficult to comprehend. The fact that many of the victims are children is heart-breaking.

I heard the lieutenant governor of Oklahoma being interviewed last night on national television and he spoke to the fact that Oklahoma residents will survive this tragedy since they are people of great faith, having been through many previous tornadoes and other disasters such as the Oklahoma City bombing. It is impossible to understand how and why natural disasters happen, but having faith can help you move on and look ahead.

Last summer, I was blessed to accompany a church youth group headed to New Orleans for nearly a week’s worth of service projects, worship and enrichment. Hurricane Katrina devastated this great American city in 2005, and New Orleans is still in need of help today. But last summer, thousands of youth from across the country gathered for the ELCA National Youth Gathering, a gathering of Lutheran youth that takes place in a city of need every three years. A devotion printed in the Bibles given to all attendees has stuck with me, and I think the message might help us to say prayers of peace for Oklahoma today:

Our God is a God of peace. Where there is division, walls, hostility, God reconciles us together. Heals us.

Our God is a God who mends. Making what was once a million pieces into one complete whole.

Our God is a God of comfort. When we are afraid, scared of our own shadow, God is close. Closer to us than the air we breathe. Speaking words of peace, ‘Be still, dear one.’ Peace is with you.

Our God is a God of life, calling each of us to live in the hope of a new humanity shaped not by fear, but by the peace of Christ. Truth is: you may still be afraid and that’s okay.

Truth is: God is with you, claiming you, comforting you, calling you to look past your fear, to find in this life the deep peace of God and hear the words you need so desperately to believe: ‘Be still my child. Be still.’

May all those whose lives were ripped apart by Oklahoma’s tornadoes take comfort in the enveloping love of God’s embrace today and in the days to come. May we reach out as we’re able and lend a helping hand.

Karate is More Than Self Defensive

Nick received his First Degree Black Belt last spring.

Nick received his First Degree Black Belt last spring.

By Jen Ashenfelter

Karate may not be the right sport for every child but it was the perfect activity for my oldest son. Now training for his second degree Black Belt, this story began 7 years ago at Action Karate in New Britain, PA.

Nick had played intramural soccer and t-ball but didn’t really enjoy either. As an active young boy, he had plenty of skill in running, kicking and throwing, but team sports did not appeal to him. Even today, he’s not the least bit interested in watching sports on television or attending a sporting event.

In third grade, Nick was a smart, well-behaved student. However, focus in the classroom was a challenge, as was socializing with the other kids. He was never diagnosed with autism; he just had a different idea of how he wanted to spend the day.

When a winter after-school club program offered karate lessons, Nick expressed an interest so I jumped at the chance to sign him up. He really enjoyed going to classes twice a week and in less than two months, he was officially a martial arts student learning much more than just Kenpo karate.

The curriculum at the Action Karate schools centers on teaching students focus and control, discipline, self-confidence, goal setting, self-defense and leadership with an emphasis on good grades, good deeds and respect in a supportive atmosphere.

Involvement with martial arts is not just an activity; it’s a lifestyle, a way of thinking. Nick embraced the journey with commitment and has worked through expectations and challenges with complete determination, grace, and even a little prodding. The program helped Nick develop better focus in the classroom and hopefully has given him the confidence and resources to handle the pressures he’ll likely face during his teen and young adult years. Oh, and then there’s that Chuck Norris thing—no doubt he can defend himself with swift moves to serve up a serious punishment to the offender. Go ahead and give him a surprise bear hug from behind and see where you land.

In the process, I’ve learned more about managing expectations and reaching goals. As we encourage, and sometimes push, our children to do better, it’s difficult not to be inspired by their determination and achievements. How can I put expectations on my children for their best effort if I don’t expect the same from myself? Learning is a two-way street: our children learn from us and often what they give back is greater.

Three years into the program, Nick received his Junior Black Belt during an action-packed and moving ceremony. My eyes filled with tears of pride at his accomplishments. And three years later, he was awarded his First Degree Black Belt. It was a six-year journey of growth, learning and facing challenges for a lifetime of skills and tools to accomplish anything he puts his mind to.

Nothing puts a smile to my face faster and brings back sweet memories than watching a class of younger students and then watching Nick’s masters class to realize how far we’ve come. My wish for the parents of the new students: the same awesome feelings seven years from now.

It doesn’t matter what sport or activity your son or daughter participates in just as long as they are having fun and learning valuable life skills. Whether it’s karate or baseball or playing an instrument, encourage them to find a passion, stick with it during challenging times and celebrate the accomplishments great and small.

Has your child’s life been transformed through the study of karate? Feel free to share your stories and/or advice, by clicking “leave a comment” below:

Living With Lyme (Part 2): Preventing Tick Bites

By Mary Ann Filler

Are there changes that you should make to live a healthier lifestyle? Perhaps you need to get more sleep, drink more water, or eat healthy and exercise to lose a few pounds. Information about healthy living can be overwhelming and confusing. But one fact is certain–prevention is the key to good health. And yet many of us do not take measures to ensure our health. In fact, sometimes it takes a major “wake-up” call for us to take action and make positive changes.

I’m going to address a subject that seemingly may not apply to you. If you or a loved one doesn’t have Lyme Disease, you may wonder why you would need to concern yourself with what I have to say. Of course, it is your choice to take heed or not. However, I hope that you will educate yourself and take precautions before you have no choice! “They Won’t Get It Until They Get It,” is a common saying in the Lyme community. May this saying NOT apply to you!

As mentioned in my first “Lyme” blog, Living With Lyme (Part 1), Lyme Disease is both difficult to diagnose and treat.  In his book, Lyme Disease Solution, Dr. Kenneth Singleton suggests that for every case of Lyme Disease that is currently detected, there are as many as ten or more cases of Lyme Disease that go undetected or undiagnosed.  These cases often result in chronic Lyme Disease, which causes debilitating and many times irreversible disease that is difficult to treat.  As a result, preventing Lyme Disease should be a high priority for everyone.

What are some measures you can take to prevent Lyme Disease?

 Be Aware that Ticks are Your Enemy

First, be aware that the primary vector for Lyme Disease is the bite of a tick.  The majority of information in the news perpetuates the belief that only the tiny deer tick, also known as the Blacklegged Tick, carries the Lyme bacteria.  In the interest of time, I’m not going to debate that belief; I’m just going to state that I don’t believe ANY tick is a good tick, and that all ticks have the capacity to carry and infect you with disease.  AVOID ticks if at all possible!

Note:  While not popularly held by “the mainstream,” it has also been suggested that fleas, flies, gnats, mites and mosquitoes may also transmit Lyme disease.  It is certain that these pests do transmit other diseases and it makes sense to avoid them as well.  In addition, humans have possibly passed Lyme and other tick borne diseases along in pregnancy and via blood donation or organ transplant. 

Know Your Enemy

A tick is a tiny parasite that feeds on the blood of animals and people.  They do not have wings and cannot fly or jump.  Ticks get around by walking or hitching a ride on an animal.  When the tick latches on to get a blood meal, it may transmit a bacteria “cocktail” that it obtained from a different host in an earlier feeding in the life cycle.

Life Cycle of a Tick

Life Cycle of a Tick

The length of time that a tick needs to be attached to transmit disease is somewhat debatable; most sources agree that it takes 24-48 hours.  Regardless, proper tick removal (how to remove an embedded tick properly) is critical to preventing the tick from infecting you with disease.

Tick Size Comparison

Know Where and When to Expect Ticks

Since a tick bite is the primary vector for Lyme Disease, you will want to know that tick bites may occur ANY time of the year, but most often during early spring to late summer.  As the weather gets warmer, ticks become more active and more likely to bite.  Ticks live in moist and humid environments, particularly in or near wooded or grassy areas. You may come into contact with ticks during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through vegetation such as leaf litter or shrubs.  Small animals including birds, mice, rabbits, squirrels or chipmunks can carry ticks on to your property.  In addition, if you have a pet dog or cat that frequents your yard or walks in suspect areas, they may carry ticks in to your home.

Caution Tick Habitat

Take Precautions Before Going Into Potentially Tick Infested Areas

When frequenting areas that are potentially tick infested, wear light-colored clothing so that ticks can be seen.  In addition, pick clothing that is made of smooth or tightly woven fabrics making it more difficult for ticks to latch on to you.  Tuck your shirt in to your pants and your pants in to your socks.  Of course, long-sleeved shirts, pants and closed toed shoes are preferred.

 Choose a Tick Repellant that is Right For You

Applying a tick repellant helps to reduce the chances of getting bit by a tick, but you will have to decide which repellent is right for you.  Many sources will tell you to spray yourself with a bug repellant that contains DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide).  While DEET is an effective agent for tick repulsion, caution must be used when applying it, as it can be toxic to the nervous system, and it’s not the most pleasant to use (not to mention the environmental impact).  Avon has a product line that repels ticks and is DEET free.  However, it still contains a chemical called Picardin.  There are natural alternatives including essential oils, but unfortunately little testing has been done to show that these alternatives actually work to repel ticks.

While many people are aware that they should spray their skin with tick repellent, they are unaware that treating their clothing may be one of the most preventative measures available. When sprayed on clothing and camping gear, Premethrin is highly effective in repelling and even killing ticks as well as other pests.  Premethrin treated items kill ticks on contact.  However, Premethrin cannot be applied directly to your skin.  Spray clothing (especially socks and shoes) and gear a day before you will be heading in to the woods.  Once clothing is treated, the Premethrin is still effective through 6 washings.  Premethrin can be purchased on-line or in stores that sell outdoor gear.  As with any chemical compound, follow the directions for use very carefully.


Take Extra Precautions If you Spend Time in forested areas.

If you camp, hike, or hunt, you may want to consider purchasing clothing that is pretreated with Premethrin by checking out Insect Shield Clothing (  Pretreated clothing can be washed up to 70 times and still be effective.  When hiking, stay on the path as much as possible.  Also, use a hiking stick to push any branches that may be across the path out of the way.  Spray all sleeping bags and tents with Premethrin.

 What Should You Do After Spending Time in Potentially Tick Infested Areas?

 After an activity in a potentially tick infested area, when arriving home, immediately place all clothing in the dryer (prior to washing) on high for 1 hour.  The high temperatures from the dryer will kill any ticks that may be hanging out waiting to latch on to you or your pet once inside your home.

If you are camping, remove your clothing and place in a plastic bag; close the bag with a plastic tie until you can get home.  Loose clothing lying around a tent or camper may provide an opportunity for ticks to latch on while you are walking around or even sleeping.

Shower as soon as you are able using a brush.  Do a through tick check.  Ticks can hide under armpits, behind knees, and in the hair.  Having another person check in difficult to see places would be the most advantageous.  Of course, an adult should inspect children closely.  Caution:  ticks may look like a small freckle and can be almost undetectable!

Tiny Tick!

Tiny Tick!

Apply a Tick Treatment to Your Pet

If you have a cat or dog that spends time outside, make sure to apply a tick prevention strategy to them as well.  As with treating yourself, you will have to decide which tick treatment is best for your dog.  Of course there are the once a month applications of flea and tick protection or the flea and tick collar.  However, if you’re looking for a more natural/chemical-free approach, you may want to consider, Natural Flea and Tick Defense.

If you prefer, you can make your own spray using essential oils.  One source for recipes and ordering essential oils is experience-essential-oils.  This source recommends using a dog shampoo that is infused with essential oils when you bathe your dog as an added precaution.

Again, the efficacy of many of these items is debatable.  Our family has chosen to use natural alternatives and to create a tick free zone in our back yard for our dog.  Unfortunately, I no longer walk my dog off of our property due to an increased risk of picking up ticks.

 Modify Your Landscaping to Create a Tick Free Zone

Harvard Health recommends doing a “tick drag” in your yard to determine whether or not you have ticks.  Attach a square yard of white flannel to a 3-foot stick and tie a rope to each end of the stick.  Drag the cloth over the lawn and leaves, and examine it for ticks that have latched on.  Do this several times.  Use a cloth mounted like a flag on a stick to determine whether you have a tick problem in your bushy or grassy vegetation.

Reduce your risk from getting a tick bite on your own property by clearing shrubs, bushes, and other vegetation away from patios, play areas and playground equipment. Clear leaf litter and mow regularly.  Place wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to keep ticks away from areas where you and your family spend time.

If you think you have a tick problem on your property, University of Rhode Island Tick Encounter Resource Center, suggests a dual action treatment plan for your property that includes host-targeted Tick Tubes and the habitat-targeted perimeter spray.  When used together in a program, they provide outstanding protection from tick encounter, especially for backyards.

To be honest, prior to being diagnosed with Lyme Disease, I thought very little of tick bite prevention.  Now, our family has taken action to reduce the likelihood of getting a tick bite.  We have hired Natural Lawn of America to spray our lawn.  The company has a more organic approach to lawn care and pest control.  In the upcoming months, we will also be placing Tick Tubes on our property.  We keep our lawn mowed and clear leaf debris.  In addition, our dog is no longer allowed to venture off of our property for walks, and he is treated with the shampoo mentioned above.  I personally believe that preventing your pet dog or cat from encountering ticks can be one of the biggest precautionary measures you can take.  I haven’t done any hardcore research, but I understand that veterinarians are encountering tick borne disease in dogs in record numbers.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late…

At this point, I would encourage you not to wait to incorporate the tick prevention strategies that apply to you.  If you will be spending time in the woods this summer, I cannot stress enough the need for you to protect yourself and your family members.  Please do not wait until it’s too late!

Web Sources:,0