Creating a Gap Plan

I looked at the case numbers today and my state is ranked 10th in per capita Covid cases in the U.S.  Not a place where anyone wants to make the top ten. The county next door has the third highest rate for counties in Kansas and I can only assume that my county is headed on a similar upward trend. 

Starting Monday we begin the third stretch of remote schooling since the pandemic started. And it’s stressful to think of trying to work full-time and teach full-time while staying sane. Gratefully I have a partner who will share the responsibility of virtual school, but the truth is, our family functions better when there is in-person school. It’s good for all our mental health.

What to do now?  I keep thinking back to an episode from Brene’ Brown on her podcast Unlocking Us {found here} that introduced to me the concept of creating a Family Gap Plan.  Basically she outlines creating a plan for handling situations when we’re feeling stressed and run ragged and can’t show up in a relationship with 50% of the needed energy for the relationship.  I love that she says “strong, lasting relationships are rarely 50/50 because life does not work that way.”  Sometimes I have 20 and my partner picks up the 80 and vice versa.  But the pandemic has made it so there are days where each of us shows up with only 20 and we have a gap of 60 and that’s where the Family Gap Plan comes in.

Brene’ talks about sleep and movement, how to apologize, and puns and knock knock jokes as part of her Family Gap Plan.  My Family Gap Plan includes sleep, walks, saying “no,” letting go of perfectionism, and movie nights with frozen pizza.  The plan is still a work in progress but in the last few months I have taken myself off several volunteer boards, reduced my work hours and prioritized sleep and exercise.  And today I will be stocking up on frozen pizza because next week when I am trying to work full time, educate my kids at home, and show up as a therapist/business owner/wife/mom/daughter/sister/friend I know I will need to access my gap plan.

Update on Teletherapy

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Photo by Andrew Neel on


It is with a heavy heart that I announce I’m moving to telehealth-only for my clients for the foreseeable future.  This only affects clients working with me (Sarah Olson).  The other therapists are working on a case by case basis regarding teletherapy.  Each therapist works with a different client population and has multiple factors to consider.

Two factors have influenced this decision for me.  One is that Kansas school closings have created challenges with having childcare for my children ages 4, 7, and 9.  Grandparents have been helpful but the total of this childcare does not equal the 37.5 hours per week previously provided by public school attendance.  The other factor is social distancing.  I finalized this decision after a day of working in my office and then coming home to read this article about a therapist and coronavirus.  I’m the only therapist in the office who can take Medicare and I want to be extra mindful of not spreading infection to that vulnerable population.  I also want to prevent the possibility of bringing illness home with me.  In truth, I strongly considered not making this move.  Sitting one-on-one in a therapy office, it is possible to maintain close to 6 feet of social distance and I have had clients be very mindful of any illness symptoms and cancel if they feel sick.  Surfaces are being wiped down more frequently.  These factors fit in with KDHE’s current recommendations about social distancing.

So, what does this mean?  I’m reaching out to current clients to work on shifting appointments to telehealth whenever possible and working on alternative arrangements when that is not possible.  Once that is finalized, I’ll determine if I have openings for additional client appointments.

I’ve been trying to find any positive in the current situation.  One aspect is that the huge reduction in personal activities and obligations means that I can set appointments at times I normally wouldn’t have been able. For example, not having evening school events or Saturday sports has opened up therapy spots outside the traditional work day.  I look forward to being flexible in order to meet the needs of my clients.

The current situation has increased our anxiety as a culture in unprecedented ways.  There are so many unknowns about health, education, employment, finances…the list goes on.  Social distancing is stressful and isolating.  Please know that I, and all the staff at Horizon Mental Health, will continue to serve the needs of our community in all the ways we can.  If you are a current client and need to discuss your appointment, please call the office at 785-740-4647 and leave a message with your therapist.  If you are a potential new client, please call the office or email Jennifer at

Book Report: Talking to Kids about COVID-19

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If you are a parent of school-age children, you may have heard some talk coming home about COVID-19, or coronavirus.  We don’t watch news with our kids, but mine have already gotten a snippet here or there from parent conversation, the radio in the car, or kids talking at school.  They’ve had questions.  Worries.  I’m sure, like me, your kneejerk reaction might be to dismiss this as “everything’s fine” or “you’re safe, that won’t happen here.”  I believe anything we don’t talk about speaks volumes to kids.  When presented with untouchable topics, kids will fill in the blanks, often creating their own worst case scenario.  The kid thought process goes “if we don’t talk about it, it must be really bad.”

So how to handle the current infections disease epidemic with children?  Everything I’ve seen and read speaks to good hygiene.  Wash your hands.  Avoid sick people.  Stay home if you’re sick.  The same rules for preventing influenza or any other illness apply here.

I love the book Germs are not for Sharing by Elizabetha Verdick that I think fits nicely into the current discussion for talking to kids about infectious disease.  It’s geared toward preschoolers but I think even younger kids up to mid-elementary could find this useful.  I used to read it to kids in elementary classrooms and I’ve read it to my own kids.  The book sticks to a positive and helpful message…germs are everywhere, they’re not all bad, but we should work to keep ours to ourselves because some of them can make us sick.

If your kids are asking about coronavirus, this might be a helpful tool.  It goes into the basics of proper handwashing and highlights places where germs tend to hang out.  The pictures are engaging and kid-friendly.  Even the germs have a funny cartoonish fuzz-ball appearance, often doing funny things like wearing a scuba mask while being washed down the drain.

Bonus is at the back of the book there are grown up tips for talking about germs.  If you’re at a loss with younger children asking about sickness, this is a great place to start.  Remember that it’s ok to talk about worries with kids.  Helping them feel empowered that they have ways to stay healthy is a good place to start.  Regarding coronavirus, at my house we’re going to stick with the message that 1) the illness is not widespread in our area now, 2) springtime tends to be a healthier season when we can play outside more and hopefully spread fewer germs, 3) most people who do get the virus recover, 4) and kids have ways to keep themselves healthy (i.e. tools from Germs are not for Sharing).

Germs are not for Sharing paperback can be found here

And the board book here

Disclaimer: This post is no way intended to be a replacement for mental health therapy but rather basic tools for parents.  If your child is worrying excessively in a way that is interfering with school or home life, reach out to a therapist for more help and support.

Bittersweet.  I’m reflecting on that word as I sit in my favorite coffee shop in my old hometown, The Little Apple, Manhappiness, my home for half my life.  I’ve been gone a year and a half and I’ve only been back a handful of times.  I left thinking it would be more.  I’ll be back.  I’ll visit people.  I’ll keep in touch and maintain all the good things I have going here.  And I have maintained many of them but time has limited this to a great extent.

There have been ups and downs since we moved.  Starting two new businesses and working 60+ hours a week at the beginning.  The rockin’ Saturday nights at my office trying to get the thing off the ground.  And then the working 60+ hours per week because the work was there.  When you pray for something so intentionally it’s hard to turn down opportunities when they come.  Sometimes I have overextended, needing to set the very boundaries I help my clients learn to set.

And at every step, the next right thing we needed has come, including a building just right for our work, a fantastic receptionist when we desperately needed one and the next fantastic receptionist when the first one moved.  Three amazing clinicians and enough work for all of them to have schedules as full as they can manage.

Our new hometown has enabled us to build two successful businesses doing work we love, a house we love, a school we love, friends we love, and our kids see grandparents multiple times per week.  And I’m so grateful for those things.  This is the sweet part of the bittersweet.

The bitter comes when I’m back in my old hometown.  I remember that we had work and a house and a school and friends and so many good things here, too.  We left something good hoping for something great.  And if I’m being honest, both were great.  I’m embracing that, sitting with both the comfort and discomfort of that understanding, enjoying a delicious blueberry scone and a latte in my favorite coffee shop.

I’m not sure where you are in December.  I find lots of folks are feeling pretty bittersweet this time of year.  Maybe it’s the short days, cold weather, sickness, and lack of sunlight and vitamin D bringing down some of the joy of the season.  All the holiday cheer bringing up memories of loved ones who aren’t here to celebrate.  The ending of a year highlighting the shadows of the year in review as well as the sunlight hopefulness of the new year to come.  I’m going to use Dr. Seuss’ words to apply to bittersweet in this way, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”  And I am.  I’m smiling for all the good that was, that is, and that is coming.

“Should” is a Cuss Word

My 2018 New Year’s Resolution was to increase Mindfulness and I’d like to address mindfulness in the words we use, especially the ones in our own heads.  This idea of self-talk is important.  The words I tell myself absolutely impact my mood, my approach to life, and my well-being.

Many of us are guilty of using the word “should” frequently in our self-talk.  It sounds like this…

  • I should be thinner/more fit/more attractive
  • I should spend more time with my kids/partner/family/friends
  • I should work harder/ get that promotion/earn more money
  • I should be more organized/keep up on housework/finish projects

Psychologist Albert Ellis coined the tongue-in-cheek term “musterbating” to describe this concept.  Musterbating is not that helpful, it doesn’t actually get the things done, and it’s a general drain of emotional energy.

Mel Robbins is a motivational speaker and talks about The Five Second Rule, which is “If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it.” I love this.  Rather than sitting around making mental lists of all the things we’re not doing well – take the first one and make any one step toward that goal.  I find Mel’s words inspiring like a little motivational java hit.  Check out more at:

Start noticing that word should in your self-talk.  Recognize when it’s not helpful to you.  Find something different to focus on.  Take a step toward the goal.  You really should.

Mindfulness: My New Year’s Resolution

It’s day 4 of the new year.  I had intended to post about this a few days ago, but illness has befallen my household.  Since New Year’s Eve it’s been like dominoes at my house with one family member after another falling with what appears to be influenza.  So resolution one is to actually get up from the couch (I’m the latest victim) and then sanitize every surface in this house.

But resolution two is to increase my daily practice of mindfulness.  Mindfulness may bring up mental images of Buddhist monks or hard-core yoga folks “omming” away in a lotus pose.  Those things are great, but more practical mindfulness is as simple as noticing your thoughts and feelings and being fully present in the moment.

Our increasingly harried lives are full of so many things drawing our attention away from being mindful.  Smart phones, full-time jobs, kids’ activities, family obligations…you get the idea.  I can relate to clients and friends who report feeling over-scheduled, busy, anxious, and stressed.  Increased mindfulness can help with those feelings and a variety of resolutions you might have made for this year.

For example:

  • Mindfulness in eating = stopping when you are full
  • Mindfulness in fitness = noticing your body’s need for movement and doing it
  • Mindfulness in parenting = less Dinosaur Mom
  • Mindfulness at work = increased focus on important tasks
  • Mindfulness in decision-making = giving a best yes (I’ll post about this later)
  • Mindfulness in relationships = being present and enjoying time together (a.k.a back away from the smart phone)

Great.  So how does one go about this?  Here are a few easy-to-do ways to begin:

  • Deep breathing.  I like 4-7-8 breathing: breathe in for 4, hold for 7, then out for 8.  It feels like a really long time to hold for a count of 7, but a couple of those sequences can be very calming.
  • Naming your feeling.  So you’re stressed about something at work and it’s coming out at home.  With mindfulness, get specific about the feeling behind the stress, such as disappointment a project did go well or feeling undervalued by a supervisor.
  • Recognize your self-talk.  We’ve all got a coach in our heads either building us up or tearing us down.  If your self-talk sounds like “I’m a loser.  How could I mess up like that!  I’ll never get past this.” etc., work on changing those thoughts into more positive ones like “I made a mistake.  Mistakes happen. I can work to make this better.”
  • Gratitude.  I love this one.  Be mindful of positive things in your life.  Take a time every day to focus on one aspect of your life for which you are grateful.

Here’s to a mindful 2018!

Dinosaur Mom

I have a confession to make.  I have previously shared that patience is not my best skill.  When I get out of the zen zone, it follows a predictable pattern of 1) impatience 2) authoritarian dictator-like yelling (“hurry up and finish eating” and “get your shoes on” being the most common phrases and 3) sarcasm (which is not helpful with, for example, a two year old).  I am not proud of this behavior.  My kids have given it a name: Dinosaur Mom.  I pray every day to have more patience with my kids.  I succeed and I fail.  I apologize.  Most days are pretty good but there can be a string of not so good ones every now and again.

I’d like to thank all the wonderful elementary and preK teachers who have taught my children and implemented positive behavioral supports such as a green-yellow-red light or pull a card systems.  These systems have varied by teacher but basically they’re intended to help kids self-monitor.  You’re on green…keep it up.  You lost your warning cube…let’s turn this day around.  Pulled your red card…parent phone call.  Things like this.

One morning a couple months ago on the way to school and my son said “Mom, you didn’t yell this morning…you stayed on green.”  I almost died.

Then I inquired more about what happens if I do yell.  He and my daughter then started devising an elaborate system that goes something like this:

  • Green: no yelling, leave the house on time, everyone is calm and respectful
  • Blue: I lost my warning cube with impatience
  • Yellow: I yelled
  • Red: I’m not even sure because we’ve never gotten there, but I think they have to borrow my phone to call their grandparents on me

We talk about this system in the car literally every morning.  I don’t know if it’s helpful or just one more thing they can tell their own therapist some day, but it has added an element of humor to sometimes troubling times.  I’ve been on green a lot lately.  Maybe having this mommy positive behavioral support is in place is working.

To all the other Dinosaur Moms – wishing you a green day or maybe even purple, which my kids say is above green and is reserved for days when I’m “extra nice…or it’s someone’s birthday.”

No More Grapes Until You Finish That Donut (and other words you never knew you’d say as a parent)

“No more grapes until you finish that donut…”  Yep.  That’s a direct quote that came from my mouth a few years ago as my two-year-old consumed the only breakfast item she cared to eat at that meal.  If I ever write a parenting book – that will be the title.

Reflecting back, there are so many words I’ve said as a 30-something parent that 20-something me would never have imagined.  These words I say multiple times a week:

  • No singing at the dinner table.
  • Don’t scratch the table with your fork.
  • Feet off the table.
  • Don’t touch your feet at the table (is this just my kids? so many are about dinner)
  • Where are your pants?
  • You’re not the parent (stop bossing your sibling).
  • Yes, you have to pick up your mess.
  • I can’t hear you over your whining.

Then there’s the mundane of life that I get really excited about.  Potty training, for example.  I have behaved like I just won an Olympic gold after my child went potty.  Jumping, flailing, high fives, beaming with pride.  I make up potty lyrics to popular songs (my favorite being Potty Rockin’ in the House Tonight) and sing them for what feels like hours on end.

20-something me would be appalled at how often my mother’s words just fall right out of my mouth.  The most notable being “Be quiet…I’m on the phone!”  It’s not just those words but the way I say them.  And I get it now.  The entire house can be calm but as soon as a parent gets a phone call, every child in the house will begin to ask for cookies, play with the loudest toy in the house (drum set), and engage in a shouting match with a sibling.  It’s just a rule.  I did it to my mom.  My kids do it to me.

Some of these are funny examples, but there are some I’m less proud of.  I distinctly remember rocking an inconsolable infant after many nights of lack of sleep and telling my husband, “we are never doing this again” (meaning have another child).  That was during a refining stage for me where some of the selfishness of singledom and early marriage had yet to be sifted out.  Obviously my opinion changed (two more times, to be exact), but the point is there are things I might wish I could unsay as a parent.  And some others that I can only laugh at and try to do better in the future…including “no more grapes until you finish that donut.”

Anniversaries – not the happy kind

I am very poor at remembering dates.  I probably know only about a dozen birthdays and a handful of anniversaries outside my immediate family.  It’s not my gift to remember such things.  But it is for some people.  My Grandpa Walt, for example, was a vault for significant dates.  He remembered everybody’s birthday, anniversary, the date they moved into a new house.  These are happy dates.  He also remembered dates related to his service in World War II – when he went to basic training, the date bombs were dropped on Japan (as he was en route on the Pacific Ocean), the date he got home.  Not all of these are happy anniversaries, or at minimum bittersweet and complicated.

Maybe you have some unhappy anniversaries as well.  I have a couple.  Two years ago on September 29, we nearly lost my mom or believed we were after getting a terrifying middle-of-the-night phone call.  What followed was the fastest trip down I-70 I’ve ever taken, lots of praying, emergency brain surgery, ICU, and a difficult six months of chemo and radiation.  Some of that time was really hard.  It was really hard on her.  And it was hard on our family.  I can’t help but think about what I was doing two years ago around this time.

Maybe you have some not-so-happy anniversaries.  Traumas such as the death of a loved one, car accident, divorce, or illness.  Some clients I work with have difficulties with anniversaries.  They say things like “this is the month my baby would have been born” or “the last week of May is hard because that’s when we lost my brother.”  When these anniversaries are causing impairment in work or social functioning, therapy can help a person to sort out their feelings, process grief, and develop new coping skills.  They might remember the anniversary in new ways – an annual balloon release or picnic, for example.  It can be a time to draw together with others who share in the not-so-happy anniversary.

If you struggle with a not-so-happy anniversary, know that you are in good company.  There is hope for moving forward.  The anniversary will always be significant, but your ability to to manage the not-so-happy anniversaries can improve.


I just love On This Day that comes up in my facebook feed.  Don’t you?  It’s the first thing I check.  I’ve been on this facebook thing for a smidge over 12 years, which I know because On This Day reminds me of what I was doing then.  And what I was doing on today’s date in years since.

Five years ago this was my post: “So it only took 12 days of trying to stuff two children and all their paraphernalia into our RAV, but today we bought a (gulp) van. Yes, I now drive a minivan.”  In the words of a good friend, Kyle and I left a part of our youth on that car lot five years ago.

I consider my minivan one of many sacrifices I make as a mom.  It’s not sexy.  It’s not fun or sporty or even clean.  It has a scratch on the bumper from not pulling far enough into the garage.  It’s white – the most popular color according to Forbes (story here) and also the most boring (according to me).  Supposedly white shows less dust (according to my husband), but somehow my van always looks dusty.

But on the upside of #VanLife…it is so convenient!  I can push a button and the door opens on the back passenger side.  This is a lifesaver in a busy parking lot while toting a baby carrier and holding a toddler’s hand while the other slightly larger toddler walks around to get in on that side.  Also I can park in fairly tiny parking spots because those doors don’t swing out.  And I can hold EIGHT people!  {Note: I did drive a sedan in college that we managed to fit 11 people into one night to get late night Bob’s Diner, but thankfully that predates my facebook days and there is no photographic evidence to come up in On This Day}

So one last On This Day regarding #VanLife – two years ago a picture came up of my son playing soccer and my comment was, “at least now I have a child playing the sport that matches my van.”  And it’s true.  I’ll be the soccer mom and drive the non-sexy, non-sporty, non-fun vehicle.  This is my current life stage.  But someday my kids will be big enough to open their own doors and not hit the car parked next to us.  I’m guessing that will be about the time my daughter is getting ready to drive.  Maybe the mini will get passed on to her.  And she won’t truly appreciate it until she blows that 11 person record out of the water on a late night Bob’s Diner run.