Category Archives: Blog Posts

Family-Friendly Fall Activities

September in the Midwest brings with it a relief from the humidity and a slight drop in temperatures as we meander ever-closer to the beginning of autumn.  This gentle change in the weather is the perfect backdrop for a number of activities especially suited to the harvest season.  Here are just a few ideas of ways to spend quality time in the great outdoors with your loved ones this time of year.

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Go ahead and jump in that pile of leaves-we won’t tell! Photo by christielockwood on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Sunny fall afternoons offer the perfect excuse to breathe in the crisp air and enjoy some lawn games with your family.  Bring out a ball to toss or kick around, or play an old-fashioned game of tag.  Outdoor games such as cornhole, which involves aiming beanbags through a wooden target, are a good choice that can appeal to all ages and skill levels.  Take time to appreciate the colorful foliage, by letting little ones collect pretty leaves, and perhaps joining them in jumping in a pile.

Chilly autumn nights are the perfect time to utilize that fire pit on the deck or in the backyard.   Settle down with your loves ones for an evening of s’mores and sharing your favorite ghost story.  Many communities will host bonfires in the fall, often in celebration of back-to-school or in support of a local sporting event.  Check local listings for events, and don’t forget to pack lawn chairs. A blanket may come in handy as the temperature drops, too.

Feed your artistic side by carving a pumpkin.  While this can be done indoors, it’s often easier to move outside, especially with younger helpers participating!  Pick up pumpkins at a local grocery, nursery, or farm, and use your imagination.  Kitchen knives work well but specialty carving kits are easy to find, as are carving tips and designs in magazines and online sources such as Pinterest.

Everett Carving His Pumpkin
Every jack-o-lantern is unique, just like its creator.  Photo by Joe Shlabotnik on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

If you want to make a pumpkin creation that will last beyond the season, faux pumpkins make of foam, cardboard, and wood are available from your local craft store, and can be decorated with carving tools, paint, and any type of decoration you desire.

Visit a nearby farm.  Check directory listings for rural venues that offer special seasonal events.  Many of these destinations will feature attractions tailored for families, such as hayrides and corn mazes.  Spend an afternoon picking apples, selecting a pumpkin straight from the patch, or wandering through displays of colorful fall flowers.  As the sun goes down, warm up with a mug of hot apple cider or cocoa, before you carry your bounty home.

The varieties of activities that are available to make the most of nature and the harvest season are as unlimited as the autumnal colors surrounding us.  I hope you can take time to breathe in the cool air, smell the falling leaves, and spend some precious time with your loved ones today.

Amy

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Is it too Soon to Get into the Autumn Spirit?

September has arrived, and while the temperatures here are still in the nineties mid-day, school is officially back in session and everywhere I turn, I’m beginning to see signs of the impending autumn season.

I don’t just mean the planter full of mums I just put out front, either.  A visit to nearby Target or Meijer will showcase a clearance rack of back-to-school needs, alongside half-stocked display shelves full of costumes, decorations, and knickknacks styled for the upcoming fall, and sometimes winter seasons.  The local gardening stores have begun to carry planters filled with seasonal foliage, and grocery stores are already stocking decorative pumpkins in the produce aisle.

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This little one is getting into the spirit of the season! Photo on Foter.com

I ask you, is it too early to decorate for fall?  Is it too soon to pull out the orange candles, the colorful silk leaves and plastic spiders?  Is it time yet to think about Halloween costumes, and where to hide the candy so it actually survives long enough to be handed out to trick-or-treaters?

I tend to go a little overboard when it comes to fall.  The drop in temperatures invigorates me, and I absolutely love the colors, the smells, and the foods of the season.  As my family can attest, this is hardly a new phenomenon for me.  I’ve had the habit since I was a child, and I shared the love with my own kids, to the point we have nearly as many boxes of decorations and paraphernalia for fall and Halloween as we do for Christmas.

To me Halloween has always symbolized a freedom of expression- the one time of year (other than Comic-con or Renaissance Fairs) when it’s socially acceptable to become someone else, for just a little while.  It’s okay to live a fantasy, to act out a favorite character, to revisit the childhood joy of make-believe and imaginative play.  That’s why I tend to dress up, even if I’m just handing out candy, because why should the kids have all the fun?

So while I’m going about my daily tasks, I’m also planning the display we’ll set up this year, the costumes I need to get or make, and estimating how much candy to buy.  I’ll be digging through my recipes to make my special pumpkin coffee cake, and choosing between recipes for pecan pie.  Of course, once fall officially arrives later this month, I’ll have planning for Thanksgiving to do, too, and then the winter holidays.  The next few months are going to be busy!

Summer’s End

The summer heat has been slightly less oppressive in the last week, as August winds down and we realize autumn is right around the corner.  While there are still tomatoes growing on the vine and my petunias haven’t yet bloomed their last, many of us are already consumed with thoughts of back-to-school time.  Soon we’ll be dealing with a barrage of colorful leaves covering the lawn, and looking forward to tailgate parties and bonfires.

First, though, summer has one last hurrah in the coming weeks- Labor Day is almost here.  For many of us, this national holiday, a tribute to the labor unions and the American worker, means a rest day off from work, a time to spend with family, a last chance to visit an amusement park or the lake before the end of the season.

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It’s time for the last blissful days of summer.  Photo on Foter.com

This year the holiday falls on September 3rd, and all over the country people will be breaking out corn hole boards and s’mores supplies, packing up the RV or the four-wheelers, and setting out to enjoy one last weekend of summertime fun.

For myself, my family will most likely stay home this year, but that doesn’t mean we won’t celebrate.  I’ve already started going through recipes and deciding the menu for our cookout.  Which of our favorites have I used this year, and which will be the best to cap off this summer?

Burgers, brats, or something more exotic?  I’ll have to poll the guests, and check what’s on sale this week.

Potato salad?  Done it, but it’s always worth repeating.

Fried green tomatoes?  Done that a couple of times too, so put that on the maybe list.

Homemade cherry pie with homemade filling?  I haven’t actually made that this year, so this might be the time, while the cherries are still in season.  Or maybe peach cobbler would be better?  Decisions, decisions.

Nothing like a picnic in the great outdoors!  Photo by derbon on TrendHype / CC BY-NC-SA

I’ve got some time to work on the menu.  After all, the most important part of the day is not the food, or the activities, or even the location, but the time spent together.  Labor Day, and any holiday really, is first and foremost a time for families to reconnect.  Everything else is really secondary as we visit, relax, and let the stress of jobs and outside activities melt away.

I hope however you spend your holiday you enjoy yourself, and have the opportunity for some quality time with those you love.

Amy

Easing Growing Pangs-Dealing with Empty Nest Syndrome

One of the hardest parts about being a parent is when their children move out and begin a life of their own.  Whether their kids are going away to college, beginning a career in another city or state, or simply settling into a new home with a significant other all parents face a sense of loss.  They can sometimes feel like they are no longer needed or as important in their children’s lives.

It’s okay to be sad when the kids leave the nest, but life doesn’t actually stop for mom or dad just they suddenly have a different role in the lives of their offspring.  There are ways to cope with the change in your relationship, and many things to look forward to ahead.

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Life changes, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.  Photo by Chilanga Cement on Trend Hype / CC BY

Take care of yourself first.  If you feel depressed or overwhelmed by becoming an empty nester, talk to someone.  Whether you have a significant other to turn to, or you confide in a friend, or even seek professional help, it really does make a difference to know you’re not alone in this.  Your kids are starting a new chapter in their lives, and so should you.  The feelings of loss should ease as you settle into your new norm and your new relationship with your children.

Your relationship is changing, but your kids will always be yours.  The worry and the concern will remain, even when they’re out of the house and if you don’t see them as often.  They will always be a part of your lives and in your hearts and minds.  Keep in touch however you can-whether you call, text, skype, or email.  You can always visit, or have them visit you.  If you live close enough schedule regular family dinners, either at home or a restaurant.  Let them know that it’s still okay to turn to you when they need a sounding board, or advice.  You can offer to help them with big “adult” things, like shopping for a car and decorating a new home.

Your future is in your hands.  Just because your children don’t live at home anymore doesn’t mean your life is over.  Take advantage of your situation to try new things.  Make plans to travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, but couldn’t manage before because of schedules or budget.  Find a new hobby you can share with your spouse, or take a course at a local college.  Join a book club.  Volunteer.  Spend time planning how you will spoil any future grandkids.

Having your children grow up can be harder on the parents than it is for the kids.  Remember how big a wreck you were on their first day of school.  Hey, you survived that, right?  You’ll get through this too.  Just hang in there.

Amy

A Sign of the Times-When Sci-Fi Becomes Reality

Today we live in a world where smart houses are becoming everyday fact.  When I was growing up, the idea of a “smart house” was still considered science fiction.  Of course, I’m old enough to remember when The Jetsons wasn’t a rerun seen only classic cartoon channels.  When Back to the Future Part II (1989) came out, the technology presented from the McFly’s future home was still fantasy, but today televisions capable of showing multiple shows at once and video door bells are things we take for granted.  (No flying cars yet, though.)

Robot helpers, automated household help, and endless viewing choices- not too far off from today! image from cyberneticzoo.com

My husband and I recently gave in to both encouragements from our kids and the financial relief of ditching cable TV in favor of switching to internet options like Netflix and Amazon Prime.  Not only are we saving money, but we are also rediscovering a number of programs which we never had the time to watch on cable, that are available, commercial-free, at our finger tips or at a voice command to Alexa.

That is another “futuristic” feature we’ve added to our house recently, a second Amazon Echo Dot, so we that we can use them in tandem as a functional intercom, in addition to everything else they are capable of, such as giving us a weather forecast, playing radio stations, and now controlling our TV access.

There are so many time and effort saving gadgets out there, now, that only a couple of decades ago could only be seen on Star Trek or at Disney’s World of Tomorrow.  We can purchase from any store or online retailer self-propelled vacuuming robots, plugs to run houselights from a phone app, and appliances such as washing machines that be preprogrammed to begin a cycle in the future and refrigerators that can email us when we need to add eggs to the grocery list.

We live in a time where digital books are available any time we wish, from retailers or even the public library, and any information resource we could want from movie schedules to college courses can be accessed from a laptop or any Wi-Fi capable device.  For a one-time purchase, anyone can use a digital personal assistant such as Alexa or Siri to order dinner, schedule appointments, or remind us to pick up the kids.  We can use our home Wi-Fi networks to shop for anything from a new house to a new car, and even take care of the financing and purchase insurance, without leaving our front door.

Thanks to virtual reality, we soon won’t have to leave home to take a vacation.  I’m still waiting on that flying car, though.

Maybe in another twenty years? image /i.dailymail.co.uk

 

Catching Kindness

I saw the following sign posted in front of a local church: Be Kind, Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle. 

While this is hardly a new sentiment it is actually more relevant today than ever.  In the course of an ordinary day, we all chance meeting people and situations that will try our patience, and where a few hasty, unthinking words can escalate an uncomfortable situation into a conflict.  Or we can choose to take control of our own emotions, and ease the tension and diffuse the situation before it grows into a conflict.

You can never know when a stranger is struggling. http://www.quoteswave.com

I’m not by any means advocating that you should allow strangers to take advantage of you or mistreat you just so you can avoid having a confrontation.  By all means, stand up for yourself when it becomes necessary.  However, sometimes we may be able to control a situation and eliminate the need for harsh words or even violence.

Since we only truly can know our own hearts and minds, consider the following in dealing with others, especially when they seem to be angry or aggressive:

Try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Before you allow harsh words or careless actions to color your own behavior, ask what could be happening in the other person’s life that makes them respond a certain way?   What information are we lacking about their point of view?  Unless they have taken the time to explain their situation and outlook to you, it is impossible to truly know at a glance how they feel about a subject or situation, or why it affects them a certain way.

Don’t judge other people on their reactions.  You never know if someone is behaving out of character-perhaps they are having a bad day, or have recently experienced a major traumatic event.  There may be a very good reason why they are acting a certain way that has nothing directly to do with your or the situation you are experiencing with them.  Until you know their circumstances, offer others the courtesy of the benefit of the doubt.

Try to be non-confrontational in a tense situation.  Don’t allow yourself to be provoked into raising your voice or responding in anger.   Demonstrating calm in the face of conflict can help defuse the situation.   When the other person fails to get an angry response from you it may help deflate their anger and give them a chance to calm down.  At the very least, you will be able to work out a better response with a cool head.

Confrontations are an unavoidable fact of life, but they should not define us.  Deal with any tense or unpleasant situation you must face, and then move past it.  Try your best to let go of any negative feelings that remain.  If necessary, give yourself a time out or take a stress break by deep breathing, exercising, listening to music, or whatever else helps you calm down.  Do not let one bad situation affect the rest of your day and everyone you meet.  You owe that to yourself, and everyone else you will encounter.

Here’s hoping you all have a peaceful, pleasant rest of your week!

Amy

Asking for and Accepting Help

When was the last time you truly felt overwhelmed by some crisis or obstacle you had to face, but you did not want to admit, even to yourself, that the problem existed, or that you would be unable to resolve it on your own?  I’m not talking about something simple, like lifting a 50-pound bag of dogfood; I have no trouble at all asking my husband or son for help with that.  I’m talking about something much more serious, like accidentally forgetting to back up a critical file on a computer, or dealing with injuries caused in a car accident.

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We all need a little help from time to time.  Photo by Jlhopgood on Foter.com / CC BY-ND

The truth is no one is perfect; we all have shortcomings we struggle with on a regular basis.  There will always be situations where we need advice, support, and/or assistance from others, even if the last thing we want to do is ask for help.

There is a commonly held myth that accepting ourselves as we are, flaws and all, and asking for help when we need it, becomes easier as we grow more mature.  This is not necessarily the case; completely accepting our whole selves as we truly are is something we all struggle with from time to time.

  • Often pride gets in the way of admitting when we need help, both to ourselves and others. It is natural to want to feel that we are capable, to present an image that is confident and competent.  Unfortunately we may sometimes tend to use others’ perceptions of us as a mirror to bolster our self-confidence, without admitting that the image perceived by others doesn’t necessarily match what we feel inside.
  • Our own insecurities don’t always allow us to ask for the help we truly need. We may worry that our requests will meet with rejection, belittlement, or that others will think we are lacking in some way.
  • Sometimes we fear that those we would ask for help will think less of us for being weak. Weaknesses can be exploited by individuals or groups that prey on our feelings, that seek to make themselves look better at our expense.  To ask for help requires that we open up, and allow others to see our vulnerabilities.  To do so, even with people we trust, means facing our fears.

No one who truly cares about us is going to intentionally take advantage of our needs, insecurities, and weaknesses, but the irrational parts of our minds can’t always believe this to be true.  Perhaps we have been hurt before, by someone who used us to express their own weakness, their own insecurities, in a bid to make themselves feel better.  Perhaps we aren’t sure who we can trust.

When we are truly in crisis, ignoring the problem won’t bring the resolution we need; we must find a solution even if that means asking for help.  I know from personal experience it can be a scary thing to do, but if you go to a loved one or a true friend, have faith they will understand.  Someone who is worthy of your attention and your help in turn, will not judge, but do their best to assist you.

My advice is this: learn to accept counsel and assistance from others.  Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.  Listen to opinions others may offer, but make your own choices.  When in turn someone comes to you for help, put yourself in their place, and remember how it felt when you were the one in need.  It truly is okay to ask and receive help; after all, we are all only human.

Amy

Hitting the Road (and Life’s Journey)

July always seems to meander along in the Midwest, with swells of heat and lazy days where the afternoon sun sparks a desire to nap in the shade.  This is a time when many of us turn our thoughts to vacations from the daily grind, and very often, this means road trips.  These motor excursions come in all forms and styles, can be long or short in duration, and can lead to anywhere the highway can reach.

Retour en Arizona / Back to Arizona
What summer is complete without a road trip?  Photo by OliBac on Foter.com / CC BY

Just gather the family or your best friend, pack a bag and some snacks, fill up the tank (or charge the battery) and head out.  And if you need food for thought on your odyssey as interludes to car games, here are some big questions to ponder:

Which type of traveler are you?  Are you a plotter or a freewheeler?  Do you prefer your route to be charted out to the last rest stop, or would you rather simply jump in your vehicle and see where the road takes you?  I think most of us lie somewhere in between these extremes.

While both of the above approaches to travel have their own merits, how you choose to plan, or not plan, your adventure can have an impact on your life.  Do you have a 5, 10, or longer year-goal for your life carefully plotted, or are you guided only by impulse?  Do you have expectations for your future, or do you prefer to live in the moment, embracing life as it comes your way?

While life is definitely a journey, and the destination is not always the main purpose, there is something to be said for planning ahead.  There are benefits to spontaneity, don’t get me wrong, but having at least a few plans made can make a trip go much more smoothly.  No one wants to arrive at a motel after a long drive and find there are no vacancies, or even worse, that you forgot to bring a toothbrush or a change of underwear.

In the same vein, while being spontaneous can lead to unexpected opportunities, a few life plans prepares you for the journey that lasts a lifetime, and can lead to the fulfillment of dreams and goals more lofty than visiting every diner mentioned on Food Network in the last year (that one’s from my husband.)  It’s really hard to purchase a house, or save for retirement, for example, without making plans.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost.

One of my all-time favorite poets is Robert Frost, and I am forever fond of his poem we had to memorize for seventh-grade English class, “The Road Not Taken.” How many of us, at the end of the day, wonder if we have chosen the correct path for us?  Sometimes we can turn back, and try the other route, but other times we decide we’ve already gone too far to begin the journey again.  So while it is easy to plan or not, a vacation, take your time when planning your life’s excursion; after all, it will hopefully last far longer.

As you cruise along the highway this summer, take time to think about the path you’ve chosen.  Be it a quick trip to the nearest city, or an epic journey across country, only you can determine if you have picked the road that is right for you.

May all your travels be happy ones!

 

A Mixture of Values

As I rush about making preparations for another Independence Day barbeque, I find myself considering all the various meanings that so many people attach to this most American of holidays.  July 4th is not just a red letter day on the calendar, a day many of us are granted a paid holiday, or an excuse to display our national flag on the front of homes, offices, and lampposts in public areas.  This is officially the day we celebrate our declaration of independence from our colonial roots.  As with most holidays, though, the ways and reasons we “party” has grown and taken on new life as the day holds a variety of meanings as divergent as the individuals that make up this country.

D is for....320/365
Each individual may have a different favorite aspect of today.  Photo by AndYaDontStop on Foter.com / CC BY

Food, Fun and Family.

For many, the Fourth of July is all about spending time with loved ones-outdoors in someone’s backyard or at a nearby park, or even in a pool as the sun reaches its zenith; and of course, the food.  Anything and everything that can be cooked on a grill, accompanied by salads, watermelon, and desserts served ala mode to beat the heat.  While the food settles in over-full stomachs, the kids may run around with sparklers (have parental supervision, please!) and grownups rouse to challenge each other to games like corn hole and baseball.  The perfect ending to a perfect Fourth is fireworks, either set off in backyards or a nearby professional show.

Entertainment.

Many citizens will take advantage of their community celebrations today.  A mass of parades, fireworks shows and concerts, many free, are available throughout this week, easy to locate from local listings online or in newspapers.   Participants should be prepared for sitting in traffic, and expect to share grassy areas with plenty of others seeking the best spots for viewing.

Concerts in the park are a welcome venue, often accompanied by local food vendors who compete for space to have patrons sample their wares.  For those who do not wish to venture out, there are always televised events that showcase the beauty of the lights without the need to weather sweltering temperatures and the loud “boom” of the displays.

4th of July San Francisco Fireworks 2013
A fitting tribute to the day.  Photo by davidyuweb on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Celebration and Remembrance.

This is a day to honor and remember servicemen and women who have, and continue to, fight and work to ensure our safety and freedoms.  Today we honor the values our nation was built on, and the belief that despite our differences and issues, we still have a strong future ahead.  Today, above all days, we stand up and demonstrate our national pride and the certainty that, no matter our politics, religion, or ethnicity, we are all citizens of a free country.

God Bless America!

Amy