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Family Matters: Sand, Shells & Sunrise


As we began planning a family vacation it was unanimous that we go to the beach. The beach has always been a favorite place for our family – strolling for hours enjoying the sunshine and sounds of the waves, picking up seashells and sitting on the deck at night playing games and enjoying family time. Our days are spent playing horseshoes, Frisbee, building sand castles, swimming, going crabbing for supper and just doing nothing but being beach bums. What a joy to sit on the beach and watch your kids laughing and enjoying each other with no worries in the world. These days, that alone is a blessing, even if just for a moment.

When most people think “vacation,” they think sleeping late is a must, but for us, we wake up at dawn to see the sunrise over the ocean and take in the beautiful site from a deck view. We only go a few hours from home, so there is no white sand or seashores without seaweed (in Texas), but there is everything we need to make memories that will last our family a lifetime. 

This year we are taking three additional kids and grandma with us which will make for a house full of fun with seven teenagers…I did say “fun” right?  They have all been talking and planning for months – who sleeps where, what we will do and what we will eat…food is always important to teenagers! We share the responsibility of the kitchen during the week and eat a lot of sandwiches, pop tarts, cereal, frozen pizzas, etc., but we never get complaints, because it is not about eating out or eating hot meals three times a day, it is about the time we spend together that is important. Every day from sunrise to bedtime seems like an eternity. At the beach, time seems to stand still, and when we can enjoy life and put our everyday worries behind us for a week it is something to be thankful for.

My husband and kids joke with me about “leaving a shell for someone else to treasure” and that it costs more coming home than going because of the weight of the seashells we are hauling back. I tell them my plan is to one day build my own beach around my above ground pool in the back yard, spread out my seashells and remember the wonderful family vacations and the special times we spent together at the beach.

Vacations are a time relax, laugh (a lot) and just delight in your family, and for every family that special place is different. Take time to “find your beach,” count your blessings daily and give thanks to the Lord for the time you have to share with your family! 

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Family Matters: Pets and Ticks


My big dogs, Shiloh and Gretel, had thick, luxurious fur that I took care to keep clean and well-groomed, not to mention glossy and shiny by feeding them a great diet.

But, glossy, shiny, thick, luxurious coats also mean more places for ticks to hide during the spring and summer. I would brush Shiloh and Gretel pretty frequently, which helped, but there’s no substitute for carefully going through your pets’ coats during the summer to check for ticks, which can transfer diseases. Ticks will attach to your pet’s skin, but their fur can hide them.

There are several things you can do to help avoid ticks this summer.

First, use a spot treatment. The best ones are available from your veterinarian and are usually applied behind the neck or tail and repeated on a monthly basis.

Oral medications, also from your vet, are generally given once monthly and help kill fleas and ticks by making your pet’s skin and fur a hostile environment for unwanted pests.

Bathing your dog with a shampoo that contains medicated ingredients will generally kill ticks on contact. This method is usually inexpensive, but do it OUTSIDE. Enough said 

Tick dips, in which a chemical is diluted in water and your pet submerged, are effective, but best to leave in the hands of a professional.

Tick collars are another option, but pet owners report having the best success with these on small animals.

Tick and flea powders are available at most pet supply stores. These get into the areas needed, however, they’re often messy and leave residue on your hands after you pet your pooch. 

Finally, treat your house and lawn using an exterminator or keep your pets inside during warm months.



Family Matters: Blended Families


My boys have a mom. And a dad.

And now a stepmom, stepbrother, step grandparents, step cousins…the whole nine yards.

And you know what? It’s great.

Oh, let me introduce myself. I’m mom, by the way. Mom-who-gave-birth to those two boys who now have a network of “steps.”

More and more of us moms, and dads, find ourselves in the position we never expected to be in when we said, “I do happily ever after.”

In some states, the divorce rate is as high as 70 percent.

I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Vows broken are never easy, but the life after, especially for your kids, doesn’t have to be bad.

When your ex picks a new partner, you’re now a team, not adversaries. Work as a team. Your child now has three, or four, parents…tap into each other’s strengths and talents.

Put the kids first.

Never, EVER badmouth the ex or a step. That only causes dissention between the adults which the children do not need to be subjected to.

Put the kids first.

Cooperate with each other. You can’t control everything now (you never could, actually) but you can control what happens at your house. Before each decision, ask yourself, “Is this in the best interest of OUR children.”

Put the kids first.

Speaking of OUR children, remember why you loved the ex in the first place. This may require YOU to dig deep, but I bet you can find something in your children to remind you. Celebrate that.

Put the kids first.

And when there are not ‘rules,’ put the kids first.



Family Matters: Social Interaction


When your toddler is about 2 years old, he’ll really like social activities like story time. However, don’t expect him to get down and interact with all the other kids. Little ones at this age still primarily parallel play, that is, they engage in their own activity next to another child. This is perfectly OK. You don’t have to force Jacob to share with Sophie or even be interested in her toys or acknowledge she’s there. He’s still primarily interested in his caregiver and whatever toy he finds most amusing at that given moment. But introducing him to other kids in group settings (whether that be one other child or 10) is good for his development at this point. So maybe try a library story time, or a group music class, or just take your toddler to the park and let them sort out the early social cues.

TIP 12 to 36 Months: Say no to your toddler. That’s right. A simple word, “No.” This is what a toddler can understand. Rationalizing with them, “Do you think that’s a good choice?” is more appropriate for a school-age child. But when they’re 2 and 3, keep it simple!



Family Matters: Car Seat Safety


Your baby is probably big enough now to transition from an infant carrier car seat to a convertible seat. But always, always, always keep it rear-facing. A lot of experts are now recommending that you keep baby in a rear-facing position longer than age 12 months.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, based on a 2007 study from the University of Virginia, “children under 2 are 75 percent less likely to suffer severe or fatal injuries in a crash if they are facing the rear.”

“A baby’s head is relatively large in proportion to the rest of his body, and the bones of his neck are structurally immature,” said the statement’s lead author, Dr. Dennis R. Durbin, scientific co-director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “If he’s rear-facing, his entire body is better supported by the shell of the car seat. When he’s forward-facing, his shoulders and trunk may be well restrained, but in a violent crash, his head and neck can fly forward.”

What more information do you need?

TIP 7 to 12 Months: Babies this age are now eating solid foods. To help them stay full, make sure to provide about 3 full tablespoons of protein at each meal. 



Family Matters: Thumb Sucking


When my best friend’s baby was born a few months ago, she swore two things: that she would never speak to Baby in nauseating, high-pitched ‘baby talk’ nor would she ever let her suck her thumb.

HA!

Both of those promises went out the window within minutes of that sweet girl’s birth. She was practically born sucking her thumb, and I think Mama told her “Your little thumby-wumby needs to come out of your mouthy now…”

Best laid plans, right?

Thumb sucking is not the end of the world. I didn’t have to deal with it, because both of my boys used pacifiers, but my sister sucked her thumb. And guess what? She’s a fully functioning adult who graduated with her master’s degree without a thumb in her mouth. There’s hope, I promise.

Babies suck to soothe. If your baby sucks his thumb, you’ve got the built-in convenience of not having to get up 19,002 times a night (not that I counted) to find their pacifier for them.

Now, too much thumb sucking can cause alignment problems with teeth, but experts say MOST kids stop by around age 4. And if they haven’t, rest assured a preschool or kindergarten classmate will help things along by point out that sucking your thumb is for babies.

TIP- 0 to 6 Months: Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Babies thrive off of repetition. “Mixing things up” isn’t what your infant wants. Instead, it’s perfectly ok if you read “Goodnight, Moon” to them every evening for the first years of life. They love it. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. 



Family Matters: Kids and Summer


I have a rule in my house: If I hear the words “I’m bored” during the summer, my boys, ages 9 and 11, automatically incur SOMETHING TO DO.

And frankly, ‘something to do’ is often something they don’t want to do, like clean the bathroom or dust the baseboards (a ‘chore’ my mother loved to have us do…we had the cleanest baseboards in Richmond, Va.).

The point here is not to punish your kids all summer. The point is to encourage them to find other things to do to occupy their time. I catch myself saying, “When I was a kid…” but let’s be honest, times aren’t the same as when I was a child. We would head outside in the morning and not go home until dark. And that was just fine. Well if I didn’t know where MY kids were during the day, I’d panic with a capital ‘P’. In this day and age, we can’t just send our kids outside unsupervised in most cases.

But there are things they can do. Scavenger hunts in the back yard. Tried-and-true favorites like sidewalk chalk (it works really well on wooden fences, too) and bubbles. Plant a garden with your kids. Checking on it and pulling weeds is something they can do every day. Summer reading challenges: do them. Visit your local library. Go on an adventure every week. Don’t tell your kids where you’re going and give them clues so they can try to guess. Make it a challenge to go on an adventure that is completely free. Let them plan an adventure. Camp in the yard. Eat as many meals outside as possible. Give your kids a project – let them choose what to study.

Summertime, or anytime, isn’t a time to be “bored.” There’s so much do to and discover no matter where you live.

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Family Matters: Chores


The other night I asked my 11-year-old daughter Grace if she wanted to wash dishes or cook dinner. I really didn’t want her to choose cooking dinner because I knew I could do it faster and get it over with sooner, and besides, I did not want to do the dishes! But she chose cooking dinner, so I let her go for it.

I gave her the choice between two meals I knew she could handle, tacos or Hamburger Helper. She chose her favorite, Hamburger Helper. I gave her the Hamburger Helper box, told her to read the instructions and stayed close by in the kitchen in case she needed my help. She was able to brown the meat, add the sauce, milk, water and noodles and let it simmer all without my help.

After giving thanks for our dinner, Grace proudly announced that she had prepared the dinner all by herself. She was very proud of herself that night and, even being the picky eater that she is, ate everything on her plate!

Kids are often more willing to eat foods they have prepared, and the process encourages communication and family togetherness. It all starts in the kitchen. Whether that means the young ones wash the greens or older siblings help with some of the more involved recipes, a little cooking camaraderie goes a long way. There are many easy tasks that kids can do in the kitchen to help you out:

• Washing fruits and vegetables
• Measuring using a measuring cup
• Pouring liquids
• Stirring with a spoon
• Cracking eggs (Kids love this one!)
• Setting the table
• Cleaning up after dinner 

Kids have so much fun in the kitchen – so don’t keep them out. Involve your kids with specific kitchen jobs and watch their culinary interest and ability soar. I think next week we’ll have “Taco Tuesday,” and I’ll let Grace be the chef!

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Family Matters: Middle School


I woke up one day last week and, seemingly overnight, was staring straight into the strange face of Middle School.

How did my BABY, my firstborn, end up ready to go to middle school?

It’s not possible.

After all, he was just born yesterday – or the day before – or ELEVEN years ago.

How did that happen?

The thought of middle school has been a scary one for us. There are lots of good middle schools in our area; the scary part was finding a good one for our son.

Curt has autism. Yes, he’s high-functioning, but still, the thought of navigating the social mores of middle school has been scary.

Every parent of a middle school student faces this. Every. Single. One. Whether your child has special needs or not. Will he make friends? Will he be able to work his locker combination? Will he be able to stand up to the inevitable bullies or mean kids? Will he do well academically? Will he be happy?

And that’s the bottom line, really. Will he be happy?

He’s going to a great school, a small school. Where I don’t worry as much about lockers and getting lost in the hallways. He’ll still face mean kids. He’ll still face the rigors of academia. But as a parent, whatever I can do to reduce the other, outside factors, I’ll fight to do. And I feel good about him going to this middle school. I’ve prayed about it. I’ve given it to God’s hands.

Now, when I look into the face of Middle School, he’s not so scary after all. 

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Family Matters: Collage of Times Past


As I near the high school graduation of yet another child, my family and I have begun gathering items to celebrate this special occasion. We pull out our large plastic containers of family photos from birth to present and begin the process. As the family sits on the living room floor and thumbs through the photos one by one, what memories it brings back. First we laugh, then I cry, then we laugh (rolling on the floor), I cry again and it goes on for days.  My family finally told me if I did not stop with the tears, I was not going to be allowed to look at any more photos! 

In my defense, I am the mother, and the photos bring back so many happy and sad times of our life together as a family. The pictures of my children when they were young and photos with them doing silly things makes me laugh, but also brings tears for how they have grown into beautiful young ladies, not babies anymore. Seeing photos of loved ones we lost floods my heart with sadness, as they will miss this special time of graduation. How quickly time passes us by and so many times we fail to slow down and savor the memories as they are happening.

I will use the photos we gather to make a photo collage slide show that we will share with extended family and friends after graduation as we celebrate her life. What a great thing she will then have to share with her kids one day. Our future grandchildren will be able to see their mother as a child up through graduation and see the joy that she has brought us as her parents. 

Our life is but a collage of events that make up who we are as an individual. Every moment from the time we are born, our accomplishments, our failures, each and every life decision we make determines who we become. Remember to take pictures and capture moments that define your family. Though life is not perfect, our children are a blessing sent from God, and we should give thanks daily for what they bring to our life.

Take time with your kids to sit and go through family photos; it is a great way to bring you together for a special time of laughter…and tears. You will be amazed at the feeling you will have sharing so many memories together. Count your blessings daily and give thanks for the time you have to share with your family. 

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