Archive | October 2013

Halloween… Through the Years

Trick or Treat! Enjoy these photos from Off the Merry-Go-Round’s families–a celebration of haunted Halloweens past.

What fun, to look back at costumes and kids growing through the years. As you think back to past Octobers, what costumes or characters stand out in your mind? Share your memories below… if you dare!

Halloween 2013WEB

Superman to the rescue!

Halloween 1999WEB

Butterfly: Easy costume idea!

Halloween 2006WEB

Trio of Characters: A Knight, Cowgirl & Indian Princess

Halloween 2007 2

This cowboy lassoed some goodies!

Halloween 2007

This cowboy posse is ready for trick or treatin’…

Halloween 2008 2

Sports uniforms always make for easy costumes!

Halloween 2008 3

Two soccer stars and a human iPod!

Halloween 2009

Rock stars!

Halloween 2011

Harry Potter and a bloody soccer player… plus a photobombing big sister!


A life-size iPod!

Cyberbullying: How Teens and Parents Can Stop Hate from Going Viral


By Karen Hendricks

I can’t stop thinking about the Florida teen who recently committed suicide, after being the target of cyberbullying. (Click here for the backstory from CNN News. ) There are several details about Rebecca Sedwick’s death that strike me as especially poignant.

She was apparently the victim of cyberbullying for as long as a year… this breaks my heart. The two girls arrested in the case and charged with “aggravated stalking” apparently were just the ringleaders. Police say these two girls encouraged as many as 15 additional girls to cyberbully Rebecca. This too breaks my heart and makes me wonder if things would have turned out differently if at least one of those girl’s parents had caught on to the plot. The fact that all of this happened over a boy… that too breaks my heart.

On the surface, Rebecca’s mom did all the right things: She cancelled her daughter’s Facebook account and moved her to a different middle school. According to recent news stories, the majority of the cyberbulling in this case happened, not on “mainstream” social media like Facebook and Twitter, but on other sites such as and Kik. More about that in a second.

Social media plays a huge role in my professional life, as I work in marketing, public relations and the media. For the past year, I’ve especially enjoyed teaching “Social Media 101” classes through my local arts council. It’s always fascinating to hear what motivates people to take my classes—a four-session series. The two main reasons? Parents/grandparents want to learn how to communicate with their children/grand-children (and be educated) and small business owners see the value of navigating social media channels to promote their businesses. For the most part, we focus on all of the good that can come out of social media. It’s a joy to see parents/grandparents return to class and happily report that they’re now successfully Tweeting or exchanging Facebook messages with their loved ones. There are many positive aspects of social media.

The dark side of social media cannot be ignored, however, and I always review privacy controls and “best practices” with all social media channels, in my classes. Many schools provide seminars and speakers about bullying in general, or cyberbullying/computer safety issues. I know many parents who do their best to monitor and/or limit their teens’ social media use. But with the Rebecca Sedwick case in the news, I feel as though we need to continue to talk and raise awareness in the hopes of stopping hate from going viral and hurting one more teen.

Here are a few pieces of advice I have picked up – but please feel free to share your stories and tips below as well:

Set e-rules

Social media can be accessed on cell phones, computers, ipods, Kindles, etc. While it’s best to set limits when these items are first introduced to your teens, it’s never too late. Set limits and make sure your teens are maintaining a healthy balance of “real life,” studying, sports/activities, family time, and socializing with friends vs. “screen time.”

Be e-safe

Teens need help setting boundaries. Talk to your teens about what they should and should not be sharing via social media, to protect their privacy and safety. For example, I often see teens posting photos on Instagram, able to be viewed by the public, which reveal their home’s location, school name, etc. Help them set “internal privacy controls,” as well as actual privacy controls on their social media accounts. Insist on it. Again, this is best done together at the time they establish their Facebook account, for example. But it’s never too late to become tech-savvy and begin monitoring your teen later in the game.

Talk about e-language

Talk to your teen about his/her social media messages. What messages are appropriate? What type of language is appropriate? How often should he/she communicate via social media (or texting)? Does every detail of his/her life need to be shared? How do friends’ messages affect them? Is he/she offended or hurt by friends’ behavior on social media? My daughter seems to maintain a healthy perspective by saying “There’s too much drama” and “over-sharing” on most social media sites, but she focuses on the positive aspects of keeping in touch with friends by visiting them a few times a week.

Limit e-photos

Photo-sharing can be a wonderful aspect of social media, especially for your teen’s relatives and friends in far-away places. It’s a great way to stay connected. However, as previously mentioned, make sure your teen is being careful about details such as house numbers that may show up in photos. Also, stay on top of a trend that spirals out of control for many teens: posting “selfies” or self-portraits. If you see your teen posting selfies every day… talk to them and lovingly help them try to regain a healthy perspective. Actually, the over-posting of selfies isn’t a problem limited to teens… I see a lot of adults with this issue as well! One more word of caution about photos: Sometimes teens need to be more careful and vigilant about being/not being in their friends’ photos. Once a friend posts a photo, your teen has little control over it. If he/she doesn’t like the photo, your teen can “untag” him/herself. Also, group photos often hurt other teens who later see they weren’t invited or included.

Be e-friends

Know who your teen’s “friends” are. In fact, YOU should be one of their friends at all times. My feeling is, if your teen doesn’t want to agree to this, then he/she shouldn’t be on social media. As a compromise, there could be another adult in your teen’s life that you might entrust to “keep an eye” on his/her social media use. Additionally, look out for your teen’s friends if they connect with you via social media. Be eyes and ears for their parents and let them know if you see anything suspicious.

Be e-savvy

Talk to your teen up front about cyberbullying, which is  defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” It’s hatred that goes viral. (And it’s not limited to teens. Sadly, there are many adults who model this atrocious behavior on-line as well.) Encourage your teens to tell you, or a trusted adult, teacher, pastor, etc, about anything suspicious.

Keep an e-list

Know which social media channels your teen is using. As in the Rebecca Sedwick case, there are many other forms of social media other than Facebook or Twitter. Learn about Snapchat,, Kik and other ways your teen is communicating. Help them keep a healthy balance by perhaps limiting their social media chatter to two or three sites that they truly use in positive ways, to keep in touch with friends. Personally, I would discourage my teens from using—it’s is a site that encourages teens to be anonymous and ask questions in a truth-or-dare type of format. I know it’s tedious, I know teens are resistant, and I know it’s a time-consuming task for parents, but… keep a list of social media sites your teen is on and know their passwords. Monitor their messages as often as you feel necessary—once a day, once a week, once a month—depending on their useage.

Look at the big e-picture

It’s so hard for our teens to see past their teenage years. But help them understand that their actions, online or otherwise, have consequences. This includes the spreading of negative or hateful messages, and every photo that they post. Their future is precious, their lives are precious.

For more information, here are some helpful resources: – a website maintained by the federal government (Health & Human Services) that includes risk factors and warning signs of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying Research Center – including tips for parents – a site maintained by two educators/researchers/authors

Setting Limits on TV and Video Games (or How NOT to Win Mother-of- the Year) – a helpful post by fellow blogger Jen Ashenfelter

What I Learned on Fall Break


By Chris Little

My college freshman was home for Fall Break last weekend. It was lovely to have him hanging around, to get a good look at him and catch up on everything he’s been up to (well, probably not everything—and that’s okay!). I do feel like I learned a few things that will help me next time he comes home:

Be patient. It took a while for my freshman to re-acclimate to being at home. He commented the first morning that he felt like he was just visiting a place where his family happened to live. That was a little heart-breaking—I felt in a deep way like he was really gone, that he could never truly come home again. But false alarm: it wasn’t long at all before he was lounging on the couch in his sweatpants, just like the good old days.

Be patient! It took a while for me to re-acclimate to having my kid at home! I’ll admit I was near tears several times over the weekend thinking about how great it was to have him around … and how soon he’d be gone again. I know we’re not supposed to take our loved ones for granted, but I’ll tell you, treasuring every moment can be emotionally exhausting.

Be even more patient! My house pretty much immediately returned to pre-college levels of clutter and disorder. Lots of deep breaths … and reminding myself I’d have plenty of time to clean up after he headed back to school.

Beware of over-scheduling. He may have had the weekend off, but he still had lots of homework to do. I’m glad we didn’t pre-schedule any activities and social events.

Be prepared to cook. My freshman reported being thoroughly sick and tired of eating out, even if it was just at the dining hall. Believe it or not, he really craved my cooking! I was ready with a menu of his favorites—in fact, I sent him back to school with tubs of “leftovers” I’d cooked especially for him, including some of his favorite desserts.

Make a (short) to do list. We spent one afternoon getting stuff done: haircut, flu shot, underwear shopping, and laundry. That felt good.

Make some coffee. My kid has always been a night owl, a tendency that’s been exaggerated by living in a dorm. It was fun to stay up late talking—well, trying to. Next time I’ll brew some caffeine and be more alert!

Take a deep breath. The most reassuring thing I learned is that we’re all still connected. We’re still a family.

It’s over way too soon! I’m already counting the days until Thanksgiving.

How about you more experienced empty-nesters, who’ve seen kids come and go on Fall Break or other vacations from college—what are some tips for the rest of us?

Feverish Far From Home: When Your College Kid Gets Sick

Get well
By Chris Little

It wasn’t long after my son got to college that I felt that primal urge to speed halfway across the state to rescue him. He was at the first home football game with some friends when early in the first quarter he began seeing those weird visual disturbances that signal an oncoming migraine. Now, he gets one every month or so, so he knows the signs and he’s got medicine that helps—which sadly he didn’t have with him at the game—no backpacks allowed. Still, he got himself home and slept it off and basically managed things fine. But then, just a couple days later, he felt another one coming on—he’s never had them that frequently, so I was more concerned. What should I do? Should I drive out there? But what could I do once I got there? In the end I suggested he go to his school’s student health center, which he did. The doctor adjusted his medicine and made a few other suggestions, and things are going better.

But I know this isn’t the last time my kid will ever have health problems far from home. You know, college kids live crammed together in those dorms, not getting enough sleep and sharing all kinds of germs. What can I do to support my kid—and his independence—when he’s sick at school? I did some reading, and here’s what I found:

First aid kitPreparation

  • Teach them to keep themselves healthy. Before they move out, we need to make sure our kids know all about healthful eating, sufficient resting, frequent hand-washing, and scrupulous sneeze-covering. Now’s your chance to nag!
  • Arm them with antibodies. Send your student off to college thoroughly vaccinated—her school will tell you what shots she needs.
  • Equip them with a first aid kit. Keep it simple: a thermometer, acetaminophen or ibuprofen, some antibiotic cream and bandages. You might also toss in some liquid soap or hand sanitizer.
  • Encourage them to get a flu shot. If her school doesn’t offer them, suggest that your student check the nearest pharmacy. I took advantage of my son’s recent Fall Break visit to have him vaccinated. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it’s less of a hassle than having the flu over exam week!
  • In case of emergency. Suggest that your student program her school’s emergency numbers into her cell phone. It’s also wise to know the location of the nearest urgent care center or emergency room.


No matter how hard your kid tries to stay healthy, she’s likely to get sick at some point during her college years. What should she do? For the most part, she should do just what you’d tell her to do if she were home, of course!

  • Shelter in place. If she’s not too sick, your student can just rest in her room and treat her symptoms with plentiful liquids and acetaminophen or cold medicine. It’s also a good idea for her to let her resident assistant know how she’s doing.
  • Get some help. If she’s very sick or has diarrhea and/or vomiting that doesn’t resolve in a couple hours, suggest that your child head to her school’s student health center. But don’t rely on the school to tell you how she’s doing—privacy rules prohibit them from discussing your student’s health unless she gives express permission.
  • Send a bulletin. If your student is sick enough to miss classes, remind her to notify her professors.

StethoscopeIn the Waiting Room

But what about us parents hovering at a distance — is there anything we can do? Sure!

  • Be available. Let your student know you’re there for him if he needs you, but don’t rush in to rescue him (but see below).
  • Be attentive. You might check in a little more often than usual via text or phone. But be sensitive to signals that your “a little more” is perhaps “a little too much” for your kid.
  • Be thick-skinned. Taking care of our sick offspring is a strong instinct! It’s hard not to take it personally when said offspring wants to take care of herself. Still, try to take her cold (though perhaps feverish) shoulder for what it is—a sign of healthy independence.
  • Be generous. That is, when it comes to mailing a care package and/or get-well card. Now’s your chance to indulge your nurturing impulses by packing that box full of tea, soup mix, tissues, favorite snacks, the works.
  • Be wise. If you’re worried that your student is in real trouble, such as struggling with depression or other serious emotional or physical difficulties, it’s probably time to step in more directly. And of course, if you fear your student is in danger, call the school and/or the local police immediately.

More Than a Common Cold?

Recovering from a more serious or longer-term illness like mono in a dorm room can be rough. What then?

  • Move in-house? Some student health centers are equipped with an infirmary where your student can rest apart from the ruckus in the dorm. Ask your student if this sounds like a good option.
  • Come home? Some families live close enough to bring their student home for a short break to recuperate—sometimes a few days of home-grown TLC is all it takes.
  • Keep the school in the loop. If you and your student determine that it’s best for him to come home for more than one or two days, make sure he notifies his professors, resident assistant, and academic advisor. Most professors will work with a student to accommodate a medical absence—if they know it’s happening.

I hate to think of my college kid suffering from an illness while he’s away from home, but I know it’s part of letting him grow into independence. What are some other strategies for supporting a sick kid from a distance?

Oatmeal: It’s What’s for Breakfast

As the temperatures drop on fall mornings, we need warm breakfasts to help us get moving! The re-post below is one of our most popular articles of all time, thanks in great part to Pinterest. Originally published in March of 2013, if you haven’t experimented with Mary Ann’s recipe for crock pot oatmeal yet, maybe these cool, fall mornings will provide the perfect opportunity!

By Mary Ann Filler

My Breakfast This Morning!

My breakfast this morning! There’s nothing like the warmth of home-cooked oatmeal to start the day!

If you love oatmeal but for convenience sake find yourself grabbing the pre-made packets with the high amounts of salt, sugar and who knows what else, this post is for you!

If you want to lower your cholesterol, boost your immune system, protect your heart, stabilize your blood sugar, lower your risk of diabetes, prevent cancer, or want a gluten-friendly/free meal this post may also be for you!

One of my highest priorities as a mother of two teens and a tween is to provide them with healthy meals. For several months, my oldest son has been reporting to school daily by 6 a.m. for early morning workouts with the baseball team.  I really wanted him to have a healthy breakfast before heading out the door in the wee hours of the morning.  However, waking up at 5 a.m. to prepare him breakfast was not too appealing.  Oatmeal made the night before in the crock pot was a perfect solution.

Apparently, crock pot oatmeal recipes are quite popular these days, but my recipe is one that I have developed over time.  I just love waking to the aroma of baked apples and cinnamon and a hot, healthy breakfast that takes no time at all to scoop in to individual bowls.   Of course you can add the fruit, cinnamon and nuts or a splash of cold milk after the cooking cycle or not at all.  You may even allow the “kiddos” to top the oatmeal as they wish.

MA’s Crockpot Oatmeal

Place the following ingredients in a slow cooker, stir and cook on low 6-8 hours.  As long as you have enough liquid in the crock pot you may vary the cooking time.  Also, I’ve noticed other crock pot oatmeal recipes recommending that the crock pot be greased prior to adding the ingredients.  I personally have not done that, and have not had issues with clean up.  If you typically prepare the surface of your crock pot to avoid sticking use butter or coconut oil for a healthy “lube  job.”

  1. 2-2.5 Cups of Liquid such as Water, Cow’s Milk, Almond Milk or Coconut Milk (I use Almond Milk)
  2. 2-3 Tbsp. of a sweetener such as Sugar, Brown Sugar, Honey, Maple Sugar (I use either Raw Honey or Maple Sugar)
  3. 1 Tbsp. of Butter…the REAL stuff!
  4. Pinch of Salt
  5. .5 to 1 tsp. Cinnamon (or more)
  6. 1 Cup Oatmeal (I use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Old Fashioned Rolled Oats)
  7. Fruit such as Apples (1-2), Bananas (1-2), Raisins or Dried Cranberries (a sprinkling to taste)
  8.  Chopped Nuts such as Almonds, Pecans or Walnuts (the amount here is a personal preference…1-2 Tbsp or more is a good start)

Other add-in/topping ideas may include but certainly are not limited to:  nut butters, cocoa powder, coconut, chia seeds, ground flax meal or seeds, blueberries, peaches and chocolate chips!  Isn’t this exciting, folks!  You can top your oatmeal just as you would your ice cream!

IMG_0213Or… Let Your Refrigerator Do the Work:

In the last couple of months I was introduced to a new “make the night before” oatmeal recipe.  Believe it or not, this oatmeal is made in the refrigerator!  The basic premise is to place all ingredients in a jar or bowl, stir and refrigerate overnight.  The next morning, you may eat the oatmeal hot or cold.  If you find yourself unable to eat breakfast prior to leaving the house in the morning, this is a great take along meal idea.

Here is the link to help you begin discovering the world of refrigerator oatmeal!  Who knew?!?

Click here for “Smart Sweet:  Chia, Choco and Banana Overnight Oats.”   Ladies, if you love chocolate…try the recipe!!

For more info on the health benefits of oatmeal, check out this link to Mother Earth Living.

Have you experimented with any of these alternative ways of preparing oatmeal?  We would love feedback!

Texts and Technology are Great, but it’s the Hand-Written Word that Matters


By Karen Hendricks

I miss my college freshman daughter every day, but our daily texts or comments on social media help to fill in the gaps. FaceTime has become an anticipated weekly tradition as well… except that the five of us still try to talk all at once and we have to learn how to pace ourselves and take turns with conversation!

As wonderful as technology is at helping us keep in touch despite the miles between us, I cherish the written word so much more. A few weeks ago, I was surprised to receive a care package FROM my daughter. It was a belated birthday gift–a college sweatshirt that I wear with great pride! But even more valuable: A hand-written letter that my daughter took the time to write. Written in her sweet handwriting, almost a page long, the letter expresses not only birthday wishes but thankfulness. Here’s an excerpt:

I just want to let you know how much I love you and how much I appreciate everything you have done for me. I cannot explain how much your support… and our family means to me. I am so lucky and blessed by God to have you, Mom! 

Do tangible things like letters hold more meaning simply because you CAN hold them? Although I enjoy her daily texts, this letter was much more meaningful and touching.

I sent her a college care package recently and included something written as well. First, I have to say that I have an obsession with paint chip samples. Ok, so, with paint chips on the brain, I came up with the idea to put together a little flip book using the paint chips as pages, and writing inspirational sayings, mom-isms and memories on the pages. She likes to put calendars with inspirational sayings on her desk, so I could imagine her getting a “daily dose of mom” via my flip book.

Hopefully it gave her a tangible reminder of how much her mom loves her too!









To make your own flip book, you simply need:

  • paint chip samples of the same size
  • a Sharpie for writing
  • a hole punch
  • a ribbon or a binder ring to hold the pages together

How do you keep in touch with your college-aged family members? Do you agree that the written word is more meaningful?

Click here for fellow blogger Chris Little’s series on “The Emptying Nest”

The Reluctant Family Historian

Ethel’s wedding portrait, c. 1908

By Chris Little

You know how sometimes you get an idea that won’t let go? That keeps you up at night and leaves you daydreaming at a green traffic light? Well, I’ve been trying to shake this one for awhile, with little success.

I hesitate even to write it down, but in the interest of courage and accountability, I’m going to tell you that I’ve been thinking for some time about writing a biography of my great-grandmother, Ethel. I’ve mentioned her here before: born in 1882, a portrait artist, mother of three, survivor of the Depression, she was also an occasional journal-keeper, a devoted letter-writer, and a scrapbook-constructing family historian in her own right. I’m fascinated by her, and part of me would love to gather all the yellowing bits of paper I have of hers and knit them together into her story.

But I have to admit another part of me is repelled by the idea—and I can get a little whiny about it: “You had your chance, Ethel,” I sometimes catch myself thinking. “You lived your life, you wrote your stories. Now it’s my turn. Why should I spend my life writing about yours?” That part of me really doesn’t want to spend hours and weeks and months in the basement sifting through dusty letters and journals, trying to decipher her atrocious handwriting and make a history out of what it says.

Still, the idea won’t let go, and my whining is increasingly drowned out by my interest. I’ve been transcribing her journals—like the one she kept as a 16-year-old schoolgirl in 1898. And the one she kept as a 25-year-old working artist in 1907, as she was being courted by my great-grandfather. And the one she kept on her honeymoon trip to Europe in 1909. In each of them she’s slightly different—sentimental and romantic in 1898, curt and businesslike in 1907, entranced by the colors of Italy and Switzerland in 1909. But her handwriting is such a mess even her relatives complain about it in letters to each other—I know: I’ve transcribed them too! Sometimes I have to retrace the track of her pencil with my finger on the table, over and over, to try to guess what she wrote. I’m getting a little better at it, the more of her writing I read, and it’s funny the sense of triumph I feel when I suddenly recognize just what it was she was writing.

With her children, c. 1920

I was thinking the other day that the deeper I get into this project, the more it seems to me that Ethel’s life, her joys and sorrows and pleasures and disappointments, are echoed in mine—not the same circumstances, to be sure, but the feelings animating them. Like when she walks back down her driveway after waving goodbye to her youngest son as he leaves for the Navy, and she remarks on how quiet and empty the house feels? Oh yes, I’ve been there! And when she comments about her daughter growing into a perfect companion, kind and tolerant and wise, I find myself nodding my head. Yes, I get that too. So I wonder if that’s part of the reason people like to look into their family histories, to find out that their ancestors were a lot like them—to connect with them somehow. This is as close as Ethel and I will get to sharing a pot of tea, and it’s pretty fun. Anyway, my whining is beginning to feel displaced—because in a way, learning and writing about Ethel’s story is a way of living, and understanding, my own. Does that make sense?

In her garden, c. 1950

Still, sometimes it gets to be too much, all that reading about the little things that were exciting or upsetting to people who’ve been dead for decades. When I start to feel weighed down by it all,  I take myself for a walk, or start dinner, or do some work on a freelance project. There’s only so much time I can put into this project in any given day, and that’s going to have to be okay.

Anyway, I’d like to revisit this topic from time to time as I slowly sink deeper into the Ethel Project, as I’ve come to call it. In the meantime I’d love to hear whether you’ve ever had any interest in learning more about your ancestors, or even just a relative a generation or two back. Why do you think you’ve wanted to do that? What do you think you’ve gained from it?