Message from a Past President

Stumbled across this quote from a July 15, 1979 speech given by President Jimmy Carter…

“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose… This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.”

Carter continued to say…

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure. [The other path is the] path of common purpose and the restoration of American values.”

Carter proposed “a bold conservation program” that would enlist “every average American” in overcoming the energy crisis.

This speech and it’s message did not sit well with the American people, Carter lost his re-election, and I wonder if our lives would be better today if we had taken him seriously back in 1979…

On the plus side, my nice neighbors are taking time to visit each other more and offer assistance when needed. More people are out walking and sharing the simple things we so often take for granted. Most of us are more comfortable than in years past to wear the same old sweater. We are more inclined to fix something rather than quickly replace it. And I have discovered a fun group of women who would rather share recipes and cook together than go out to lunch… Perhaps Jimmy Carter’s warning is beginning to get our attention…


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Transform Routines into Rituals

A family, like a canoe, must be steered or paddled, or it won’t take you where you want to go.” ~ William J. Doherty

Family canoeing

William Doherty believes that it would help our families and enhance relationships within if we could transform some family routines into family rituals. Rituals, as I mentioned in a recent blog post, are so important in terms of solidifying family connectedness and generating a sense of belonging for members of the group.

Family rituals give us four important things:

  1. Predictability
  2. Connection
  3. Identity
  4. A way to enact values

There are two significant principles that have the potential to undermine developing and maintaining family rituals.

  1. Time demands outside of the home
  2. Electronic technology inside the home

For example, many families want to keep the family dinner hour as a sacred ritual that they can count on and look forward to. Yet, with our lives growing busier with each passing year, and all members involved in multiple activities outside of the home, plus the demands of employers often fueled via “always-on” technology, many households find that the family dinner ritual happens rather infrequently. Or if it does happen, it more often than not can be disrupted and fragmented.

For many, electronic technology is the part that has taken over the house, like the stray cat, who has moved in without invitation. Unwelcome. Unwanted.

Family, however, can decide for themselves, and should, based on their own traditions, values, and circumstances, how to best ritualize their lives. Maybe that family dinner hour has become an impossible ritual to follow, but morning coffee before heading out for the day might be an alternative. Or perhaps sharing jokes during lunch hour via text or phone. In addition, using any normal family routine, such as doing dishes or laundry, running errands, or shared recreational activities, and adding a special twist to making the routine special and unique, has the potential to turn on old routine into a new and meaningful ritual.

One family ritual I remember from my father’s family of origin took hold during the years when the nine children were moving out of the family home and starting lives of their own. Each read the local newspaper, and they made it a point to clip “funnies” (as they called them) and send to another family member based on interest and style of humor. So, when my dad got a note in the mail with a cartoon or joke inside he would smile and chuckle, knowing that he was connected to his large family network. He was reminded that he was loved and appreciated, and in some ways, understood by his family. I always thought that was a special and creative ritual to maintain given the distance between the siblings and their busy lives.

Tell us about family rituals that you have discovered as your own life has been affected by time demands outside the home and electronic technology inside the home. How did you figure out how to make it work for you?



Doherty, William J., Ph.D. (1999). The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties.

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As a child my father spent a good bit of time teaching me about coins. We identified them, sorted them, stacked them in piles, counted them, ultimately playing games of addition, subtraction, and multiplication. Those were not only fond memories of shared time with my dad, but opportunities to practice early math skills. It was the jingle of coins in dad’s pocket that often prompted me to ask to play these games with him, especially on lazy or rainy days. Our family was lucky that dad was a wonderful teacher and quite playful with all of us kids. This story about coins is just one example.


When I started dating my father took me aside that first important evening and gave me a dime and a penny to keep in my pocket. The dime was to call home if I needed help in any way. The penny was for good luck.

When I was headed off to college my father again took me aside and gave me a dime and a penny. He told me the penny was for good luck.

On my wedding day my father gave me a penny for my pocket — for good luck. He said I probably didn’t need the dime, believing that my soon-to-be husband would be there to help me at any time.

As my husband and I headed off to a distant state for our first real life adventure together, dad left a penny wrapped in a little note in my coat pocket, along with another that he placed in the piano bench that he and my brothers loaded into the moving van before departure. That afternoon, two states away, I discovered the penny and note in my pocket, wishing me safety and good luck. It was many months later when the furniture came out of storage and into our first apartment that I discovered the note and penny in the piano bench… That time I cried, missing my dad and my childhood.

When my daughters were little my dad played the same coin games with them, teaching them about saving money in piggy banks. He told them that money was important and had value, and that we shouldn’t spend it all, but save some. Dad often gave them coins for their banks. I appreciated that he encouraged my girls to earn and to save resources, as he has taught me and my siblings. He often reminded us that “money did not grow on trees.”

As I got older, and sometimes seemed busy or caught up in the hustle bustle of an active family life, my father would sometimes come and plant a penny in my hand and say “a penny for your thoughts…” It was his way of wanting me to sit and talk, wanting to know how I was and what was going on in my life. He recognized that I needed to rest and regroup at times, and this request encouraged me to spend time enjoying the moment with my father.

On the day of my father’s funeral, I grudgingly stepped out of bed in the morning darkness only to feel something cold on the bottom of my foot. It was a penny, which I am convinced was from my father…. Leaving my sister’s house only an hour or so later there was a penny staring at me on the threshold out to the garage. I cried all day. Later that same afternoon, at the funeral home, my mother and I went to the ladies room. In my stall I discovered a penny on the floor. So, that was three times in one day… I told my mother, and we laughed at the fact that dad must certainly be doing well to be dropping me “pennies from heaven.”

But mother had the loudest laugh when she realized from her bathroom stall that dad had left a twenty-dollar bill in her blazer pocket!!!  She tells me she still finds twenty-dollar bills in the most random places…

Several days after the funeral my eldest daughter arrived back to her home with her future husband and found one lone penny waiting for her on the front door mat. She still has it. Another penny from heaven…


More years have passed and I have two granddaughters. The oldest is two and a half. Her sister is brand new. We were spending time with the girls recently, and our oldest granddaughter became curious about the jingle that came from my husband’s pocket. (She calls him “Pa.”) On cue (as he also did with our daughters when they were little – did he learn this from my dad?) he pulled out the coins and placed them on the kitchen table. He named each coin, talked about its size and color and value, encouraged her to sort and stack. When they were done with this game, she asked if she could put them in her piggy bank. He agreed. She did. Now when we visit she asks her Pa if he has any coins they can play with…

I have a little ceramic plate in my bathroom where I put all the pennies my dad leaves me – for good luck and for reminding me to share my thoughts and stay present in each moment.  My daughters save the pennies that they find, probably dropped from heaven by their grandfather. Most go in the piggy banks of two little girls. All of us have been blessed with good dads and grandpas… So, in a strange way, the penny symbolizes, for the women in our family, the solid connection to those men we love who have shown us special care throughout our lives… The circle of connection continues.

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