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A Gift from My Father

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

On Thursday, October 3, my father passed away. He was not only an accomplished individual, yet he was a wonderful dad. A hole has been left in my heart and a special part of my life is now missing because he was a dedicated follower (and fan!) of Off the Merry-Go-Round. In my life, he was the biggest supporter of all my writing pursuits and professional accomplishments. He was also the person who supported me most as an adoptive parent.

That now sometimes makes it hard for me in both these areas of my life because they are the two most important things to me, and I am missing his words of encouragement. On a positive note, though, as he knew he was becoming weaker he began writing me more letters than usual with encouragement in those areas – all of which I saved. When I feel ready to re-read them, I think it will be then that I fully realize that I still and always will, have his love and support with me.

Dad was my biggest supporter as an adoptive parent.

Dad was my biggest supporter as an adoptive parent.

In the end, my family and I were blessed to have Dad with us for as long as we did – he was 94 years old and fully cognizant until his last breath. His heart basically just gave out that morning as my mother sat down beside him on the bed to ask how he was feeling that day. So, he left this world with my mother by his side and, though he was transported to the hospital, for the most part his last moments were in the beautiful farmhouse they lived in for 49 years, and which he treasured so much.

As my Dad got older, I used to think that although of course I would be sad when he passed away I would feel more matter-of-fact about his death because he had lived so long and, well, “that’s life.” Now, however, I realize that no matter how old your parents are, it hurts to lose them and though of course that raw pain will soften over time, it will never completely go away.

Despite my father passing away when my son was 4 years old, his memory will live on in the every day little things my son and I do together - which are similar to what Dad did for me.

Despite my father passing away when my son was 4 years old, his memory will live on in the every day little things my son and I do together – which are similar to what Dad did with me.

For awhile, it was a little difficult to get back to life – especially to my writing, and I basically cancelled writing, and life, for October. My OTMG colleagues were wonderful to fill in for me, and I am so appreciative of all they did for me and for my family to honor my father’s memory.

I dedicate this blog piece, and the rest of my writing (and living!) career, to my beloved father, R. Winfield Smith. Below is a piece I had published in the Summer 2006 edition of Faith & Family magazine in their Summer Lights section which was titled, “Daddy’s Girl Still.” The poem that accompanies it I had written shortly after I received the necklace mentioned.

I love you, Daddy – always.

“Daddy’s Girl Still”

For a little girl, a father is a very special person. He can be her light in a world of darkness. He can be the rock she clings to when she is battered about in life’s storms. He can be a constant presence in the changing seasons of life.

On my 12th birthday, my father gave me a garnet necklace accompanied by a note explaining that the garnet is my birthstone. This year, I am 38 years old, and my beloved dad turned 87. After all of this time, he still has a handwritten note I scrawled in pencil as a “thank you” for that gift. Although the writing has faded noticeably over the years, it is still legible.

Dad still has my thank-you note, and I still have his necklace.

A Gift From My Father

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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!

Halloween2008

A life-size iPod!

The Cure for Anything is Salt Water…

IMG_5549webBy Karen Hendricks

I’m convinced that scrapbooking is a disease.

I absolutely love to scrapbook, but I never seem to have enough time to keep up with it. That guilty feeling of always being “behind” is awful. (I’m currently about 5-7 years behind, trying to maintain albums for all three of my children, in addition to a family vacation-themed album.) Nevertheless, I keep plugging away. Someday, I’ll catch up, right? The eternal optimist…

And I know I’m not alone. I think every one of my scrapbook-addicted friends is in the same boat. We’re all in this madness together. Part of the struggle is staying organized… downloading pictures, labeling/tagging them, having them printed, finding the right supplies–whether you’re using scissors and paper in hand or going online to “virtually scrapbook”–it all takes time.

However, once I get over all of those speedbumps, finding the time to scrapbook, magically turning my dining room into scrapbook heaven… it truly is a special time to re-live wonderful family memories. Now that we’ve turned the page to fall, I’m trying to organize my summer photos so that when I am finally caught up to present day scrapbooking, I’ve clearly labeled and saved all the photos that I need.

I go for long stretches without doing any scrapbooking, so when I do get back into it, I sometimes need a little inspiration to get me started. Ideas for layouts as well as theme-related quotes or titles give me a jump-start.  So my friend and fellow blogger Ruth kindly loaned me some of her gorgeous scrapbooks. I’ve snapped a few pictures of some of her layouts, combined with mine, for a little summer scrapbook inspiration (both digital and traditional).  I also compiled a list of some of my favorite beach-themed titles and sayings. I hope you enjoy both!

Feel free to “comment” and share your strategies for scrapbooking organization and/or inspiration… scrapbook “addicts” need all the help we can get! 🙂

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Summertime / Beach Titles and Quotes:

  • A day in the sun
  • A day in paradise
  • Beach bums
  • Beach babes
  • Basking in the sun
  • Happy as a clam
  • You are my sunshine
  • Beating the heat
  • Sizzling fun
  • No school! School’s out!
  • Tank tops & flip flops
  • Time for bare feet
  • Sandy toes
  • Catch a wave
  • Lemonade and lazy days of summer
  • Hot days and cool ice-cream
  • Summer Breezes
  • Castles in the sand
  • Blue skies & sunshine
  • Sun, Sand, Sea
  • Surf’s up
  • The ocean heals the heart, mind, and soul. (unknown)
  • “The cure for anything is salt water–sweat, tears, or the sea.” (Isak Dinesen)
  • “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” (Mother Teresa)
  • “Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone.” (unknown)
  •  “The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” (Jacques Cousteau)
  • “Eternity begins and ends with the ocean’s tides.” (Unknown)
  • “The beach is not a place to work; to read, write or to think.” (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)
  • “If you want to know how much I love you, count the waves.” (unknown)
  • “One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach.” ( Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

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Related posts:

Vacation: Same Time, Same Place — Next Year!

Summer Memories

Dreaming of Summer: Vacation Tips

Priceless Treasure: Tips for Great Family Photos

Picture-Perfect Gift Ideas

Summer Memories

By Karen Hendricks

Ok, I know it’s officially fall on the calendar now. However, I feel as though fall was forced upon us this year. Candy corn started appearing in the grocery store in mid-August, before the summer’s salt water taffy supply had run out. Even Mother Nature was rushing into fall–most of August was unseasonably cool here in the mid-Atlantic. September (which IS still summer, through the 21st) has been a bit chilly. I feel cheated.

So, in an attempt to bring back some summertime warmth, I’ve put together a collection of favorite photos from our family beach vacation in Bethany Beach, Delaware. I snapped all of the photos below during an early-morning adventure. That morning, we all woke up (some of us easier than others) around 4:45, packed up a basket of goodies, and enjoyed breakfast on the beach as we watched the sun rise over the ocean. It’s one of my most treasured memories of the entire week and I’m glad we made the effort to roll everyone out of bed.

Beach Sunrise 02

5:18 am – The sky is brightening… Some of us are still sipping warm tea and relaxing on the picnic blanket, while some of us are exploring the beach

Beach Sunrise 01

I was intrigued by this children’s flip-flop, which someone had kindly stuck atop the beach fence, in hopes that the owner would easily spot it and reclaim it. There are indeed kind people in the world…

Beach Sunrise 03

5:25 am – Isn’t it incredible, that no two pictures of the ocean are the same? I love trying to capture the variety of rippling effects made by waves crashing on the beach

My husband always has an interesting relationship with the birds at any given beach... I'm not sure what that's all about...

My husband always has an interesting relationship with the birds at any given beach… I’m not sure what that’s all about…

Beach Sunrise 04

Fishermen try their luck in the pre-dawn hours…

Beach Sunrise 05

5:33 am – The warm glow of the sun is starting to break through the morning’s overcast skies…

Beach Sunrise 07

Don’t you love the birdie posing for a pic along the surf?

Beach Sunrise 08

5:38 am – My daughter captures the sparkle of sunshine we’re beginning to see across the ocean

Beach Sunrise 09

Gorgeous colors and the promise of a beautiful day at the beach

Beach Sunrise 10

5:40 am – I think this might be my favorite pic of the entire series

Beach Sunrise 12

Our three loves…

Beach Sunrise 11

The reflection of sunshine stretches across the sand… would that be called “sandshine?”

Beach Sunrise 13

5:45 am – Hurray! An hour into our adventure, we’ve successfully watched the sun rise over the Atlantic.

Although it’s something that happens every day, how often do we truly stop to watch the sun rise (or set)? This was our one day to see the entire process, to soak it all in, and tuck those memories away to warm us on cool fall and winter days. It was a simple, but beautiful way, to enjoy time “off the merry-go-round” as a family.

How do you keep vacation memories alive? What special moments stand out during your summer travels?

First Day… Hurray?

By Karen Hendricks

Here comes the bus... Source: Wikimedia Commons

Here comes the bus… Source: Wikimedia Commons

‘Tis the season… The back-to-school season! Do you cheer with a “Hurray” or reach for the tissues? Are your kids excited or scared–or both? The phrase “back to school” conveys a variety of emotions and meanings:

  • The excitement of new beginnings
  • Sadness over the end of summer vacation
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Changes… a new grade, perhaps a new school, a different bus
  • Another year older
  • The passage of time
  • Time moving too quickly
  • Milestones
  • Growing up
  • Happiness at being reunited with friends
  • Worrying about finding classrooms
  • Picking out and planning the first day of school outfit
  • Brightly-colored, new backpacks
  • New sneakers, squeaky-clean
  • Getting back into a familiar school day routine
  • Adjusting to new schedules
  • Dreading homework
  • Yellow pencils, pink erasers
  • Early mornings and alarm clocks
  • Posing for first day of school pictures

I think you can see all of these emotions and examples, in the photo collection (below) from our Off the Merry-Go-Round bloggers and families, as they rang in the first days of school recently. Enjoy! Wishing our readers and their families all the best, as we all embark upon a new school year together.

What does the first day of school mean to you? Make sure you take pictures to capture these precious moments and emotions!

(Click on any of the photos to open a slideshow.)

Saying Goodbye to a Pet

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Untitled Poem

In my last blog, “Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years,” I mentioned that Kalli Dakos has a wonderful collection of “goodbye poems” to mark occasions of love, loss, and moving on (click here for her website). The poem above is a touching tribute to a beloved dog – missed by a child even into adulthood.

When you have children, addressing the loss of a pet can be especially tricky for two reasons: you are demonstrating how grief in general is handled in your family, and you are building the foundation for how your child will cope with loss in the future.

Several months ago, my family and I went through this process as we grieved the loss of our beloved American Eskimo dog, Bebe. I purchased Bebe in the late 1990s from a well run, local pet store where I lived in St. Petersburg, Florida. She saw me through a painful divorce, the sometimes loneliness of single life, and many career and personal adventures in between.

Forever Friends

Forever Friends

Although Bebe died several months prior, we celebrated her life this May in our lovely azalea garden with the flowers in full bloom. No matter how you choose to say goodbye to your pet, it is important to find some way to commemorate the life of the beautiful creature that brought sunshine to your days. Below are a few suggestions for saying goodbye to your pet – no matter what kind of a pet you have.

Our Azalea Garden in Bloom

Our Azalea Garden in bloom

How to Say “Goodbye” to Your Pet

* If you have the opportunity, spend last moments of quiet time together. Hold your pet, talk with your pet, cry with your pet. These final memories will be good ones to hold onto after your pet is gone. The evening before I had to take Bebe to the veterinarian to put her to sleep, my husband watched my son so she and I could just be together. I petted her, held her, talked openly with her, and cried – a lot. We even took final pictures of her with us. I am so glad I spent that final time with her and will treasure it always.

Some final moments with Bebe ...

Some final moments with Bebe …

* Talk with others. Sometimes we may feel a bit embarrassed, even “silly,” when we grieve our pet. Yet remember that many people share your feelings. You may have heard someone refer to their pet as a “member of the family.” Pets can indeed touch our lives in some profound ways. Talking about how you feel with others will help you see that your sentiments are echoed by many. You are not alone!

*Address the loss openly and with great sensitivity. If this is your children’s first experience with death you definitely want to handle it well since it will likely have a lasting impact on their lives. It may be difficult to refrain from cracking a smile when having to flush a little belly-up guppy down the toilet, yet if you treat this time seriously and guide your children through the grieving process they hopefully will develop coping skills for future losses.

* Include the entire family in the grieving process. This is very important in order to help your children and other family members find closure. No matter how old your children, they can participate in some way. Of course for an infant it may simply be that they are being held in your arms during the goodbyes, and can look back on pictures of the day when the family discusses the event in the future. In this way, they will see that their presence was valued during that time as well. Older children can have more involved roles, depending upon their age.

* Hold a remembrance ceremony or memorial service. Every family will handle this differently. Some purchase a burial plot in a pet cemetery; others mark a special place in their backyard for burying a memory box. Still others have their pet cremated and display the ashes in a beautiful container or box. If allowing a veterinary hospital handle all of the arrangements, and no ashes or memory marker is going to be received, a family may just wish to set aside time one day for sharing memories of their pet.

Hold a special memorial service and involve all of the members of your family - no matter how young.

Hold a special memorial service and involve all the members of your family – no matter how young.

* The way you say goodbye does not have to be extravagant to be meaningful. There is no “right” way to say goodbye, nor one way over another that will make the loss any easier. In acknowledging the life of your pet, you need to choose a way that feels good to you and works for your family. Perhaps you have the money for a burial plot in a pet cemetery and feel that is a special tribute. Just know that it is not necessary to go to such great expense and effort to say goodbye to your pet. The way you say goodbye is not as important as the meaning behind whatever way you choose.

* Establish a permanent “marker” for your pet. Again, this does not have to be an expensive item – rather just something for you and your family to look at, touch, visit, and talk to. Something solid that allows you to “communicate” with, and remember, your pet during the times you miss her. Sometimes time doesn’t heal all wounds and it is nice to have a more tangible way to reminisce about your pet outside of recalling fond memories. My family chose to keep Bebe’s beautiful wooden ashes box on our display case rather than bury it. Instead, we buried a box full of memorable items from her life in our azalea garden. We marked the “grave” site with a fairly large, flat rock and placed a small outdoor dog statue of an American Eskimo on top of that. Her resting place is watched over by our garden fairy, Fiona.

Bebe's resting place

Bebe’s resting place

* Invite whomever you like. Your ceremony can be small and intimate, perhaps just the members of your immediate family as ours was for Bebe, or you can open the memorial service to extended family and even good friends. Invite whomever you are comfortable sharing the occasion with as well as whomever will be supportive of you during this difficult time.

*Plan ahead. Of course all pets will die eventually. Just as we often begin planning for our passing before it happens, the grieving process and saying goodbye to our pets can be made easier if we know how we are going to handle that time when it comes.

Saying goodbye to a pet is typically not easy yet by having a plan in place for doing so with your family, finding a special way to honor the memory of your pet, and helping your children deal with their loss you can certainly get through it.

Special sentiments ...

Special sentiments …

Please share how you handled the loss of a pet with your family – how you coped, or a special way you remembered the life of your pet.

Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

If You Have to Say Goodbye

When you are only able to have one child (for whatever reason), simply put–you treasure him extra much. It’s not that I love my child more than anyone else loves theirs, it’s just that there is no little one coming behind him as a distraction from my sadness at seeing him grow up and move forward in his life. I think I just hold him a little tighter sometimes because of that.

I have always relished snuggle time with my little boy.

I have always relished snuggle time with my little boy.

This fall is going to be so incredibly difficult for me because I do not want to let my “baby” go. Although I was able to stay home with him and have a lot of quality time together, I don’t think parents ever feel as though they have had enough time for that. And no matter how hard you try to slow time down, it still won’t stop.

Kalli Dakos’ “goodbye poems” can bring comfort to children and their parents during difficult times of loss and change. Still, I can’t freeze my son in time. This fall, he is beginning a Pre-K program at a private school where he will attend through 12th grade. Don’t get me wrong – we found an amazing school that incorporates all the educational and personal philosophies we want for our little boy. Once we looked at the benefits to our son having a whole-child education in a smaller classroom and campus environment, it was a no-brainer.

My son’s new school also offered a 5 full day summer camp program with different weekly themes. What a great way for him to adjust to his new school in such a fun way! Perhaps the fall, then, would be less of a shock. We chose two sessions separated by a week between. The beginning of the first week was somewhat hard for my son to acclimate to, especially the first day. He was in a new environment and experiencing a rather long day even though rest and quiet time was built in. After a couple of days, he adjusted fine yet every once in awhile he would fuss at morning drop off–wanting me to walk him to his group’s classroom meeting place instead of going through the carpool line.

I was so torn in these situations. I knew that having him become comfortable with this drop off routine would benefit him for the fall, yet he is still so young and I didn’t want to force him nor upset the start of his day. I decided to go easy and help him adjust slowly over a two week camp experience. After the two weeks we had an opportunity to enroll him in the final two weeks of camp, and he was very excited! He had done it. He had successfully adjusted, and enjoyed his time at camp and on the school campus! This Monday, drop off was a snap…for my son.

It was me who did not fair so well. Sigharen’t you going to miss me? Luckily my fellow blogger, Chris, wrote a wonderful piece on adjusting to the “emptying nest” and I found her tips applicable to my situation too. Her blog also offered fresh perspective on what these early years have really been about – and they weren’t always easy for sure!

Let me add a few suggestions for those of us sending young children off to Pre-K or kindergarten this fall. We can do this!

Saying “Goodbye” with Grace

* Pack plenty of tissues! Don’t leave home for that first day of school without them, or walk your child to the bus stop without a wad stuffed in your pocket.

* Try hard to wait to cry when your child is out of sight. This is something I likely will not achieve, yet it is a noble goal. I am pro showing-your-feelings-in-front-of your-children (within reason), yet at such a young age kids sometimes still confuse emotions. And, you really can’t explain “bittersweet” to them. The more cheerful, upbeat and excited you are, the more likely they will follow suit in their responses to going off to school.

* Establish sacred alone time. Carve out time for just you and your child amidst the busy school week in any way you can. Sneak in a moment of reading time cuddled up on the couch, sing songs while your child sits in the bathtub, listen to their school experiences while you’re cooking dinner. You don’t have to spend large blocks of time staring into your child’s eyes to have spent quality time together.

* Use weekends for “regrouping.” Spend some quality family time together – better if it doesn’t involve big plans or a lot of running around since the school week will have held plenty of that. Just be together.

* Make your child’s bedroom a haven. No matter how much money you have to spend on your child’s bedroom design, there are many things you can do inexpensively to keep their room current to their age-specific interests. It also doesn’t take a lot of effort to keep it organized and clutter-free. If your child has a clean, calm place to retreat to for quiet rest, reading and play he will know where he can go to relax and recharge his energy.

My son is relaxed and comfortable in "outer space!"

My son is relaxed and comfortable in “outer space!”

* Get involved in your child’s education. There are many ways to do this, even for busy working parents. If you can’t volunteer in your child’s classroom or serve on the PTA, you may be able to take off a day from work to go on a field trip or offer to prepare learning materials at home. You are supporting your child’s learning experience as you sit down together to review homework assignments and prepare for the next school day.

* No matter how many children you have…You’ll always be sad when they leave the “nest.” There are many phases of your child’s life. You will say goodbye to them all.

One morning, I went into my son’s room to make up his bed with clean sheets. As I smoothed out the covers and neatly arranged his soft pillows, I realized that although he seems to be growing up more every day he still needs me. And in one respect or another he always will. So I might be saying goodbye to my son’s “baby” years, yet he will always be my baby.

No matter how old my son gets, I will never stop holding him and rejoicing in who he is becoming.

No matter how old my son gets, I will never stop holding him and rejoicing in who he is becoming.

What was it like for you saying goodbye to the baby years? Did you find some ways of coping that we can all benefit from? If so, please share them with our OTMGR community!