Tag Archive | family time

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!

Addicted to Technology?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Karen Hendricks

We use the word “addicted” in association with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, coffee (caffeine) and—sometimes in a teasing way—decadent foods like chocolate. But do you think it’s possible to become addicted to technology?

More and more research is pointing in that direction, saying that we are impulsively checking our phones and other devices as soon as emails “ping” into our inboxes or texts light up our screens. What do you think? Are there times when you feel addicted? Do you ever feel as though your children or spouse are “too connected?” Do you have rules or boundaries set for phone usage in your house?

I brought up this topic over the dinner table a few nights ago. Yes, we try to have dinner together as a family every night… it’s not always possible with sports schedules and other activities, but the majority of the time, we are successful! I think it’s one of the keys to family communication and connectedness. It’s also a sacred time, meaning that devices are not allowed at the dinner table. Rarely, there are exceptions, such as when my husband gets an emergency call from his phone service… or when we’re expecting a call from our college age daughter… but face-to-face dinner conversation is more important.

So, over dinner, we talked about Sundays and how they are probably the day when we use phones and devices (iPods, Kindles, etc.) the least. Sundays have a family feel to them, with our day typically beginning at church, progressing into our Sunday noontime tradition—brunch—usually with pancakes or waffles, and always bacon. Always. Afternoons are spent getting together with friends, watching sports together on TV, catching up on homework, doing fun projects around the house, taking walks or bike rides around our neighborhood, cooking Sunday dinners or baking special treats. It’s a day to recharge our batteries, but unplug from devices.

We don’t have a strict rule about phone or device use on Sundays, but we talked about how it’s just kind of evolved that way. And for that I am grateful. I cherish Sundays for their enriching family moments and want to preserve and protect these special days. Being unplugged allows us to unwind and reconnect with each other in some of the most binding ways: talking, sharing, laughing, touching, hugging and… loving each other.

Tell me what you think… I’d love to hear about your strategies and tips for keeping phone/device use in check. Feel free to leave a comment below!

Cause for Celebration!

red cakeBy Karen Hendricks

“Off the Merry-Go-Round” is celebrating its first birthday! And we are so grateful to everyone who has joined us on this journey.

Whether you are a parent, mom or dad, or even a grandparent, working in an office or working at home, juggling your family with part-time or full-time employment, we are thankful that you are reading, laughing or stressing with us, commenting, offering advice and adding to this community.

When the six of us embarked on this venture a year ago, we sure hoped YOU would find us… and plenty of YOU did and are still finding and joining us. Thanks a bunch! We love hearing from you and reading your words of wisdom.

Check out this COOL word art, created when we plugged our website URL into Wordle.net. It’s generated from the most commonly-used words over the past year. Any surprise that “family” and “time” are the most prominent words? Pretty fascinating, eh?

one year wordle

When we launched this website a year ago, all six of us had pretty much left full-time employment in the dust. We all worked (certainly inside the home—but outside the home as well!) and our careers were all taking a backseat. Our first stab at a mission and tagline went like this:

Mission: to provide a place of community & inspiration for moms who have left corporate or full-time careers in order to spend more time with their children & families. Re-prioritizing, they are seeking more meaningful, enriched family lives.  

Welcome and congrats for “jumping off the merry-go-round.” Enjoy this blog as a source of community and inspiration for all moms who have scaled back their professional careers in favor of more enriching family time.

A lot has changed in the past year! Several of us have taken on new jobs and larger career roles… and there are times when we wonder if we are truly “off the merry-go-round.”

Most of our subjects here are about balance… trying to maintain balance between work and family, sanity and insanity! But seriously, we don’t want to make anyone feel excluded. Just because a parent is a full-time working parent doesn’t mean he/she can’t still cherish family time. And we wanted to be honest about our situations… we aren’t 100% stay-at-home moms, yet we all strive to carve out family time, to make life as meaningful as possible for our families. We want this website to reflect how much we love and care about our families as our number one priority.

We wanted to reflect this slightly different outlook so we switched up our mission/tagline and are redefined as:

Off the Merry-Go-Round: A place of community and inspiration for parents who cherish time with their children and families.

* Let us know what you think about our change! And we sure hope you stick around for the next year… 🙂

 

“Summer Fun in Your Own Backyard”

Find simplicity and balance in your summertime activites

Find simplicity and balance in your summertime activities

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

We have been reading and sharing many bloggers’ stories of graduating children, growing pains, and emptying nests. I feel a little left out because my son is only 3 years old. However, though I don’t have a child heading off to college, my family is preparing to feel a similar financial strain when he begins attending private school in the fall.

For us this will mean we need to shift our priorities in some areas of our household budget. Although little tweaks can make big differences in a bottom line, we fear there may be no grand family vacations for awhile!

Therefore I have been thinking about what we can do for some family fun – not only closer to home, yet perhaps even right here in our own backyard. With a little clever thinking, I’ll bet my young son won’t even know the difference. All he’ll know is that he is having a great time!

It’s wonderful to be able to get out of town and escape with your family on a fun-filled vacation during the summer. Yet sometimes that just isn’t possible – either with work or other commitment schedules, or because finances are tight. Here are some ideas for how to have a little summer fun with your children – right in your own backyard! Remember, summertime is for slowing down and letting go of some of those school year stresses. So as the famous song goes … “don’t worry, be happy!” Enjoy just being together even if you are simply hanging out and spending uninterrupted quality time with each other!

And don’t miss a photo gallery at the bottom of this post, illustrating all of these activities!

Turn Your Location into a Destination!

+ Add a twist to what your children learned during the school year. Just because school is out doesn’t mean the learning needs to stop. Kids learn best through play and engaging in the world around them anyway, so this also doesn’t need to come in the form of an indoor rainy day lecture. My son studied metamorphosis in preschool so we spent time around our butterfly bushes looking for different species and checking them out as they gathered nectar. Since the bushes border our deck, we sat leisurely at our picnic table – sharing snack while we observed nature around us hard at work!

+ As you spend time outside, tell your child a story. When you create a story from your surroundings, it is almost like you are in a book and gives a new twist to story time. You can create one based on a story you already know – such as the heart-pounding adventure tale we spun about the great giant Abiyoyo – or make up a new one. Either way, it’s fun to narrate your playtime!

+ Invite a close family friend to visit. Sometimes just a fresh face in your house – and someone new to play with (and spoil) your children brings excitement!

+ Turn unexpected expenditures into unique adventures! When we lost an enormous tree due to a summer storm, our planned trip out west was cancelled by the $4,000 removal bill. Instead of taking a family vacation, or purchasing the playground set we wanted, we let the chopped logs and sawed off stumps entertain our son. In fact, he continues to play in that area and doesn’t beg for a jungle gym! You’d be surprised what a child will enjoy doing using common outdoor and household items.

+ Let your children help with outside (or inside) chores, and teach them new responsibilities. Chores do not have to be mundane; my son and I have sung, danced, and paraded our way through many a household task. They also don’t have to be complicated. Whatever the experience, though, make it age-appropriate, simple (for a young child), and most   important – fun! My son loves to garden with his daddy, and is learning lots about nature and caring for the land at the same time.

+ Introduce a new outdoor toy. New doesn’t always mean large, complex, or expensive. We bought a nice sand & water table for a reasonable price. It came with a sun umbrella, sand tools, and water toys! Being able to relax in a comfy deck chair and watch my son enjoy the simplest of toys already had me less worried about entertaining him through the summer. Your child can even have water play in a tub filled with bubbles and bath toys if you can’t get outdoors or make it to a pool.

+ Eat ice cream! Need I say more?

Take a Trek Around Your Neighborhood for More Fun!

+ “Dine out” at an unexpected (and less expensive) place. My son and I have taken to eating an occasional lunch or dinner at our grocery store. You know the familiar saying, “Never go shopping when you’re hungry.” We have taken that to heart, and to him it is pretty cool!

+ Or just eat in! For a true money saving meal, we have started cooking more at home. Teaching your children to cook is one of the most important life skills you can help them master. There are also many “academic” skills you can subtly weave into food preparation – from reading (recipes), to math (measurement), to critical thinking (what to do if an ingredient is missing). Move your meal outdoors to put a unique spin on the usual dinner routine. Picnic table or picnic blanket – either way will give your kids a thrill!

+ Check out your local library’s summer class schedule. Ours runs classes for all ages year-round yet during the summer, program themes increase and so does the fun! It is good for your children to hear new people read, as well as to experience activities and crafts led by someone other than their parents. These classes have saved our rainy days and our let’s-get-out-of-the-house days, yet they are good for any day!

+ Let your children see you having fun! Once in awhile, take your child with you to a class (as long as it’s okay with your instructor, and safe and appropriate for kids to be present); or let them see you engaged in a hobby or exploring an interest.

+ Make a friend! Even a short, low-key play date with a new pal can make for a more interesting and lively day!

+ Dress-up, arts and crafts, and indoor/outdoor games are engaging and fun. Although I don’t consider myself a “crafty” or “athletic” person, I do try to offer my son materials to create various forms of art media and engage in a variety of physical activities.

+ Simply relax. In our society, often motion = productivity or fun. Yet just slowing down a bit during what is supposed to be those “lazy, hazy” days of summer can be refreshing. Wind down, take time to smell flowers, and nap. At the very least you’ll have energy for all the fun you’ll be having with your family in your backyard!

Hopefully some of these activities will bring you and your family a simple, inexpensive, and fun-filled summer. You may find that it takes less effort to entertain, keep happy, and even tire out your children than you think. Enjoy!

Click on any of the thumbnail images below, to open a photo gallery:

What are your ideas for simple, inexpensive summer fun? Please share with our community so we can all get ready to hit the … well – backyard!

Rediscovering the Margins in Life

By Karen Hendricks

ikea clock

Photo Credit: Ikea.com

This week marks a milestone of sorts… it’s been exactly a year since I left a (more than) full-time, wonderful but crazy position in public relations. And during the past 365 days, my life has gotten back on track. My health is healthier, my family feels closer, my friendships are deeper, and my home-based business and  freelance work is extremely fulfilling. What an amazing turnaround. And it all revolves around TIME.

How often do you think about TIME during one day? It’s not on our side! Is there ever such as thing as having “extra time” in today’s fast-paced life? (Rhetorical question!) Time goes by too quickly, and those of us with children growing right before our eyes can attest to this fact on a daily basis. (Thank goodness the weather is getting warmer and I don’t have to see the bottom of my son’s jeans creeping ever higher into ankle territory. Shorts are becoming  a part of the daily wardrobe, yahoo!)

My children are growing up, like yours, in a fast-paced, digital world. There isn’t a need for good old-fashioned notebook paper that often, although we do keep a stock in our house for homework. I remember going through reams of notebook paper during my school years! So the word “margin” will forever be tied to an image of notebook paper for me.

One of the wonderful additions to my life, during the past year, now that I have a more flexible schedule and a few pockets of TIME for myself… an amazing women’s group that meets weekly at my church. What an inspiration this group is! Right now we are reading the book Margin by Richard A. Swenson, M.D. The subtitle is Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Wow, who couldn’t use some of that advice?! No wonder it is a best seller… given our hectic lives and crazy calendars.

Swenson calls “margin” that “space that once existed between ourselves and our limits…. When you reach the limits of your resources or abilities, you have no margin left.” Some of the best stuff in life happens in the margins, in our unstructured time. This is the time where families enjoy time together or friends pick up the phone or stop by. Basically, relationships grow, within the margins of our lives, according to Swenson.

Think about the margin you enjoy… or are lacking… in your daily life. Do you recognize or ignore your limits? Do you schedule your entire day from start to finish? Or do you have some wiggle room, down time, time to just BE?  My margin is probably not as wide as it should be, but I do have a sliver. And I’m holding onto it!

notebook paper

How wide are the margins in your life?

 

Everything Goes Better with Peanut Butter

By Karen Hendricks

One of my favorite benefits to working from home and setting my own work schedule is the gift of time that I can give to my children.  The trend is for moms to go back to work, if they aren’t already working, when their children are teens because “teens can take care of themselves.”  I understand and appreciate this viewpoint, but personally I think it’s even more important to be around and available to your teens than perhaps when they were preschool or elementary aged.  Teens aren’t as physically draining as toddlers or primary-aged children, but they are definitely mentally draining!  There are so many decisions, issues, forms of peer pressure and other serious topics to talk about with your teens.  I wish all parents and teens had more time together during these critical years.

I especially enjoy being home when my kids come home from school and hearing about their day.  (Those topics could form another blog altogether!)  After-school snacks help to make the conversations flow. One of our favorite (and healthy) snacks is Peanut Butter Apple Dip with sliced apples.  My kids are WILD about anything that contains peanut butter.  (Apologies to those of you with allergies.)

We’ve been making this recipe since my oldest daughter Katie was a toddler and I honestly don’t remember where it came from.  I have passed it along to many friends and family members through the years.  It is so good and so easy that all of my kids know how to make it themselves (which I appreciate too).  My daughter Kelly just made some yesterday.  Not only is it a great dip to have on hand for everyday snacking, but it’s perfect for upcoming holiday celebrations too. 

PB Apple Dip

Peanut Butter Apple Dip

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened

1 c peanut butter

3/4 c packed brown sugar (the original recipe calls for 1 full cup but I dial this back a bit)

1/4 c milk

Mix well with blender and enjoy!  Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups of dip.  Great with apples and graham crackers.

Tell us about your after-school snacks and rituals – just click on “leave a comment.”  We always read and appreciate your insights!

No Ifs, Ands, or Butts: It’s Time to Quit Smoking for Good!

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

I have a childhood memory of biking into town several miles with my younger sister, nervously purchasing a pack of cigarettes to try later in the tool shed behind our house. Years later my mother told me she had found that old pack back there yet decided not to say anything about it. Flash forward to adulthood when I worked as the tobacco control coordinator for a regional branch of the American Lung Association in Gulfcoast Florida. As I provided the public with information on the health benefits of quitting and educated children in schools about the dangers of getting hooked I realized something … it could well have been me receiving the help instead of providing it. That first experience smoking with my sister, as well as a few other encounters with cigarettes over the course of my adolescence, could well have gotten me hooked, just as it has others.

Twelve years after my career with the ALA, tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in our country, yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes.

November 15th is the 37th Great American Smokeout. If you are a smoker, this is the perfect opportunity to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By quitting, you take an important step towards a healthier life.

Due to its addictive nature,  taking tobacco out of your life is not easy to do–yet it is certainly an achievable goal if you prepare, plan carefully, and set yourself up to succeed. In this 2-part smoking cessation series, I first provide you with some overall useful information. Then just before the New Year, I will offer some helpful tips to get you started on the road to a healthier, happier you!

Part 1: Smoking Cessation–Things to Consider Before You Quit

What makes quitting smoking so difficult?

Nicotine, a drug found naturally in tobacco, is as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Over time, a person becomes physically dependent on and emotionally addicted to nicotine. This causes unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit, and makes it hard to stay away from nicotine after you quit. There are many other harmful chemicals and substances found in tobacco. To quit permanently smokers must deal with both the physical and mental dependence.

Why should I quit?

Simply put, for your health! Smoking harms every organ of the body. There are both short-term and long-term benefits to quitting smoking. There are also many ways in which quitting smoking can improve your appearance. The biggest reason to quit?  Half of all smokers who keep smoking will end up dying from a smoking-related illness.

What other health risks are caused by smoking?

  • Cancer
  • Lung diseases
  • Heart attacks, strokes, and blood vessel diseases
  • Blindness and other problems
  • Special risks to women and babies
  • Years of life lost

Based on past data collected from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it is estimated that adult male smokers lost an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lost 14.5 years of life. Plus, the diseases triggered by smoking can steal your quality of life long before you die. Smoking-related illness can also limit your activities by making it harder to breathe, get around, work, or play.

However, no matter how old you are or how long you’ve smoked, quitting can help you live longer and be healthier. People who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who keep smoking. Ex-smokers also enjoy a higher quality of life.

What difficulties might I face as I quit?

Some side effects you should be prepared to deal with:

  • Unpleasant physical and mental withdrawal symptoms (due to nicotine deprivation)
  • Overcoming rationalizations for having “just one” cigarette
  • Temptations and triggers to start smoking again
  • Loss of friendships and social activities that revolved around smoking

Immediate rewards of quitting

Big benefits you’ll notice right away and some that will develop the longer you remain smoke-free:

  • Fewer withdrawal symptoms
  • Fresher breath
  • Cleaner, whiter teeth
  • Better smelling clothes and hair
  • No more yellow-stained fingers and nails
  • Food tastes better
  • Sense of smell returns
  • Easier to breathe while doing everyday activities
  • More money in your pocket each week–smoking is an expensive habit!

You may have heard that quitting smoking causes you to gain weight, yet health benefits of quitting far outweigh risks from a potential small weight gain (usually less than 10 pounds).

Long-term benefits of quitting

Just a few …

Within 20 minutes

Your heart rate and blood pressure drop.

12 hours

The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.

2 weeks to 9 months

Circulation improves, lung function increases, and coughing and shortness of breath decrease.

1 to 10 years

Risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker’s after 5 years; becomes the same as a non-smoker’s 15 years after quitting. Risks of certain kinds of cancers are cut in half, or fall to that of a non-smoker.

Now that you know the health benefits of quitting smoking and are armed with vital information to consider as you make your quit plan, you have taken the first step to a healthier life. Next month I will share proven tips to kicking the habit for good. In the meantime, I welcome former smokers to share their insights and stories. Here’s to your health!

For more information, visit the American Lung Association and American Cancer Society websites at:

http://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/

http://www.cancer.org/healthy/stayawayfromtobacco/guidetoquittingsmoking/guide-to-quitting-smoking-toc