I took my laptop on vacation with me last week, not so that I could stay “connected”, but so that I could use spare moments to work on my ancestry project.

My husband is a horrible night-time sleeper, but a world class napper, so each day when he and Little M headed off for their afternoon naps, I grabbed the laptop and my pile of papers and got to work adding my peeps into my new family tree software.

As I worked, entering names, dates, and scraps of information pertaining to my relatives stretching back more than 300 years, it occurred to me that I’ve taken on a daunting task, but more importantly a fascinating and exciting one.

Unfamiliar names sparked my curiousity – Who were they? What did they do? What were there hopes and dreams for the future?

Some names brought to mind faded memories of long ago meetings, or snippets of conversation between closer relatives.

Then there were the names of my grandparents and great-grandparents – all are gone now. My grandparents I remember vividly and miss everyday. My great grandparents, those I knew well, are memories that fade in and out, some vivid, some ghost like. All are bittersweet.

As I add each name to my tree I realize once again how quickly time is passing, how quickly my own memories are fading, and how many of my family members and their stories are slipping away. That knowledge has only served to remind me of the importance of my project and the urgency attached to it.  One day when my daughter looks at those same names I want her to be able to have a sense of who they were and where she came from.

In the past I have gotten involved in various ways (Secret Santas, walkathons, fundraisers, Relay for Life, literacy tutor), but at times it has been sporadic and there have been long stretches (especially during times of illness or stress) where I found it easier to write a check for a cause as apposed to doing.

But with parenthood comes hopes and dreams for a childs future and subsequently a lot of self examination. We all have ideas about the type of person we want our kids to become, and as I look at my daughter and consider my hopes for her future character, I know the best way to convey those traits is to emulate them myself. Which leads me to…getting involved.

There are a number of avenues that come to mind that I want to pursue – some now and some later when Little M is a bit older and can take part. But two that have been nagging at me of late are Relay for Life, and becoming more involved in supporting our troops.

Relay for Life is particularly near and dear to me because of the devastating affect that cancer has had – especially in the last ten years or so – on my family and friends. It seems almost epidemic. I participated on a team long distance a few years ago and had a blast, but this year I’d like to form a team locally so that I can be more involved in fundraising. Now that vacation is over, this will be my next major project to tackle.

Supporting our troops is a no-brainer, and doubly so because of the large number of family members that have served. I have been looking at soldiersangels.com and am interested in a number of their programs. I’ve decided to start with their letter writing program – because showing our gratitude is one of the single most important ways we can show our support. Then I’d like to join one of their sewing project teams.

Yesterday I talked about how vacation had inspired me to edit – by addition or subtraction – my life so that it is more in line with with what I value and want out of life. Getting more involved in the community and world around me is one way of adding to my life things that are important to me. It also gives me a prime opportunity to demonstrate to my daughter my values and to help her see beyond herself.

If you have children (or even if you don’t), I would love to hear from you about how you incorporate community service into your lives. What do you do? How do/did you get your children involved? What has been their reaction to it? What have you/they learned from the experience?

Yesterday the stress monster was closing in fast and I was in danger of cracking like an egg. Instead, I did one simple thing. I left work two hours early. That one small gift to myself changed the course of my evening, and considering the amount of calm I’ve experienced today, it has set the course for the rest of my week as well.

Too often we push ourselves harden than we should with the “I can take it” mentality. In reality, should we take it? Should we push ourselves to the brink? Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I was under the impression that we are here to enjoy life, make the most of it, do good unto others and all that jazz. I’m pretty sure dashing through life beating ourselves up along the way is not the best approach to achieving an enjoyable life.

To that end, I sifted through some of the abundant writing on stress management, and compiled my favorites into a short list of methods to defy stress and regain the calm.

1. Recognize the problem, not the symptoms. What is the root of your stress? Decide how best to alleviate it.

2. Take care of yourself first so you can take care of your life. (This includes eating right, exercise, drinking lots of fluids, and taking your vitamins and medicines as prescribed.)

3. Allow yourself extra time. Don’t overbook or underestimate how long a task will take.

4. Schedule “me time” to do the hobbies or activities that you enjoy and that refresh you.

5. Ask for help. (This is one I’m terribly bad at doing, but when I do, I’m so glad I did!)

6. Practice good time management. (Plan ahead, don’t procrastinate on nagging tasks, use technology – smart phones, etc – to your advantage.)

7. Develop and maintain personal relationships. (Whether its your spouse, family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, or spiritual – these are the relationships that can help you through any crisis and visa versa.)

8. Laugh. A lot. (Which makes you feel better – a rolling on the floor, tears in your eyes, belly laugh or a lot of frowning, being irritable and snapping at those around you? Enough said.)

9. Use the words “yes” and “no” to your advantage. Say “Yes!” to things that make your life better, and “NO!” to things that add to your stress. (It’s easier than you think! Give it a try.)

10. Get perspective – sometimes its just a matter of seeing our lives from the right angle. (Instead of comparing your life to someone who seems to have it so much better, try comparing it to someone who has it a million times worse. Try volunteering, helping a friend or neighbor in need, expressing gratitude, or watch the world news.)

It’s not by accident that many of my favorite methods all relate back to time. We have a limited amount of it here on earth and need to make the most of it. I don’t know of anyone who wants to get to the last days of their life, look back and say, “Wow, that really sucked.”