Archive | January 2014

50 Ways to Spend a Snow Day

By Karen Hendricks

Snow day

Sledding in our backyard is always a hit!

From working parents’ perspectives, snow days throw a big wrench into our schedules. Meantime, stay-at-home parents often rejoice at the chance to spend snow days with their children. Snow days are like “found treasure.”

I’ve experienced both extremes, and now that I’m a “work-from-home” parent, I think we’re in another category altogether! I’d like to enjoy this unexpected gift of time with my children, but snow days or not, my freelance work piles up on my desk and the emails continue to gather in my in-box. It’s hard to strike a balance, but I feel as though my family takes priority and I can work extra-hard, nose to the grindstone, to make up for it tomorrow (assuming school reopens)!

What to do?

It’s usually at the END of the snow day, that I think of a great project or fun activity that we SHOULD have done, to make our snow day extra special. So that I’m prepared for the next snow day (and  you are too), I’ve compiled a list of activities to jump-start the next snow day:

  1. Let the kids sleep in!
  2. Make a special breakfast or brunch together–pancakes, waffles, etc. Add chocolate chips!
  3. Stay in your pajamas all day. Sneak a few pictures if you have the chance! (If you decide on this option, then #4 is out, LOL.)
  4. Have fun outside–build a snowman, go sledding, have an epic snowball battle, etc. If your creative juices are really flowing, create a snow sculpture.
  5. Bring the snow in: Cut paper snowflakes and decorate the house.
  6. If the roads are cleared, visit a ski resort for a day of fun on the mountain. Click here for our blogger Mary Ann’s tips.
  7. Make the official beverage of snow days: hot chocolate with marshmallows. If you chopped and froze your Halloween candy, sprinkle some atop the mugs! Click here for our previous post on this.
  8. Or, make a big pot of tea. Add honey and lemon… or add milk. But not lemon AND milk. Gack.
  9. Snuggle up and watch a favorite movie together. Add popcorn!
  10. Read a pile of books together (if you have elementary school aged children), or camp out in the family room, for separate but “together” reading time. Add blankets and a cozy fire in the fireplace.
  11. Be active… indoors! Rediscover your ping pong table, foozeball, or Wii sports games.
  12. Catch up on homework, school projects, music practice, etc. Enjoy “study time” together.
  13. Look at family photo albums together.
  14. Enlist the kids’ help to organize family photos on the computer, even putting together a movie featuring favorite photos using Windows Movie Maker.
  15. Look through last summer’s beach vacation photos and create scrapbook pages together–either by hand or online. Click here for a previous post, with lots of inspiration for beach scrapbooks.
  16. Summer dreaming: Brainstorm and identify potential summer vacation plans. Do some online research together to find fun summer travel ideas, beach rental houses, etc. Click here for our previous post on family vacation tips.
  17. Plan an indoor scavenger hunt.
  18. Baking! Whether you create cookies or cupcakes together, baking warms up the house as well as your tummies. Click here for our easy PB Chocolate Chippers recipe–only 5 ingredients!
  19. Make an extra batch of goodies to deliver to neighbors and/or package and freeze them to add a homemade touch to school lunch boxes.
  20. Have fun discovering entertaining YouTube clips together.
  21. Organize! Tackle a home organization project together–clean out one of the kids’ drawers, closet shelves or bookshelves. Bag up outgrown clothes, toys or books to donate to another family.
  22. Do some birthday party planning for the next family member’s birthday.  Create invitations, by hand or online. Consider planning a “pie party” and make a list of all the delicious pies you’d like to make, tracking down all the recipes. Click here for our blogger Ruth’s tips on hosting a pie party.
  23. Play a marathon game of Monopoly!
  24. Pull out a variety of board games and play the afternoon away. Pledge to unplug and stash all devices away for the afternoon.
  25. Be artistic. Have fun creating with paints, origami paper, beads, or other art supplies.
  26. Sharpen your pencils and write poems about the snow. Post them on your refrigerator or bind them together for a keepsake.
  27. Make an ice “sun catcher.” Click here to see our post, with directions.
  28. Tackle a huge puzzle together! Put fun music on while you piece it together.
  29. Invite neighborhood friends over for a fun play day.
  30. Plan your summer garden with the kids’ input. Go online and order all the seeds.
  31. Make a big pot of soup together. Click here for a delicious homemade version of Tomato Rice Soup–especially yummy if you have canned or frozen tomatoes on hand from your summer garden.
  32. Pamper your pet. Work together to brush/comb your dog or cat. Wash their bedding/blankets, and scrub their pet food dishes. Whip up a batch of homemade dog biscuits in the oven. Take pictures of your pets. Take turns taking the dog out to do his business in the snow, LOL.
  33. Family talent show! Put on your favorite music, and dance… or sing your hearts out.
  34. Still have Christmas cards laying around? Click here for one of our most popular posts ever–a fun art project that “recycles” Christmas cards.
  35. Once the snow stops, head outside to shovel or use the snow blower to clear all walkways and driveways together. Lend a hand to your neighbors (and tap into your kids’ energy) by shoveling their walks too.
  36. If you’ve been outside playing or shoveling, chances are you’ll all be ready for an early bedtime. Pull out your bubble bath soaps and let a few family members indulge in warm, sudsy bubble baths before bedtime.
  37. Spa day! If your household contains girls, treat each other to manicures and/or pedicures at home.
  38. Heartfelt activities: If Valentine’s Day is approaching, get a jump start on your children’s valentines for school exchanges. If your children are older, create home-made valentines for grandparents, friends or other special people in their lives.
  39. If you have high school aged kids, it’s the perfect day to begin researching college decisions: potential majors and potential college choices. Bookmark  favorite college and career websites on your computer.
  40. Have apples on hand? Slice them up for a healthy snack and whip up our recipe for Peanut Butter Dip–click here for the recipe.
  41. This idea may not win you “Mother-of-the-Year,” but enlist everyone’s help to catch up on laundry. Have everyone sort their laundry and let the sudsy marathon begin! Plan a family treat to celebrate, once the last piece of clothing is clean.
  42. Assuming you’re wearing snow boots if you’re going outside, no one will need to wear their sneakers today. Gather all stinky sneakers and clean them, running a few pair through the washing machine at a time. Sit them by the fireplace or by a heater vent to dry. Whew!
  43. Get crafty with magazines. Rescue a stack of magazines from the recycle bin and create some artwork together. Younger children can create montages of favorite photos they find, while tweens and teens can create posters filled with inspirational words cut from the pages.
  44. Pick up the phone and call a relative or family friend who lives far away. Put the phone on “speaker” mode so the whole family can enjoy the conversation. Or, use Skype!
  45. Retell your favorite family stories. Roll a video camera to capture the juicy details!
  46. Ask each family member to plan an upcoming family dinner menu. Whether using tried and true family recipes or brand-new recipes, have each person make a list of groceries needed. Your next trip to the grocery store is planned! Click here for our blogger Jen’s awesome recipe for Chicken A L’Orange.
  47. Play vacuum cleaner tag. Have each family member vacuum one room of the house, then “tagging” the next person with the vacuum cleaner to clean another room. By the end of the game, the floors are clean. Mops work too! Have a treat in mind for everyone to enjoy when the last room is completed. It could be the family movie idea (#9) or reading time (#10)… not necessarily an edible treat.
  48. Look through your school yearbooks together–yes, your yearbooks as well as your kids’ yearbooks. Thank me later for all the laughs you’ll have.
  49. Create a playlist of your family’s favorite songs on Spotify. Or, have each family member create their own “top 10” list of favorite tunes.
  50. Hug often. Today is a gift.

And now that I’ve made this list… we probably won’t have another snow day all winter. Oh well, I’ll be ahead of the game for next winter!

What are your favorite ways to spend snow days? Add your ideas by commenting below!

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What’s In a Name: Part One

Photo Credit: People Equation

Photo Credit: People Equation

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

I hate my name. Well, parts of it anyway. Let me explain …

Several years ago, I asked my mother why she chose the name Jennifer for me. She responded this way: “Well, I was going to name you Jessica. But then I knew some ‘dumb jerk’ would start calling you ‘Jesse.’” I don’t know about you, but I can’t quite figure out why my mom thought naming me Jennifer would be much better as far as name butchering. That name has given people endless possibilities, and apparently license, to call me whatever version they wish–many of which I don’t like!

When I started school, I was called Jennifer until the first year of middle school in the fifth grade. It was the first day of school our well-meaning homeroom teacher said to let her know if we have a shorter version of our name, or a nickname we prefer to be called. This teacher also lived near my family and knew us well, and she knew the affectionate nickname my family had given me (no chance I’m sharing–sorry!). So when she began roll call and called out the name of another Jennifer in the class, that girl said she liked to be called ‘Jenny.’ So, Jenny it would be. When she called my name, however, I said that Jennifer was fine. Yet it didn’t end here. The teacher then asked me if I was “sure” I didn’t have another name I wanted to be called. And … she didn’t let it go until my nickname was “out there.” I was absolutely mortified. My life was ruined. From that point forward I was called that nickname – and I’m convinced that moment was my social undoing as a tween!

When I switched to a private high school, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be Jennifer again. Yet it was not to be so. My new class was very small–17 of us in all–and coincidentally there ended up being another Jennifer in it. On the first day of school she marched up to me, put her hands on her hips and declared, “My name is Jennifer too. I was here first and go by Jennifer, so you can be Jenny.” Completely intimidated, there I stood once again–my name being imposed on me. So Jenny I was. Over time, I got used to my name and the other Jennifer and I became close friends. I even played with spelling variations of the name–writing it first Jenni, and then Jennie.

Is this the image that comes to mind when you hear the name "Jenna?" It is for me - warm, loving, and lots of fun!

Is this the image that comes to mind when you hear the name “Jenna?” It is for me – warm, loving, and lots of fun!

As I got older, my mother and siblings started calling me Jen, yet I never cared for it. On occasion I have hinted that I don’t like to be called Jen, yet to no avail – that shortened version of my name has already taken hold. Now I am also called Aunt Jen by my nephews. In all correspondence and voicemail messages, however, I refer to myself as ‘Aunt Jennie.’ Has no one picked up on this? Ahhh–that name is now being passed down to younger generations!

When we started dating my husband and I discussed the many variations my name has taken, and I told him I’d never been satisfied with any shortened version. It was then that he came up with Jenna–and I was sold! Soon, his whole family began calling me that and eventually, if I developed a new friendship that became close, I asked my friend to call me Jenna. Whatever “a Jenna” is as opposed to “a Jen,” I’m not sure. What I do know though is that I feel most comfortable being Jenna among those with whom I am closest.

Over the course of my life most people have taken my name Jennifer and chopped it down to ‘Jen’–without my permission. This has happened in my social circles and professionally. In recent email correspondence with a newly introduced colleague, he began addressing me as Jen, even though I never signed my name as such. In my professional life, I go by Jennifer only.

I cannot understand why people take liberty with other’s names and think that’s okay. It’s not–it’s rude. I believe a person is entitled to be addressed how they wish. And, if at some point they ask to be called by another name, I think that effort should be made by others. That’s just basic respect.

A couple of years ago I reconnected with a former high school classmate for whom I now work. For his privacy, I will change his name … In high school, he was introduced to me as ‘Sammy’–the shortened version of his name, and nickname by which he was called. When we got back in touch, I learned he was now going by ‘Sam,’ and figured he just found this change to be more socially mature for his age, or a more professional sounding shortened version. I’m really not sure why the change, and I did find it hard to make after being used to calling him Sammy for so long. However, I made the change out of respect for him. I’m still not quite used to it, but if he wants to be called Sam, then Sam it is. Besides, Sam is now my boss so he can be called whatever he likes!

Many people take liberty and license to call people by any version of their name they like.

Many people take liberty and license to call people by any version of their name they like.

Addressing someone by the name they prefer shows respect for that person. Imposing a name on someone that you choose does not. The following is a list of etiquette tips for addressing people which may be used in social situations, as well as the business world:

  • Address a person using the name by which you are introduced – unless and until they tell you otherwise. For example, a new employee at work is introduced to you as ‘Michael.’ You shake hands and continue to address him as Michael until he says, “Please, call me Mike.” Then, Mike it is!
  • If you are unsure as to what name a person would like to be addressed, ask.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Because one person goes by ‘Mike,’ not all Michael’s wish to be addressed as such.
  • In regular situations, it is best to use both a person’s first and last name when making introductions. To use only a first name is not introducing the total person.
  • In a professional setting, keep the forms of address equal. If you use Ms. Smith, you must use Mr. Brown. You should not say, “Mary, this is Mr. Brown.”
  • Mention something about the people you are introducing. This will give them a starting point for their own conversation. “Mary Smith, this is Joe Brown. Joe shares your alma mater.”

In Part Two of “What’s In a Name?” I will share how to make proper business introductions. In the meantime, feel free to share any name butcher or blunder stories you have and how you’ve handled it! Have your experiences affected name(s) you have chosen for your children?

2013 in review

Happy New Year! We are so thankful to the entire “Off the Merry-Go-Round” community for finding and following us, adding your words of wisdom, and sharing your adventures in parenting, careers and life with us. We look forward to even more growth, lots of fun and surprises in 2014!

Click below to recap the success of 2013 with us… and check out some of our blog highlights you might have missed!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.