Archive | June 2013

Vacation: Same Time, Same Place – Next Year!

Enjoying the ocean in Rehoboth Beach, DE!

Enjoying the ocean in Rehoboth Beach, DE!

By:  Ruth Topper

A few weeks ago my fellow blogger, Karen, shared some of her favorite family friendly vacation destinations over the years.  It’s always exciting to ask Karen what her family is doing for vacation  because they plan different, exciting trips each year. Our family, on the other hand, might be what you call “traditional” or “boring” because our vacation plans have been the same for over 10 years! We spend a week each June in Rehoboth Beach, DE with my husband’s family.   This group of 16 includes his sister’s family of 5, his brother’s family of 4, another sister, his mom and our family of 5.

Cousins - 2006!

Cousins – 2006!

This vacation tradition began in the year 2000 – verified in the family scrapbook.   In the first year it was just two families – our family of 4 along with Gary’s sister & her family of 5.   As the years progressed the tradition of renting a house for a week continued and the numbers grew!  Our third child, Josh, was a new addition in 2001.  Gary’s brother & his wife started coming with us that year.  They welcomed their daughter, Kelly, to their family in 2003.  In 2005, Donnie & Diane didn’t make it to the beach (but Kelly did) – since they had just added their 2nd child, James, into the family in mid-June.  Since 2006 our numbers have stayed steady at 16.  So each year it is important that we find a house to rent that will accommodate our “magic” number!  We have rented different properties in Rehoboth over the years. The houses have all been within a few blocks of each other and the change in location has either been due to our family changing our “week” in June or the owner’s decision to stay at their home during our “designated” week.

Cousins - 2013!  See how they have grown!

Cousins – 2013! See how they have grown!

So you may wonder why did we choose Rehoboth Beach, DE as our vacation destination.  When we started going to Rehoboth Beach with Gary’s family – this was not a random “beach” for us to go to.  My sister & her husband had been vacationing in Rehoboth since the mid-1980’s.  Gary & I frequently went to spend part of a week with them and our two nieces.  We knew that Rehoboth was a very family friendly place to vacation.  They have a wonderful 1 mile boardwalk, great beaches, a variety of restaurants, shopping (lots of outlets) and last but not least – Funland!  In the beginning we decided that June would be a good time to vacation.  It is typically cooler than July or August, it is not as crowded at the beach and the home rental rates are less expensive because it is not “peak” season.  This has all worked well for our families.

The "Free Fall" - one of the favorite rides at Funland!

The “Free Fall” – one of the favorite rides at Funland!

As with any vacation there always is some coordination needed.  My husband, Gary, has acted as the “coordinator” for us.  He scopes out available houses and we take responsibility for signing all the “official” house rental paperwork.   If we like the house we stayed in one year we normally will fill out a pre-registration form when we are on vacation to hold it for the next year.  Sometimes this works in our favor – other years due to our schedule or the owner’s we have had to relocate to a different house.  This can be exciting too – to experience being in a new house.

We also do a lot of coordination on food/supplies that come with us to the beach in order to avoid duplicates.  Gary started a spreadsheet years ago that we update occasionally.  Included in our lists are specific items for each family to bring.  For example, we always bring Bisquick, an electric griddle (and chocolate chips) for pancake making, ketchup, trash bags and baggies (sandwich, 1 qt. & 1 gallon), dish detergent (both for the hand washing & dishwasher), specific sets of sheets, etc.  Gary’s sister brings the “S’mores fixings”, tea bags, tea butler, charcoal/lighter fluid, clothes pins, peanut butter, etc.  Everyone brings their own towels, snacks, drinks, along with a box of tissues and a 4 pack of toilet paper to share!   Our dinner menu was set years ago and typically includes picking up bbq chicken on our way to the beach on Saturday, hamburgers/hotdogs, chicken on the grill,  pasta with meatsauce, one dinner out at Cracker Barrel, leftovers and pizza – if needed!   Several “grocery runs” happen throughout the week with essentials like milk, eggs, orange juice, any forgotten items, etc.  So you can see – we have just about gotten the logistics of our family vacation down to a science!

It's amazing how much they still enjoy digging holes in the sand!  Too bad I can't get mine to do any labor like this at home!

It’s amazing how much they still enjoy digging holes in the sand! Too bad I can’t get mine to do any labor like this at home!

So what keeps our families returning each year?  First, it is the week of spending time together as an extended family.  We get together frequently for birthdays and holiday celebrations that last a few hours.  However, this is the opportunity – especially for the kids to spend quality “cousin time.”  Fortunately our kids truly love being with each other.  Because we have been coming back to the same vacation spot for years most of our activities are “traditions” and the kids won’t even think about changing things up.  For example, our families travel from different areas & we always meet at the McDonald’s in Denton for lunch on our travel day.  There is a Pizza Hut and Burger King right next door – but we have to stop at McDonald’s!    On Sunday morning (not Monday or Tuesday!) a few of the kids & adults head off to get donuts for breakfast.  Our other favorite/traditional activities of the week include:  going to the beach, mini golf at Ryan’s on the roof, feeding the turtles at the “turtle park”, getting Grotto pizza, Dolly’s caramel popcorn, Thrashers fries, ice cream on the boardwalk, our daily trip to Funland for rides or games (Skee ball is the best value at $.25 per game.  My favorite is the “horse” game!), the boys playing lots of video games, late night card games, etc.

Skee Ball at Funland!  The best "gaming" value there at $.25 per game!

Skee Ball at Funland! The best “gaming” value there at $.25 per game!

Although it is exciting to go somewhere different each year on vacation our family enjoys our traditional vacation just as much!  Share with us about your family vacation.   Are you a little “boring” or “traditional” and spend your vacation in the same place each year or are more adventurous and go somewhere new & different each year? 

Advertisements

Insider’s Guide to Family-Friendly Events in Gettysburg

By Karen Hendricks

Gettysburg Battlefield Vista: The white monument in the center of the photo is the Pennsylvania Memorial

Gettysburg Battlefield Vista: The white monument in the center of the photo is the Pennsylvania Memorial

Several of our Off the Merry-Go-Round writers live in Gettysburg, PA—myself included. Summertime, to us, means tourist season… although having worked with numerous Gettysburg events and festivals in the past, those in the tourism industry prefer we call our guests “visitors” and not “tourists.” Sounds nicer, I agree. We are thankful indeed for the many visitors who flock to our south-central Pennsylvania town—approximately three million annually. This year, our charming Civil War-era town is humming with excitement as we approach the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, and tourism officials predict our annual visitors may number closer to four million.

Sesquicentennial events are spread out through the entire year, but certainly the bulk of the commemorations are planned for the end of June into July. As a freelance writer in Gettysburg, I’ve written a number of articles about the 150th anniversary—so many in fact, that during the height of my research, I was dreaming about the Civil War on a regular basis!

Too often, I think we overlook events happening “in our own backyard,” so I am making a point to put several 150th events on my family’s calendar. If you live in the central PA or MD area also, or if you’re headed to Gettysburg on summer vacation, I hope the following “Insider’s Guide to Family-Friendly Events in Gettysburg” is helpful. Welcome and enjoy!

Family-Friendly Events in Gettysburg, Summer 2013:

Battlefield IMG_1862rOk, it’s summer and the kids think that since school is out, learning stops. Here is a way to sneak a history lesson into summertime… because after all, studies have shown that summertime is the greatest period of growth, both physically and mentally, for children.

So Gettysburg’s history in a nutshell goes like this: One hundred and fifty years ago, on July 1-3, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg claimed 51,000 casualties. The bloodiest battle of the entire Civil War, the name “Gettysburg” became forever etched in history as the turning point in the war, as well as a pivotal point in America’s history. The South (Confederates) never fully recovered from their losses at Gettysburg, and the North’s (Union’s) victory in the Civil War preserved the United States as our country. (Feel free to explain this to your children in laymen’s terms, depending on their ages! 🙂

At the heart of Gettysburg’s commemoration, is a period of ten days, June 28-July 7, 2013. Within this timeframe, Gettysburg will host two major battle reenactments, official Gettysburg National Military Park commemorative events across the 6,000-acre battlefield, and a full slate of events staged by businesses in Gettysburg’s tourism industry.

Rather than giving you a rundown of the highlight events, which will undoubtedly be crowded and/or difficult to access, I’m going to list a few family-friendly events likely to be less crowded. Since they are all programs organized by the National Park Service, they are all free:

July 1-4 NPS Family Activity Tent:

The front lawn of the Gettysburg National Military Park’s Museum and Visitor Center* will host a special family and children’s tent full of activities, programs and hands-on opportunities, 9 am-5 pm daily. Stations will include:

  • A living history stage where a new Gettysburg “personality” will be revealed every hour
  • Infantry, cavalry and artillery drilling stations
  • Soldier pastimes circle
  • Dress-up photo booth
  • “Ask a Ranger” desk

July 1-4 Battle Overview:

For a summary of the Battle of Gettysburg, attend this brief (30 minute) overview program led by park rangers in the Ford Education Center, Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.* Programs run every hour on the hour, from 9 am-5pm. This program serves as a wonderful orientation to begin your visit to Gettysburg.

July 1-4 Civil War Soldier Program:

What was life like, for Union and Confederate soldiers at Gettysburg? Attend this hour-long program to find out. You may even have the chance to try on a soldier’s uniform for size! This program is to be held at 10 am, 12 noon, 2 and 4 pm, at Ranger Site #1, behind the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.*

Key Moments:

The NPS is presenting “Key Moment” programs, explaining events that happened during the Battle of Gettysburg, exactly 150 years ago. To travel to the sites, you can park at the National Cemetery North and South lots* and use special NPS shuttle buses, which stop at Devil’s Den, Little Round Top and other sites, every 15-20 minutes:

  • July 2 Key Moments at Little Round Top:

Rangers will explain what happened at Little Round Top, the scene of heavy fighting on the afternoon of July 2, 1863. Programs will be presented every hour, on the hour, from 9 am-12 pm and 2-5pm.

  • July 2 Key Moments at Devil’s Den:

A desperate struggle ensued between the Confederates of Longstreet’s Corps and the Union 3rd Corps on July 2, 1863. Rangers will explain the series of events during presentations every hour, on the hour, from 10am-12pm and 2-5pm. Devil’s Den, with its rock formations, is a fascinating stop for children of all ages, but to fully explore and climb on the rocks, sneakers should be worn.

My nephew especially enjoyed visiting Devil's Den with my family last summer!

My nephew especially enjoyed visiting Devil’s Den with my family last summer!

Every Thursday through August 15: Hike with Ike:

Gettysburg’s history isn’t limited to the Civil War—the town was also home to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Every Thursday at 7:15 pm, take a free, guided walking tour through downtown Gettysburg that explores President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s life in Gettysburg. Meet the National Park Ranger at the Gettysburg College gates, at the corner of North Washington and Water Streets.

*The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center –and- the National Cemetery North and South lots are both located off Baltimore Street (PA Route 97) just south of Gettysburg. If you follow the brown NPS signs approaching Gettysburg from any direction, they will direct you to Baltimore Street.

For additional events and more information, check out the Gettysburg National Military Park website.

 

The Reluctant Fledgling: Encouraging your child when she’s anxious about leaving the nest.

First-day-of-college-cartoon1

By Chris Little

You know the classic scenario: Mom, once eager for reluctant Junior to start grade school, ruefully sees the roles reverse when it’s time for Junior to leave for college. Of course, the classic scenario is only occasionally the truest one, and it’s not unusual for high school grads to be less than eager to leave the nest.

At this point, I don’t appear to be the parent of a reluctant fledgling, but I recall having been one, and I know people whose kid has been one, so I wanted to think about this facet of the emptying nest: What do you do when your kid doesn’t feel all that ready to leave home?

First of all, I guess we should consider the fact that some kids simply aren’t. That’s okay! Talk things over: Maybe a post-graduate year spent working at the local diner is a good fit—and/or doing an awesome internship at a nonprofit in town. Taking classes at your community college, or commuting to a school nearby, also might be a good way to ease into the next phase of life. All of that is perfectly fine and can help your kid get her feet under her before she leaves home.

Other times, you might know your kid is ready to leave the nest, and she might even know it too, but for a variety of reasons, she’s feeling some anxiety about it. I’ve been asking friends and reading up on some strategies for encouraging the reluctant fledgling:

1. Treat it all like a big adventure from the get-go. Focus on the positive: College is going to be a fun and interesting ride, for the most part, with some inevitable bumps along the way. If you run into questions you don’t know the answer to (How do I drop a class? What if I get locked out of my room?), no worries—there are folks around whose job it is to help you.

2. Talk about the nitty-gritty details. Sometimes it’s simply the unknown that has your kid flummoxed. So help him with as many details as you can gather: Here’s how to get money out of an ATM. Here’s how to get from your dorm to your dining hall. Here’s the bus to take to get to the train station. That kind of thing.

3. Let your kid know you—and her home—are always there for her. Maybe what your kid needs is a frank (and frequent) reminder: “We’re your family, and this is your home, and we will be here for you when you want to come back.” And mean it: This is probably not the kid whose room you want to convert into a study the week after she heads off to college!

4. But not too much. As a parent, your instinct is to help and protect your offspring, sure. But now is when you start dragging your feet when it comes to stepping in to fix things (if you haven’t already!). It’s time for your kid to leave the nest, after all, and she can’t do that if you don’t let her learn to fly! So resist the impulse to bring her home for the weekend the first time she says she’s homesick. Don’t get involved in negotiations with her roommates about having a boy over for the night. And please, please, please don’t call her professor to complain about her grade on her first English essay! (Yes, that’s happened!) Listen to your fledgling’s worries and struggles, but don’t rush in to rescue her—that’s the refrain I’m hearing from moms and college administrators.

5. Offer some helpful advice. You may, however, share a little wisdom. Reassure your college kid that some homesickness is normal, typically transient—and not a sign that she’s made a huge mistake. Encourage her to get involved in a new club or activity, go for a walk or a swim, and simply give herself some time to adjust.

6. Make a plan for staying connected. This is where scheduling a weekly chat will help. And sending those fun-filled care packages.

So these are a few ideas I’ve been able to collect for cheering on your kid’s first attempts at flight. What about you? What has helped you cope with homesickness in the past? How have you helped your child deal with homesickness when he’s had the far-from-home blues? What are some ways you’ve found to encourage reluctant fledglings?

“Recommended Reading: Children’s Book List for Multi-Cultural Families”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

First thing in the morning, we early risers welcome the day with my son's "warm cocoa dream" skin and my Irish-red "cherry topped, candy dropped" skin -- a beautiful contrast! For the record, daddy's skin shade is "butterscotch gold." (Skin shades determined from the book, The Skin You Live In).First thing in the morning, we early risers welcome the day with my son’s “warm cocoa dream” skin and my Irish-red “cherry topped, candy dropped” skin — a beautiful contrast! For the record, daddy’s skin shade is “butterscotch gold.” (Skin shades determined from the book, The Skin You Live In).

Whether your family is multi-race or multi-cultural due to an interracial marriage or adoption, it may sometimes be difficult to explain to young children why the members of your family have different skin colors or even different shades within the same color. In my family, we have found that whereas it is helpful to be open and honest with our son about his adoption “story,” it has also been beneficial to celebrate our different skin colors and shades as unique to us. Letting our little boy know that even within his skin color there are many different shades, and that his skin is special, has given him a sense of appreciation for who he was created to be and a foundation upon which to help build his self-esteem. All these books are absolutely wonderful and I recommend reading every one of them. However, if I had to pick the top two “must-reads” they would be The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler and The Colors of Us by Karen Katz.

Below is a list of books which beautifully reflect babies, young children, and families from different cultures and countries.  Through uplifting and inspirational language, imagery and pictures, these books build self-esteem while respectfully acknowledging our differences, and joyfully celebrating our similarities – and our global heritage!

Children’s Book List for Multi-Cultural Families 

1)Global Babies

Copyright 2007 by The Global Fund for Children

Brightly colored, delightful photographs of babies from countries around the world!

2)All the Colors of the Earth

Copyright 1994 by Sheila Hamanaka

A celebration of children and all the beautiful colors they come in – the colors of love!

3)My Little Miracle

Copyright 2002 by J. Beck

A delightfully written little book welcoming babies of all colors and cultures to the magic of discovery this world holds.

4)Welcome Precious

Copyright 2006 by Nikki Grimes

An African American family welcomes their new little one to the world, and to their loving family.

The Skin You Live In5)The Skin You Live In

Copyright 2005 by Michael Tyler

A wonderful rhyming book showing how very special it is to be in the skin you are in – no matter what its color!

6)The Colors of Us

Copyright 1999 by Karen Katz

Bold, delightful illustrations and a wonderful story celebrate our diversity, and deliver a poignant message: Love the skin you have!

7)Marvelous Me

Copyright 2003 by Lisa Bullard

This book is part of a series featuring different children who describe themselves, their feelings, and their worldMarvelous Me is about an African-American boy and his twin brother.

8)Whoever You Are

Copyright 1997 by Mem Fox

A beautiful and poignant book, this links us all together despite our different appearances, languages, interests, and lives.

9)Incredible You

Copyright 2005 by Wayne W. Dyer

This children’s book, featuring kids of different races, is based on Mr. Dyer’s 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace for adults.  Here, he frames those same ten ideas in language easily related to by young children – to help them feel good about themselves and know that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to do.

ImGonnaLikeMe10)I’m Gonna Like Me

Copyright 2002 by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell

Illustrated with children of different races, this book gives everyone a healthy boost of self-esteem!

11)Bright Eyes, Brown Skin

Text Copyright 1990 by Cheryl Willis Hudson and Bernette G. Ford

Adapted from the original poem published in 1979, four African American children enjoy their time together and celebrate their skin while at preschool.

12)Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

Copyright 2008 by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury

Although at first glance this appears to be a simple counting book, it is so much more. These two picture book creators help us celebrate baby fingers and toes from all over the world!

Have you come across books that celebrate differences among people and encourage us to do the same? If so, please help us grow the list and add your “must read this book” choices!

Friendsdays

By Karen Hendricks

You know how it’s hard to remember a time before you had children? What did you DO with your time? What kind of MEANING did your life have, before children?

Well, for as long as I’ve had children, the past 18+ years, I’ve also been blessed to have something called “friendsdays” in my family’s life too. It’s hard to remember a time when friendsdays didn’t exist!

Basically the concept behind friendsdays is simple: three of us girlfriends decided to get together about once a week through the summer with our children, hitting the area’s parks, playgrounds and other points of interest. Through the years the number of children escalated, the destinations became more adventurous, and the friendships deepened. My fellow Off the Merry-Go-Round gals Mary Ann, Ruth and I formed “the friendsdays group” but over the years numerous other friends and their children joined us for various outings as their schedules allowed. The more, the merrier!

The first friends... our oldest children rock the teeter-totter in 1998

The first friends… our oldest children rock the teeter-totter in 1998

Thinking back, during the first year or two, our friendsdays fell mainly on Wednesdays. Probably when my oldest daughter Katie was about 4 or 5, she coined the name “friendsdays” to rhyme with “Wednesdays.” The name has stuck ever since.

At first, we primarily met at playgrounds, located within local parks, state parks, elementary schools or churches. This was the perfect opportunity to explore new playgrounds and exciting new equipment! We fell into a pattern of packing picnic lunches and spending several hours together, heading home when our youngest children needed their mid-afternoon naps.

During these early years, with at least nine children in tow—sometimes more as we brought friends/neighbors—we were often asked if we were associated with a daycare!

We even made matching "Friendsdays" shirts in 2003

We even made matching “Friendsdays” shirts in 2003

Hitting the trail in 2008

Hitting the trail in 2008

As the years passed, our weekly excursions took us on nature hikes, to farms and museums, on train and trolley rides and to many various swimming pools/slides. We even visited a chocolate factory!

I probably would have visited some of these locations with my children, but it wouldn’t have been as much fun or as memorable without our closest friends. And many of the locations are ones I probably wouldn’t have tackled without other moms along for support!

A friendsday classic: Visiting the Wolfgang Chocolate Factory in York PA (hairnets required)

A friendsday classic: Visiting the Wolfgang Chocolate Factory in York, PA (hairnets required)

Synchronized diving competitions!

Synchronized diving competitions!

We also enjoy an end-of-summer friendsday picnic at our homes, rotating the hosting duties every year. Another friendsday tradition sees us getting together annually on New Year’s Eve to exchange Christmas gifts, enjoy dinner and ring in the new year—the hosting duties rotate for this as well. And these are opportunities for the dads to be involved in friendsdays activities!

Ringing in 2004 with a sparkling apple cider toast (kids' countdown was at 9 pm!)

Ringing in 2004 with a sparkling apple cider toast (kids’ countdown was at 9 pm!)

We have developed several favorite friendsday locations, some of which we still visit today. One is Caledonia State Park, located between Gettysburg and Chambersburg, PA. The park includes beautiful streamside picnic areas as well as nature trails and a large swimming pool. On very hot days, we visit the pool (admission required). But the kids have always enjoyed splashing in the streams, collecting rocks, picnicking and throwing ball just as much (free admission). The vast majority of our friendsdays are simply free, budget-friendly activities, but once in a while we enjoy outings that require an admission price.

Playing in the stream, Caledonia State Park, 2002

Playing in the stream, Caledonia State Park, 2002

10 years later, fierce water battles at Caledonia, 2012

10 years later in 2012: fierce water battles at Caledonia

Now that our children are nearly all teenagers, will friendsdays continue? I think in some form or another, they will. Despite work schedules for all of us moms, and now our teenagers’ work schedules, sporting events, summer vacations, etc… friendsdays have become an institution! They are wonderful opportunities for us moms to “catch up” and spend time together, and our children have formed life-long friendships that seem more like brother-sister relationships. There have been wonderful memories, even a few painful incidents that required stitches, but plenty of laughter along the way too.

Thankfully we took—and continue to take—photos at nearly every friendsday stop. Looking at the huge collection of photos is like looking at a family album, seeing our children grow together through the years.

Bowling alley buddies!

Bowling alley buddies!

I would encourage you to think about your own circle of friends, your children’s friends, and how you could form your own friendsday group this summer. Setting and saving dates as early as possible in the summer is key. I promise… the benefits, the friendships and the memories will be absolutely priceless.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see Jennifer (Smith) Schuler’s post about how you can create your own “family,” Blood is Thicker Than Water and Other Misrepresentations of Family Life.


Strawberry Picking (and Prepping) 101

Strawberry patch

Strawberry Season!

By Mary Ann Filler

Several days ago, my fellow Off The Merry-Go-Round blogger, Karen, and I went strawberry picking. You may have visions of us with our pint-sized baskets tip toeing through the patch picking a pound or so of berries to serve over vanilla ice cream or shortcake. I can assure you, that is not an accurate picture of our process. Between the two of us, we picked nearly 45 pounds of strawberries!

How could we possibly pick that volume of berries? Well, we are definitely not novices at this pick-your-own process. We have been berry picking together for years, and have had our kids in tow during many of these excursions. Our process has evolved over the years.

Berries... as far as the eye can see!

Berries… as far as the eye can see!

We took large flat top coolers along with plastic containers and baggies to store the berries in as we picked. On our outing the other day, we discussed how quart sized bags were perfect for fitting lots of berries in the cooler while keeping them from getting smashed.  Pick-Your-Own berries are sold by weight (our patch charged $1.90 per pound). When we arrived, the attendant weighed our coolers and marked accordingly. When we finished picking, the initial weight of the cooler was subtracted from the weight of our coolers (now full of berries) to determine how many pounds of strawberries we picked.  Note:  Each Pick-Your-Own patch may have a different “picking protocol.”

In addition to storing the picked berries, the cooler also serves as a useful seat while picking as it can be easily slid down the row as you progress.

You may be wondering how we got out of the patch with all of those berries.  Luckily, our patch had a “gator” that was deployed to pick up our berries and take them to the check out!  If this isn’t an option at your patch, you may want to take a wheeled cooler!

Coolers are key to berry-picking!

Coolers are key to berry-picking!

What did I do with my strawberries?

Prepare for a Variety of Uses

I love to pick local strawberries because I know that I don’t have to worry as much about the heavy pesticides that are often used in cultivating the strawberries grown for groceries.  However, the berries still need to be washed.

Wash the berries in batches using a bath of water and vegetable/fruit cleaner.

IMG_0413

Strawberries in a water and fruit/veggie cleaner bath

After the bath, rinse well…

IMG_0406

Place in a colander to rinse.

…and dry.

Spread Strawberries out on a towel to dry.

Spread Strawberries out on a towel to dry.

Hull or remove the stems.

Hull the Strawberries.

Hull the Strawberries.

Prepare to Eat

Cut the berries to desired size.  Add a sweetener of your choice, if desired, and store in the refrigerator.  After sitting for several hours the berries begin to make a syrup.  Mashing the berries before transferring to the refrigerator will speed up the syrup making process.  These berries are delicious “as is” or spooned over cereal, ice cream, biscuits or shortcake.  This morning, I used my cut berries to make parfaits for breakfast.  Just layer granola, yogurt and strawberries for a nutritious meal or snack.  In celebration of her daughter’s graduation, Karen prepared an angel food cake to top with her berries!

Ready to Eat!

Ready to Eat!

Prepare to Freeze

Place berries that have been washed, dried and hulled on to a cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.  Place in the freezer for several hours.

IMG_0411Remove from the freezer and place in freezer bags.

IMG_0415

These berries make delicious smoothies or daiquiris!

Strawberry Smoothie Recipe

Note:  Smoothie recipes are very forgiving.  You truly can just throw in a bit of this and that to taste, but below is a basic recipe I make for my family.

Place the following ingredients in a blender and blend.

1 cup plain Greek yogurt (or plain regular yogurt)

1 cup frozen Strawberries (if you’d like, add a frozen banana and/or

blueberries too;-)

2 or more Tbsp. coconut milk (or any other kind of milk)

1 Tbsp. Ground Flax Meal (optional)

½-3/4 Cup of spinach (optional)

Make Jam

You can find many recipes on the internet for making jam.  Strawberry jam can be made by canning or freezing.  I highly recommend making freezer jam as it is easier and there is really no loss of taste versus the canned variety.  Last year I made an easy Sure Jell Freezer Jam Recipe that uses sugar.  It was easy and delicious!  Since last year, I have cut refined sugar out of my diet.  So, yesterday, I made a Strawberry Jam recipe that is sweetened with honey.  The honey sweetened recipe includes directions for canning, but indicates that freezing is an option as well.  It took me a bit longer to make, but at least I can eat it, and it’s yummy!!

IMG_0403

Compost

Just recently, I started composting.  I planted a garden this year and hope that by next spring, I will have some rich compost to add to my garden!  I’m dumping the strawberry hulls in the compost pile!

Compost the hulls!

There are many other strawberry recipes, but those I’ll save for a Strawberry “102” post!!  Enjoy!!!

“Brain Strain: What We Can Unload to Upload”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Stock photo credit of dreamstime.com

Stock photo credit of dreamstime.com

I’m on overload right now … although my son’s first year of preschool has come to an end, I am now shuffling him between summer camps, play dates, and various other community happenings. Since the latter part of this school year I have been coordinating the discernment, enrollment, and admission process for private preschool where my son will attend through 12th grade. Then there’s the organizing and packing for our summer travel and vacation plans…running our household…squeezing in a hair cut for myself…and on and on.

Something’s gotta give and soon – I simply need to unload! However, I have found this isn’t easily done. I can’t let go of any of these responsibilities, and I don’t have time to make any big changes in my life right now or incorporate “strategies” I read in magazines that are supposed to make things simpler and slow things down. So I need easy and fast ways to unload so I can upload with immediate results! How about you? It seems as though many of us speed along through our days with barely enough time to catch our breath. It is becoming more commonplace among my circle of friends for us to text each other to say – I’ll have to catch you later; I’m crazy-busy right now. Then, we don’t get back in touch for another week or two!

Rather than offer you suggestions for letting go of the things you do now that keep you so busy, I have something else in mind. Just check out the few simple ideas below that you can easily incorporate into your daily life and routine. They might just help you catch your breath – before going on to the next thing!

Battle That Brain Strain!

* Begin your day with a few simple stretches and a hot shower. Now, if I can do this with a busy 4 year old who is more than enthusiastic to start the day (and who seems to think he is my morning rooster), so can you. When I hear my son crawl out of bed and use the potty, I take that time to slowly awaken while he pads (okay – stomps) his way to my bedside. I have “trained” him to play next door in our master suite’s living area while I do a few simple, quick stretches – right from my bed! I concentrate on my upper and lower back so I can get mobile enough to find my way into the shower. There, I let the hot water and steam do its work with a few additional standing stretches so I don’t start off my day feeling stiff. It makes a big difference most days to be loosened up before jumping into all I have to accomplish!

* Stretch throughout the day. I call this “Stop, Drop, and Stretch!” As we go through our day, we tend to lose our posture and proper walking stance. We begin to hunch our shoulders forward and round our backs, and continue to stiffen up as the day goes on due to our often busy, stressed lives. Taking just a few moments to loosen your tightened muscles offers a quick break and is surprisingly refreshing after sitting at your computer too long or handling several tasks in a row.

* Take a break during the day to exercise if you can. My life has changed so much since having a child that I find I usually don’t have the time for an elaborate workout routine. However, research coming from the fitness world tells us that exercising in “spurts” can be just as effective at relieving stress; loosing weight; and keeping our bodies strong, minds sound, and emotions in check. And, any form of exercise counts, no matter how brief. Just 10 minutes 3 times a day can still make a difference. You don’t even need a structured or regimented exercise program. A simple stroll around your neighborhood or backyard, or a brief walk on your treadmill will do the trick!

* Eat well and drink plenty of water. I will spare a lecture on the health benefits of this one – especially since I find it difficult to do! However, it is so much better for our bodies and minds to eat nutritious foods and stay hydrated. And, a healthy body is a far happier and less stressed body!

* Set specific times to check email and return telephone calls. So many aspects of technology really can make things easier and us more productive when applied well to our lives. It is important to set boundaries for how you want to handle your technological devices before you begin using them for professional or personal use. Adhere to the times you set during the day to use those devices for checking email, voice or text messages, and returning telephone calls. It doesn’t take long for people to figure out that you are “glued” to your iphone, or to learn what times of day (or night!) you are likely “online.” Set precedence up front that your technological devices are turned off and put away during dinner, family time, and before bedtime. Keep them out of your bedroom or anywhere else that is designated for sleeping or resting. Many studies suggest that having electronics on continuously disrupts sleep patterns, and some experts recommend you dim lamps and avoid checking your e-mail or watching late-night TV at least an hour before bedtime.

Decide when you will plug-in and when you will unplug!

Decide when you will plug-in and when you will unplug!

* Choose not to answer the telephone sometimes. The “I’m on my deathbed” call is likely not the one coming in.

* Say ‘no’ sometimes. The world will not come to an end if you decline to lead a project for your child’s scout troop, make your homemade chili for the church cook-off fundraiser, serve as president of your home association, or anything else. Change the thought pattern that says the project, event, or meeting will fall apart without you! This is not to say that you don’t make valuable and worthy contributions to your workplace, home life, church, and community. It’s just that the show will go on. Choose your activities carefully and don’t allow them to overwhelm your life.

* Avoid stressful situations and toxic people as much as possible. These two things can be a real drain on your life. Instead, embrace positive energy and uplifting people! Set your emotional boundaries and stick with them.

* Make excuses. Look for periods throughout the day when you can snatch a moment of quiet time for yourself. Even if it means telling your family you simply must go to the laundry room for awhile to catch up. There’s your solitude and an item crossed off your to-do list in one!

* Take “me time” any way you can claim it. Whether you splurge on a spa service or hide in your closet to finish the next chapter in your book, time for you is important! You can’t help your colleagues, family, or community if you don’t take care of yourself first.

One summer I used the excuse that our deck could use a few pretty flowers and fresh potted plants to snatch some quiet gardening time to myself.

One summer I used the excuse that our deck could use a few pretty flowers and freshly potted plants to snatch some quiet gardening time to myself.

Do you have another idea to help us regain our sanity? Let us know what you do to unload!