31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 30: Zebra Girl!

az_zebrasWhen I think of zebras, I immediately think “black-and-white.” Black-and-white thinking can be extremely stress-inducing. (Unless we’re talking about cookies, fresh from the Reading Terminal Market or Zabars Bakery. Those are stress-lifting, served with a proper cup of tea to cut the sweetness.)

But on zebras, those black-and-white stripes serve a purpose that is most fully realized when the zebras stick together. While no two sets of stripes are exactly alike (stripes on zebras are a bit like fingerprints on humans), when a herd of zebras stand close together, their stripes camouflage the individuals, making it harder for predators to attack.

What’s more, when predators do attack, the injured zebra is surrounded by the others, who band together to drive off the predator. For that reason, zebras do not sleep away from the herd; they depend on the safety of the group.

Are we really so different? When God said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” he was pointing to the simple truth that one of the ways we reflect his image and likeness is that we are intrinsically social, designed to be in community with others. For women, it’s especially important to find the society of other women.

We are Zebra Girls: Individually, our stripes make us beautiful … yet we are strongest with the support of those whose stripes are like our own.

Recently I received a note from an old friend, whose absence from my life has been particularly difficult this past year. I had tried to reach out, tried to reconnect, but something had come between us. In time, I realized I needed to let go — I had to focus my energies on more immediate needs. But seeing her familiar handwriting in the mail, the pang hit again, and I realized just how much I had missed her.

Not every friendship is meant to last a lifetime. Some friends pass through our lives like gentle breezes, momentary gifts from the hand of God to fill a pressing need. What my friend taught me, though, is that even lifelong friendships have chapters. Sometimes the zebra steps away — or gets separated — from the herd. But our strength is in our stripes. And our stripes work best when we travel together.

Who do you need to call this week, Zebra Girl?

Photo Credit: “One Kind” webpage on the Zebra

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Fun Things to Do in Philadelphia: Fun Fridays

SEPTA_oneday_family_passWhen we moved to southeastern Pennsylvania in 2011, we had great fun discovering all the fun things to see and do in the Philadelphia area.

How to get around. After 9:00 a.m., a family of 5 (2 adults) can travel from Thorndale to Center City, travel on the trains, buses, and the (seasonal) Phlash trolley, and go home again for the low, low price of $29 with a Family Independence Pass. (Individuals can ride for a day for $12.) It also allows you to avoid exorbitant parking fees — it can be tough to find a place to park for a day for less than $20.

Discounts and deals. Families on extended stay might also appreciate a Philadelphia CityPASS, which gives you discounted rates on popular attractions for nine consecutive days.

For history buffs, you really can’t beat downtown Philadelphia … Independence Hall and Liberty Bell are completely free to visit (you’ll want to reserve a spot ahead of time between March and December). My favorite feature is the “Once Upon a Nation” storytelling benches located around the historic district, and as far afield as the Valley Forge National Historic Park.

Lovers of the arts can visit the Philadelphia Museum of Contemporary Art (open Wednesday through Sunday) free of charge. The Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site commemorates the six years this literary giant lived in Philadelphia (open Friday – Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free of charge). Be sure to check out the basement, which was his inspiration for “The Black Cat.” In August, Rittenhouse Square has Concerts in the Park.

Natural history lovers, we always bypass the lovely-but-costly Franklin Institute and head for the exhibit around the corner at the Drexel Academy of Natural Sciences. They currently have the “Dinosaurs Unearthed” Exhibit, as well as a reciprocal arrangement with other area museums. (This is one of the area attractions we buy a family membership.)

Foodies will love the city, too. First stop should be Reading Terminal Market, where you can get everything from handmade soft pretzels and other Amish specialties to fresh kielbasa, absolutely fresh seafood, and of course the iconic cheesesteak. Plus the best black-and-white cookies this side of NYC. Live jazz on Fridays from 12-2 p.m.

Outside the city…

If you’re willing to drive a bit further, check out the Adventure Aquarium (not free, unless you have the CityPass, but where else can you pet baby sharks and sting(less)rays on the same morning?

Another family favorite is the Valley Forge National Park, where you can roller blade, walk the dog, and picnic on a bench while listening to first-rate storytellers recount the trials and tribulations of George Washington and Company (seasonal). All for free!

If you’re willing to drive even further, it is possible to visit Hershey Park without paying a dime, by riding the factory simulator (assuming you can get out of the gift shop without splurging on the chocolate). Or you can just go to Lilitz, PA and visit the Wilbur Buds Chocolates, and watch the candy being made right before your eyes!

Have fun!

Next week I’ll be hosting a guest post from a mom from Chicago! If you’d like to share your favorite family activities in your area, please send me your article at Heidi(dot)hess(dot)saxton(at)gmail(dot)com.