Coffee Time Part 2: get your village people together

So last week I wrote { this blog } about Coffee Time being our secret to not getting a divorce.  A friend who shared it noted that Coffee Time is not just for couples – and she’s so right!

We all know it takes a village to raise a child, but I want to add that it takes a village just to stay mentally healthy.  Sometimes I’m working with clients who are anxious or depressed and I ask about social support and they report having little or none.  They have no village people.  One of our goals might be to help them find those supports.

In undergrad when I was searching for a career/purpose in life/way to pay the bills, I had a family studies class where we read this great article by Robert Putnam titled Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.  It was life-changing for me and informs my work with clients today.

Basically Putnam has researched civic engagement (a.k.a. spending time with your village people) and found kind of scary trends that indicate we are becoming more socially isolated.  Bowling Alone comes from this idea that even though the number Americans bowling was increasing, participation in leagues was decreasing (find more at  Not joining a league means not having the camaraderie of teammates – folks who know you and are a support for you, a plus for your mental health.  Similar trends were found in other areas of civic engagement.

The picture above is from last Saturday morning drinking coffee with my sister while sitting on her front porch on a peaceful country road.  She’s a village person for me.  As are a number of other family members, friends, and neighbors.  Although it’s easy to neglect to nurture those relationships, they are so important!

So it’s almost the weekend – why don’t you text some of your village people…set up a coffee date, happy hour (Sonic version if that’s more your thing), family dinner, or game watch party (KSU vs. Vanderbilt perhaps)?  It’ll do your mental health some good.

Coffee Time a.k.a. our secret to not getting a divorce

I have a secret that I’d like to share with all the couples out there.  It’s called Coffee Time.  And in my household it is sacred time.

Coffee Time is my favorite time of the day.  It occurs on the back patio at my house when it’s nice weather, inside when it’s not, or at my office (where my husband also offices).  At the office is my favorite location.  See photo above.

We have been doing Coffee Time for years and rules have developed over time.  It lasts at least 15 minutes and it is a kid-free time.  At our house this is tricky because our three kids don’t think Coffee Time should be a thing.  Instead they want someone to spread peanut butter on their waffle, take them potty, or start Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.  But Kyle and I refuse to do these things during Coffee Time.  Because, for the love, we do those things 99% of the rest of our waking hours (or at least it can feel that way).

During Coffee Time my husband and I connect.  Sometimes it’s making plans (what are we doing this weekend? do you have a plan for dinner?); sometimes it’s talking about the news or weather; sometimes it’s reading our devotion for the day; and sometimes it’s just checking in (how are you doing with that project?  are you feeling better about that thing you were worried about?).

Coffee Time fills my bucket because it’s meeting my need for quality time.  Gary Chapman wrote this really great book called The Five Love Languages (  The book is a pretty quick read it you’re looking for a little boost in your relationship.  Basically he outlines five ways we give and receive love:

  • Quality time
  • Acts of service
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Physical Touch
  • Gifts

We each do all of these things it’s just that some are more meaningful for us.  Also we tend to show love to others via the way we receive love.  This is great if your partner has the same primary love language, but often that’s not the case.

So, in reality, the secret to not getting divorced is more complicated than just Coffee Time, but if you want to strengthen your relationship with your partner, find out your primary love languages.  For the quality time folks out there – I’d start with Coffee Time.



Dear Lord, grant me more patience.  I pray this every day.  ALL THE TIME.

The Bible says love is patient and kind…so why am I the least patient with the people I love the most???

I don’t know where you are on this, but many parents I know share a similar struggle.  Parents of clients.  Clients who are parents.  Friends.  Family.  Me.

So what to do?  Here are a few ideas I’ve known to work, both personally and in working with clients.

  1. Self-care.  This is airplane mask theory.  Put yours on before trying to assist other passengers.  For me it means getting up earlier than my kids to work out, hiring out help (childcare, housecleaning, take out), and date night.
  2. Prepare.  When is patience the hardest?  For example, if you’re snapping at your child at dinner because he is being whiny, look at setting yourself up for success through planning.  Maybe he needs a snack earlier so he’s not so hungry or maybe your family needs to go over the expectations regarding table manners.  Either way, prep time in advance can help parents stay level-headed.
  3. Hit pause.  I’m working on some mindfulness practice at the moment.  For me it’s very basic, just pause to take a step back from the situation, breathe, and look at my thoughts and feelings in a way this is non-judgmental.  It’s both really easy and really difficult.
  4. I use Conscious Discipline ( in teaching clients who are parents ways to manage themselves first so they can then respond to their children.  Dr. Becky Bailey, the creator of Conscious Discipline, has some really sound ideas about parenting.  And even though I know those strategies as a parent myself, I don’t always use them.  Sometimes it’s good to go back for a refresher.  These ideas stood out to me regarding patience:
    • Power of Perception: No one can make you angry without your permission
    • Power of Free Will: The only person you can change is you
    • Power of Acceptance: The moment is as it is
    • Power of Love: Choose to see the best in others

Wishing all the other parents out there patience.  And should you find yourself not always using patience, know that 1) you’re in good company and 2) it’s never too late to start developing skills to become more patient.


Eclipse Day is Here

I know this will come as a shock to most of you, but a solar eclipse is happening today.  Yep, today.  Right through Hiawatha, KS.  For a whole two and a half minutes we will experience total eclipse magic.  And I fully expect it to be magical.

But all this eclipse talk had me thinking about expectations and how sometimes our expectations of amazing-ness get in the way of really great experiences.  The roots often lie in perfectionism.  As a recovering perfectionist myself, I understand this line of thinking all to well.  It’s a chain reaction that starts with setting an impossibly high standard, feeling anxious about not being able to meet it, and then either working really hard to attempt to meet it or completely avoiding it altogether.

The whole experience can seem like a waste because it didn’t go perfectly.

It’s the family holiday where someone didn’t attend.  The scale that doesn’t say the number you’d like.  The wedding where the flowers showed up all wrong.  The job where you didn’t get the promotion.  The marriage where one’s partner makes mistakes.

All of these things and infinitely more.

I hope you get a chance to see the eclipse today.  Maybe it will be absolute eclipse-ical magic.  Or maybe it won’t be quite as magical as anticipated.  Most likely it will be something in between.  A more realistic expectation might be that it will be “really cool.”  That’s what I’m shooting for.  That way when my child needs to go potty one minute before the two and a half minutes of amazing, and we forget to take a family photo the entire day, and the traffic is crazy, and we can’t actually get into any restaurant after the whole thing is over…I’ll remember that the half a minute I did get to see was really cool rather than stressing about all the ways it didn’t go perfectly.

Because I feel pretty confident that it will be “really cool.”

Back to School *MORNINGS*

For the first time in almost three decades, I’m not heading “back to school” this time of year.  In the past, I’ve always either been a student or been working in a school (or both).  It’s a little strange now that I don’t have that seasonal fresh start for my work, but I still get to do the “back to school” thing as a parent of an elementary schooler and two preschoolers.  I’m grateful to have at least 16 more “back to schools” to go.

A huge consideration with starting back after summer break is the morning routine.  I hope your kids had a summer filled with popsicles, tons of outside play, and relaxed morning routines.  Now’s the time to start moving the bedtimes and wake ups a little earlier each day (10-15 minutes) until you hit the target start for a regular school morning.

Regarding sleep, the American Pediatric Association recommends the following:

  • Children ages 3-5 should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps).
  • Children ages 6-12 should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours.
  • Teenagers 13-18 should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours.
  • Adequate sleep duration for age on a regular basis leads to improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health. Not getting enough sleep each night is associated with an increase in injuries, hypertension, obesity and depression, especially for teens who may experience increased risk of self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
  • In addition to these recommendations, the AAP suggests that all screens be turned off 30 minutes before bedtime and that TV, computers and other screens not be allowed in children’s bedrooms. (

I highlighted two parts above.  The first is the improved outcomes for kids who get good sleep.  Each one of those is an area I might work on with a client.  I’ve had many families over the years who didn’t promote good sleep and their child showed negative behaviors as a result.  Set your child up for success and have a good routine and a consistent bedtime.

The second part I highlighted was screen time.  I will write more about this in the future, but regarding sleep the important part is that screens are not in children’s bedrooms.

I’m including a morning chart I created for my own kids.  The first one is for a four-year-old who loves life so much that he moves rather slowly through it.  He doesn’t struggle to “stop and smell the roses,” in fact, he stops to smell ALL the roses.  This makes everyday tasks take much longer than his mother would like them to take.  The chart has been very helpful for him to focus.  The second chart is for a six-year-old who can read some words.  Feel free to download and modify these for your family.  I laminated ours and my kids use a dry-erase marker to check off each item.  The best part is I don’t have to nag and say “did you brush your teeth?” or “hurry up and put on your shoes!”  Now it’s up to them.  My house is a nag-free zone in the mornings.

4-year-old morning chart (click here)

6-year-old morning chart (click here)

Why Hiawatha?

I’ve gotten the question Why Hiawatha? several times since announcing our move from The Little Apple, our college town and home for almost half our lives. Seriously…The City of Beautiful Maples and The Oldest Halloween Parade in the nation aren’t selling points enough?   Another Hiawatha claim to fame: it is the birthplace of Bill Martin, Jr., author of Brown Bear and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom .  I’m unaware of an official Bill Martin, Jr. holiday or parade here…but it’s something I’d like to propose now that I’m an official Hiawathan.

I created a little infographic about our decision to move.

Charity Infographic (1)

So as you can see the move started with Kyle’s work, considered our family, and ultimately led to opening my own mental health therapy practice.  Much of rural Kansas lacks for options when it comes to mental health services.  There is a community mental health center, but for various reasons, some folks aren’t going to go there.  They either drive 40 minutes or more to see a therapist or they don’t see one at all.  Hiawatha is no different.  I believe HMH has the opportunity to fill a need in this community and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here.  We have found Hiawatha to be incredibly welcoming (think garden fresh produce and baked goods from our neighbors).  I’m a week or so out from opening the doors for business and I couldn’t be more pleased with the decision to come to this community.

Oh and one more thing – the only potential deterrent for this family of Wildcats was the Hiawatha High School mascot, which looks and sounds just a little too much like the other state school mascot.  It wasn’t a deal breaker, but we talked about it.  See below.



What is Play Therapy?

The official logo of Horizon Mental Health says “Sarah Olson, LSCSW, Certified Play Therapist” and I suspect many reading that may wonder what exactly is a play therapist.  I’ve gotten interesting questions and comments since adding that credential to my professional title.  One question was “So does that mean you teach kindergarten?” and comments often are something like “Oh cool.  You get to play with kids all day.  How fun!”  These comments are well-meaning and I don’t take offense.  I’m happy to talk more about it.

First let’s get into why I sought out play therapy training.  I have a master’s degree in clinical social work, meaning I’m a trained and licensed mental health therapist.  For 12 years I worked in public education with clients ages 3-18.  For the majority of the time, I worked in a K-6 elementary school.  In 2016, I completed post-graduate education in play therapy from Mid-America Nazarene University to enhance my work with children.

The Association for Play Therapy’s website defines play therapy as:

“a way of being with the child that honors their unique developmental level and looks for ways of helping in the “language” of the child – play.  Licensed mental health professionals therapeutically use play to help their clients, most often children ages three to 12 years, to better express themselves and resolve their problems.” (

These are some of the kids of issues for which my child clients might come to therapy:

  • Disruption(s) in attachment (such as foster care)
  • Death of a parent or other loved one
  • High level of aggression
  • Difficulties with impulse control
  • Difficulties with emotion management
  • Parents divorcing or re-marrying
  • High levels of anxiety, including specific fears
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Bullying as a victim or target

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does give the reader an idea of what kinds of issues a play therapist might treat.  In addition, I work with the systems in which the child operates.  I may see the child in session one-on-one, but I take what I learn from the child and the skills I teach there and work with parents/caregivers/teachers to carry those skills over to other areas of the child’s life.

In the future I’ll share specific techniques I might use to help children with various issues.  But for now, if your child is struggling and you’ve exhausted all the resources and know-how that you currently possess, I hope you’ll consider play therapy as a way to help your child and your family.

I’ll close with a short video from a professor at John Brown University with an overview of play therapy (click on the title to view):

Overview of Play Therapy



Why Horizon?

Welcome!  This is the blog associated with my therapy practice, Horizon Mental Health.  This being my first post, I thought I should explain why I chose “Horizon” for the name.

A few years ago I went though a difficult time in my life.  Perhaps I’ll discuss that more in future posts, but for now I’ll focus on what it felt like at that time.  I had a very specific metaphor that kept coming back to me, that of being in a vast body of water.  It was cold and I was weary from treading for so long.  It was all I could do to keep my head above.  I was exhausted and I didn’t know which way to go.  I could see land but it was so far away on the horizon I didn’t believe I could get there.

So I went to a therapist.

And it was incredibly helpful.

Sticking with the metaphor, she threw me a life preserver so I could take a minute to catch my breath.  She helped me refocus on the various directions I might go and reminded me that I already know how to swim.  My therapist also reminded me that the one who created the sea and who walks on water was with me and would not let me drown.

Ultimately, I made it to that distant place that I had seen on the horizon.  And I arrived there stronger, more fit to manage life’s challenges, and better able to make it to the next place on another horizon.  Seeing a therapist also showed me that I have the skills to ‘sit in the other chair’ and that I am called to do that work.  Therapy is not magic.  But it can have an impact that feels almost magical in the way it can transform lives.

I don’t know where you are in life.  But if you are struggling, I want you to know that therapy can be incredibly powerful and life-changing.  It’s difficult admitting that you don’t have it all together, calling a therapist, or accepting help.  I shared this post in my hope that someone reading it who is in a vulnerable place might have the courage to seek therapy.  You have no idea what might be on the horizon.