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How to Catch Your Breath and Recharge!

A beautiful butterfly showing off just for me!

A beautiful butterfly showing off just for me!

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Many of us within our Off the Merry-Go-Round community have had a very busy, and trying, summer. Coincidentally, we have been trying to adjust to new work and school routines, say “goodbye” to our children (of all ages!), battle illness, handle personal stresses, and the list goes on …

As I recover from my third surgery in 2 ½ years and try to regain some semblance of my former self, I find I also need to get back to my writing work, catch up on household projects, and say goodbye to my “baby” as he begins preschool this fall. In the midst of all of this, my inner voice is shouting at myself to get going and I can’t seem to turn it off. It is certainly time to recharge!

In a few of my blogs I have an underlying theme of how “little things” really matter. So, I have decided to listen to my own advice and start making the time to plug into those little visions, little words, little moments, little happenings.

With sweet summertime coming to an end, and the fall getting underway, I encourage you to take a little time to do the same. All it really takes is about 10 minutes to let go of some of the stress you are dealing with, catch a breath of fresh air, and simply take in your environment – all while gaining a little more peace, sanity, and optimism.

Here’s what I suggest. Right now … yes, right now get up from wherever you are (and hopefully you’re not in the middle of a board meeting) and simply walk outside. And then? Keep walking! As you walk, take several deep breaths in and exhale them, rolling your shoulders back and down. Now that you have literally caught your breath and stood upright, just stroll around – your yard, your neighborhood, the sidewalk block or parking lot in front of your work building. For 10 minutes.

Keep in mind that this is not a workout and you should not be breathing hard when you finish. This is only meant to be a quiet, peaceful walk to silence your overcharged, busy mind and think on … the little things. They really are most important in this world!

I did this on a Sunday morning when my husband took my son to church and I continued trying to heal my body – and spirit! – while resting at home. Here is what I saw. (Click on any image to open a slide show.)

Please share how you are recharging your body, mind, and spirit as the fall season begins. What are some things you saw on a short, meditative walk? Or, did you find another way to bring sanity to your world? We look forward to hearing from you!

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Cause for Celebration!

red cakeBy Karen Hendricks

“Off the Merry-Go-Round” is celebrating its first birthday! And we are so grateful to everyone who has joined us on this journey.

Whether you are a parent, mom or dad, or even a grandparent, working in an office or working at home, juggling your family with part-time or full-time employment, we are thankful that you are reading, laughing or stressing with us, commenting, offering advice and adding to this community.

When the six of us embarked on this venture a year ago, we sure hoped YOU would find us… and plenty of YOU did and are still finding and joining us. Thanks a bunch! We love hearing from you and reading your words of wisdom.

Check out this COOL word art, created when we plugged our website URL into Wordle.net. It’s generated from the most commonly-used words over the past year. Any surprise that “family” and “time” are the most prominent words? Pretty fascinating, eh?

one year wordle

When we launched this website a year ago, all six of us had pretty much left full-time employment in the dust. We all worked (certainly inside the home—but outside the home as well!) and our careers were all taking a backseat. Our first stab at a mission and tagline went like this:

Mission: to provide a place of community & inspiration for moms who have left corporate or full-time careers in order to spend more time with their children & families. Re-prioritizing, they are seeking more meaningful, enriched family lives.  

Welcome and congrats for “jumping off the merry-go-round.” Enjoy this blog as a source of community and inspiration for all moms who have scaled back their professional careers in favor of more enriching family time.

A lot has changed in the past year! Several of us have taken on new jobs and larger career roles… and there are times when we wonder if we are truly “off the merry-go-round.”

Most of our subjects here are about balance… trying to maintain balance between work and family, sanity and insanity! But seriously, we don’t want to make anyone feel excluded. Just because a parent is a full-time working parent doesn’t mean he/she can’t still cherish family time. And we wanted to be honest about our situations… we aren’t 100% stay-at-home moms, yet we all strive to carve out family time, to make life as meaningful as possible for our families. We want this website to reflect how much we love and care about our families as our number one priority.

We wanted to reflect this slightly different outlook so we switched up our mission/tagline and are redefined as:

Off the Merry-Go-Round: A place of community and inspiration for parents who cherish time with their children and families.

* Let us know what you think about our change! And we sure hope you stick around for the next year… 🙂

 

Coping with the Emptying Nest: Easy Does It

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By Chris Little

If you’ve got fledglings on their way out of the nest, I know you’ve also got images of them as toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners dancing around in your head. “How fast the time passes!” we all say. “It seems like just yesterday I dropped him off at kindergarten!” Yup, yup—it does feel like yesterday, doesn’t it? We tear up a little. Those were the good old days, right?

But I want to ask you to think back just a little farther, to those first days of parenthood, when you were fresh home from the hospital with your infant. I’m sure you can remember how happy you were. But can you remember how scared you were? How worried? Overwhelmed? My husband drove home from the hospital with our first baby at 25 mph—in a 50 mph zone! I remember alternating between passionate love for the little squirt, and a panicky feeling of “Oh no! What have we done!”

And then, as the days and weeks wore on and we began to get the hang of baby-care, there was the big Identity Crisis. Gone was Freewheeling Me, who could go out for dinner or a movie without much thought. And since I’d decided to take some time off, then work part-time from home, gone was Career-Oriented Me, who got to spend the day with peers and colleagues doing rewarding work for which I received both recognition and a paycheck. I can still remember how, until I found some play groups and other social groups, I felt a little lost, a little lonely. Remember those days?

No, I’m not trying to bring you down! I just want to remind you that when you first became a parent, it probably took some time for you to find your way, and to work out who you would be in this next phase of your life. The point I’m trying to make? That as your kids grow up and make their way out of the house, you can expect it to take some time for you to adjust to this new phase, too. And it could be a bumpy ride.

I remember that when my mother-in-law’s youngest headed off to college, she tried out a succession of interesting new hobbies—teaching parenting classes at her church, attending Native American retreats, even engaging in some drumming circles—before she settled into her authentic path of jewelry-making, tennis playing, and working in her husband’s office.

Another older friend took some time out to write a novel and learn to paint watercolors when her youngest started his freshman year in college. “It takes a while to figure out where you fit in,” she told me. In fact, I’ve read it can take from 18 months to two years to regain your footing as you transition from parent with kids at home to parent with kids out in the world.

Other parents head back into full-time work, which can provide the stimulation and structure they’re missing now that they don’t work the carpool circuit anymore.

Whatever direction we ultimately take, we need to be patient with ourselves—we floundered a little when we became parents, and we can expect to flounder a little now. We should be gentle with ourselves when we find ourselves feeling a little lost. And pay attention to the little whispers we hear that might point us toward our next adventure. So here are some ideas I’ve gleaned from friends and other experts who’ve been through the emptying nest:

3235483251_7f3a9d7b34Be true to you. Allow yourself some sadness if that’s how you feel. Part of living a rich life is being present to your feelings, even the sad ones. But get help if things get too dark or you can’t find your way out.

Reconnect. You’ve finally got a little more time for yourself, so don’t rush to fill it. Check in with your friends and see who wants to go out to lunch. Work in the flowerbeds. Start a journal—writing regularly is a great way to explore and work through deep or difficult feelings.

Nurture yourself. Often we put our dreams and desires on the back burner when the kids are around. Now is your chance to move them to the front—even the little ones. Get that pedicure you’ve been putting off for the last 18 years. Have a massage. Rent the chick flick you could never talk your sons into watching with you. Start that exercise routine you always promised yourself.

Draw closer to your partner. This is a great time for you and your spouse to regain your pre-parenthood closeness, and taking time to share your feelings about this transition is a great step in that direction.

Relish the positive. Sure, you’re sad the kids aren’t loitering around the kitchen while you cook. I hear you! But look on the bright side: The bathroom stays cleaner. The carton of ice cream in the freezer lasts longer. The water bill is smaller. And there are fewer shoes and socks lying on the living room floor. It’s okay to enjoy these things!

Take credit. Give yourself the opportunity to feel proud of yourself for having raised that little infant into a functioning adult. That’s quite a feat! Allow yourself to feel that sense of a mission accomplished.

And through it all, keep your eyes peeled for what feels interesting or exciting to you—those are clues to what the next exciting new phase of your life is going to look like!

But first, let me know: How are you—or how do you plan to—find your way through the empty nest transition? It’s less than a month before my first heads off to college, so I need all the ideas I can get!

Images: Some rights reserved by © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography and akk_rus.

Balancing Work and Family during Summer Break: Ideas Wanted

my guys

“My Guys”

By Jen Ashenfelter

Sorry, you’re not going to find inspiration or words of wisdom from me right now. This time, I need your advice—and I’m confident I won’t be the only one to benefit from sharing stories and ideas. I know I’m not alone, so for everyone who has weathered summer break and made it through without losing all of your hair, we’d love to hear from you.

The challenges of being a working mother are nothing new. I’ve been in the game for a little while, but working through the summer while the boys are home is a first for me. In previous years, I’ve had the good fortune of not working during the summer months so I could focus on my boys without the added responsibilities. I have many luxuries with my current job, but taking off the entire summer is not one of them.

I truly love this job and I’m glad to have projects to keep me busy and engaged. I have the opportunity to work from home and my boss, the mother of 3 boys herself, is understanding and flexible. My hours range from 20 to 30 hours a week—makes for a good paycheck and still gives me time to devote to my family and myself. Easy, right?

No problem, I thought. My boys are older and more self-sufficient. I won’t have to see the youngest to the bus stop, so I can get started early in the morning and still hit the pool by 2pm.multitasking nick

I’m organized, clever, and planned for their every need so I could hit the “To Do” list hard. There’s food in the house. Summer- reading books are set. I gave them the “reminder” about all the things they do have so I don’t have to hear those two fingernails-down-the-chalkboard words: I’m bored. I prepared a list of things for them to accomplish, like organizing closets, drawers, and cleaning up the massive Lego display occupying two-thirds of my basement. And I signed them up for a few half-day camps to keep them socially connected. I thought to myself: I got this under control. They’ll be happy. I’ll be happy. This summer is going to be the best ever!

I know what you’re thinking and you can stop laughing now! Wow, was I wrong—at least about last week. My complaints are not new or unique, but talking about them makes me feel better. Let’s have a brief rant session—add your frustrations to the list too.

  • Oldest to camp by 9am, pick up at noon.
  • Drop by office to take care of a few things.
  • Youngest to a friend’s house for a couple hours, then home again.
  • Youngest to camp by 5pm which means making something simple for dinner at 3:30 and eating by 4.
  • To the store for last-minute birthday gift.
  • Five minutes after reaching the office, a text from youngest that oldest wouldn’t let him watch television. Really? Three televisions and only two of them. My A-students in math can’t solve this simple word problem?
  • Power outage moments after returning home and finally starting a new article.
  • When? Who? Where? What? Come see this. Can I? Why, why, why? My youngest really should become a lawyer, an investigative reporter, or work for the FBI, because he certainly knows how to ask relentless questions.
  • Flat tire which required two trips, back and forth…over two days, to the shop before it was finally fixed…blah, blah, whine, moan, etc.

Four simple hours of work takes all day! I spent more time driving here, there and everywhere with brief smatterings of writing, phone calls and planning in between. Frustrations mounting, the next person to ask for something while I was typing got the death stare! By the middle of the week, I was tired of trying to keep the plan together and gave in to the constant derailment and unrelenting requests to go to the pool.swim tube Had I actually felt like I accomplished something, it would’ve been a well-deserved break. Regardless, I needed it…and so did my boys. Is it September yet?

Ah, another week on the horizon. There are no camps scheduled, so the shuttle driver gets a short break. The tire is no longer losing air; shh, don’t jinx it. The chores are done. I remain optimistic—yet positive that uninvited challenges will crash my perfectly planned party.  

Maybe it’s guilt. Am I wrong to feel bad when the boys spend too much time playing video games or watching television so I can actually get something done? Clearly, they’re happy and I’m the one with the problem. I know, it’s best to go with the flow. Am I missing something?

I know what you’ll say, “Work after they go to bed.” One is an early bird and the other a night owl, so if I thought I’d be productive between midnight and 7am, I’d entertain that suggestion, but I’d rather hear what else you’ve got…

Here’s where the whole “a place for community and inspiration” really gets interactive—now’s your chance to weigh in with war stories and suggestions for maintaining sanity. What challenges do you face with balancing work and kids being home for the summer? How have you dealt with frustrations, solved dilemmas and managed to live to tell about it? What brings peace to your chaos? What’s your best advice?

A Special Sunday: A Mix of Mother’s Day Blogs

We are so honored to have Off the Merry-Go-Round featured on the WordPress blog, among some fabulous company! We are sharing the love… 🙂

The WordPress.com Blog

In some parts around the world, this Sunday is dedicated to the mothers out there. For Mother’s Day, we’ve rounded up sites on motherhood, parenting, and family. On WordPress.com, you’ll discover mothers on all paths: new moms, stay-at-home-moms, single moms, mothers who are full-time writers, and more. (Even mommy men, as you’ll see below.)

We especially want to highlight bloggers with unique perspectives and thoughtful commentary, as well as collaborative blogs with multiple contributors. So, we hope you enjoy this sampling of sites in honor of this special day.

Butterfly Mind

Creative nonfiction writer Andrea Badgley lives with her husband and two children in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. In the past, she’s caught our eye with thoughtful posts on both family and the writing life: a piece on putting food on the table, and a post on revisiting her childhood diaries. Her blog is a delight: lovely musings on 

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Turns out it IS who you know that counts.

importantplaces

Used by permission of erinbrownart.com

By Chris Little

One of the things I’ve loved about being a stay-home mom, and then a stay-home “off the merry-go-round” writer, is getting to stay home! I love it when the kids are shambling around the house doing their own thing, being a little loud and making a mess. And I love it when I’m home alone and the house is tidy and quiet (except for the washing machine, always the washing machine …).

That said, one of the things I’ve really struggled with as a stay-home mom and writer … is being home so much! It can be lonely, especially when the kids are off at school. Sometimes, I’ll admit, I wish I had a full-time job to go to, just so I’d have access to a water cooler to stand around and chat with coworkers! So when I’m alone a lot, I create my own water cooler—I force myself to have ten real live conversations a day with friends or extended family members—emails and texts don’t count!—as a way to reach out of my isolation. It never fails to make me feel better.

But every downside has an upside, right? I like to think that my bouts with this largely self-imposed solitude give me a greater appreciation for the people in my life. I mean: I don’t spend a lot of time wishing people would leave me alone! And I don’t typically crave the opportunity to get away by myself.

So this article by Emily Esfahani Smith in The Atlantic offered me some reassurance that I’m on the right track, as I lean less on my work and more on my family and friends for my happiness. Smith describes journalist Rod Dreher’s book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, in which he relates the life and untimely death of his sister Ruthie. Dreher contrasts Ruthie’s choice to work as a schoolteacher in the small Louisiana town where their family had lived for generations with his own decision to leave town to travel the world in an ambitious pursuit of career success.

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As Dreher accompanied Ruthie through her struggle with terminal lung cancer, he came to appreciate the beauty of her network of friends: How her neighbors pulled together to take Ruthie to her doctor appointments and cook meals for her kids. How they raised money to help cover her medical bills. How they were there for her husband after her death. Ruthie’s life may have been small, even invisible, compared to Dreher’s comparative fame as a respected journalist. But her life was deeply, richly interconnected with the lives of the people around her. And she wasn’t the only one—Dreher saw that anchoring sense of connection to family, friends, and neighbors in everyone he talked with back home in Louisiana. It was something he was lacking in his own life—and he realized it was something he missed. Dreher and his wife eventually decided to move home to Louisiana with their three children.

I love this story—it’s a good antidote for those days when I question my decision to step away from a career-centered life. In her article Smith cites a study that finds that ambitious people, perhaps not surprisingly, tend to seek more education at more prestigious schools, and to make more money at more prestigious jobs, than less ambitious folks. But, she notes, the study fails to find a similarly clear correlation between career success and life satisfaction. In fact some studies suggest that the pursuit of money and social status can lead to a lower overall sense of well-being, she writes.

Bayou Conversation

It seems that it’s not our careers but the strength and number of our social ties—those messy, compromise-ridden, sometimes-difficult relationships like marriage, family, and close friendships—that best predict our happiness, our satisfaction with our lives, even our physical health.

Now certainly, we can work full-time and have those rich relationships. Having a spouse or children aren’t prerequisites, either. The most important thing is probably the simplest one—just recognizing how deeply satisfying it feels to be held in a web of relationships. To have those ten conversations (or more!) each day. After that, placing a priority on sustaining and enriching those ties comes naturally.

So how about you? How do you feel most connected with your family? With your friends and neighbors? Do you find that you intentionally create opportunities for those connections? Or do you struggle to find the time and energy?

News flash: This week National Public Radio ran a fascinating segment on Rod Dreher discussing his sister Ruthie, their home town’s practice of community, and his new book. You can listen to it here.

Images: Some rights reserved by NJ.. and Editor B.

Rediscovering the Margins in Life

By Karen Hendricks

ikea clock

Photo Credit: Ikea.com

This week marks a milestone of sorts… it’s been exactly a year since I left a (more than) full-time, wonderful but crazy position in public relations. And during the past 365 days, my life has gotten back on track. My health is healthier, my family feels closer, my friendships are deeper, and my home-based business and  freelance work is extremely fulfilling. What an amazing turnaround. And it all revolves around TIME.

How often do you think about TIME during one day? It’s not on our side! Is there ever such as thing as having “extra time” in today’s fast-paced life? (Rhetorical question!) Time goes by too quickly, and those of us with children growing right before our eyes can attest to this fact on a daily basis. (Thank goodness the weather is getting warmer and I don’t have to see the bottom of my son’s jeans creeping ever higher into ankle territory. Shorts are becoming  a part of the daily wardrobe, yahoo!)

My children are growing up, like yours, in a fast-paced, digital world. There isn’t a need for good old-fashioned notebook paper that often, although we do keep a stock in our house for homework. I remember going through reams of notebook paper during my school years! So the word “margin” will forever be tied to an image of notebook paper for me.

One of the wonderful additions to my life, during the past year, now that I have a more flexible schedule and a few pockets of TIME for myself… an amazing women’s group that meets weekly at my church. What an inspiration this group is! Right now we are reading the book Margin by Richard A. Swenson, M.D. The subtitle is Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Wow, who couldn’t use some of that advice?! No wonder it is a best seller… given our hectic lives and crazy calendars.

Swenson calls “margin” that “space that once existed between ourselves and our limits…. When you reach the limits of your resources or abilities, you have no margin left.” Some of the best stuff in life happens in the margins, in our unstructured time. This is the time where families enjoy time together or friends pick up the phone or stop by. Basically, relationships grow, within the margins of our lives, according to Swenson.

Think about the margin you enjoy… or are lacking… in your daily life. Do you recognize or ignore your limits? Do you schedule your entire day from start to finish? Or do you have some wiggle room, down time, time to just BE?  My margin is probably not as wide as it should be, but I do have a sliver. And I’m holding onto it!

notebook paper

How wide are the margins in your life?