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Grafting Onto Your Family Tree

No matter how "rooted" your family tree is in blood ties --  there is always room to grow lush, beautiful branches that sprout from true friendships! Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

No matter how “rooted” your family tree is in blood ties — there is always room to grow lush, beautiful branches that sprout from true friendships! Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

*In collaboration with Chris Little

When I think about family trees, my mind naturally drifts to how different so many families look than they did in the generations of our parents and grandparents. The “faces” of families today are much more diverse – for reasons such as interracial marriage and building a family through adoption. Nowadays, a family is often comprised of different skin colors, ethnicities and cultures.

As I think about this concept further, I also consider what – or should I say who, really makes up a family tree. Is it biological members of a family – those with only true blood ties to the family line? Or, can a family unit be more than that? I wonder too … if family is also supposed to be about love for one other, and about taking care of one other, and about respecting one other – then what if that is not happening with certain so-called “family members.” Then, are they your family? And then further … are the special people in your life who “make up for” those sour relationships – who do love, care for and respect you, are they your family?

In other words, is a family bound by blood … or love?

I will be very bold and say that I do not consider every person in my blood-related family to be my family. There are a few members in my family who do not exhibit the traits I consider to be worthy of family; and therefore I avoid them as much as I can, and certainly do not let them know much about my life nor infringe upon it. Yes, I feel they are that toxic.

Aside from this, our son is adopted. If I thought that family was only about blood ties, I could not possibly have become his mother. In my opinion, a family is less about blood ties and more about a culture. The term culture encompasses ethnicity, racial identity, family structure, economic level, language, and religious and political beliefs – all of which profoundly influence a person’s development and relationship to the world, from birth and childhood on. And, therefore, also how they integrate into a family and take part in that family unit. So in my mind – and in my world, family is built by choice. The “family tree,” therefore, is not so much about where the trunk of the tree first took seed, or how the roots took hold in the ground – rather about the many thick branches and lush leaves that grew from that initial form.

It is so very difficult for me to understand how others cannot see beyond how a child comes into a family and simply acknowledge that it is a true blessing that the child is there. Perhaps, though, that is because I have experienced the love of those family members in my life with whom I share not one ounce of blood. When I look back on my childhood, I see clearly how in many ways those special people were more of a family to me in the true meaning and experience of the word than many of my “blood” relatives. Just as some people remark that they “don’t see race” (I laugh heartily when Stephen Colbert humorously states this on his television show) as a factor in how they interact with people from ethnicities other than their own, I don’t see how inherited physical and personality traits such as daddy’s eye color, mommy’s nose, and grandpa’s sense of humor are at all relevant in how a family lives and loves together.

The credit for my point of view on this subject really must go to my amazing mother. Unknowingly, she is the one who taught me about the beauty of building a family through adoption. My mother was an “only child” and since she grew up without siblings, she built her family through friends with whom she became close over the years. Therefore, my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side of the family were introduced into my life from those friendship bonds. And guess what? I was none the wiser. There was no talk of how “Aunt So-and-So isn’t my ‘real’ aunt,” nor lengthy explanations and justifications as to why “Mr. and Mrs. X” became my grandparents. I did not find this at all unusual – it just was.

My mother's dear friend who became my aunt holds my son when he was a baby.

My mother’s dear friend, who became my aunt, holds my son when he was a baby.

As an example, there were two wonderful married couples who were very good friends of both my parents, and who then became my aunts and uncles – Don and Louise, who were my godparents and have both since passed away; and Bob and Nancy, who continue to be such a delightful presence in my family’s life.

Two sets of other “relatives” in particular influenced my life in some very profound ways. I can tell you that I have definitely “inherited” my Aunt Mary Alice’s flair for entertaining masses of people in my home without breaking a sweat. Her grace and class, and the way her home made an open, welcoming haven for traveling family and friends no matter what else she had going on in her life, astounds me even to this day. She also imparted to me the importance of moisturizing one’s entire body with lotion daily – clearly a beauty regiment necessity!

I remember my mother once remarked to me about Mary Alice saying, “She saved my life,” as her eyes welled up with tears. You see, Mary and her husband, Bob, had become more than just my mother’s dear friends – they became her family when she had none. It is amazing to me how anyone upon hearing this story could continue to think that a blood tie alone to another person makes them family in the true meaning of the word!

A couple of years toward the end of my Aunt Mary’s life, I had the pleasure of flying to Colorado from time to time where my aunt and uncle lived. My dear Aunt Mary had been very ill for some time, and along with her physical ailments, had begun to show early signs of dementia. Although my Uncle Bob had weekly help in his home and was able to take breaks from caring for my aunt round the clock, I wanted to be present during this difficult time for them both whenever I could. I wanted to help too. I wanted to give something back – no matter how small, to the people who are forever bound to me through love. To my family.

As I stayed present with my Aunt Mary while Uncle Bob played cards with his friends and went to the movies; as I helped to feed and dress her; as I looked into her eyes and smiled; I was overcome with emotion. These people had become my true family and I was so much closer to them than many of those who share inherited traits with me. When my aunt passed away, my heart broke in places I didn’t know it could – I had lost a big piece of it.

I had a similar experience growing up with my grandmother and grandfather. Both of my parents’ fathers had died before I was born, and my paternal grandmother passed away after having seen me only once when I was just an infant. My maternal grandmother battled cancer throughout my childhood and passed away when I was in the ninth grade. So the grandparents I refer to were not the biological parents of either my mom or my dad – they were actually our neighbors.

When my mother returned to work after raising us, she turned to a retired woman in the neighborhood who babysat regularly for help with our afterschool care. To our family however, Edna and her husband, Septimus, became so much more – they became our grandmom and grandpop. I cannot put into words what a special part of my life they became, sharing everything from school days to birthdays. Septimus passed away when I was a freshman in college and when my beloved grandmother passed away in 2001, I felt as though a piece of my life had died too. I assure you that in all the years I was blessed to have her in my life, her homemade cookies, cakes and pies tasted no less delicious; and her presence in my life was no less special, because we were not related by blood.

My "family tree" continues ... my dear friend Alice has now become an aunt to my son!

My “family tree” branches out … my dear friend Alice has now become an aunt to my son!

Now the same need for family must be fulfilled for my son. He too is an only child, and my husband and I are not close with all of our immediate family members. So we are forming a family for him – growing and adding branches to our tree trunk. We have looked outside of our family members for those special relationships of aunts, uncles, and cousins. My best friends and their families have been very present in my son’s life. In fact, my son calls them aunts, uncles and cousins; and just as I did growing up, doesn’t seem to think anything of it. For they are the ones who make the effort to stay in touch across the miles, to send my son special gifts, to visit or host us when we visit them. They are the ones who support us in raising him, uplift us when we experience life’s challenges, and celebrate when we share our joys. They are our family and we treasure them!

The expression, “Blood is thicker than water,” is a misrepresentation of family life. It simply is not true. Although it is sad to say, when you go through a really difficult time in your life, you may well find that those still standing by your side at the end may not be your blood relatives!

In my blog, “Blood is Thicker Than Water and Other Misrepresentations of Family Life,” I share a story which illustrates further my thoughts about true family

My husband and I had been following the Camelot television series and during one episode, Arthur spoke to a man who was afraid of losing his daughter if she ever discovered that he was not her biological father. When Arthur spoke, my husband and I just looked at each other and smiled – finally, a script writer who truly “gets” adoption, who truly understands that families can be built by choice as well. To the man, Arthur said, “It’s not blood that ties you together; it’s the memories you share. Everything you taught her, everything you gave up for her – it’s your love, that’s what flows through her.”

Enough said!

Do you have a special person who has become family even though they are not related by blood? Are there people in your life you consider family members just as much as your biological relatives – and whom you would add to your family tree? Our OTMGR community would be interested to hear your story about those treasured relationships!

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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!

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!

From Smallest to Tallest

One of my favorite photos of all time, Easter 2002, when my son was truly the smallest one in the family.

One of my favorite photos of all time, Easter 2002, when my son was truly the smallest one in the family.

By Karen Hendricks

His day has come. I’ve been telling my son for years, that he would only spend a fraction of his life as the “smallest” and that one day he would be the “tallest.” The third of our three children, at 13 years of age, he’s now surpassed both of his sisters, as well as me, in height. Only Dad remains, and there’s no doubt his lanky frame will soon zip past Dad too.

It’s incredible to me, that “my baby” is now at eye level. This is the sweet boy who was always toddling to keep up with his sisters during their baby days. Even though he will always be the youngest, it’s amazing how quickly the roles reversed and he became the tallest. It seems as though his height has zipped higher and higher in direct proportion to his voice dipping lower and lower. It was a shocker last September, as we had to step foot in the men’s sections, rather than the boy’s sections, while doing his back-to-school shopping.

Just more proof that time truly does fly, that it’s so important to savor every day, every milestone, every treasured family moment. I encourage you to take time to step off the merry-go-round of our busy lives to enjoy and celebrate the most special people on earth… our children.

Today: father & son photo, back-to-back, with two inches or less in height difference.

Today: father & son photo, back-to-back, with two inches or less in height difference.

Reflections on childhood:

  • “Every cliche about kids is true; they grow up so quickly, you blink and they’re gone, and you have to spend the time with them now. But that’s a joy.” – Liam Neeson
  • “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”  – Fred Rogers
  • “Nothing I’ve ever done has given me more joys and rewards than being a father to my children.” – Bill Cosby
  • “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”  – Jim Henson
  • “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – e. e. cummings

Share the stories of your childrens’ growth spurts… How quickly or slowly did your childrens’ birth-order stair steps become rearranged?

What are your tips for slowing down and savoring childhood milestones? 

Olympic Fever

Sochi's Ice Skating Venue - Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Atos International

Sochi’s Ice Skating Venue – Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Atos International

By Karen Hendricks

It’s one of the most inspiring, thrilling times on the planet–the 2014 Winter Olympic Games are underway and simply mesmerizing me with every story line. From the Opening Ceremonies straight through all of the events, I love to soak up all the stories behind the athletes–their incredible dedication to their sports, grueling training, heart-breaking injuries, triumphant comebacks, and their passionate attempts to “go for the gold.”

Olympic Opportunities

What a fantastic opportunity for families to enjoy all of the festivities together! I’m not typically one to leave the television on for long periods of time, but when the Olympics are on, I don’t mind leaving the TV on for long stretches of time for “unlimited watching.” Even if we’re not in the room, we can pop back in to catch all the important moments.

Julia_Lipnitskaia_Olympics_2014

Did you catch this performance?! The incredibly focused 15-year old Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia – Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Kremlin.ru

It’s a great time to talk to your kids about the value of setting goals, the importance of perseverance, and so much more:

  • How competition involves both physical and mental strength
  • The power of positive thinking
  • Always trying to do your best
  • Lessons learned from “not” winning
  • The grace and humility exhibited by many of the athletes
  • The spirit of patriotism
  • The amazing precision of teamwork in team events
  • What would it feel like, to have all eyes of the the world upon you?
  • What does it truly mean to be an Olympian?

Family is also a central theme at the Olympics. Not only do you see the sheer joy on the faces of family members cheering for their loved ones, but through the athletes’ stories, you understand how families’ support and love provides a foundation for years of training and preparation. The dreams of athletes can only become reality if they are uplifted and shared by their families.

Men's_500m,_2014_Winter_Olympics,_Michel_Mulder_and_Ronald_Mulder

Talk about family ties… twin brothers Michel and Ronald Mulder celebrate their speed skating medals. Representing The Netherlands, Michel Mulder won Gold, Ronald Mulder won bronze. Photo Credit: Licensed under Creative Commons through Wikimedia Commons.

 

Opening_of_XXII_Winter_Olympic_Games_(2338-10)

This sweet girl captured my heart during the Opening Ceremonies… Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Kremlin.ru

Here are a few more inspiring Olympic stories…

Click here to see NBC News’ coverage of the brotherly bond shared by Canadian freestyle skiier Alex Bilodeau and his older brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy.

And click here to see a photo collection of American skier Julia Mancuso celebrating her bronze medal in the Super Combined with her mother and grandmother, also from NBC News.

The Cake of Champions

One of my family’s favorite Olympic celebrations involves cake! For as long as I can remember, since my children were very young, we have made a cake and decorated it with M&M’s to form the Olympic rings. This delicious dessert works for both Winter and Summer Olympics… but one word of warning: unless you have a big crowd to devour it, the colors on the M&M’s “bleed” into the frosting when it sits for more than a day, even if refrigerated. It takes some planning to form the rings so here are a few tips: lightly press a glass into your frosting to form the outlines for the 5 rings, a younger child can separate the colors of M&M’s into small bowls, and an older child can place the candies into the frosting.

My daughter Katie celebrates the official cake of the Summer 2012 Olympics!

My daughter Katie celebrates the official cake of the Summer 2012 Olympics!

Does your family have a special Olympic memory? Tradition? Feel free to share your ideas and comments below… and enjoy the games!

 

 

 

 

50 Ways to Spend a Snow Day

By Karen Hendricks

Snow day

Sledding in our backyard is always a hit!

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

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

What to do?

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

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

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

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

The Immortality of My Parents

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

I gently chided my husband – again – about how he continues to leave the light on in our master bedroom closet once he has exited, as well as the night light above the toilet when he is finished using the bathroom. “But it’s not me, it’s the gremlins,” he emphasized. Now, where had I heard that before???

When my father was alive, blaming similar occurrences on “gremlins” was his way of doing one of two things: either explaining away the great mysteries of life (Where in the world did I put my glasses/car keys/pair of scissors I just had in my hand? Those blasted gremlins again!); or, trying to “get out of” some trouble around the house that for some reason was always inevitably his fault.

In that shared moment with my husband, I realized what I had known all along as I watched my father near the end of his life: that Dad’s life really wouldn’t ever end. It would continue to live on in me, in my family, and in others, since he had touched so many lives in his personal and professional life. I also realized that over the years I have taken on many of my father’s ways – similarly moving about the house and interacting with my family, that it is almost as though he is here with me daily.

Somehow I still can't leave the house without putting on lipstick or lip gloss! Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Somehow I still can’t leave the house without putting on lipstick or lip gloss! Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

In fact, in so many ways, I now catch myself carrying on a lot of my folks’ “parent-isms.” So much so that I am beginning to wonder if they actually are immortal! Here’s what I mean:

  • The “gremlins” have apparently followed me from my childhood home to my house.
  • My son breaks out into song with, “Ooo, Eee, Ooo, Ahh, Ahh, Ting, Tang, Wala, Wala, Bing, Bang.” Is that a real song or did my Dad indeed make that up? I refuse to Google it to find out.
  • When my son was showing me something and said, “Look at this, Mom,” I responded, “I see said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw.” Ugh! Another bad Dad pun!
  • I’m beginning to tell the jokes from Reader’s Digest and claiming them as my own.
  • When I am getting ready to run an errand, I frequently pause for one last look in the mirror – My mother’s question, “Where’s your lipstick?” resonates in my ear. I choose lip gloss instead.
  • I keep picking out white shirts for Andrew to layer under his long-sleeved shirts and sweaters. Mom is infamous for saying, “You can wear white with that,” when my sisters and I would approach her looking for color matching ideas.
  • I catch myself posing larger than life questions and considerations to my son as both of my parents were prone to do. Like a 4-year-old really gets my explanation about aging as to why I cannot simply leap out of bed and somersault across the floor at 6:00 in the morning too. “And you too one day will be old.” Yes, Dad – I know that now!

My dad passed away on October 3rd this year (click here for “A Gift from My Father”). Those of you who have also lost a close relative or dear friend know that all the “firsts” (holiday, birthday, anniversary) without them are especially tough. My family and I have held fast to having our own holiday time at home versus traveling out of state between various relatives. We believe it is very important that our son wake up in his own house for holidays and experience the family traditions we have established. At Christmastime, we would visit my parents on December 27th or 28th to exchange gifts since they live less than 3 hours away, yet that was the extent of celebrating holidays outside of our own home.

This Thanksgiving, however, we decided to stay with my mother in my childhood home and join her, and my sister and her family, for the Thanksgiving meal. It all seemed “fine,” yet there definitely was a presence missing. My sister puts out little name cards at each table setting so everyone knows their seat, and when she came across the card that said (“Pop Pop”) she and I both had to take a breath. I sat next to my mom, yet oddly, didn’t know what to say or do. I just kind of reached over at one point and put my hand on her arm, hoping she would somehow know what I wanted to say but couldn’t.

The day after Thanksgiving, my mom and I visited Dad’s grave site and met the gentleman there who would help us choose a headstone that would be eventually shared by Mom as well. It was a bitterly cold day, and the man was far too chatty and cheerful for me. The morning there exhausted and annoyed me, and by the time my family and I arrived back in Maryland that evening I was emotionally drained. I slept most of the weekend.

We have all heard of having a “Blue Christmas.” This is also a Christmas song written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, and is a tale of unrequited love during the holidays. It has become popular Christmas music that causes us to think about anyone we are missing during the holiday season. Here are a few tips I am finding helpful in keeping cheer amidst feelings of melancholy:

  • Create a “tribute” table or other spot in your home where you can see your loved one and have their presence more easily felt.
  • Talk to your loved one (yes, out loud!) every day. Tell them what is on your mind and what you are feeling, whether it directly pertains to your relationship or not.
  • Call family and friends who are still with you and reminisce. Cry together, or laugh as you remember the good times.
  • Find fun activities to join in that are separate from the things you used to do with your loved one. Sometimes a shift in routine can be a welcome distraction.
  • Let yourself feel your emotions, yet try not to become bogged down in them to where you are feeling prolonged feelings of sadness and loss. If that does become the case, find an unbiased professional to talk with, help you sort your emotions out, and cope. After all, losing a loved one – especially around the holidays, is tough.
Setting up a 'tribute table' for my father has been helpful. I can "see" him every day and more easily talk to him. I burn a tea light candle for him daily, and have decided to keep the table up for one year.

Setting up a ‘tribute table’ for my father has been helpful. I can “see” him every day and more easily talk to him. I burn a tea light candle for him daily, and have decided to keep the table up for one year.

I watch my husband and son from our dining room window – building a snowman and enjoying a friendly snowball fight in the first snow of winter. Yet it is more than this present moment I see. I see into the future as well – when my little boy will have grown and one day experience the loss of us, his parents. Will he hurt as badly as I do now? What memories will he hold dear and cling to when we are no longer in front of him? I don’t know. Yet if I am successful at continuing to pass on those delightful little parts of my father and mother, which I am so thankful for and which are now parts of me, my son will have plenty of them to keep him warm.

A time of happiness as we watch our young son grow and become close as a family. Yet what losses will my son experience in the future?

A time of happiness as we watch our young son grow and become close as a family. Yet what losses will my son experience in the future?

Are you dealing with feelings of loss or sadness this holiday season? Feel free to share your story, as well as ways you are coping and helping to bring a little cheer to this time of year.