Author Archives: Shel Harrington
Author Archives: Shel Harrington
Are you trying to come up with a gift idea for your husband or wife that is truly special? Something that says: you are so incredible that you deserve this one-of-a-kind gift, something that’s been created just for you! As a spouse, you are in the unique position of being the one who can take one of your spouse’s precious memories and make it come to life!
To generate some ideas about what memory may be gift-worthy, ask yourself these questions:
If you’re memory-gift consists of a single precious item, you’re ready for Step 2. If, however, your memory is an event, place, or loved one, you have a little gathering to do. If your spouse has some mementos collected, you’re off and running. Let me give you an example. My husband had been on his high school’s President’s Physical Fitness Team and on their second trip to compete in the finals in Washington, D.C., they took first place in the nation. Having trained rigorously with his teammates for three years, he had formed some special friendships and memories – including a parade given in his hometown in honor of the team. A corresponding scrapbook had been stowed away with his medals for years. I mean, where do you put such things 20 years after the fact? Yet they were too special to just discard, and running across them every once in a while made him smile. Always up for finding ways to keep that smile going, I pilfered the scrapbook* for some of the yellowed newspaper articles, found some team photos, added the medals to the mix and arranged them all in a shadowbox I had purchased at a hobby store. It did, indeed, put a huge smile on his face when he opened his gift, and it looks quite nice hanging in his computer room. Not to mention the satisfaction I received from presenting him with something that he was finally unable to guess prior to opening!
Photos will work for all the categories that aren’t a particular item. You might want to check with your spouse’s friends or family members who might have pictures of the event that they can contribute or copy for your project. Memorabilia and souvenirs are great additions to recreate the memory of events and places. But don’t despair if such items were not thoughtfully retained by your spouse for your use here. There are many ways to put together a meaningful collection or supplement any existing picture and memorabilia. Here’s some suggestions:
For an event: Check out the internet for pictures of where it took place, quotes that can be printed out that compliment the experience (childhood, friendship, adventure, etc.), and pictures of tickets, programs, articles, or write-ups regarding the event. You might find trinkets that correlate at a craft or hobby store – things like a miniature representation of the school mascot or a miniature rocking chair. Most craft stores have a whole section dedicated to miniatures-almost-anything-you-can-think-of!
For a place: In addition to the event suggestions, look for things like postcards, travel brochures, maps, drink or food recipe cards, and pictures or small objects that represent the culture.
For a missed loved one: A picture of a meaningful place or shared interest, lyrics to a song, a poem or quote about the type of relationship, an object that belonged to the person or pet, a miniature object which represents an activity they did together (tennis rackets, movie popcorn container, playing cards, paintbrush) or an interest they shared (ballet shoes, gardening gloves, workshop tools, etc.).
You want to package your memory-gift in a way that it can be easily displayed on a wall, shelf, or furniture surface.
Framing works best for flat items such as:
Shadowboxes work best for items that are small or combinations of flat and non-flat collections such as:
Cubes, plastic boxes, glass or plastic display containers come in a variety of sizes and shapes and work for larger items such as:
You are in the unique position of being the only one who has access to both your spouse’s memories AND the drawers and dusty basement boxes they keep the reminders in. The combination is a heady best-gift-ever-waiting-to-happen. And only YOU can be the one that makes sure it does! Giving your spouse the gift of a fond memory made tangible will have him or her smiling long after the holiday is over!
*Pilfering scrapbooks is NOT recommended if they were put together with loving care by your spouse!
Have you ever tried to stir up some “what we are thankful for” discussion at Thanksgiving dinner, only to be met with blank faces? Or the spouting of obligatory mini-lists such as: “I’m thankful for my spouse. And my children.” Which are not bad things to express thankfulness for – especially if the spouse and children are present – but it doesn’t inspire further conversational contributions. If you’re looking for friends and family to go a little deeper – to evoke a memory of person or place each is grateful for – lose the generic (and somewhat tired) request. To get the gratitude flowing along with the feast, get specific. You can toss out topics or pass around a bowl containing slips of paper with topics for dinner attendees to draw from. Here are 15 questions to help put the “thanks” into your Thanksgiving dinner conversation.
It may seem like the word “favorite” could be substituted for some of the “thankfuls” and “gratefuls” – but that might be a different discussion. For instance, my favorite teacher – the one who made class so enjoyable – is not the teacher I’m most grateful for. While I certainly appreciated the fun teacher, the one I have gratitude for is the one that saw something in me and required me to improve and grow. Asking specific questions can generate meaningful conversation that puts a spotlight on the “thanks” in Thanksgiving.
For more Thanksgiving Table Talk ideas, click HERE.
I have written plenty about what parents do during divorce that negatively impacts their children. So I am delighted to give you some input about, and a wonderful example of, putting children first in spite of the parent’s divorce.
Judge Robert Davis shared an anecdote a few years back that left me feeling compelled to share it with every custody-battling parent and warring stepparent I have encountered since. Judge Davis was sitting in a high school auditorium. He was applauding the graduating class in the small town where he had lived and been a Family Law attorney prior to being appointed to the bench. He looked around and saw numerous former clients. Some were clustered in groups with the mom, her current spouse and family, and the dad with his current spouse and family. Others still exuded the animosity that was present during their actual divorce and sat, with their current spouses and families, on opposite sides of the auditorium. He said after each student received their diploma, they stepped down from the platform and scanned the audience. Those whose families were clustered together headed right over to the applauding loved ones. Those whose parents were separated by self-focus and distance stood uncertainly, a sudden damper on their big day, and tried to figure out which group to walk to first. With no words spoken they were being asked to pick a parent. Some could not, and instead walked straight to the familiar smile of Judge Davis.
With the same spirit as the family groups clustered together, one man recently provided a shining example of a parent who really gets it. Todd Bachman was all set to walk his precious daughter, Brittany, down the aisle to give her away to her future husband. But before taking his daughter’s arm, he grabbed the hand of her astonished stepfather, a man Todd generally didn’t get along with, and pulled the man toward Brittany. Todd told the stepdad that he, too, had participated in raising the bride and he should participate in giving away “their” daughter. According to photographer Delia Blackburn, who took the pictures below, there were a lot of moist eyes – including her own!
There was also a lot of moist eyes during the Today Show coverage of the event. To hear their two minute coverage of this heart-warming story and see some Today Show hosts passing the Kleenex, click HERE.
If you are a divorced parent, it’s not to soon to be thinking about how you can make it easy for your child to decide which direction to head toward on his or her special day.
Did you and your mate have more good intentions to be productive this summer than summer days? There’s still enough summer left for the two of you to enjoy a joint project that is fun, fills that productivity quota you set for yourselves, and has benefits that will extend into the seasons ahead. Here are 5 that can fill the bill!
1. Create a Little Lending Library. These mini treasures are popping up everywhere! The small structures are often found at the end of a driveway with a sign that says “Free Books: Take one now, leave one later!” Library kits can be purchased, or you can use what you have on hand to build your own. Or re-purpose cabinets and shelves. The designs can be as basic or complex as you like – the creative options are endless. Google “little lending library images” for oodles of inspiration. Creating a book exchanges is a fun way to promote literacy, share books you’ve read, find books to read, and get some conversations started!
2. Organize a Progressive Dinner. Invite as many other couples/friends as you want dinner courses. Each takes one course and the invitees move from house to house enjoying a course at each. Appetizer, soup, salad, entree, cheese, desert, after dinner drink – add or subtract to fit your group. This is a fun way to have a get-together before everybody gets into their fall routines while sharing the workload. This works especially well in neighborhoods and apartment complexes where the group can just walk from one residence to the next. You can add a rebel twist – totally defying the old notion that there will be no dessert until you eat your dinner – by having a reverse progressive dinner. As in starting with dessert and working backward to the appetizer. Bon apetite!
3. Paint Chairs. Whether some tired kitchen chairs you already own, $5 garage sale finds, or folding chairs that could use some perking up, slapping a little paint around will leave you smiling. You can make your chairs match, contrast, or speak for themselves. Check out Pinterest or Google “painted chair patterns” to generate ideas and find “how-tos.” Then, let the creativity begin!
4. Get Your Garden On. Your spring garden, that is. Now’s the time to gather and plant the bulbs for flowers you want to enjoy in the spring. You can dot crocus throughout your yard for an early-in-the-year pop of color, fill a bed with vibrant tulips-to-be, or orchestrate weeks of color by planting bulbs that bloom at different times. Don’t have garden space? If you have room for a large planter, you can still get in on the fun now to enjoy the fragrance of spring later. For simple ideas and planning tips, check out this This Old House link.
5. Create a Classic Board Game. Jumbo-style. Here’s a version of Scrabble you may not have seen before! It makes a great project to work together on, and results in entertainment you can enjoy for many seasons to come! Click the picture for the how-tos.
Anniversary celebrations can be romantic, fun, meaningful – or all three – without your bank account taking a hit! Whether you are experiencing lean times, saving funds for a common goal, or just enjoy the challenge of finding frugal festivities, there are plenty of options for your celebration. So if you have more love than money to commemorate this year’s anniversary, here’s some ideas to help put the “Happy” in the “Happy Anniversary!”
1. Put together a time capsule. Spend some time getting creative about a collection of things that represent your years together. The silly knit cap you were gifted, a treasured pet toy, the Cracker Jack prize you’ve kept all this time, that concert T-shirt – nothing’s off limits! You can go traditional and bury your treasures in a waterproof container to be dug up in the agreed upon number of years. Or wrap up your package and add a gift tag designating when it’s to be opened – put it in the attic or other location where it won’t be underfoot, but it also won’t be forgotten. This could turn into an annual tradition – every year you could dig up/unwrap your capsule and add a new treasure or two to represent your ongoing marital journey. BONUS: You have already created a future low-cost anniversary celebration.
2. Have a celebratory breakfast. A Belgian Waffle splurge will still come in substantially under what a dinner out would cost. BONUS: It’s a great way to start out your special day!
3. Go retro. Activities from your youth such as bowling, indoor ice skating, roller skating, or visiting a video arcade are easy on the wallet and great for generating memories. BONUS: Any sore muscles developed as a result of your blast-from-the-past activity could lead to an anniversary-extending massage!
4. Try out that upscale restaurant. But skip the dinner! Get yourselves dressed up and enjoy a leisurely-paced appetizer or two followed up with a grand-finale dessert! BONUS: You get to test-drive the wares and make an informed decision as to whether or not you’d even want to invest in a main course for a future splurge.
5. Head to the zoo. Now when was the last time you did that? There’s probably new features and animals that you’ve never even heard of. BONUS: the goofy selfies with the giraffe towering behind or the expressive photo-bombing monkey included are great Facebook fodder as well as souvenirs.
6. Rent THAT movie. You know – the one you saw at the theater when you were dating? This time you’ll be able to hold hands without worrying about if your palms are getting sweaty! BONUS: If sparks start to fly, you don’t have to mess with that romance-delaying drive home!
7. Write a love letter to your spouse. Whether it is your gift to your mate, or you each write one to trade, writing a a love letter to your spouse is a true treasure. BONUS: It is a portable, irreplaceable gift that has the power to keep on giving!
Should children go to jail for refusing to have a relationship with one of their divorced parents? That’s close to what happened recently in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Oakland County Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca, seeming to be at her wit’s end with three children, ages 14, 10 and 9, who refused to comply with her order to have lunch with their father, were found to be in Direct Contempt of Court. They were sentenced to do “time” in a juvenile facility until they comply with the judge’s directive or until further order from the court – which Judge Gorcyca stated may stay in place until the children are eighteen.
I don’t know Judge Gorcyca or any of the participants in this case. Like most others who see the headline about children being thrown in jail for not wanting to visit a parent, I was shocked enough to do a double take. As a Family Law attorney, I immediately asked myself: “What’s the REST of the story here?”
Reading the article at Yahoo Parenting and hearing the Detroit’s Fox Station report still left me with more questions. How could a family law judge who cared about children throw them in jail just because they felt strongly about not visiting with a parent? Especially when one, the 14-year-old, states that he has seen his father be violent and hit his mother?
From what I have witnessed, one parent deliberately undermining the relationship between the children and the other parent is often a result of a parent hating the other spouse to the point that they can’t (or choose not to) see the damage their venomous behavior has on the children. They hate the other parent more than they are concerned with the emotional well-being of their children. Although most parents engaging in such behavior will swear that they are doing it for their children, to protect their children from that other horrible parent. The deliberate creation of the “us against him/her” culture can be a bonding force between children and a parent which the offending parent selfishly enjoys. When the outcast parent is a good person who really loves the children, it is a devastating loss for children.
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, following are examples I’ve heard from parents talking to children I have represented. Imagine each being said over and over in different ways and reinforced by other like sentiments:
So, when someone with years of experience in dealing with such-minded people sees the damage being caused to children who are being taught to harbor hatred toward someone who loves them, is there any way possible they can undo that damage? Apparently Judge Gorcyca fervently hoped that if the children just had lunch with their father, there would be potential for the relationships to take a turn. But the kids weren’t having it. Even though the mother (apparently for the first time) was encouraging the children to do as the judge was ordering, the children just would not. Even in a desperate moment the mother couldn’t undo the conditioning she had fostered that, the judge implied, had gone on for years.
Defying a judge’s order while in court is, indeed, Direct Contempt of Court – punishable in most states by both fines and incarceration. The judge in this case actually sentenced each of the children to be housed in a juvenile facility called Children’s Village, emphasizing they would have to use public bathrooms, lose all comfort, and not see their mother or their siblings. At the time of the article, the children had been incarcerated for two weeks and their mother (and anybody on her side) was prohibited from visiting.
Is this going too far? What are the alternatives if counseling doesn’t work and the offending parent will not cooperate in facilitating a relationship between the children and the other parent? From the children’s point of view, doesn’t it seem like this is just one more horror that is the father’s fault, thus, increasing their animosity toward him? Is there a way to punish the offending parent without punishing the now-defiant children?
If you want to refer to this as a rant, know that it’s not a rant about a judge who screwed up and, in my opinion, should modify a particular ruling. It’s a rant about selfish parents who get so consumed by their own animosity for the other parent – whether justified or not – that they cruelly take away the child’s other parent by deliberately alienating the child from that parent. They let their children think that one half of the team that created them is scum. What, long term, does that child think of himself? How does that prepare daughters and sons to have healthy relationships with future spouses and offspring? How does it accomplish anything good for anybody – except maybe creating satisfaction for the parent who “won” by getting his or her children to hate the ex-spouse with the same intensity that he or she does?
This article has nothing to do with domestic abuse and other terrible situations spouses sometimes find themselves in – circumstances that require they protect their children. This article is about parents who use society’s loathing for such situations to their advantage by manufacturing facts and manipulating children to accomplish their end goals of punishing their exes – or just getting those exes out of the picture any way they can so they don’t have to share the children.
Who should REALLY go to jail under such circumstance??
Playdates aren’t just for toddlers and puppies! While “date night” is a good thing, what could be more fun than just grabbing your mate to go outside and play? Participating in organized sports and furthering fitness goals are worthy pursuits. But for the playdate? Let your inner child have free reign with some blast-from-the-childhood-past fun. Here’s 5 ideas to get you started!
1. Hula Hooping. Just try not to giggle while watching the other wiggle and squiggle to keep that hoop from hitting the ground! Don’t forget arm spins, leg spins, and neck spins for a little variety! Click How to Hula Hoop to get all the basics down, or tour some YouTube videos for a few moves to wow your mate with!
2. Backyard Games. While yesteryear games of tag, Statues, or Red Rover, Red Rover may be a little too youthful to revisit, a nostalgic game of croquet or badminton might fill the bill. Both are portable, easily found, and available in a broad range of prices. Nothing like whacking a birdie or cracking a croquet ball to release a little pent up energy! Or check out some newer games to get your challenge on HERE.
3. Laying in the grass. Start out on your stomachs with a roll-out mat of games to play. End up rolling onto your backs to enjoy evolving cloud-pictures floating overhead.
4. Picnic Play. Whether it’s fancy-shmancy fare tucked into a wicker basket or PBJ’s in a brown bag, take your food and a travel game or two to the park. Or the patio. You won’t have any problem finding most of your favorite board games in a compact, nicely contained travel version. Scrabble, Backgammon, Cribbage, Battleship – something for everyone!
5. Visit a playground. Sure, that’s taking the whole playdate thing a bit literally – but so what? Remember swinging on swings with your buddy for hours, sharing stories, confiding dreams? Then racing each other to the merry-go-round where you took turns spinning and hopping on while the other rode? The afternoon can be a step-back-in-time that will leave you both with a smile on your face. Assuming, of course, that you don’t do that teeter-totter thing where you jump off while the other is in the air!
NOW GO FORTH AND PLAY!
In case you’re wondering whether or not judges care about the orders they issue regarding your children, I’m here to tell you that, from what I have seen in over two decades of practicing Family Law, most of them do. That’s not to say they’re not thoughtful about the rulings that affect you and your soon-to-be ex. It’s just that you and your spouse chose to be married, and at least one of you is choosing not to be. The children had no choice in either matter. And yet they are the ones who are going to have to go back and forth between two homes. And they are the ones who have to see the two people they love more than all else in turmoil. It rocks their world.
Although there are ways to reduce the world-rocking, there is no way to unrock it no matter how necessary the divorce may be or how well everybody is getting along. But there are ways to rock it so violently that it tips right over. Sometimes in the midst of the raw emotions that go with divorce, parents don’t notice the effect on their children when they talk badly about the other parent. Judge Michael Haas noticed. And many other Family Law judges have noticed. I don’t know the now-retired Judge Haas, but I have witnessed the truth of the words he shared in the timeless article* below:
The traditional wedding vows are nice – to honor, love, and respect, ’til death do us part. But we could be just a little more specific about what it takes to get there. Here’s some suggestions: 10 promises we could add to the wedding vows – you know, just to make sure we’re on the same page!
1. I promise not to expect you to read my mind.
2. I promise not to complain about toilet seat status, which way the toilet paper rolls, or how you load the dishwasher – even if you’re doing it wrong.
3. I promise I won’t say “I told you so” even if I clearly did.
4. I promise not to jump in with the punchline on a joke or story you’re telling no matter how long it’s taking you to tell it.
5. I promise not to keep score on petty things like who is right or who does more housework – even if I’m winning.
6. I promise to give you at least 1/3 of the closet space even if I could use it more productively.
7. I promise I will never leave you just one square of toilet paper left on the roll, a mere sliver of soap left in the shower, or less than a gallon of gas left in the car.
8. I promise I will not call you your special nickname in public – at least not loud enough for others to hear.
9. I promise I will love you through weight changes, hair loss, non-head hair growth, and wrinkle development.
10. I promise I’ll review this list of promises every year on our anniversary and say a sincere “I’m sorry” if I’ve broken any of them.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER PROMISES IT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO ADD TO THE WEDDING VOWS?
As we head into June, one of the most romantic months of the year, you may be trying to decide whether to pop the question or how to answer the question that was popped. You may be feeling that almost everything is wonderful about the relationship – with just a few small exceptions. Well, we know that there is no such thing as a perfect marriage – if things are 85% wonderful and you feel that will certainly take care of the 15% that presents more challenge, you’re probably right. But here are a few things to think about that may seem small right now, but have potential to drastically change those percentages in the future.
1. Hints of a dual personality. Sometimes we’re so busy being flattered by how special the courting treatment is that we don’t notice the “other face” of the one we love. The one shared with family members or old friends. Is the potential life-mate who is considerate and humble with you arrogant or routinely snarky with others? Does confidence erode to a troublesome eagerness to please with certain family members?
2. How they handle the little stressers. Say you arrive at a restaurant for an anticipated lovely evening. But the hostess insists you don’t have a reservation and she won’t be able to seat you. Does natural frustration turn into rage? If the response is over the top, embarrassing, or deeply disrespectful, try to imagine their reaction if the stakes are higher – such as with finances, children or loss.
3. The difference in values or moral foundation seems to be expanding. Differences can be good – they can make things interesting. But with core values? Not so much. Sometimes when people are crazy in love, they don’t want to probe too deeply regarding differences. After all, why borrow trouble before an issue actually arises? But things like the definition of an affair, whether or not children are raised with religion and other touchy topics that go to your core values should absolutely be discussed before anybody says “I do.” And those aren’t things to fight about – differences don’t necessarily mean one of you is wrong and the other is right. But it could mean that long-term compatibility will be problematic.
4. Too much drama. No matter how much fun making up is, a lot of prior breakin’ up and makin’ up doesn’t bode well for marital longevity.
5. You settle for the lowest common denominator. Partners should lift each other up, bring out the best in each other and have the best interest of the other in mind. You’ve heard “two out of three ain’t bad,” right? That doesn’t apply here. No matter how incredible you and your partner are at two, if that third element isn’t present it is time to blink the stars out of your eyes.