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How to Catch Your Breath and Recharge!

A beautiful butterfly showing off just for me!

A beautiful butterfly showing off just for me!

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

If You Have to Say Goodbye

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

I have always relished snuggle time with my little boy.

I have always relished snuggle time with my little boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saying “Goodbye” with Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friendsdays

By Karen Hendricks

You know how it’s hard to remember a time before you had children? What did you DO with your time? What kind of MEANING did your life have, before children?

Well, for as long as I’ve had children, the past 18+ years, I’ve also been blessed to have something called “friendsdays” in my family’s life too. It’s hard to remember a time when friendsdays didn’t exist!

Basically the concept behind friendsdays is simple: three of us girlfriends decided to get together about once a week through the summer with our children, hitting the area’s parks, playgrounds and other points of interest. Through the years the number of children escalated, the destinations became more adventurous, and the friendships deepened. My fellow Off the Merry-Go-Round gals Mary Ann, Ruth and I formed “the friendsdays group” but over the years numerous other friends and their children joined us for various outings as their schedules allowed. The more, the merrier!

The first friends... our oldest children rock the teeter-totter in 1998

The first friends… our oldest children rock the teeter-totter in 1998

Thinking back, during the first year or two, our friendsdays fell mainly on Wednesdays. Probably when my oldest daughter Katie was about 4 or 5, she coined the name “friendsdays” to rhyme with “Wednesdays.” The name has stuck ever since.

At first, we primarily met at playgrounds, located within local parks, state parks, elementary schools or churches. This was the perfect opportunity to explore new playgrounds and exciting new equipment! We fell into a pattern of packing picnic lunches and spending several hours together, heading home when our youngest children needed their mid-afternoon naps.

During these early years, with at least nine children in tow—sometimes more as we brought friends/neighbors—we were often asked if we were associated with a daycare!

We even made matching "Friendsdays" shirts in 2003

We even made matching “Friendsdays” shirts in 2003

Hitting the trail in 2008

Hitting the trail in 2008

As the years passed, our weekly excursions took us on nature hikes, to farms and museums, on train and trolley rides and to many various swimming pools/slides. We even visited a chocolate factory!

I probably would have visited some of these locations with my children, but it wouldn’t have been as much fun or as memorable without our closest friends. And many of the locations are ones I probably wouldn’t have tackled without other moms along for support!

A friendsday classic: Visiting the Wolfgang Chocolate Factory in York PA (hairnets required)

A friendsday classic: Visiting the Wolfgang Chocolate Factory in York, PA (hairnets required)

Synchronized diving competitions!

Synchronized diving competitions!

We also enjoy an end-of-summer friendsday picnic at our homes, rotating the hosting duties every year. Another friendsday tradition sees us getting together annually on New Year’s Eve to exchange Christmas gifts, enjoy dinner and ring in the new year—the hosting duties rotate for this as well. And these are opportunities for the dads to be involved in friendsdays activities!

Ringing in 2004 with a sparkling apple cider toast (kids' countdown was at 9 pm!)

Ringing in 2004 with a sparkling apple cider toast (kids’ countdown was at 9 pm!)

We have developed several favorite friendsday locations, some of which we still visit today. One is Caledonia State Park, located between Gettysburg and Chambersburg, PA. The park includes beautiful streamside picnic areas as well as nature trails and a large swimming pool. On very hot days, we visit the pool (admission required). But the kids have always enjoyed splashing in the streams, collecting rocks, picnicking and throwing ball just as much (free admission). The vast majority of our friendsdays are simply free, budget-friendly activities, but once in a while we enjoy outings that require an admission price.

Playing in the stream, Caledonia State Park, 2002

Playing in the stream, Caledonia State Park, 2002

10 years later, fierce water battles at Caledonia, 2012

10 years later in 2012: fierce water battles at Caledonia

Now that our children are nearly all teenagers, will friendsdays continue? I think in some form or another, they will. Despite work schedules for all of us moms, and now our teenagers’ work schedules, sporting events, summer vacations, etc… friendsdays have become an institution! They are wonderful opportunities for us moms to “catch up” and spend time together, and our children have formed life-long friendships that seem more like brother-sister relationships. There have been wonderful memories, even a few painful incidents that required stitches, but plenty of laughter along the way too.

Thankfully we took—and continue to take—photos at nearly every friendsday stop. Looking at the huge collection of photos is like looking at a family album, seeing our children grow together through the years.

Bowling alley buddies!

Bowling alley buddies!

I would encourage you to think about your own circle of friends, your children’s friends, and how you could form your own friendsday group this summer. Setting and saving dates as early as possible in the summer is key. I promise… the benefits, the friendships and the memories will be absolutely priceless.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see Jennifer (Smith) Schuler’s post about how you can create your own “family,” Blood is Thicker Than Water and Other Misrepresentations of Family Life.


“Brain Strain: What We Can Unload to Upload”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Stock photo credit of dreamstime.com

Stock photo credit of dreamstime.com

I’m on overload right now … although my son’s first year of preschool has come to an end, I am now shuffling him between summer camps, play dates, and various other community happenings. Since the latter part of this school year I have been coordinating the discernment, enrollment, and admission process for private preschool where my son will attend through 12th grade. Then there’s the organizing and packing for our summer travel and vacation plans…running our household…squeezing in a hair cut for myself…and on and on.

Something’s gotta give and soon – I simply need to unload! However, I have found this isn’t easily done. I can’t let go of any of these responsibilities, and I don’t have time to make any big changes in my life right now or incorporate “strategies” I read in magazines that are supposed to make things simpler and slow things down. So I need easy and fast ways to unload so I can upload with immediate results! How about you? It seems as though many of us speed along through our days with barely enough time to catch our breath. It is becoming more commonplace among my circle of friends for us to text each other to say – I’ll have to catch you later; I’m crazy-busy right now. Then, we don’t get back in touch for another week or two!

Rather than offer you suggestions for letting go of the things you do now that keep you so busy, I have something else in mind. Just check out the few simple ideas below that you can easily incorporate into your daily life and routine. They might just help you catch your breath – before going on to the next thing!

Battle That Brain Strain!

* Begin your day with a few simple stretches and a hot shower. Now, if I can do this with a busy 4 year old who is more than enthusiastic to start the day (and who seems to think he is my morning rooster), so can you. When I hear my son crawl out of bed and use the potty, I take that time to slowly awaken while he pads (okay – stomps) his way to my bedside. I have “trained” him to play next door in our master suite’s living area while I do a few simple, quick stretches – right from my bed! I concentrate on my upper and lower back so I can get mobile enough to find my way into the shower. There, I let the hot water and steam do its work with a few additional standing stretches so I don’t start off my day feeling stiff. It makes a big difference most days to be loosened up before jumping into all I have to accomplish!

* Stretch throughout the day. I call this “Stop, Drop, and Stretch!” As we go through our day, we tend to lose our posture and proper walking stance. We begin to hunch our shoulders forward and round our backs, and continue to stiffen up as the day goes on due to our often busy, stressed lives. Taking just a few moments to loosen your tightened muscles offers a quick break and is surprisingly refreshing after sitting at your computer too long or handling several tasks in a row.

* Take a break during the day to exercise if you can. My life has changed so much since having a child that I find I usually don’t have the time for an elaborate workout routine. However, research coming from the fitness world tells us that exercising in “spurts” can be just as effective at relieving stress; loosing weight; and keeping our bodies strong, minds sound, and emotions in check. And, any form of exercise counts, no matter how brief. Just 10 minutes 3 times a day can still make a difference. You don’t even need a structured or regimented exercise program. A simple stroll around your neighborhood or backyard, or a brief walk on your treadmill will do the trick!

* Eat well and drink plenty of water. I will spare a lecture on the health benefits of this one – especially since I find it difficult to do! However, it is so much better for our bodies and minds to eat nutritious foods and stay hydrated. And, a healthy body is a far happier and less stressed body!

* Set specific times to check email and return telephone calls. So many aspects of technology really can make things easier and us more productive when applied well to our lives. It is important to set boundaries for how you want to handle your technological devices before you begin using them for professional or personal use. Adhere to the times you set during the day to use those devices for checking email, voice or text messages, and returning telephone calls. It doesn’t take long for people to figure out that you are “glued” to your iphone, or to learn what times of day (or night!) you are likely “online.” Set precedence up front that your technological devices are turned off and put away during dinner, family time, and before bedtime. Keep them out of your bedroom or anywhere else that is designated for sleeping or resting. Many studies suggest that having electronics on continuously disrupts sleep patterns, and some experts recommend you dim lamps and avoid checking your e-mail or watching late-night TV at least an hour before bedtime.

Decide when you will plug-in and when you will unplug!

Decide when you will plug-in and when you will unplug!

* Choose not to answer the telephone sometimes. The “I’m on my deathbed” call is likely not the one coming in.

* Say ‘no’ sometimes. The world will not come to an end if you decline to lead a project for your child’s scout troop, make your homemade chili for the church cook-off fundraiser, serve as president of your home association, or anything else. Change the thought pattern that says the project, event, or meeting will fall apart without you! This is not to say that you don’t make valuable and worthy contributions to your workplace, home life, church, and community. It’s just that the show will go on. Choose your activities carefully and don’t allow them to overwhelm your life.

* Avoid stressful situations and toxic people as much as possible. These two things can be a real drain on your life. Instead, embrace positive energy and uplifting people! Set your emotional boundaries and stick with them.

* Make excuses. Look for periods throughout the day when you can snatch a moment of quiet time for yourself. Even if it means telling your family you simply must go to the laundry room for awhile to catch up. There’s your solitude and an item crossed off your to-do list in one!

* Take “me time” any way you can claim it. Whether you splurge on a spa service or hide in your closet to finish the next chapter in your book, time for you is important! You can’t help your colleagues, family, or community if you don’t take care of yourself first.

One summer I used the excuse that our deck could use a few pretty flowers and fresh potted plants to snatch some quiet gardening time to myself.

One summer I used the excuse that our deck could use a few pretty flowers and freshly potted plants to snatch some quiet gardening time to myself.

Do you have another idea to help us regain our sanity? Let us know what you do to unload!

A Unique Party Idea – Pies, pies and more pies!

One of the many pies at a pie party!

One of the many pies at a pie party!

By  Ruth Topper

Are you planning a party for a graduation, milestone birthday, anniversary, house warming, or a “sending off” to a new city or college in the next few months?    You might be looking to do something a little different from the backyard picnic or the cake & ice cream open house.  I’d like to suggest an idea that my mother invented over 30 years ago – a pie party!  She came up with the idea in 1976 when my oldest sister was leaving home to spend the bicentennial summer vacation season working at Mt. Rushmore.  Mom wanted to have a “sending off” party for her, and she came up with the idea to make lots of different kinds of pies for friends and family to sample at this open house event.  She and my sisters made the majority of the 20 different kinds of pies with a few being made by church members, family or friends.  The secret for the guests in attendance is to cut very small pieces so that you can try as many different kinds as possible.  This is an event where no one keeps track of the number of pies sampled – nor the calories that go along with it!  Needless to say, the “pie party” was a huge success!  Guests were soon asking when the next one was going to be!  We continued to hold pie parties as my sister was “sent off” to Zion National Park the next summer and when I was confirmed at church another year.

The “pie party” was retired for awhile since it does require some work to make 15 or 20 different pies in a 24-48 hour time period!  It was brought back, upon the request of my mother, to celebrate her 75th birthday in 1997.  My sisters & I agreed to do it with the promise that she would help make the pies!  She has held up her “end of the bargain” as she has celebrated her 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays with pie parties held at her church.  (Perhaps this is the secret to her longevity!  Also Happy 91st Birthday to my mom this week on May 29th!)  I introduced the “pie party” to Gettysburg with the celebration of confirmation for my oldest son, Seth in 2010 and just last week with the confirmation of my daughter, Rachel.  And yes, my mom came a few days early to help supervise and make the pies!  Everyone thoroughly enjoyed trying samples of the 15 different kinds of pies we had to offer!  One of our guests told me that this was the BEST kind of party to have!

My mom with her grandchildren at her 90th Birthday Party - May 2012!

My mom with her grandchildren at her 90th Birthday Party – May 2012!

A table filled with lots of pies to sample!

A table filled with lots of pies to sample!

So – what is your favorite kind of pie?  See if you can find it here in the list of pies we had last week at Rachel’s Confirmation Celebration:  apple, blueberry, cheesecake, cherry, chocolate pudding, coconut custard, peach, peanut butter, pecan, pumpkin, rhubarb strawberry, shoofly, strawberry, tollhouse and vanilla pudding.  If you didn’t see your favorite listed – here are a few other pies that we have made in the past for our parties:  banana mallow, butterscotch pudding, carmel, chocolate fudge, coconut crème, date crumb, lemon coconut, lemon meringue, lemon sponge, mandarin orange, mincemeat, out of this world, peach cranberry, pear cranberry and raisin crumb!  Who knew there were so many different kinds of pie to choose from!  Here is the recipe for a popular one in Pennsylvania “Dutch” Country:

Shoofly Pie

Note:  This recipe makes 2 pies!

Need:  2 pie crusts

Filling – 1 cup brown sugar

3 Tablespoons flour

2 cups hot water

½ cup molasses

1 beaten egg

Mix together & bring to a boil.   Add 1 teaspoon baking soda and cool.  Pour cooled mixture into 2 unbaked pie shells.  Add crumbs before baking.

Crumbs – 2 cups unsifted flour

1 cup brown sugar

¼ cup Crisco

¼ cup butter

Mix and form crumbs.

Bake 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until done.  Enjoy!

The "Tollhouse" Pie was the first one gone at Rachel's confirmation celebration!

The “Tollhouse” Pie was the first one gone at Rachel’s confirmation celebration!

Mouth watering yet??

Mouth watering yet??

I bet you have an undeniable urge for some pie now – don’t you?!  The problem will be…….which kind do you want?  Share with us what your favorite kind of pie is.  What makes it so special?

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

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

The WordPress.com Blog

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

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

Butterfly Mind

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

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Celebrating Mothers

“A mother’s happiness is like a beacon, lighting up the future but reflected also on the past in the guise of fond memories.”

-Honore de Balzac

In the spirit of this quote, we gathered some of our favorite “mom”  photos through the years. Click on any of the thumbnails below to open a photo gallery… enjoy and Happy Mother’s Day!

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

-Abraham Lincoln