Archive | March 2014

Addicted to Technology?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Karen Hendricks

We use the word “addicted” in association with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, coffee (caffeine) and—sometimes in a teasing way—decadent foods like chocolate. But do you think it’s possible to become addicted to technology?

More and more research is pointing in that direction, saying that we are impulsively checking our phones and other devices as soon as emails “ping” into our inboxes or texts light up our screens. What do you think? Are there times when you feel addicted? Do you ever feel as though your children or spouse are “too connected?” Do you have rules or boundaries set for phone usage in your house?

I brought up this topic over the dinner table a few nights ago. Yes, we try to have dinner together as a family every night… it’s not always possible with sports schedules and other activities, but the majority of the time, we are successful! I think it’s one of the keys to family communication and connectedness. It’s also a sacred time, meaning that devices are not allowed at the dinner table. Rarely, there are exceptions, such as when my husband gets an emergency call from his phone service… or when we’re expecting a call from our college age daughter… but face-to-face dinner conversation is more important.

So, over dinner, we talked about Sundays and how they are probably the day when we use phones and devices (iPods, Kindles, etc.) the least. Sundays have a family feel to them, with our day typically beginning at church, progressing into our Sunday noontime tradition—brunch—usually with pancakes or waffles, and always bacon. Always. Afternoons are spent getting together with friends, watching sports together on TV, catching up on homework, doing fun projects around the house, taking walks or bike rides around our neighborhood, cooking Sunday dinners or baking special treats. It’s a day to recharge our batteries, but unplug from devices.

We don’t have a strict rule about phone or device use on Sundays, but we talked about how it’s just kind of evolved that way. And for that I am grateful. I cherish Sundays for their enriching family moments and want to preserve and protect these special days. Being unplugged allows us to unwind and reconnect with each other in some of the most binding ways: talking, sharing, laughing, touching, hugging and… loving each other.

Tell me what you think… I’d love to hear about your strategies and tips for keeping phone/device use in check. Feel free to leave a comment below!

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Recycle, Reuse and… Renovate!

A beautifully hand-crafted piece of furniture I had treasured for years now had to go ... What would become of such a meaningful part of my life?

A beautifully hand-crafted piece of furniture I had treasured for years now had to go …
What would become of such a meaningful part of my life?

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Well, I am officially “done” with all of this wintry weather and am ready for spring … springing forward, having an extra spring in my step, and that all-familiar pastime of spring cleaning!

My family and I have been slowly renovating the upper level of our rambler-style house for a couple of years now. It has taken a good deal of research and planning, yet we are nearly there – just the kitchen to go now!

Yes, renovating your house really CAN be this fun!

Yes, renovating your house really CAN be this fun!

In my blog, “Make Little Changes to Your Home to Create a Fab New Look!”  I took you on a tour of our dining/living room area and hallway, demonstrating how just a few small changes (yes, even inexpensive ones) can make a BIG difference in the overall appearance of your home.

As I read, research and learn more about renovating, I have also discovered that it is not only possible to make small, inexpensive changes to your house to create a whole new look, but that those changes can also involve using items and accessories you already have in your home in a completely different way to add to your home’s new “image” and décor.

In the past, when thinking about recycling, I pictured putting paper and cardboard, and plastics and aluminum, into containers to be reused and redistributed in another form. I thought about composting and conservation. What I didn’t consider is that when you take one item that you might otherwise sell, donate, or throw away – and find another use for it – that is recycling as well!

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STOP! Don't throw those leftover pieces of wood away just yet!

STOP! Don’t throw those leftover pieces of wood away just yet!

In the early 2000’s, a couple of years before I met my husband, I was living in Clearwater, Florida. My beloved grandmother (who was actually our neighbor a few houses down the street before we brought her so closely into our lives) had recently passed away from a stroke and I wanted to raise funds for the American Stroke Association in her memory. So I signed up, and trained, for my first half marathon which would be in Negril, Jamaica.

When I returned from a successful run, I found that my boyfriend had moved a large, beautifully hand-crafted (by him!) home entertainment center into my apartment’s living room. It was absolutely beautiful, made from red oak and mahogany wood with adjustable shelving, and I treasured it for many years. Over time, I found that this storage unit was also quite versatile and could suit most any home storage need – as a home entertainment center (it’s original purpose and for which it was designed); a display and/or book case; a buffet table; or all of these!

When I got married, my husband even had a piece of glass cut for the top to protect it, and so that piece of furniture followed us around until we landed at our current home in Maryland in 2006.

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Yes, the entertainment center was really THIS close when you opened our front door!

Yes, that “chunky” entertainment center was really THIS close when you opened our front door!

Our house is just 1,184 square feet – very small compared to what most people would consider livable square footage. None of the wall space in the living room, or my husband’s office space in our master suite, would “support” the 59 ½” l x 25” w x 32” h center once our other furniture was moved in. All of the bedrooms were too small as well. So, we put it along the wall just as you walk in our front door – in the small space we called our “foyer.” I put quotes around foyer because it was more like a few feet of floor space that you squeezed into from the front door before making your way to the living room; or around the corner to the dining room and then on to the kitchen.

In that space, the center appeared even larger than it already was – taking up a good portion of the entryway space. It was so big that one might even bump right into it when entering the house!

Although I had an emotional attachment to this piece and considered it a treasure, when it was time to renovate our foyer we knew it simply could not remain in this space. It was a tough decision, but in the end I decided to let it go. At first, we thought we might find someone special who would cherish the center. When we could not find a good home for it, we decided to sell it and use the money toward our renovations. We put an ad in local newspapers and other advertisement venues; as well as on Craig’s List and eBay – all to no avail.

My former entertainment center ... How could it possibly ever look as polished and lovely as it once did?

My former entertainment center … How could it possibly ever look as polished and lovely as it once did?

This piece simply could not stay, and my husband was about to chop it up for firewood, when our contractor took a second look. “You know…this comes apart.” That was my “ah-ha” moment, and then I knew just what I would do. Besides, if anyone could help me with my idea, it would be our contractor. He goes by “Dr. Dan,” and on his own completes his work intentionally and deliberately. The good doctor seems to be able to custom make just about anything. In my previous renovation blog, I also shared how he had “gutted” a really weird-looking closet in our hallway and created a gorgeous display shelving unit. Truly amazing!

So Dr. Dan dismantled the entire entertainment center – right there in the foyer area, piece by piece. The pieces were then stored so that he could add new tile flooring which we had chosen.

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We decided to purchase more expensive tiles to make our entrance appear a little more “grand,” even though the style of the floor was actually quite simple. This was the only part of our renovation where we did not “recycle;” rather took on the expense to achieve a goal that may not have been workable otherwise. Besides, we knew that since we had purchased a high- quality flooring, it would last us many years – possibly even the remainder of our time in our house.

We spared no expense on our new tile flooring - the only part of our renovation where we did not "recycle."

We spared no expense on our new tile flooring – the only part of our renovation where we did not “recycle.”

By adding new flooring, this area was quickly transformed in three ways – functionally and aesthetically:

  • The entrance space was given an illusion of being bigger by extending the tile flooring toward the living and dining areas
  • A simple and neutral design kept the area from looking too pretentious for our quaint rambler-style home; and hid much of the dirt and mud that gets tracked into our house from the wooded acreage on which we live
  • The type of flooring we chose – color scheme and texture, made the area much easier to keep clean

Previously, there was a “strip” of plastic laminate flooring which was so cheaply made and sloppily installed that it looked very out of place with the genuine hardwood floors throughout the house. The illusion we hoped to create in this way was successful; and our completed entryway/foyer now has a “sweeping” effect as you enter our house.

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OMG! What a mess! Is there any way this tiny foyer closet can be transformed inexpensively into something more...aesthetically pleasing???

OMG! What a mess! Is there any way this tiny foyer closet can be transformed inexpensively into something more…aesthetically pleasing???

Dan then set to work on our entryway coat closet. Prior to our renovation, the closet had been small, dark and, admittedly, smelly (once dirty old work boots began rotting away inside!). Soon, however, the old, plain, cheaply constructed outer door was removed and a lovely, dark wooden retro-style “accordion” door was installed in its place – eliminating a door that swings so far open that it takes up half the entryway when opened.

Simply changing the style of door on the front of the closet instantly served three renovation purposes – practical and decorative:

  • Added a dramatic, eye-catching detail to the space
  • Created more space with a trimmer door
  • Accented the overall style throughout the house ~ contemporary, with retro designs and accents that “give a nod” to the 1960’s

A beautiful new closet door!

A beautiful new closet door!

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Next, Dan pulled out the makeshift wooden shelf up top and lined the entire inside of the closet with cedar wood (goodbye moth holes in jacket pockets!). The matching makeshift wooden “bar” on which to hang coats was kept in place, however. We figured why buy a new one when all our contractor needed to do to improve its appearance and make it match the rest of the closet is stain it? Plus, this was yet another “nod” – this time to all of the do-it-yourself owners who came before us! Though we have had to replace nearly everything you sloppily installed throughout the house, we do applaud your attempt at saving a few bucks.

Now, finally, here’s the part where I recycle! Once the entertainment center had been taken apart, our contractor worked hard to keep as much of the shelving and beveled wood intact. He then cut and smoothed all the separate pieces to create partitioned shelving in the closet, matching the design sketched by my husband.

Now, we had added pockets of storage in a wonderfully smelling closet – and one that even magically somehow looked larger inside than before! Just like our display shelves in the hallway, our closet had a custom-designed, unique look that when seen one would have a hard time believing it had once been an entertainment center that held a television set and stereo!

Ta-da! Our "new" closet!

Ta-da! Our “new” closet!

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So if you are looking to change-up an area of your home such as an entryway; closet; or other space in your house, before you troll through Home Depot or Lowe’s, or search online for renovation ideas – simply take a walk around your own home. You just never know what you may find that can be turned into something else and recycled to meet your current renovation needs!

A beautiful, warm, and inviting (not to mention larger in appearance) entrance way awaits us when we arrive back home. And...I no longer need to use quotation marks around the word Foyer ~ I truly have one now!

A beautiful, warm, and inviting (not to mention larger in appearance) entryway awaits us when we arrive back home. And…I no longer need to use quotation marks around the word Foyer ~ I truly have one now!

Happy recycling! Have you found anything in your home that you have turned into something else? Have you embarked on any recent projects you would like to share, along with any interesting renovation techniques or discoveries you found along the way? We would love to hear your recycling and renovation ideas!

Bad apples and sad stories: When your family research uncovers dark secrets, tragic tales, or shady characters

Bad apples

By Chris Little

When I began researching my great-grandmother’s life, I kept running into a wall when it came to her father. She scarcely mentioned him in her journals, and the newspaper column announcing her wedding in 1908 noted that he was too ill to attend the ceremony. And then in 1909, when his wife and unmarried daughters moved from the Boston suburbs to live near his son in Seattle, he did not join them. For a long time I thought he had died that year, but I recently uncovered records indicating that he had been committed to a state mental hospital in 1909, and that he had lived there until his death in 1919. There is much I still don’t know about that situation, but I’ve applied to receive his medical records and they should be arriving shortly—I look forward to learning more about those last ten years of his life …. sort of. It’s bound to be a sad story, one I’ll have to read between the lines of an attending physician’s report.

Mine is a rather tame example, but it raises the question: We may love to think of our ancestors as paragons of fortitude, resilience, and unimpeachable character, but what do we do when our family research uncovers a tragic story, or a deep family secret, even an criminal character?

Most of the time it’s not a big deal. I mean, it’s too bad that my great-great-grandfather died in a mental institution, it really is, but to be honest his tale feels pretty remote to me—I don’t expect the story I piece together from his medical records to knock me off balance too much. I think it’ll be kind of interesting, actually.

But sometimes these old stories can unexpectedly uncover darker stories—tales of shady characters who may lurk in our family tree. These stories can be a bit unsettling. “Experts say reactions can range from detached bemusement to identity confusion and soul-searching as the researcher tries to understand—and rethink—his or her lineage,” writes Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal. Our ability to accept the bad apples in our family tree depends in part on how bad they were—and how far from us they hang among the branches. It’s important to maintain some perspective—they are not us, after all, and their deeds are not ours.

Still, in some cases our history can shed light on our present, and knowing even the darkest sides of our family histories can be healing. “Becoming aware of patterns of alcoholism, divorce, abuse or other misbehavior can make it easier for people living today to understand and change them,” writes Shellenbarger.

While sometimes we may stumble across these uncomfortable family stories without intentionally seeking them out, some researchers go looking for the black sheep in their family, their curiosity piqued, say, by a raised eyebrow or a loaded silence at last summer’s family reunion. Maybe you’ve picked up on some reticence on the part of your older relatives when someone mentions your wild distant uncle, for example, or maybe it’s always hush-hush when the topic of your great-grandfather comes up. In my own case, the marked lack of information about my great-great-grandfather, especially in a family so dedicated to preserving its history, is what initially made me suspect that something had happened to him that the others didn’t want to discuss. Suffice it to say that most families harbor some kind of secret, and sometimes those secrets beckon intriguingly to the intrepid researcher.

But be prepared: “Before you go digging for the truth, know what you’re getting into,” writes Lisa A. Alzo in Family Tree Magazine. “We’re tempted to look at our family histories through rose-colored glasses, but that’s not realistic.” Alzo provides helpful strategies for fleshing out your research, but she includes a proviso from Ohio genealogist Chris Staats: “As genealogists, we are most interested in the truth. Sometimes the truth is not what we would like it to be and sometimes it makes us uncomfortable.”

What’s more, learning the truth behind an uncomfortable family secret brings with it a moral—and in some cases, legal—responsibility toward those involved and their descendants, especially if you intend to share your story publicly. You’ll want to think through the consequences of sharing your knowledge, whether with your family or the public at large, and resolve that if you choose to go public with the skeletons in your family closet, you do so with sensitivity and respect.

So, once you’re ready, here are a couple interesting resources for tracking down those ne’er-do-wells in your family tree:

Kimberly Powell describes tactics for searching prison inmate databases in this About.com article. She writes here about tracking down infamous ancestors.

And in addition to her article quoted above, genealogist Lisa Alzo provides suggestions for tracking down your ancestors through the tragedies in their lives in this article for Archives.com.

Image: Some rights reserved by Public Domain Photos.

Work it out… Finding Time for Mom

The crescent moon yoga pose stretches arms and side abdominals...

The crescent moon yoga pose stretches arms and side abdominals… Image: Licensed under Creative Commons by Jessmyintyre

By Karen Hendricks

One of the most challenging things nearly all moms face: finding time to exercise. Why is it, that we are all so busy, yet struggle to make time to stay fit and healthy?

It’s hard… I get it! I think the main reason most moms don’t exercise often enough is because we put our family first and ourselves last. Nearly two years ago, when I made radical changes to my professional life, jumping “off the merry-go-round” of 60 hour workweeks meant a commitment to becoming healthier in mind, body and spirit, for my health as well as our overall family’s health. Trimming and toning my professional life translated into the need to trim and tone my body as well. Today, I am happy to say that I am 15 lbs lighter and feeling much healthier, thanks to a (mostly) whole foods diet and regular exercise routine. And because I’m taking better care of myself, I’m better equipped to take care of my family.

Here are 5 tips that I slowly introduced into my daily routines that I hope can help you accomplish your fitness goals too:

1. Walk as often as you can. Think about opportunities throughout your daily routine when you can lace up your sneakers and walk. My town now has a walking path so I will often walk into town for errands rather than drive. Also, while my children are at various sports practices, rather than driving home, I will more often stay at the fields and walk during that time period. It’s a great opportunity to show your children that you enjoy exercise as much as they do. Other benefits: you might learn more about your children’s sports of choice, you will definitely save on gas money driving back and forth to practices by staying put, it’s also a chance to enjoy music—bring along your iPod and ear buds, or you might forge new friendships with other moms by walking together.

2. Define your “wheels” in a new way. Biking is another great way to get around! Along the same lines as walking your regular routes (above), think about your routines and see if you can replace even just one car trip per week with your bike. For example, I have a grocery store just a mile from my home. On those occasions when I only need a handful of items (and they can easily fit into a backpack), I bike to the store and “kill two birds with one stone.” And a little extra weight on the back adds to the workout on the bike ride home! Biking with your family is another great option—you’ll be staying in shape and enjoying family time together.

3. Sign up for a class or join a fitness center. If you make this commitment, you’re more likely to follow through… because you’ll have a set schedule to hold you accountable and because you’ll want to “get your money’s worth.” Quite often, gyms and fitness centers offer special introductory rates. A few years ago, when my daughters were both enrolled in dance classes, I took a pilates class that ran simultaneously—that made it easy to fit into our family routine. I absolutely loved it! Pilates focuses on strengthening your core—your abs and back—through quality movement (not quantity) and proper breathing technique. After trying Jazzercise, Zumba and other more aerobic classes, I found that pilates provided a much more peaceful, refreshed frame of mind, as well as the toning and strengthening my body needed. Another benefit to pilates: It builds long, lean muscles which are more flexible, rather than bulky muscles produced by weight-bearing exercises. Once you have taken classes by a licensed Pilates instructor and have learned most of the essential exercises, you can truly continue on your own at home by devising your own routine or by using DVDs. I located a few beginners’ YouTube clips if you’d like to give it a whirl:

Beginner Pilates Workout – an introductory workout especially helpful if you’ve never done pilates before.

How to Get a Pilates Body in 10 Minutes – a short pilates routine to use when you’re tight on time. Yet, it hits every major muscle group! 

Stretchhhhhh.... Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stretchhhhhh…. Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4. Yay for yoga! Many people confuse pilates with yoga, and it’s true that there are similarities. Pilates is defined as “physical conditioning involving low-impact exercises and stretches” while yoga is “a series of postures and breathing exercises practice to achieve control of the body and mind; a school of Hindu philosophy with physical and mental disciplines.” (Dictionary.com) If you take yoga classes, you may need to shop around for a yogi that suits your needs as a leader. Several friends of mine have enjoyed the physical aspects but have clashed with instructors’ religious beliefs. I did not have this issue; my pilates teacher would often switch between the two and mix things up during class. She used yoga primarily as a way to focus, center and truly “listen” to your breathing and meditate before and/or after the hard work of the pilates exercises. The benefits of yoga go far beyond exercise—yoga is said to heal aches and pains, boost immunity and keep illness away, improve sleeping habits and much more. Click here to read “38 Ways Yoga Keeps You Fit.”

5. Step it up! This winter’s miserable, cold weather made it nearly impossible to get outdoors to walk or bike on a regular basis. Feeling “cooped up” indoors, I discovered an easy way to fit exercise right into my morning routine without freezing to death: step aerobics. Again, using a multi-tasking approach, I have found that “stepping” is a great way to start the day when combined with the distraction/enrichment of watching the morning news (I’m partial to the Today Show). I started out with simple step routines for about 20 minutes and gradually increased to 30 and 45 minutes. I keep a water bottle close by, and by the end, I feel energized plus I’m prepped on the news of the day.

Steps do not need to be complicated; you can simply step up and down, across and backwards, or side to side across the step. However if you’d like to graduate to more complicated patterns, there are some great ideas on YouTube, or again, take a step aerobics class at your local gym, and then develop your own routines.

Jamie and Tracey of Breathe Repeat

Jamie and Tracey of Breathe Repeat

A few more resources:

Click here for “Breathe Repeat,” a blog website focused on all things yoga. This is a great resource I subscribed to, after taking yoga classes from Tracey and Jamie at a conference in New York. 

Our blogger Jen shares her advice and inspiration to moms who want to train and run a 5K – Click here for her helpful post.

Stretching throughout the day is a wonderful stress reliever! Click here for our blogger Jennifer’s post “Brain Strain: What We Can Upload to Unload.”

Wishing you all the best with your workouts! Feel free to share your tips, advice and ideas below. What works for you? 🙂

Poetry Part 2: So What’s Behind All Those Stanzas Anyway?

Old Letters & Quill: Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Old Letters & Quill: Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Attention all you future William Wordsworth’s and Robert Frost’s … Emily Dickinson’s and Sylvia Plath’s … Shel Silverstein’s and Amy Lowell’s – I know you’re out there! And whether or not you agree that you have it “in you” to be a great poet, let’s take a look at what comprises poetry and what draws us to it. Time spent exploring poetry is certainly enriching time spent “off the merry-go-round!”

In “Poetry Part I: What Is Poetry – Exactly?” we explored the “definition” of poetry, as well as what constitutes a poem. When you hear the word poetry, what goes through your mind? You might have a fixed idea in your head about what that means. But did you know that there is a whole world of different types of poetry out there just waiting to be explored – by you!

Here in Part 2, we will look at what draws us to certain kinds of poetry – why one poem might “speak to us” over another, as well as why someone might want to use poetry as a form of expression. We will then explore the more popular and familiar forms of poetry, and discover the first step toward composing a basic poem.

One of my favorite, albeit quirky, poets is E.E. Cummings. I think my enjoyment of his poetry stems from the memory of when he was introduced to me. The summer after I graduated from high school I had to have all four of my wisdom teeth removed – at once. Needless to say, later in the day following the surgery I didn’t feel that well. So my mother came to my bedside and read to me. She read Cummings’ poem, “in Just.” I took to it immediately and have read it many times since then. I explored and read other poems by Cummings. One I also enjoy is, “I Carry Your Heart with Me,” and it reminds me of what perhaps my mother thinks when she remembers my father who recently passed away.

I know why I like this poet and these two poems in particular. However, it is not as easy for me to express why I like Robert Frost’s, “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” These are two of my favorites by this poet, yet exactly what makes them so and why they are the two poems I think of when I think of Robert Frost I don’t know. I think perhaps it is his use of language – and this just illustrates that sometimes the answers to these questions about poetry are unclear. Rather, the reason may be simply “because.”

When you begin to read poetry, you will inevitably be drawn to certain styles of poetry, and authors whose work just “speaks to” you.  (Snowy Forest - image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

When you begin to read poetry, you will inevitably be drawn to certain styles of poetry, and authors whose work just “speaks to” you. (Snowy Forest – image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Many of you may have a favorite poet as well – an author whose prose simply “speaks to” you, though you may not even know exactly why. The why it does, however, is not as important as that you have found a poet and a style of poetry that you enjoy, as well as one that you can relate to as you read his or her work.

There are so many types of poetry that exist (and are still being created!) that it is nearly impossible to summarize and categorize them all, and some can be quite complex. However, there are more well-known, popular, and familiar forms you can learn to compose.

Categories of Poems

I.  Formal or Traditional

Some fixed forms such as sonnets (of which Shakespeare composed many) or limericks (remember Edward Lear?) have very specific line counts, rhythmic patterns and rhyme schemes. Other forms are classified by their use of different kinds of “constraints” – such as repeating end words, or words that repeat later in the poem.

II.  Free Verse

Free verse poems are very common today; and are less complex and easier to compose. They don’t have specific fixed rules in terms of line count, and rhythmic patterns or rhyme. In fact, most free verse poems actually don’t rhyme. Although some free verse poetry does incorporate a few traditional elements (e.g. alliteration), and can use rhythmic patterns and rhyme, there is no specific rule it must rely on to do so. Free verse poetry also relies on line breaks, which can be broken in different places to emphasize different words in the poem and create different meanings. The best part? The format of free verse poetry is determined by the author!

III.  Prose

Prose poetry combines elements of prose and poetry into one “hybrid form.” It doesn’t use line breaks, however does use a lot of the same techniques as free verse: alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme, and poetic imagery.

IV.  Experimental

Some types of poetry step in an entirely different direction and therefore are classified as experimental poetry. An example is “Oulipo” which uses different types of formulas and constraints to create new poems. For example, the author of this type of poem might take a poem that already exists, and replace each noun with a different noun from the dictionary. Pretty wild!

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The best way to get started writing poetry is to read poetry. Of course, you may find a few forms of poetry more enjoyable to read than others, yet the important thing is just that you are reading. This allows you to immerse yourself in the language and form used, and perhaps soon find that words in a certain form begin flowing naturally for you as you begin to compose.

As a lover of poetry, and a writer of poetry, I often look online for poetry websites. I recently came across a wonderful site that I think you will really enjoy checking out! Family Friend Poems is a simple, yet popular site for contemporary poetry published on the Internet. There are thousands of poems organized by themes, and the site prides itself on being different from other poetry websites. Family Friend Poems publishes contemporary poems not already posted on the Internet, though only after they know they are well-liked by their audience. Posted poems are enhanced by the stories of many readers facing similar life events. Once a poem is published, the site uses feedback from ratings and sharing metrics to ensure that published poems are meeting the readers’ needs.

What I really like about this site is that the writers are “everyday” people – who just happen to enjoy creating and writing poetry. Poetry is such a wonderful way to express everything from a simple topic that amuses the author, to some of life’s most powerful experiences and the deep emotions that accompany them. I think of writing poetry almost like making a short journal entry.

When you visit a particular subject matter on the site, it takes you to an introductory page that explains the general topic, or theme, for each poem categorized there. For example, an excerpt from the section on “Nature Poems:”

Whether one is watching a thrilling thunderstorm or looking up at a mighty tree, the experience of nature is one of awe. One cannot help but marvel at the intricate design of a single leaf, or the roar of a great waterfall. Time spent in nature is time spent realizing that you don’t know it all and that you never will…

Preceding each poem, the author then offers a brief summary as to why they wrote the poem; as well as perhaps how they got into writing poetry. I came across what I thought is a beautiful poem about nature called “May’s Spring Days” (© Hemakumar Nanayakkara). Here is the first stanza:

Over the distant mountains morning breeze blows
Humming through robust beech birch and oak trees
Evergreen pines whistle to the tune of nippy breeze
Group of songbirds sing delightful springtime Songs

Willow Catkin - Photo Credit: Licensed under Creative Commons by Aka

Willow Catkin – Photo Credit: Licensed under Creative Commons by Aka

Reading the writing of others will enhance your own. Reading this poem in its entirety got me thinking about nature which I enjoy most in springtime and the warmer weather it brings. For me, it is a time of renewal. The more poems about nature I read from this site, the more the writing spirit inside me stirred.

Once you have immersed yourself in the writing of other poets (and not necessarily well-known ones), the more you too will find the words to express how you are feeling … about anything that is on your mind! Another way you can get started writing poetry is to immerse yourself in experiences. Simply put – get out there! Even a quiet walk in a light, soft rain can spark a creative feeling; and what you see and feel around you can bring those descriptive words to mind.

Do you have what it takes to write a poem? We’ll find out in Part 3! In the final part of our poetry series, we will learn specific ways how to write poetry – even if you have never composed a poem before. Additionally, I will share a poem I wrote, as well as how I got the idea for my poem.

In the meantime… Share your favorite poems and/or poets with us. Feel free to offer any tips for writing poetry that you have found helpful – you may just read them in part 3!

Wrinkles in Time: When your life echoes the past — and why that’s really awesome

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By Chris Little

One of the most rewarding parts of researching and writing about my great-grandmother Ethel’s life is when my life seems to replay hers.  

A few months ago I spent an afternoon transcribing a stack of letters she had written to her youngest son. It was 1935, and Ethel and her husband were digging out of the Great Depression. They had moved from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Memphis, Tennessee, so that he could rebuild his landscape architecture practice in an area with a longer growing season. Things were looking up for Ethel, after the long years of uncertainty and real poverty, and she was immensely proud of her son, who had enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was working to gain admission to the U.S. Naval Academy.

I spent an autumn afternoon reading through her letters—which were mostly responses to his letters describing life at sea. She had sprinkled her replies with homey little details about her shopping trips to town and the progress of her flower garden. As I transcribed the letters, I wove them together with selections from her unpublished memoir, in which she described these same years of settling in to a new home in a new part of the country. In her memoir Ethel remembered warm days alone with her dog while her husband was off at work, and long walks down her driveway, past the cotton fields bordering her little house in the country to pick up the mail—and how each day she’d hope to receive a letter from her son.

All that reading and transcribing was fun, right? But eventually I needed a break, so I grabbed an apple and called the dog and took a walk down my long driveway to the mailbox—maybe there would be a letter from my son, who’s away at his first year of college.

Somewhere along the driveway it dawned on me that this is what Ethel did. Yeah I know, not a big deal, right? Lots of people walk down the driveway to pick up the mail. But somehow it meant something to me that my life was overlapping hers just a little—we were both missing our sons and hoping to hear from them at the end of a long walk on a warm afternoon—it was a kind of wrinkle in time.

It happened again this winter, as I was transcribing Ethel’s journals from her 1909 honeymoon trip to Europe. Last spring I was fortunate enough to go to Italy for a couple weeks to see the principal sights in Venice, Florence, and Rome, so it was really fun to read Ethel’s descriptions of being in those same cities—in many cases standing in the same churches I did, and before the same paintings. I was amused to find that she was as unimpressed by St. Peter’s Basilica as I was: “We did not seem a part of it, nor did it convey to me a sense of repose or reverence or sanctity, but only wonder at the prodigious achievement,” she wrote, while I had similarly, albeit much less poetically, compared St. Peter’s in my own journal to “a glorified train station.” That said, we were both utterly bowled over by the Pantheon. Neither of us cared much for the tourist shops in Venice but could have lived in Florence for a good long time.

I don’t know whether this is trite coincidence or something important. But what I think is that spending time learning about Ethel’s life—where she went and what she did and what she thought about it—lends a depth of meaning to my own life, especially when I go to the same places and do and think the same things. It both compresses and lengthens time, telescoping her past into my present and, as I write a record of her life, extending both her life and mine generations into the future.

I don’t farm land that’s been in my family for generations, and I don’t live in the same house my ancestors lived and gave birth and died in, but I can see how being connected with your family in those ways can make you feel anchored in place and time, rooted in a story that doesn’t belong only to you but also, in one direction, to your ancestors, and in the other, to your children’s children. Since many of us are disconnected from the geographic roots of our family, researching our family history may be a great way to develop a sense of connection that can be meaningful, not to mention build resiliency and purpose. So let’s call that Reason No. 253 (give or take) why it’s a fabulous idea to research your family history.

Image: Some rights reserved by karlenj5.

How to Create a Terrarium

By Karen Hendricks

A touch of spring greenery... inside a terrarium!

A touch of spring greenery… inside a terrarium!

TGIM… Thank Goodness It’s March! Hopefully we’ve witnessed the last snowstorm until next winter, and from here on out, there’s “green” in the forecast, straight through St. Patty’s Day and beyond. Until the sweet green grass of springtime starts appearing outside, here’s one way to bring a little green into your life: By creating a terrarium.

My daughter Kelly & I were inspired to create a terrarium a few years ago, after seeing them at the Philadelphia Flower Show (which is taking place this week–wish we could go again!). What an incredible event! If you ever have the chance to go… do it. It’s a complete immersion into springtime, with inspiration, beauty, advice and entertainment aplenty.

Here’s just a small sampling of some of the terrariums we admired:

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Even if you don’t think you have a green thumb, this is the easiest form of gardening there is, and I’m sure “you can do it.” A terrarium basically takes care of itself. This little ecosystem under glass retains its moisture, and as long as you have a little heat from the sun every day, it produces the humidity needed to keep your plants happy. Our original terrarium was so happy, the plants outgrew the container and we had to transplant them. Now it’s time to create a new terrarium!

We found this beautifully-shaped glass container at TJ Maxx for about $10.

We found this beautifully-shaped glass container at TJ Maxx for about $10.

Supplies Needed:

  • A glass container (We found ours at TJ Maxx for about $10)
  • Rocks or gravel
  • Potting soil
  • Plants: We’ve had great luck with African violets. Some of the terrariums pictured above also include ferns and ivy. Aim for plants of the same type, needing the same general amounts of light and moisture.
  • Moss for atop the soil
  • Decorative rocks, twigs, figurines, etc

Just follow the sequence of photos below, for step-by-step instructions.

These river rocks, found in the aquarium supplies section of Wal-Mart, work wonderfully in the bottom of a terrarium.

These river rocks, found in the aquarium supply section of Wal-Mart, work wonderfully in the bottom of a terrarium.

Spread a layer of rocks or gravel in the bottom of your container.

Spread a layer of rocks or gravel in the bottom of your container.

Set aside a few colorful rocks that catch your eye. Save them for decorative touches later.

Set aside a few colorful rocks that catch your eye. Save them for decorative touches later.

Next, spread a layer of potting soil and lightly sprinkle with a watering can.

Next, spread a layer of potting soil and lightly sprinkle with a watering can.

Place your plant(s) inside the terrarium and add potting soil around and in between them.

Place your plant(s) inside the terrarium and add potting soil around and in between them.

Add patch(es) of moss atop your soil. To be honest with you, in between winter snowfalls, I used an old table knife to carefully remove some from my yard.

Add patch(es) of moss atop your soil. To be honest with you, in between winter snowfalls, I used an old table knife to carefully remove some from my yard.

Add moss and decorative touches to the terrarium. Be creative!

Add moss and decorative touches to the terrarium. Be creative!

Little figurines such as these turtles add a touch of whimsy.

Little figurines such as these turtles add a touch of whimsy.

Our completed terrarium!  Water lightly and place in a warm, partly sunny location.

Our completed terrarium! Water lightly and place in a warm, partly sunny location.

Additional tips: Don’t place in direct sunlight or your plants will burn. Remove any dead or decaying leaves so the terrarium doesn’t become diseased. Do not over water. As long as you see moisture and “clouds” inside your terrarium, you might not need to water it again for weeks or months. When you no longer see moisture, lightly water or spray mist inside the terrarium. Enjoy!

Have you grown a terrarium? What tips can you add? Is there a wonderful garden show in your area that you can recommend to the Off the Merry-Go-Round community?