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Christmas Countdown

By Karen Hendricks

The mantra I keep hearing and repeating from all of my friends who are moms this holiday season is… “Let it go.” With Thanksgiving falling so late on the calendar this year, there just wasn’t as much time as usual to prepare for Christmas! Whether it’s holiday decorating, cookie baking, gift wrapping, or tree trimming, many of these holiday traditions are falling by the wayside this year. We are all in the same boat–flying by the seat of our pants this holiday season!

About a week ago, I decided to give in to the fact that I can’t and won’t be able to do it all this year… and I gave myself a gift: the gift of forgiveness and grace. After all, what is the true meaning of Christmas? The most important factors in the holiday season are family, friends and togetherness… not so much the number of decorations throughout my house or the number of cookies in my cookie jars (practically zero–and not because we ate them all!).

So for the first two weeks of December, the extent of my decorating included a wreath on the front door (thanks to my husband for hanging it up–although it was upside down for a few days at first, LOL), my beloved Santa painting over the mantle (shown in last December’s post Holiday Heart and Soul), candles in the windows (also thanks to my wonderful husband), and lights outside thanks to the dynamic light-hanging duo of my son & husband. And two additional time-honored traditions, the Advent calendar (check out my blog post Christmas Nostalgia here) and our December countdown calendar.

Dec Countdown

I purchased the fabric for this wall-hanging nearly 20 years ago, back in the mid 1990s, when my oldest daughter was a baby. I remember what a chore it was, to carve out some time with the sewing machine and actually stitch it up one November or December, so that we could begin using it. Back then, it was hard enough to find five minutes to take a semi-shower! But from the time it was stitched and hung in our kitchen, it was a hit. It’s always hung close to our kitchen table, so that every December morning at breakfast time, someone had the honor of moving the red fabric frame, attaching it via velcro, on its march toward December 25. The first few years, daughter #1 was in charge. As daughter #2 and then our son entered the fray, there were often competitions over who could wake up the earliest, beating everyone else to the breakfast table, and therefore have the honor of moving the marker. Really. I think there were even tears shed over this honor.

Fast forward to December of 2014. The oldest sister was away at college until a few days ago. My son, now 14, as the youngest in our household, has had the complete honor of counting down this special month. His sisters have relinquished this highest of holiday honors to him, whether it’s because they are mature, or more likely because they don’t care to compete with his early-as-a-rooster habits. They are “letting it go.”

I can see a time coming when they are all away at college, and at least for the first half of December, it’ll be me moving the red fabric frame as it outlines those early, lazy days in December when Christmas still feels so far away. By mid-December, when they all arrive home from college and the pace of December increases to a frenzy, I’m sure they’ll all enjoy taking a turn, slipping back into their childhood tradition and moving the red frame once again. As we countdown to Christmas this year, I feel another countdown creeping into our lives… the countdown towards the close of their childhood.

Cherish all the joys of the 2014 holiday season with your families, cherish your children at whatever ages and stages they are in, and if  you are feeling stressed remember to “let it go.” Merry Christmas!

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Summer 2014: Through the Lens

“Making Memories” – Isn’t that what summer is all about?

Here at Off the Merry-Go-Round, we’ve been busy making memories, enjoying summer, with our families. We’ve gathered some of our favorite summer snapshots to share with you. Click on any photo to open a slide show… Enjoy!

Celebrating the Red, White and Blue

Happy Independence Day from all of us at Off the Merry-Go-Round! Come celebrate with us, through a star-spangled slideshow below, showcasing some of our favorite patriotic family moments:  (Click on any picture to open a slideshow… enjoy!)

From Beth’s Kitchen: Patriotic 4th of July Trifle

By Beth Heeschen

The Fourth of July.  The celebration of the birth of our nation.  A time for patriotism, fireworks, parades, slow pitch softball games, and water guns.  A time for fire flies in mason jars, sparklers on the lawn, waving of flags, and musical tributes.  Picnics filled with grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken.  Overflowing sides of potato salad, corn on the cob, baked beans, seven layer salad, and watermelon.

Double Delight: the famous Jell-O flag mold as well as the USA (picture it in Jello-O)!

Double Delight: the famous Jell-O flag mold as well as the USA (picture it in Jello-O)!

AND… the absolutely essential, must-have… patriotic red, white, and blue dessert.  There are many forms this dessert can take.  Iowa, in the 1970’s, favored the layered Jell-O mold approach.  Yes, LAYERED PATRIOTIC JELL-O MOLD.  The white layer was some sort of cream cheese concoction.  It’s the stuff nightmares are made, that we ate by the bowlful.  Fortunately, the Jell-O Company expanded on this theme in the 1980’s, and invented the flag Jell-O mold, which they dispensed for free in your neighborhood grocery store. So thoughtful of them.  It consisted of red Jell-O for the mold, Reddi Whip for the stripes, and blueberries for the stars.  It was truly a thing of beauty.  I however, flunked Jell-O making 101, and am not real big on making desserts anyway.

I needed something fast, easy, and red, white and blue.  Enter the magnificent, easy-to-prepare, looks impressive, Fourth of July Trifle.  Everybody, and I mean everybody loves this.

Edible patriotism at its best!

Edible patriotism at its best!

EASY 4TH OF JULY TRIFLE:

1 store bought angel food cake, cubed 1” squares (or make your own)

1 box large instant vanilla pudding, made according to package

1 container Cool Whip, defrosted

1 large container strawberries, washed, dried, and sliced

1 large container blueberries, washed and dried

3-4 sliced bananas

Glass container/bowl

Begin by putting a light layer of prepared pudding in the bottom of the bowl.  Top with cubed angel food cake (It is important to keep in mind, at this point, that a trifle is a layered desert, and you want to get the maximum effect from the size dish that you are using).  Next: a layer of pudding, a layer of sliced strawberries and bananas, and a layer of Cool Whip.  Follow up with a layer of pudding (lightly spread to keep the layers intact), and a layer of blueberries and bananas, followed with a layer of Cool Whip.  Repeat layers for a red, white, and blue effect.  End by spreading Cool Whip on top of cake (like frosting), and topping with sliced strawberries and blueberries.

A Plus:  You can make this “light” by using sugar free pudding, and light Cool Whip.

Enjoy!!!

Father’s Day Food for Thought…

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Karen Hendricks

Here at Off the Merry-Go-Round, because our contributors are all women, we tend to talk from a mom’s point of view but a lot of our articles truly can and do apply to our spouses, “the dads,” too. We have several dads who follow our posts, and we welcome more fathers to join our community–because all of the latest research seems to point to a growing number of dads who are “stepping off the merry-go-round” and either trimming back on their careers or switching to “stay-at-home” dad status.

The latest stats on fatherhood, in the news thanks to this weekend’s Father’s Day, are pretty surprising:

  • Nearly half (46%) of all American fathers say they don’t get to spend as much time with their children as they’d like.
  • About half of all parents say they spend more time with their children than their own parents spent with them (46% of fathers and 52% of mothers said this).
  • There are 2 million American stay-at-home dads (2012 figures)–a number that has nearly doubled since 1989.
  • 35% of all stay-at-home dads say that illness or injury is the reason they are home with their children.
  • Nearly half of all stay-at-home fathers (47%) are living in poverty.
  • Nearly half of all working parents say they’d rather be at home raising their children, but they need the income from their jobs (48% of working fathers and 52% of working mothers said this).
  • 27% of all American children under the age of 18 are living apart from their fathers.

(All of these statistics are credited to the Pew Research Center.)

So, while some dads are more connected with their children by staying at home as primary caregivers, there’s also a large number of dads who are not living with or connected to their children’s lives. What an extreme spectrum of family life. Doesn’t it feel like so many other areas of our society, especially reflecting political values, where people are moving further and further away from each other’s viewpoints and finding they have less and less in common?

We talk about the struggle to balance our working lives with our family lives quite often here at Off the Merry-Go-Round… it would be great to include more fathers in that discussion. It is a challenge, whether you are a mother or father, single parent or married, working part time or full time, etc. There is indeed a lot of common ground that we can share among all parents.

I think there’s a lot of “food for thought” here… so while I hope you have a wonderful Father’s Day, celebrating with your Dad, husband and/or other significant father figures in your life, take time to reflect and think about our society’s changing roles. How involved was your dad, what is your husband’s role, and what are you observing from your friends/family?

Read More:

Growing Number of Dads Home with the Kids

5 Facts About Today’s Fathers

Why Are Dads Staying Home?

 

Family Favorite: Frittata

Photo Credit: JJ Harrison, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons

Photo Credit: JJ Harrison, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons

By Karen Hendricks

Wishing all of our Off the Merry-Go-Round friends a blessed (early) Easter! Hope you enjoy lots of precious family time this weekend, where family meals are bound to take center stage.

And what would Easter be without traditional Easter eggs, ham, springtime salads, carrot cake, and of course chocolate from the Easter Bunny. 🙂

One of my family’s favorite recipes of all time works well for Easter brunch, or really anytime of year. “Frittata” is a super-fun word to say (fruh-ta-ta), but if you’re scared by it… don’t be. A frittata is basically an Italian version of an omelet. Baked in the oven, it’s a delicious version of an egg casserole. I stumbled upon it in a recipe book at least 15 years ago, and cannot remember which one at this point. Besides being delicious, this frittata recipe is very easy to adapt and modify based upon whatever ingredients you have on hand. Not only is it perfect for a special brunch, but it’s also a wonderful substantial and healthy dinner option. My family loves to switch things up and have “breakfast for dinner” at least once a month–how about you?

Frittata: This recently-made pan featured ham, spinach, red pepper and broccoli. Cheese sprinkled on top gives it a gorgeous browned top.

Frittata: This recently-made pan featured ham, spinach, red pepper and broccoli. Cheese sprinkled on top gives it a gorgeous browned top.

Favorite Frittata:

  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 c mayonnaise
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 2 c frozen hash brown potatoes (or 2 large potatoes, diced)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 c frozen or fresh vegetables of your choice (broccoli, sugar snap peas, red/green pepper, spinach, kale, etc.)
  • 1 c shredded cheese (mozzarella, cheddar or Swiss work well – your choice)
  • 1 c ham, cubed or chopped (great way to use leftover ham)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine eggs, mayonnaise and milk in a greased 2-qt baking dish. Add hash browns, ham and all vegetables; season with salt and cracked black pepper; mix until well blended. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 35-40 minutes or until center is set and top is browned.

Note: I double this recipe and make (2) 2-qt dishes for my family of 5 if making frittata for dinner. We usually have just a few servings left-over, which are often coveted as breakfast options the next morning (the early bird gets the worm…).

Ideas for side dishes: Biscuits, Italian bread, fresh fruit salad.

Enjoy!

Poetry Part I: What Is Poetry – Exactly?

"How do I love thee?"Photo credit: Pixabella Poetry credit: Why, William Shakespeare of course!

“How do I love thee?”
Photo credit: Pixabella
Poetry credit: Why, William Shakespeare of course!

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

With Valentine’s Day having arrived today, many of us may be scrambling for last minute cards and gifts for our spouses, children, other family members, and even good friends. This may especially be the case for those of us who have been buried under several feet of snow the past few days!

There are so many popular presents that are typically given on this day – fragrant flowers, delectable chocolates or other candies, cuddly teddy bears, lacy lingerie, sparkly jewelry. In the 19th century, however, valentines were more of the homemade kind. How many of us receive love poetry these days? Actually, I happen to be (and please don’t hate me, ladies) one of those lucky women who receive the traditional gifts on Valentine’s Day, and love poetry to boot. My husband just seems able to let the thoughts he has in his mind flow through his heart, and out the tip of his pen right on to his valentine paper. His “poems” are really more like free-flowing paragraphs that read like poetry. They’re beautiful and touching. And then there are the envelopes he puts his letter, poem, or card in. It was not until I married him that I discovered he can draw – and what begins as a doodle can turn into a rather elaborate sketch on the outside of the envelope portraying something about me, our family, or our life together.

Although there certainly are many popular poets (the poet “greats”) most people who write poetry are just “every day” people who seem to be able to create a poem out of thin air – my husband being one of them. He has what I consider a “poetic flow” when he writes those loving words to me.

My name in lights ... even my husband's DRAWINGS take on poetic-like form!

My name in lights … even my husband’s DRAWINGS take on poetic-like form!

I know a poet – and a poem – when I see one!

When you think of a poet – whether one of the “greats,” a local or less well known poet, or even just someone who enjoys writing poetry; how do you picture their personality or what is going on in their lives? Are they excessively happy? Depressed? Brooding? Mysterious? Also, what defines a well put together poem? The “flow” of the poem? The pentameter (poetic meter based on length and type of syllables used – iambic or dactylic) used? The length of the poem? Whether the poem is comprised of rhyming verse or not? If the poem is one to which you can relate? The form (physical structure) of the poem?

All of these elements are potential considerations when looking at poetry. No matter how you picture the author of poetry going about constructing those lines and forming them into conveyed thoughts, though, there is always some kind of emotion behind a poem and a form which the poet found best expresses it.

How many forms?

In conducting further research on poetry, I discovered over 25 various poetry forms – plus, a very long list of Asian-inspired forms! If you had an interest in writing poetry and an emotion you wished to express through poetic verse, how then would you decide what “form” your thoughts would take? Would you need to learn about all of the poetry forms first in order to know which one you feel comfortable using? Or, can you just structure your thoughts in any form you like and simply call it a poem? Well, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Rather, let’s take writing poetry a step at a time …

What is a poem … exactly?

The Free Online Dictionary defines a poem as: “A verbal composition designed to convey experiences, ideas, or emotions in a vivid and imaginative way, characterized by the use of language chosen for its sound and suggestive power and by the use of literary techniques such as meter, metaphor, and rhyme.” The answer to all those questions above, then, is “yes!”

Some of the most popular poets – many of which may be familiar to you, are: Langston Hughes, Shel Silverstein, Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, E.E. Cummings, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, Jack Prelutsky, William Butler Yeats, Thomas Hardy, Robert Hayden, Amy Lowell, Oscar Wilde, Theodore Roethtke, and T.S. Eliot. Each of these authors tend/tended toward a certain style – one that was familiar and comfortable. Some even created a new style of presenting poetry (who knew that the E.E. Cummings style of writing poetry would even become the initial way many people composed emails – in all lowercase letters! [By the way, if you are still writing your emails that way, do stop.]

All of these great poets had a unique way of presenting life’s experiences and emotions. Some even chose a light-hearted and humorous way of doing so, as evident in Jack Prelutsky’s poem, “As Soon as Fred Gets Out of Bed.” Additionally, the collection of poetry in Shel Silverstein’s book Where the Sidewalk Ends whose name came from a poem he titled the same.

Jack Prelutsky

To be (a poem) or not to be? That really is the question!

Many times when one is looking to define poetry, it is commonly done by distinguishing it from prose. Simply by glancing at the two (a poem and prose) on pages side by side, one can tell the difference by “appearances only.” On the page, a poem has lines of different lengths, and the line breaks are chosen by the poet. The appearance of a passage of prose, on the other hand, is shaped by the typography and the size of the page; and the words fill the page or column, with line breaks determined by the margins. Prose is built of sentences and paragraphs, while a poem is made from lines and stanzas. In a poem, the white space around the words (or the pauses or silences, if you’re listening to a poetry reading) is part of the poem. As another example, this can be equated with rests in a musical composition.

So … is there any circumstance in which prose can be a poem – as opposed to just a paragraph of prose? This is a debate in the literary world, and some would say that a poem cannot be a poem if it takes the form of prose and avoids line breaks. However, others would argue that the manner in which phrases are clustered, and words arranged, on a page are not the only defining elements of poetry. There are many linguistic forms that can only be considered poetry – metaphor, image, the “dance” of words unconstrained of lines and other dividing elements. It may actually be easier to define a prose poem by saying what it is not: It’s not “verse,” which demands line-based metric rhythms and often rhymes. It’s certainly not a sonnet, or other kind of poem, that is clearly defined by its form. An excellent example of prose comes in Hysteria by T.S. Eliot (1915) …

As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were only accidental stars with a talent for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty green iron table, saying: “If the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden…” I decided that if the shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of the fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I concentrated my attention with careful subtlety to this end.

"Our love endures, like beams of sunshine through the clouds." Yes, ladies, he really DID write that!

“Our love endures, like beams of sunshine through the clouds.” Yes, ladies, he really DID write that!

In the end, then, when trying to distinguish between a poem and prose, one may only be able to get a sense of what a prose poem is, even if they cannot offer a clear cut definition.

Poetry … versus prose … versus being poetic – which I define as what one is feeling when they want to get past all of the literary definitions and blah, blah, blah that was spewed forth in English Lit class and simply – write!

In Part 2 of our Poetry series, we will look at why someone might want to take an interest in, or even learn how to write, poetry. We will explore three examples from the more popular and familiar forms of poetry, and discover how to compose a basic poem. I will also share an example of a poem I wrote in that style.

Let’s hear from you readers … What were some of your past experiences writing poetry, whether in class or on your own? Have you ever published a poem; or shared one in another venue (writing club, author share)? Do you have further thoughts on what can be considered a poem / poetry?