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Gin Schaffer is a former higher education administrator and works part-time at MWHC's Regional Cancer Center as the Coordinator of Integrative Medicine. She lives in downtown Fredericksburg and enjoys walking and biking with her husband and 2 kids (especially if coffee is involved).

Pillow Talk

All By Myself

This is your Public Service Announcement to do something for yourself, by yourself. It's OK to go eat at a restaurant alone. It's OK to go see a movie you want to see that nobody else wants to see. It's OK to lock the bathroom door so that you can give yourself a real bath (and maybe even a facial).

Embracing our independence is a beautiful thing. Spending time alone is imperative to your physical, psychologial, and social well-being. Our children and our partners benefit from it.  

As our bathroom renovation is nearing completion, Steve and I have been thinking about additional improvements to our home and purchasing a piece of artwork, depicting a scene from Fredericksburg is high on our list. Knowing that various painting classes happen around town, I teased him, saying, I could paint one as a cost-saving measure. When I saw that a Wine & Design class was being offered at Brock's Riverside Grill, I signed up by myself.  Seats were filling up quickly, so I didn't think about asking anyone to join me, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I was nervous about it from the moment I hit "purchase" on the on-line order form.

The class was set up on the lower patio at Brock's and since we were painting a picture of the railroad bridge, I kept walking toward the end of the patio to get a good view of the actual bridge. I was invited by two women to join them at their table (it turned out they had come separately, but knew each other). I loved how one of them was very forthcoming on how nervous she was, how she's never painted, etc. In many ways, it made the rest of us relax and gave us all permission to feel OK about our own anxieties. The three of us had a great time helping one another and laughing along the way; not knowing how to paint turned out to be a universal bonding experience.

And, here's the funny thing. I almost didn't go! Does that happen to you? Do you gather the courage to sign up for something and then back out? Sometimes the anxiety of going into a new situation where I don't know what will happen or who will be there keeps me at home. Attending a new church, volunteering at my kids' schools, and attending events have all had their starts and stops for me. I'm an extroverted, people-person, yet I'm my own worst enemy too.

Steve has watched me do this dance with myself for over 20 years now. Every time we moved to a new town, he'd watch me try to establish friendships, memberships into community organizations, etc. A "Classic Gin" move is to load the calendar up with events and various volunteer opportunities, but when the time and date arrives, I start the back and forth of "I don't know, should I go? What do you think?"  I have to give Steve credit for putting up with this cyclical behavior and I thank him for riding through the anxiety wave with me while I decide what to do.

I find decisions are much easier to make when you reach out to the one who knows you best. That person can call you out on your crap and get you in a better frame of mind. Steve, who is excellent at getting to the point, will simply say, "Why are you still here?? You can leave...without them (pointing towards the kids), right now!!"

Going to Brock's that evening was such a good lesson for me, an important reminder that I need to push myself do things for me, for my well-being. If I go somewhere and it doesn't work out, it's not a big deal. I should manage my expectations about the big stuff versus the small stuff anyway. I enjoyed the painting experience in that I learned something and had a good time too. Plus, my daughter thinks I painted a masterpiece and would like to hang it in her room.

Get out there and explore. It's about the journey, not the destination.



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It WILL be a Magical and Happy Disney Vacation (with coffee!)

When Steve and I lived in Florida, it didn't take long for family to come visit us because of the perks of living near the beach and magical Walt Disney World (WDW). I don't think it was because they missed us. It was fun being host to our families and I enjoyed learning some of the native Floridians' tips on getting the most out of our time at the park and surrounding resorts. My family and I are actually in Disney this week and from talking to a few of my friends, I realized that for some the thought of planning a WDW trip was incredibly overwhelming, so I thought I'd share some of my planning process.

I know people who absolutely love Disney and I know people who will never, ever go there. As for me, I love seeing such happiness, such joy. At its core, that's what the Disney magic is all about. That, and the fact that I now have a magical coffee guide to assist me - check this out!  There are tons of people out there who have created websites, Pinterest boards, discussion groups, etc. to find the best possible prices, itineraries, and accommodations out there. Obviously, use cautious judgment as you explore.  

I suggest starting at the Disney website to familiarize yourself with core information. There's a Disney Mom's Panel within this website that I decided not to dive into too much, but there was a good set-up for a) ask a question b) get a solid answer.  

I think our human condition, especially as women and mothers, is that when we get the opportunity to do something so special, we want to experience everything for and with our children and with that comes much amped up expectations. With a set up like that, it's no surprise when things backfire and perhaps spiral into one hot mess. Knowing this, and not wanting to hyper-ventilate during my planning, my rule of thumb is that if I come across a discussion/review board with high levels of ALL CAPS use, I'm outta there. Planning a trip such as this should be a positive experience (it's the land of Mickey and Minnie after all) and remember, you can't do and see it all.  

My mother started the tradition of us visitingWDW for her birthday on the year a grandchild turns 5 - since she has four grandchildren, this will be our 4th birthday trip.  There is a total of 9 of us traveling.  For us, traveling in a larger group has had benefits.  

  1. Accommodations - A larger group can split the cost of renting a house or a hotel suite. These accommodations usually have kitchens that help reduce the meal costs significantly. Two Publix Grocery Stores are on each side of the WDW resort area. If you don't have a large group, research the WDW resort hotels and research websites to take a closer look at floorplans.
  2. Dining - Having accommodations with a kitchen, you can focus on reserving 1 or 2 really special places to have Character Dining experiences, a nice dinner, etc.  RESERVE DINING AS SOON AS YOU ARE ABLE (this ALL CAPS is totally necessary). Pre-purchased dining plans work for some people, but we found the upfront cost to be too much for us and we tended to go off WDW property to other parks.
  3. Transportation - We used the Magical Express transportation service one year from the airport (not great, not bad). We've used rental cars ever since because of combining Disney with Universal, Legoland, etc. We like having a rental car for overall freedom and for grocery store runs.
  4. Park-Hopping - You can zone in on the key activities you want to do together (we are focusing on Epcot this year because of the new Frozen experiences) and then allow for some free time to explore separately (this really works well when there are varying age groups of kids). 
  5. Fast-Pass - It's your herding cats wonder tool. Use it. Love it. The pre-booking is tricky, but stick with it because it gets you started with the more popular rides and then when you are actually at the park, you can add more fast-pass times.

Assuming you are spending a good chunk of time in Orlando, the park-hopper pass makes the most financial sense because of the 4 different parks at WDW. However, you shouldn't feel like you have to do all 4 parks.  The 2 best aggregate lists of "Must-Dos" in Walt Disney World are from Alpha Mom (I mean, that says it all right there) and Walt Disney Radio, which they change up depending on what's happening at the parks such as ride repair, construction, etc. Lastly, definitely check out any clubs/organizations you are part of like AAA, the wholesale clubs, and your employer for discounts.  

With information in hand (and park maps for me to answer the inevitable time-distance-continuum type questions I would get from my GIS map-making husband), I ask family members about their priorities and remind them that the birthday kid and Granny, of course get to make first picks. This helps reduce a lot of waste; the slash and burn technique aids in creating a general plan for each day.

Having some structure to the day and then seeing where that takes us has always served us well. Helping our kids be open to the possibilities of adventure is what has led us to wonderful unexpected moments, and the laughs shared and memories made are forever.  I enjoy making a photobook for everyone - always on the lookout for coupons!  Nothing beats going through those albums and hearing the kids tell stories months/years later.

Happy Adventures!

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My Version of Do-It-Yourself Summer Camps

Summertime often brings mixed emotions for parents because while we certainly appreciate the break from the school schedule and associated homework woes, it can be hard to figure out what to do with our kids once we are together 24-7, especially when there are work commitments involved. My daughter heads to kindergarten in the fall and it is truly exciting to see her move-on from her daycare/pre-school years, but a summer at home with her brother is not something I think any of us are prepared for - the sibling rivalry has indeed begun!  

I started to feel the anxiety of what the summer calendar was going to look like around the time my mom let me know when she wanted to go on vacation and when she wanted the kids to come to Vacation Bible School in Vienna.  Nothing like Granny lighting the fire under my summer planning!

Between talking to parents about their summer plans, researching community resources, and reading the Fred Parent website, I think I have definitely been provided with lots of information about the different camps that are available during the summer.  I was overwhelmend and excited by all the possibilities.  As I thought about what to do, I knew what I was searching for was striking the balance between family time, free time, and something structured.  You know, the Holy Grail of Summertime Planning!

Camps, when organized well, teach our children something new as well as help them continue to develop their psycho-social skills amongst their peers (something I think is even more important when they meet new kids outside their school district).  Yet, it can be hard to figure out the scheduling and financial priorities when determining which camps to select.  I went back and forth about our schedules and what the choices were and made the actually surprising decision to not register the kids for anything, except Vacation Bible School, which has the built-in Granny Nanny.  

I decided I wanted to be the camp counselor instead.  And, Steve, always supportive of my whacky, make many lists, decision-making process, is ready to be co-counselor and special assistant of transportation services.

Both our children will be heading into new school environments come fall and while I think they are academically ready, they have shown the signs of fear, anger, and resentment that often bubble up when change and the unknown is on the horizon.  Something they know all too well.  They are kids, a summer of fun is certainly in order, but I think spending time with them, to help them build their confidence and resilience is just as important.  And, as parents, there is always room for us to learn something new too.

Recently, I've been reading various excerpts and book reviews on "How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success" by Julie Lythcott-Haims.  In an article with Lythcott-Haims, a really informative list was created: 12 Basic Skills Every Kid Should Know By High School.  Each of these skills will have some age-appropriate judgment calls, but I like the idea that I can create a camp on this concept.  I've already started to prepare the kids by asking them what is important to them, what do they want to learn.  Additionally, we've been working hard at making sure we don't talk for them at restaurants, banks, grocery stores, or any opportunity they have to make eye contact, use their please and thank-you's, etc.

My sister, a former employee of the Smithsonian and National Building Museum, always reminds me to check out the camps that are taking place in our nation's capital museums.  It's fun to see the curriculum of these camps, it sparks creativity in what you can do with your own kids.  For example, the National Building Museum will be conducting a camp where participants go and tour parks in the city and then design a park of their own.  I'll be using the Fredericksburg Parks and Recreation Passport program, in partnership with Wegmans to explore our parks, get some exercise, and have fun designing parks with the kid!  Just go to the Parks & Rec department to pick up passports.

Congratulations on getting through another 180+ days of backpacks, lunchbags, projects, recitals, and meetings.  Here's to you and all you do (or not do) this summer!  I hope it's a great one filled with lemonade and lightning bugs, fireflies and flip-flops.

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Through Our Fathers' Eyes

June is such a wonderful month, full of celebration of children, family, and rites of passage. Baby and bridal showers, weddings, graduations, and honoring our fathers are all special ways to ring in summer.  It can also be a time of sadness for families who grieve loved ones who won't get the chance to experience these milestones and a time of reflection for those whose parents are no longer alive.

My father died in 1997, six months prior to our wedding. Steve's dad died in 2006, soon after we had purchased a home, ready to start a family. My dad had been ill, but his death was not expected.  On the morning of his death, I was standing in front of the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue (where my dad's band had played multiple times), waiting for my sister and brother-in-law to pick me up because we had received that infamous telephone call to come home.  I remember standing there, in those moments of intital loss, shocked and devastated, but also sad for my dad because of the milestones he was going to miss. He died 3 days shy of his 67th birthday.

It was June, 2006 and Steve and I were doing chores in our new house in Wakefield, MA and the phone rang in that way you know it's not going to be good. Instinct is such a powerful thing. Steve's dad died suddenly; there was comfort in that he had been doing what he loved at his home on Lake Erie. He was enjoying the day, went inside for a rest and an aneurysm took him quickly. There we were again, just about 10 years after my dad's death, feeling sad that Steve's dad wouldn't be around to see us start the next chapter of our lives.  Honestly, I felt ripped off. I was angry and at times, am still angry that our fathers are gone and our children never got to meet them.  Our kids should've had grandfathers, damnit!

Gin's Parents and Steve

Garland Clement Bounds and Edward Bert Schaffer.  Our fathers.  

Steve's Dad and Gin

Without a doubt, having children makes us miss their fatherly presence that much more. My dad's famous line was, "I'm trying to teach you something." when of course, I didn't want to listen.  I am very much my father's daughter and I can see how I try, even if it's a complete failure, to teach my kids. But, that doesn't mean that I stop trying, especially with the important stuff like my father's Air Force core values, "Integrity First, Service before self, and Excellence in all we do."  I know that if my dad was still here, he would take my children to every single possible historical site, veteran memorial, and military base he could. So, we do and we do it to honor him.

Steve's dad was so skilled at building, fixing homes, cars, really anything I think - he built the house Steve grew up in; it's great that our kids have watched their dad do some serious renovation work to their own home. More importantly, the kids sometimes want to understand how something like plumbing works and I know if Ed were here, he would revel in teaching them important life, do-it-yourself, trade skills. Ed absolutely loved the outdoors - he loved planning trips to come visit us around visiting different state parks.  We've made a fun tradition of going to Bass Pro Shops a couple times each year because it just makes us feel closer to him.  It was really important to us to do a recent RV/camping trip for spring break so that the kids could get a sense of what it was like for their father growing up, spending time on the campground, hiking, fishing, etc. By the way, the Bass Pro Shop in Memphis is quite something; check it out!

We have an exciting weekend ahead of us. School's out and the summer can officially begin! I hope you celebrate fathers with all the love and laughter you can handle! And for those dads that are with you in spirit, I hope the memories shared bring you joy always.

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Praying to the Porcelain God

Back when we were hunkering down for the January blizzard, we (and by we, I mean my husband, Steve) decided to start a bathroom deconstruction and renovation project.  For a little bit more background on the project, read my previous blog, School of (Sheet) Rock.

Given that the colder weather had forced us inside, it seemed like the perfect time to start the project and the hope was that come spring break time, we would be enjoying a new bathroom.  During the renovation, we would be down to one bathroom, so the motivation was high to complete the project.  Well, our new bathroom has been slow to reveal itself.  Life is as messy as the renovation project itself; things get in the way.  Kids' schedules, work demands, chronic illness, and other curve balls make anything extra on the to-do list tough to get done.  Plus, the cold turned rainy weather actually made things tricky when Steve needed the outside space to complete tasks (I thank him for not using the wet-saw inside).

Steve had a construction timeline in his mind and with each day lost on that plan, tensions rose, and the house and those in it started to crumble.  You know the signs, the refrigerator is empty because no one has the time to shop, the sink is overflowing with dishes and the dishwasher is full, with clean or dirty dishes, who knows?  Homework is beyond the regular Hell that it already is which then leads to yelling and staying up late and no one sleeping where they are supposed to.  And, as time went on, well, things got tougher with one bathroom.  I had to create a chamber pot for Anna because she just couldn't handle it anymore.  I have to admit, I was quite impressed with my antiquarian ingenuity!

These are the moments that you have to dig deep and truly appreciate all that you have and the partnership that you've created with your spouse.  Sure, during those exact same moments, I wanted to get in a car and drive to California never to be seen again, but, then, I'd never get to see the new bathroom!

I stumbled onto HGTV's "Top 25 Biggest Renovating Mistakes" -  and compared to some of those, so far I think we're o.k. - fingers crossed.  Anyway, one of the items on the list was, "Failure to Anticipate Chaos," One of the experts said, "I think it's really important to anticipate the time and the pacing of your renovation, you probably want to do that up front, get it over with and then you can slowly start to piece your life and your home back together."  Emphasis on the slowly, real slow.  Reminds me of the sloths at the DMV in Zootopia.

As Robin Roberts says, "Everybody's got Something" - we all have tough stretches in our households that require us to reassess and push the reset button.  For me, I had to reflect on how we survived the tough times, the times when we weren't fortunate enough to have a house with a bathroom to renovate.  Gratitude is a wonderful place to start when you need to re-evaluate how you're responding to a situation.  It helped me focus in on what I needed to do to rally the troops (get the dinner schedule back in check, adjust bedtime routines, and change my approach to homework...o.k., this will always be a challenge). 

Ever since the epic rain period ended, Steve has been able to make headway with the renovation.  Hopefully, I can post a picture of the big reveal later this summer.  We celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary on May 30th and ironically, we discovered that the traditional gift is porcelain.  That's right, porcelain!  Steve knows this ceramic material all too well and I can't think of a better expression of love than the day that man put our new toilet in.

It really is the bare necessities that make life grand ;-)

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Postpartum Support Virginia

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For new and expectant mothers in the Fredericksburg area, Postpartum Support Virginia stands as the help and support for women and their families who are experiencing postpartum depression. Founded in 2009 by Adrienne Griffen, Postpartum Support Virginia offers one-on-one support, free peer-led groups, a robust site of information including screening and diagnosis overviews, fact sheets, and training sessions.