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Book Review: Love Skip Jump

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By Karen Hendricks

Is your instinct to say “yes” whenever you’re asked to volunteer at your child’s school, help a friend or relative, serve on a church committee, etc, etc? There are so many messages today that help us “deprogram” from automatically saying yes, because it’s so easy to overextend our capabilities and our time. So, as a result, is it now your instinct to say “no” to everything? Don’t get me wrong; there are so many wonderful causes, opportunities, people in need, ways to help your children’s schools/sports teams/etc, but it feels good to say “no” without a guilty conscious, and be selective about what we’re saying “yes” to, doesn’t it?

Well, I recently read a book that turned my whole way of thinking upside-down! Love Skip Jump: Start Living the Adventure of Saying Yes by Shelene Bryan is an inspiring book that challenges us to say “yes” more often.

How many times do you hear that little inner voice, putting ideas into your head? Is it really your thoughts… or is it God speaking to you? Shelene Bryan had a life-changing thought—to go to Africa and actually meet a child that her family was sponsoring by sending money for food and other vital necessities. What an incredible first leap of faith, that set countless positive results into motion!

Now, she isn’t saying that we should say “yes” to everything like Jim Carrey in the movie Yes Man: “Saying yes to everything obviously becomes problematic and is not what I am talking about. What I am talking about is listening to God’s call and recognizing the things He wants you to say yes to, then actually doing those things.”

It’s a three-step process that she describes as starting with love—the love that God has for us, and a relationship with God. It’s the foundation of our lives as Christians. The second step, “skip,” refers to giving up, or skipping something, for the sake of someone else. This illustrates God’s love, but more than that, it’s an attitude and lifestyle of giving. And skipping comfort. The third step, “jump,” means saying yes to God, and using your God-given talents to affect others. Jumping is an action.

Shelene Bryan - Photo Credit: LoveSkipJump.com

Shelene Bryan – Photo Credit: LoveSkipJump.com

She identifies lots of “things” that hold us back from saying yes: our job, spouse, relationships, addiction, success—or  the desire to have others perceive us as successful, our house, car, luxury items, or even the praise we like to receive from others. But Shelene especially felt a calling to help children and families in need.

Shelene writes about additional experiences she had, saying “yes” to ideas that popped into her head. Prior to the Christmas season one year, she contacted her friend Rachel, a neonatal nurse, and asked if she knew of a family that needed help during the holidays. As a result, the entire Bryan family bought Christmas gifts for a family that would be spending Christmas day with their baby at the hospital. In fact, they used the money that they would have used on their own gifts and shopped together. The Bryan kids still received stockings with little gifts, plus gifts from other family members, but Shelene writes about how exciting it was to watch her own children selflessly “skip” their gifts in order to help others. The icing on the cake? The Bryan family piled into their car, loaded up their surprise gifts, and visited the family, shocking them with their thoughtfulness on Christmas morning. They visited with all the other children hospitalized on Christmas morning, as well, singing Christmas carols in the hospital. How many of us would have the courage to do something like this?

One of my favorite chapters is titled “Every Jump Ripples.” Shelene writes, “We have all seen ripples moving in concentric circles away from the splash of a stone thrown into a lake or pond. In the same way, ripples happen when we say yes to God and do whatever it is He wants us to do. Our little splash has a reverberating effect on others.”

One example of a ripple: one of the neonatal nurses was moved by Shelene’s family’s visit and asked Rachel why the family would do that for someone they didn’t even know. Rachel told the fellow nurse about Shelene’s visit to Africa—to Uganda—and coincidentally the nurse was of Ugandan heritage. She had never been to Uganda but had always wanted to go. Rachel told her that Shelene planned a return trip to Uganda soon and the woman was compelled to join her on the next trip. As a result, the hospital also donated medicine… another ripple.

This book was especially thought-provoking, so much so that I’ll admit it was hard to read at times! It truly challenged me to examine my priorities, and think about being open to opportunities to “say yes” in my life. Hopefully I will not be so quick to automatically say “no” in the future… and I look forward to trying to make a difference in the lives of others,  spreading the love of God, skipping or giving up things that I don’t really need, and having the courage to take those leaps of faith, all the while involving my family. As Shelene Bryan writes, these experiences can be “uncomfortable journeys but with rich adventures.”

Every chapter in the book concludes with a prayer and there were several that especially spoke to me. I will leave you with these words and hope they are as inspiring to you, as they were to me:

Lord, help me see that my real worth is based on who I am in Your eyes, and not on my worldly successes. Help me see those who are hurting so I can show them the unconditional love You have shown me. Give me the boldness to share Your love and truth with those who come across my path. Amen.

Lord, give me the wisdom to recognize the comforts that constrain my desire to follow You. Help me seek above all else the things You would have me do in my life. Help me identify the yes opportunities You are putting in my path. Amen

Lord, allow me to know You well enough so that I can recognize Your whisper. Give me the strength of mind to hide Your Word in my heart so I can match Your Word against the voices of my culture. Give me the ability to be still and reflect on who You are and what You have done and what You want to do through me. Amen.

For more information:

Click here for SheleneBryan.com

Click here for LoveSkipJump.com

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Summer Breeze ….

 

A Summer Breeze can come along at the most needed time to refresh and restore your summer-soul!

A Summer Breeze can come along at the most needed time to refresh and restore your summer-soul!

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

I can relate to my fellow blogger Karen’s latest blog about having the summertime blues (click here). It hasn’t exactly been the summer of my dreams either. There are, in fact, several songs written about experiencing a sad summer!

Karen’s thoughts reminded me a lot of having “the blues” around holidays – especially noteworthy in that regard is Christmas. We have a lot of expectations about Christmastime, and put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves to make it “perfect” for us and our families, and rarely is it ever like in the movies.

Summer is the same way. We expect that we will simply end the school year, or enter the slower work season, with an automatic transition to s—l—o—w. We expect that we will be healthy and happy as we frolic in the sun at the beautiful beach-side condo we saved all year to rent. We expect that in those two or three warmer months of bright sunshine and clear skies, we will find calm, peace, and – well, Zen.

The reality is, however, that life is still just that: Life (with a capital ‘L’). And just because we expect it to slow down doesn’t mean it will. So, what is one’s option for “getting away from it all” when, at the end of the summer day, you simply can’t? Recently, I found one answer to this question lies in….

WIND CHIMES!

True Zen CAN be yours this summer!

True Zen CAN be yours this summer!

This idea came to me as I was experiencing yet another rather hectic summer morning. It was the usual a.m. routine: I’m startled awake by my young son at my bedside, up and ready to go (too ready to go); I feed my child, feed my dog and barely feed myself; and then dash my little guy off to a full day of fun-in-the-sun at camp.

When I’m not in the midst of all this, I wonder why it is that I can never seem to get it all done – my son is away all day. However, a big job called “Too Much” always stares me down the moment I walk through the door after camp drop-off and I never win the staring contest. I’m not quite sure how other women seem to find the time for that relaxing cup of coffee on their flower-pot-filled deck before it gets too hot, but that simply just doesn’t exist in my world!

This morning, however, I decided to outwit Too Much. So when I parked my car in the driveway and got out, I headed straight for the rustic walking path my husband created and which winds around the hilly perimeter of our 2 ½ acre property. I needed these woods today – along with the peace, quiet, and serenity they bring. As I strolled the wood chip laden path, I noticed the wind chimes my husband had hung on tree branches along the way. They have been present along the path for some time, yet for some reason this morning I was more “in tune” with them.

Have you tinkled your wind chime today?

Have you tinkled your wind chime today?

As I walked by, I reached up and gently touched the chimes. With each of the wind chimes, I listened to the different sounds the silver, rounded-end bars made as they knocked back and forth along one another – focusing on the quiet, subtle tinkling of one wind chime and the hollow bonging of another. Sometimes I would let the sound die out and the chimes stop moving before I walked on which forced me to be still for a while. During one of my laps around, I even stopped in front of each chime; and either whispered a prayer for someone or for myself, or offered a petition that reflected a need I had been holding in my heart.

Besides helping me to find some calm within before returning to my house to face Too Much, our wind chimes looked – and sounded – so beautiful, especially when a Summer Breeze came along. I had finally found my summertime Zen!

Have you been in need of some inner peace this summer? Why not take a simple walk and let us know what you saw, heard, or even touched that brought some sunshine to your world – we would love to hear from you!

Lessons from the Playground

Today we welcome guest blogger Lisa Cadigan! This talented mom manages the blog Daily Presents: Finding the Extraordinary in the Everyday, where this piece was originally published. You can learn more about Lisa in the bio which follows her article.

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By Lisa Cadigan

My family and I spent Saturday at a state park where we hiked for a while until we reached a playground at the end of the trail.  It was a beautiful day; the first peek of spring getting ready to burst forth in all of its splendor, and it felt great to be outside basking in sunshine under tall trees with the people I love most.

The kids had been looking forward to reaching the playground during a good deal of the hike – particularly my son, who often forgets to realize that he is actually presently having fun.  He often chooses to look for what may be coming that’s potentially better in his future rather than realize that the moment he is already occupying is pretty good, too.  We are working on that.

By the time we reached the playground, both kids were happy to be there.  They had been getting along pretty well all day, which I always view as a small miracle, and I hoped their shared adventure would continue now that we had reached the much anticipated playground destination.

Unfortunately, though, shortly after arriving at the playground, my daughter tripped and fell on the suspension bridge, leaving a painful red mark on the side of her belly.  She started to cry.  My son rushed to her aid, trying to make her feel better, a little afraid that it might somehow be his fault, I think, because he often feels that everything is his fault (which sometimes it is, but not always – this is another thing we are working on).  He started to give her a big bear hug and sing a song we had made up for her when she was a baby.  She got angry and started yelling at him that she was NOT a baby.  Plus, the hug was TOO MUCH.  The brand of help he was offering was not what she needed at that time.  We tried to explain this to our son; to thank him for trying to help, to tell him we were so glad he was looking out for his sister, but that part of helping people is listening carefully to find out what they need and then to offer THAT to them, if you have it to offer.  The truth is, I am not sure my daughter really knew WHAT she needed, because when he finally left her alone she became angry that he wasn’t paying attention to her anymore.  He was frustrated that his efforts were unsuccessful.  She was looking for an apology for the stupidity of his efforts.  My guess is that she just needed a little alone time to allow the sting to go away, and then an acknowledgment from him that he loved her and understood how much it stinks to fall and hurt yourself; that he was there for her while she healed.  He couldn’t magically heal the red mark, though.  Her body was going to have to do that in cooperation with a little time and space.

Later, when we sat on the deck in our yard, my daughter’s previously bruised belly poking out of her shirt in the warm sunshine, I hoped that she was feeling the soothing rays of the sun more acutely than the bruise; that maybe the bruise was even making her a little more aware of the warm sun, so that she could convert her anger at the stupid playground equipment that bruised her and her brother who couldn’t adequately comfort her into gratitude for the warm sun that was presently soothing her skin.  I hoped her brother would check back in with her to see if she was OK later, when she was a little more open to feeling his unique (and sometimes trying) brand of love.

I am supposedly a grown up now, but I still hike and play the playground games from the points of view of both my son and my daughter. I don’t always know how to comfort the people I love when they need comfort.  I struggle with giving them what they need in the times that they need it.  And I can get really frustrated when my efforts don’t work.  On the plus side, I am getting better at living in the present and at looking within myself to heal some of my own wounds and find my own peace, although I still need to remember that

a)    having the space and time to look deeply is largely possible thanks to the people around me who make a gift of that time and space.  I can’t take that for granted.

And

b)   my methods of finding peace may not work for everyone. Pushing my methods to find happiness and peace onto others in an effort to “help” rather than just giving them the time and space to figure out how these things work for themselves is like giving big bear hugs and singing baby songs.

Hiking and playground games seem to be my life’s work.  I don’t think I will ever master the games; but I keep playing them and playing them, varying the methods and strategies to keep it interesting.  The longer I play, the more apparent the simplicity of the rules becomes, and yet the act of playing still makes me breathe as hard as I do when I hike up a mountain.  Somehow knowing that hiking to a playground is simply the act of putting one foot in front of the other doesn’t make the work of the actual hike any easier.  But with practice, I am finding that it is possible to enjoy the feeling of the burn in my muscles when I play hard.

Today I am thankful for the people in my life who play with me every day.  May we continue to play without keeping score, and graciously offer “do-overs” whenever necessary.  May we take breaks when we need to, help each other up and try again when we stumble and fall, revel in the best moments of the game, remember the best views on the hike, and use all of the memories to help us appreciate the new moments as they come.  And at the end of the day, we need to give a high-five to all of the beloved peeps on our team, saying, “Well done.  Let’s do it again tomorrow.”

web-bio-lisaOff the Merry-Go-Round is a place of community & inspiration for parents who have scaled back their professional careers in favor of quality family time… and from the first moment we met Lisa Cadigan, we admired her excellent sense of balance between career and family. “I have been given a great gift – the ability to find joy in simple moments, the ability to find longer and longer periods of balance and peace in a busy, hectic life,” Lisa writes on her blog Daily Presents. Professionally, Lisa established Cadigan Creative, “laying a foundation for the elusive balance between career and family.” You can find out more about Lisa’s graphic design and marketing services on the Cadigan Creative website, where she also shares stories about how people are using creativity, kindness and compassion to make the world a better place. Brava, Lisa!

Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years

Final school concerts, awards assemblies, graduation ceremonies… chances are your family calendar is dotted with these events over the next week or so (maybe longer, if you’re making up lots of snow days, ugh!). Along with these milestones and rites of passage, come lots of welcome changes but also bittersweet moments for us as parents. We thought it was the perfect time to revisit Jennifer (Smith) Schuler’s blog post “Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years.” Sniff….

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!

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!

5K… Hurray!

5K

Running in a 5K is an awesome experience!

By Jen Ashenfelter

It’s really difficult to maintain healthy habits and an exercise program when there’s so much else to get done. Why is it that the first things we take out of our daily routine are the very things that keep us going? I’m guilty as charged.

I know I should get more exercise, but I don’t. I know I should drink more water, but I don’t. Carbs are bad, but just try to take away my bagel. I watch Biggest Loser. I see the Facebook posts and pictures from friends who are logging miles with Nike, checking in at the gym, eating vegan meals, participating in Tough Mudder events or biking a distance I wouldn’t dream of going without a car and scheduled rest stops, but I do nothing.

After a hectic week at work or a never-ending string of school events and evening activities for the boys, before you know it, I started substituting Coke Zero for my water and instead of taking 20-minute walks or jogs I began punching the snooze button for the same amount of time on my alarm.

In the long run, bad habits and the inability to put ourselves first catch up. Taking care of yourself and exercising doesn’t require hours at the gym. In fact, working out for a few minutes throughout the day is just as effective according to The Benefits of Physical Activity published by the Harvard School of Public Health. (Very helpful article!)

The lesson I learned? You don’t have to be a perfect runner. You don’t have to give up eating carbs. And you don’t necessarily have to go jogging at 4:30am—there’s something to be said for getting enough sleep—unless you want to do all those things. All you really need is motivation, the ability to start in small increments and build momentum, and the willingness to forgive yourself when the going gets rough so you can start again.

Getting into the 5K craze 

With all that said, my husband and I started walking early in the morning late in the summer. When cooler mornings moved in, we added jogging to our routine. So we set our sights on running a 5K together in late September. Setting a goal with a deadline is good motivation, but there’s a better chance of success with a solid plan. If you’re not a runner or have never participated in a 5K (3.1 miles), then you really should choose a Couch to 5K plan—there are a plethora of apps and you can usually find a class at the local Y or health club—which breaks training into a manageable daily schedule of walking, jogging, and cross-training options over four to eight weeks.

I have trained twice before as part of a program—the last one being with the Y running outside during February. (Nothing improves your run time at the end of eight weeks like shedding 20lbs of winter clothing!) In 20 – 60 minutes a day, you’ll be ready for the race.

It wasn’t easy training for the September race. Life got in the way, again, and our training was rather inconsistent…okay it was basically nonexistent, but that didn’t stop us. Knowing the race course was flat and being motivated to raise money for a planned veteran’s park, we showed up.

Three days before the race I jogged a hilly 1.7 miles in roughly 20 minutes. I’m not great at math, but to me, that calculated into a respectable finish time of less than 45 minutes. I was thinking about the picture I would post on Facebook!

Race day was beautiful—not too warm, not too cold. My new sneakers felt good. We walked, we stretched, and then we were off. I was off alright—off my rocker. During the first mile I couldn’t catch my breath. During the second mile, my bladder screamed at me. During the third mile, my head was pounding, my feet hurt and I almost quit…3 times. During that final stretch, however, I was breathing like a champ, I didn’t have to pee and my feet were light as feathers as I crossed the Veterans Park 5K finish line at 36:40. It felt great! I was ready for the next race…

On a runner's high at the finish of my fall race! And yes, I posted this on Facebook too!

On a runner’s high at the finish of my fall race! And yes, I posted this on Facebook too!

New habits die fast

With my goal of running a 5K for the first time in years accomplished, sadly, the high didn’t last long. This fall, exercise and “me time” were replaced with more hours at work and a busy family schedule. In a recent moment of mental disarray—okay, probably more like a hormonal imbalance with a lack of Starbucks and absence of downtime—I  realized it was time to take a step back and breathe deeply to regain some perspective and natural energy to keep moving forward.

A power walk or leisurely jog around the neighborhood and eating healthy really do make a difference! Since taking that step back and returning to a few minutes of fresh air and shocking the cardio system back to life, I feel more energized to tackle each day with less stress and a more positive outlook.

I’m motivated to keep exercising because it feels really good, the holiday party season is fast approaching, and I’m going to a family wedding in January where probably 99.9% of those under 30 are Cross Fit fabulous. Yeah, I’m really motivated to keep moving. But I’m not kidding myself. The first thing to go when the going gets tough will be exercising and eating well. No worries though, I’ll dust off my weights and running shoes to begin—again. Hey, the 5K season ramps up in March.

Do you exercise regularly or set aside time in your busy schedule just for yourself? What motivates you? Finish a race or reach a personal goal? Friend us on Facebook and share a photo of you doing something you enjoy just for yourself!

The Reluctant Family Historian

Ethel’s wedding portrait, c. 1908

By Chris Little

You know how sometimes you get an idea that won’t let go? That keeps you up at night and leaves you daydreaming at a green traffic light? Well, I’ve been trying to shake this one for awhile, with little success.

I hesitate even to write it down, but in the interest of courage and accountability, I’m going to tell you that I’ve been thinking for some time about writing a biography of my great-grandmother, Ethel. I’ve mentioned her here before: born in 1882, a portrait artist, mother of three, survivor of the Depression, she was also an occasional journal-keeper, a devoted letter-writer, and a scrapbook-constructing family historian in her own right. I’m fascinated by her, and part of me would love to gather all the yellowing bits of paper I have of hers and knit them together into her story.

But I have to admit another part of me is repelled by the idea—and I can get a little whiny about it: “You had your chance, Ethel,” I sometimes catch myself thinking. “You lived your life, you wrote your stories. Now it’s my turn. Why should I spend my life writing about yours?” That part of me really doesn’t want to spend hours and weeks and months in the basement sifting through dusty letters and journals, trying to decipher her atrocious handwriting and make a history out of what it says.

Still, the idea won’t let go, and my whining is increasingly drowned out by my interest. I’ve been transcribing her journals—like the one she kept as a 16-year-old schoolgirl in 1898. And the one she kept as a 25-year-old working artist in 1907, as she was being courted by my great-grandfather. And the one she kept on her honeymoon trip to Europe in 1909. In each of them she’s slightly different—sentimental and romantic in 1898, curt and businesslike in 1907, entranced by the colors of Italy and Switzerland in 1909. But her handwriting is such a mess even her relatives complain about it in letters to each other—I know: I’ve transcribed them too! Sometimes I have to retrace the track of her pencil with my finger on the table, over and over, to try to guess what she wrote. I’m getting a little better at it, the more of her writing I read, and it’s funny the sense of triumph I feel when I suddenly recognize just what it was she was writing.

With her children, c. 1920

I was thinking the other day that the deeper I get into this project, the more it seems to me that Ethel’s life, her joys and sorrows and pleasures and disappointments, are echoed in mine—not the same circumstances, to be sure, but the feelings animating them. Like when she walks back down her driveway after waving goodbye to her youngest son as he leaves for the Navy, and she remarks on how quiet and empty the house feels? Oh yes, I’ve been there! And when she comments about her daughter growing into a perfect companion, kind and tolerant and wise, I find myself nodding my head. Yes, I get that too. So I wonder if that’s part of the reason people like to look into their family histories, to find out that their ancestors were a lot like them—to connect with them somehow. This is as close as Ethel and I will get to sharing a pot of tea, and it’s pretty fun. Anyway, my whining is beginning to feel displaced—because in a way, learning and writing about Ethel’s story is a way of living, and understanding, my own. Does that make sense?

In her garden, c. 1950

Still, sometimes it gets to be too much, all that reading about the little things that were exciting or upsetting to people who’ve been dead for decades. When I start to feel weighed down by it all,  I take myself for a walk, or start dinner, or do some work on a freelance project. There’s only so much time I can put into this project in any given day, and that’s going to have to be okay.

Anyway, I’d like to revisit this topic from time to time as I slowly sink deeper into the Ethel Project, as I’ve come to call it. In the meantime I’d love to hear whether you’ve ever had any interest in learning more about your ancestors, or even just a relative a generation or two back. Why do you think you’ve wanted to do that? What do you think you’ve gained from it?