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!

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Summertime Blues

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By Karen Hendricks

I’m going to be honest—It’s been a real struggle for me to write this summer and keep the blog rollin’. Oh I’ve had topics planned… but life has gotten into the way. I know everyone can relate to busy summer schedules that fly by! But as busy as this summer has been, it’s also been an unusually sad one. And that has really thrown me for a loop.

It doesn’t feel “normal” to be battling the blues during the summertime—typically a happy, fun, easy-going season filled with sunshine. I consider myself to be a very positive, uplifting person but I’ve been struggling lately…

During the first week of June, my daughter suffered an injury during a soccer practice. Thankfully, she didn’t have any broken bones, but she was diagnosed with a deep bone bruise. We didn’t realize how much it would affect her—and through a ripple effect, all of our family—in limiting her activities for the entire summer. It wasn’t something that she bounced back from—as we first thought she would—right away.

As a parent, I think that I have felt every bump, bruise, hurt and injury to come through every one of my children through the years… Have you ever felt that way too? This summer’s injury has just weighed so heavily on my heart… it pains me to see her limited in her activities because she is normally highly competitive, extremely athletic and always on the go. Her wings have been clipped for the summer. So that’s one component of my summertime sadness.

Also on the medical theme, I’ve been struggling with some health issues. Thankfully, I hope they are behind me… as I had surgery in early July. Anesthesia is an unpredictable, crazy thing… while it makes some people goofy, it left me feeling very blue—something I am not used to, and compounded due to the worried state of mind I was already experiencing due to my daughter’s injury.

Between my daughter and I, we’ve racked up more than 25 health-related appointments, just during the months of June and July. Not the way I want to spend my summer!

Now there have been some bright spots: A wonderful daytrip to our annual family reunion, beautiful mornings that have inspired me to go running, challenging and enjoyable freelance work projects, several lovely lunch dates with girlfriends, peaceful time spent gardening—and reaping the delicious rewards of the garden!, recuperation time when I was actually able to read an entire book!, a fun summer morning spent picking blueberries with friends, a rewarding experience two of our children had during a week-long mission trip with our church youth group, and even a getaway that my husband and I were able to enjoy (just the two of us!) during our children’s mission trip.

In between these bright spots, I’ve been focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, and trying to be the best mom and wife that I can be to my family, day-to-day. Hopefully things are looking up. My daughter had promising medical appointments yesterday, I am feeling better, and the love and prayers of close family and friends are carrying us through.

Stay tuned for upcoming family-focused blog topics, “as we return to our normally scheduled program.” But until then… feel free to share your stories and advice.

  • Have you ever experienced sadness in the summertime?
  • Doesn’t it feel unnatural?
  • How did you cope?
  • Do you think it’s comparable to the seasonal blues that affect people over the Christmas holidays?
  • As moms we often set the tone for our families, so how do you shake off the blues and stay strong and positive during times of crisis? 

I Can’t Wait to Hold Your Hand

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Photo Credit: Licensed under the Public Domain by the National Cancer Institute.

Photo Credit: Licensed under the Public Domain by the National Cancer Institute.

Ah, sweet summertime… those lazy, hazy days. The days are lighter and brighter, the pace of life seems to slow down, and families get to spend more time together. And that’s what all moms and dads look forward to, right? Time spent with their children.

Funny, though, I don’t always hear that from parents. In fact, many times I hear quite the opposite. In May, I attended a fellowship dinner for my church. The conversation soon turned to children—about how fast kids grow and about the many changes they go through.

I sensed where all this was going because many times while talking with a friend or family member, at some point during the conversation they begin complaining about their children. Now, I do realize that this is likely not ever meant in a derogatory way; nor is it an expression of these parents’ true feelings for their kids. They probably just feel comfortable venting their frustrations to me, and unloading their feelings about their children’s antics and behaviors. Sometimes, these parents may even use humor in their ranting in order to defuse conflicts with their children when they later interact. That is actually a positive approach to dealing with many family situations.

Honestly, though, I have never really known how to respond to this manner of complaining simply because I don’t share these feelings about my son. My husband and I were no less than tortured for years by the many circumstances, and seemingly unending losses, surrounding the building our family. When our child was finally born and ready for us to adopt him, we were so overcome with emotion and filled with joy that we didn’t even have words. Although perhaps it will be hard for some to believe this, my husband and I used to “argue” over which of us wanted to get up with our son for the next middle of the night feeding. No, I am not kidding!

Sometimes, we would resolve to getting up together and sharing in this late-night ritual because we knew it was a special, treasured time that would all-too-soon be gone. And, it was. For our son began growing—sometimes in faster spurts than others—and never stopped. He has continued to grow up and fill out. We also know that once he reaches his destined height, he will continue his growth emotionally and spiritually.

We never can turn back the hands of time.

Speaking of hands… In reference to her children’s rapidly growing bodies over the years, one woman in our fellowship group said:

“One day you go to hold their hand and you see that it is actually—a hand!”

The talk continued, round the dinner table, with every member contributing toward the “kids these days” conversation. It seems that at every stage of my child’s life, I hear something from someone about how I should prepare for what lies ahead – what lies “in wait” (cue the Evil laugh–heh heh heh–here). I have already passed many of these supposedly dreaded stages – the terrible two’s, which is the year of public meltdowns and tantrums; the threshold three’s, which is when your child is older yet not old enough; the ferocious four’s, which is the year of independence wars; and the stage I’m in now ….. the fighting five’s, which is a year that will bring more I-can-do-it-myself battles. And through this all I wonder: Just when will these behaviors drive me to the brink of, well—complaining?

I do recognize that all of the behaviors observed and described by child development experts, and many parents, are categorized as general attitudes and behaviors that will likely be seen at some point during a child’s second year of life, third year of life, etc.; as well as in varying degrees of frequency and intensity, within that given year. However, I truly do feel as though my son and I do not fit in with the: My-Kids-Drive-Me-Nutty Club simply because… well, he doesn’t.

From the moment I brought my son home, and as I have watched him grow, I can honestly say I have enjoyed every age/stage/phase/and “fad” that has shown itself in his development. Initially, I did think I would have a hard time “Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years,” especially since my son is an only child.

Yet, it seems that as he grows, my son only becomes more wonderful—more adorable and fun to spend time with; more intuitive and sensitive; more curious and inquisitive; and more helpful and loving. So, I honestly can’t complain when the complaining wheel begins turning around my social and professional circles.

As I wake up each day to my beautiful little boy, growing big... I look at him, grin, and think:

I can’t wait to hold his great BIG hand!

We're "keeping it under our hats"... truth is, we have no complaints!

We’re “keeping it under our hats”… truth is, we have no complaints!

How do you handle being on the receiving end of parents’ complaints about their children? Do you perceive these “vent sessions” as a healthy, positive coping strategy? Or as having a negative effect on one’s parenting? Do you participate in, or even initiate, these kinds of discussions? Also, do you have tips for dealing with the inevitable growth and moving on of our children? How can we keep our relationships with our kids warm, loving, and strong – without causing them to feel “smothered?” 

We look forward to reading your thoughts!

 

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!)

Going the Distance

Looking across the Gettysburg Battlefield, on the Spirit of Gettysburg 5K race course

Looking across the Gettysburg Battlefield, on the Spirit of Gettysburg 5K race course

By Karen Hendricks

I crossed something off my bucket list last week… it was something I honestly never thought I’d accomplish especially given my age. Not that I’m over the hill, but getting back into RUNNING at the age of 44 while juggling a family and career isn’t something that naturally fits right into an already-packed, super-busy schedule.

However… Last week I ran my first ever 5K. Can I just take a minute to say “I did it!” 🙂

I have always wanted to run a 5K, planned on doing them in my teens when I ran high school track. But when I was 16, I fell down a flight of stairs and cracked one of my kneecaps. Thus ended my running days. Until recently.

I tried to get back into running several times in the 20s but the twinges in my knee came back every time. Then came career, kids, and no spare time to even consider thinking about running. But for the past several years, taking a mixture of pilates, yoga and ballet classes, plus staying active with walking and biking, I honestly feel stronger and healthier now than ever before. So, keeping my fingers crossed, I slowly got back into running over the past year. It felt great to run intervals, interspersed with periods of walking, as I totaled 3-5 miles. Finding the time isn’t as much as a challenge now that my kids are a bit older (in their teens). One of the easiest ways for me to work walking and running into my schedule is to do it while my daughter has soccer practice at a park. But my favorite time of day is first thing in the morning—what a great start to the day. And the kids are certainly capable of getting their own breakfasts if I’m gone for a little while!

So I was feeling good, pretty happy to have “running” back in my life, but a 5K really wasn’t on my radar screen. Like most things in life, it isn’t until something is staring me in the face, that I think it might be a good idea!

My daughter Kelly is extremely athletic and runs a local 5K every year, either winning or placing in her teenage age group. This year she was signed up and ready to run, but about two weeks beforehand, she sprained her foot. A week before the race, it was obvious that her foot wasn’t going to allow her to run as usual. So, in a light bulb kind of moment, I decided I should change her registration to my name (and my age category!) and run the race instead. I’d always wanted to run a 5K, right? No time like the present. Like Nike says, “Just do it.” Did I mention, it was one week before the race?

My family’s reactions varied… my husband was supportive but concerned I was going to hurt myself. My daughter Katie was excited and volunteered to take photos to document my journey over the finish line. My daughter Kelly laughed, but then offered her runner’s insights throughout the week, as she explained how to tackle certain sections and hills on the race course. My son Kyle was pretty flabbergasted about the idea that his Mom might actually be able to run a 5K.

The gorgeous setting of the Spirit of Gettysburg 5K

The gorgeous setting of the Spirit of Gettysburg 5K

Every other day leading up to the race, I ran three miles and surprisingly, my times weren’t terrible. I wouldn’t embarrass myself too badly. No pain in the knee either. I continued my ballet workouts on alternating days, taking extra time to stretch, although I honestly didn’t have muscle cramps or pains. I rested completely the day before the race.

I figured I couldn’t back out, if I told people publicly about my plans. So the day before the 5K, after I picked up my runner’s packet and bib number, I posted my picture and the following message on Facebook:

5K

I was completely blown away by all the Facebook love that followed… words of encouragement, support and well wishes. It was awesome! The positive power of social media at work.

Then came race day. The forecast was ideal—cool morning temperatures with partly cloudy skies (no bright sunshine). However, upon waking up that morning… rain. Oh joy.

I convinced myself that I would run, rain or shine. But thankfully, about 10-15 minutes before the 8 am start, the rain stopped. What an adrenalin rush, to be part of a crowd of runners, 700 strong, at the starting line. To hear the sound of that many footsteps, along with cheers from the crowd of families and friends lining the course… it was music to my ears.

Here I go...

Here I go…

Several things helped to pull me along as I ran: first, the beautiful course which winds its way across the historic Gettysburg Battlefield; thoughts of my supportive family and friends—especially all those encouraging Facebook messages; but perhaps most of all, it was a drive within myself. Once you’re a mom and have survived those “marathon” days when your children are sick or going through difficult situations, I think there is absolutely nothing else on this earth that you cannot accomplish. There is nothing as challenging, trying and rewarding as being a mom. Running? I got this. Physically and mentally.

Crossing the finish line! Woohoo!

Crossing the finish line! Woohoo!

While my time didn’t win any awards, I felt as though I had a gold medal around my neck as I crossed the finish line. There were four times on the course when killer hills forced me to walk—I allowed myself no more than 100 steps at a time. I finished as runner #531 out of about 700, and I was 35th in my age group. My final time was 34:22… right in my target zone between 33 and 35 minutes. It meant a lot to have one of my best friends, fellow OTMGR blogger Mary Ann, at the finish line with my family as well!

And now I have a new goal… to keep working and improve upon my time for next year. Yes, I think I’ll be back! And now that I’ve said that publically… I have to do it!

After the race: Still smiling!

After the race: Still smiling!

 

For more information on the Spirit of Gettysburg 5K, sponsored by the YWCA of Gettysburg and Adams County, click here.

For more ideas on fitting exercise into your daily routine, click here for my previous post Work it Out: Finding Time for Mom

Check out my fellow blogger Jen’s 5K experience “5K… Hurray!” here

Feel free to share your advice with our community… how do you find time to run or exercise? Have you set a 5K goal? Do you run 5Ks regularly? We’d love to hear from you…

 

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!!!

How to Keep Your Child Interested in Learning and Reading through the Summer

Childrens'_books_at_a_library

Choices, choices! Photo Credit: ProjectManhattan

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

When I checked my email this morning, I saw a message from my son’s lower school principal titled – “Summer Reading and Enrichment Resources.” Ah, yes, it took a moment for my former elementary school teacher brain to register … just because it is summer does not mean we stop reading and learning!

I wonder if any of you share the following experience raising your children:  My son is an enthusiastic learner who loves school and absorbs so much around him like a dry sponge soaking up water. However, usually if I try sitting him down for more structured learning – as in, “We’re going to learn about the – ch diagraph now;” I find him balking at this “academic” time.

Even at such a young age, my preschool son takes school very seriously and loves to learn.

Even at such a young age, my preschool son takes school very seriously and loves to learn.

I get so much more from his young mind if we learn through play; or at the very least, weave learning time into playtime. One afternoon, we were drawing pictures on our sidewalk with chalk. My son began making the –sh sound for the beginning diagraph he learned last week, as we wrote our last name and talked about the sound that starts it. When I casually wrote “ch” on the sidewalk next and asked if he had learned this letter-sound combination (which I knew he had), he immediately rattled off a long list of beginning –ch words he had learned!

My parents were leaders in the field of education and learning was of great value in our household. Yet, it was a fairly structured experience and my mother’s school teacher job continued through the summer – if you know what I mean. I don’t think I lost any interest in learning because of this. In fact, many times I even enjoyed it since I was born loving to read and write. However, now I do admit that sometimes it could be a drag.

My little boy just turned 5 years old, and he had a very successful preschool year. This was due to several factors. For one, he has very supportive and involved parents – go us! Second, the philosophy of the private school he attends is grounded in just letting children “be” and grow into who they will be – of course with the support, guidance and nurturing of amazing teachers. Third, between school and home he was not taught, but not “pushed” to the point where learning became stressful and not fun anymore. Of course, there is a structured academic program and curriculum at my son’s school; and the education actually is fairly rigorous – just through a different approach. As in: Struggling with a weak pencil grip and forming your letters? We’re certain that with a little breathing room and some practice you’ll be writing with no problem as you fill out your college applications!

So, how do you keep your child from disconnecting from all he or she learned throughout the school year? How do you get them to want to read? How do you decide which books are best for a young reader – a “pre-reader” as they are commonly referred; and how do you find books that will spark your child’s curiosity and imagination, and keep your child interested in the world of books … without any “nagging” on your part?

Don’t let reading and learning – no matter what time of the year,

become an overwhelming experience for your child.

Read on to learn more!

Parents genuinely want their children to have an interest in books and learning; however, sometimes accessing those pathways to learning can be daunting – even in a place as seemingly benign as a library.

In libraries and bookstores, the children’s sections can actually be overwhelming, especially when your child is just beginning to show an interest in books. This can be especially tough during the summer when other activities and experiences beckon your child to take part – summer camp; swimming lessons; “pee wee” (insert name of sport here); weekday playdates; parties and picnics; vacations and day trips; etc.

The question parents need to ask themselves is:

How can I generate, support, and nurture a love for reading and learning in my child

without it becoming overwhelming?

Even a Superhero needs to know how to read!

Even a Superhero needs to know how to read!

Below are several ideas and tips for how to choose, or help your child choose, books that will engage them; and have them seeking time to read, think, and learn!

In their online Week of January 6, 2014 edition, ‘Baby Center’ published an article called “How to choose the best books for your pre-reader,” which shared six suggestions from reading specialists, teachers, and experienced parents. Here they are below:

Read rhyming and word pattern books. Preschoolers love to hear books with rhymes and word patterns, especially ones that are easy to memorize. They love to join in when they know how to finish a sentence: “One fish, two fish, red fish, BLUE fish!”

Look for books with short, rhyming sentences and predictable structure: Nursery rhymes, counting books, alphabet books, and poetry books. Books by authors such as Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, and the poet Shel Silverstein are good choices.

Share your childhood favorites. Winnie-the-Pooh, Goodnight Moon, and Go, Dog, Go!: Yes, they’re still around!

Browse through the library or bookstore and look for the books you loved when you were starting to read. Find out whether your parents still have your first books packed away. The classics never go out of style.

Encourage your child to read about his favorite characters or topics–even your childhood favorites such as Pooh and Piglet!

Choose books with colorful illustrations. Words aren’t the main attraction for pre-readers. Pick out books with vibrant colors and beautiful pictures, and talk about the pictures with your child.

When you’re reading the story to your child, stop once in a while to discuss the picture and how it relates to the story. This prepares your child for the early reading stage, when he’ll use pictures for clues about what each page says.

Pick books that fit your child’s interest. Choose books about his favorite subjects: Cars, trucks, zoo animals, kids his age — even television characters such as Dora the Explorer or Elmo. The idea is to develop a love of reading, not a love of reading a certain kind of book.

Take your child along with you to the library or bookstore. Don’t restrict your child to one age group or subject. With reading, anything (within reason!) goes.

Look for books your child can manipulate. Pre-readers are drawn to books that do things. Show them how fun reading can be with bathtub books, pop-up books, big books (oversized books are often sold in teacher supply stores), squeaky books — anything to keep your child turning the pages.

Seek expert advice. Librarians and preschool teachers know from experience what kinds of books preschoolers love. Ask for their recommendations.

What experiences and advice can you offer our Off the Merry-Go-Round parents and community for capturing and keeping your child’s interest in books, reading, and learning? Was there a time in your childhood when you recall your love of books started to develop? Whether you are a reading specialist, a parent, an educator, or even a grandparent who reads with their grandchild – we will appreciate hearing your thoughts!