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Family Matters: Elementary school


Adding to the list of “I Will Never” is ‘I will never get my elementary school aged child a cell phone’. 

Really, what does an elementary school aged child need with a phone? They can’t bring them to school. They’re only going to call me, Dad, 911 or the one other elementary school aged child who has a cell phone.  Right. 

That one went down in a blaze of glory at Christmas this year. 

My older son, who just turned 11 and is in the fifth grade, didn’t even specifically ASK for a phone for Christmas. What he asked for was an iTouch, which does everything an iPhone does, without the telephone capabilities. He wanted it for games, apps and music. Well, an iTouch starts at about $200 and you still have to add it to a data plan. I didn’t really see the point, knowing that his dad and I had agreed he could get a phone the summer before sixth grade anyway. Why buy the iTouch now and a phone six months from now? Especially when said iPhone 4 was FREE with a contract. 

So he got the phone and was beyond thrilled. I really thought his eyes were going to roll back in his head in electronic ecstasy. 

But he’s in fifth grade.  He’s 11 years old. We had to talk about rules. 

1. Mom and Dad have the pass-lock code, the iTunes log in and password and access to anything, anywhere on your phone, at any time. If we say “hand it over,” we’d better be able to look at anything we want to look at. Immediately. 

2. Having a phone is a privilege, not a right. It goes right back into the box in Mom’s locked office drawer if you abuse this privilege. 

3.  Never answer a call from a number you do not know. No one accept Mom, Dad and the few family members we entered into your contacts needs to be calling you. 

4. Do not give out your phone number to anyone. We can revisit this next year, when social norms shift a bit, but for now, it’s private. 

5. Ditto No. 3, but with text messages. And especially do not click on a link on any text that you receive from a strange number. 

6. When Mom or Dad calls or texts: answer. Answer immediately. We’re having some issues with this one. He claims he keeps letting the charge run out (I know this is somewhat true). Keep the phone charged and answer it. 

7. Do not buy anything off of iTunes without permission. True story, I had a friend whose son racked up almost $300 of iTunes charges before she checked her email to see the iTunes receipts. Oh. Horror. If you want to buy a song, or an app, we’ll negotiate what that app will “cost.” 

8. Do not even download a free app without Mom or Dad knowing what it is.

9. Share with your little brother every once and awhile. 

10. And if we play against each other in Chess, let Mom win. Just once. 



Family Matters: Presence


I only see my family, if I’m lucky, twice a year.  This year, I was lucky.  

You see, they live in Virginia and I live in Texas. That is too far apart to visit often when everyone works full time, has families and has kids who are busy in activities and sports.  

Every year, the whole family converges on the beach together for a week. That’s almost a given.  

But this year, my parents came to Texas for Christmas. They left the rest of the family behind (sorry Andy, Juli, Beau, Jim, Lesley, Jameson, Rylan, Greycen, Beth, Becky, Anthony, Ben and Claire!) and flew to our town in the wee hours of Christmas morning. I’m pretty sure they probably passed Santa and his reindeer somewhere near the Mississippi River. They landed, beating the EF-3 tornado that touched down in East Texas Christmas morning. They rented a car and drove to our house, beating the torrential rain and snow storm that covered the land on Christmas day. They came, to visit, and just to be with us: me and my boys. Too often, we think about the holidays in terms of “presents.” This year, I received what I longed for most, the “presence” of the four people I love most – my parents and my children. In the chaos of Christmas gift wrap, scattered toys, new pajamas, video games to play and the buzz of electronics–in a quiet moment, there was pure happiness. Pure presence. 

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Family Matters: Kids in the Kitchen


My favorite people in the world to cook with are children.

I love their imaginations, creativity, willingness to take a risk, and ability to laugh when things don’t turn out exactly as planned! 

Think of your kitchen as a playground.

It’s a wonderful place to explore, create, learn and enjoy time together with your children.

You may not have thought about cooking with your kids as a place to teach more than how to get food on the table, but it’s really a beautiful setting for many lessons: 

  • Learning to be patient
  • Maintaining a sense of humor
  • How to handle failure
  • Working as a team
  • Following through on a task
  • Mastering health and cleanliness skills
  • Reading and following instructions
  • Developing math, science and reading skills
  • Enjoying a sense of accomplishment
  • Using your imagination
  • Developing healthy eating habits 

The first and most important “rule” of learning to cook is to have fun!  Having fun should be the foundation of every kitchen activity you begin with your children. If it’s not fun or if they fear failure, then they’ll never discover the joy and pleasure of food. It will seem like just another chore, and they might miss out on what could be a wonderful passion in their lives. 

Two of the many things I appreciate about my mother are that she gave me a lot of freedom in the kitchen and never, ever told me I was making too big of a mess or that what I created was a disaster. Believe me, I was (and am) messy and made many disasters (think baked iceberg salad), but she continually encouraged me and built my confidence. This is a wonderful gift you can give your own children, and here’s a secret I’ve learned: If I let my kids plan and cook the menu, they are much more likely to eat it! This even works with green beans! 

I’ve written a few practical suggestions for your child to remember to keep your time in the kitchen running smoothly: 

Ask Permission!
Remember to ask your parents’ permission before you begin to cook. Hey, why not let them be your helper in the kitchen? You will learn things together, and the best part is this: At the end, you will have something yummy to enjoy together as a family.

Be Prepared!
Cook like the pros do. Read through the recipe you want to make and look up any words or techniques you don’t know. And gather together everything you need — both ingredients and tools — before you start cooking. You don’t want to be halfway through the recipe and realize you’re missing something! 

Be Clean!
Cleaning is a big part of cooking. Your food needs to be prepared safely and, if you clean as you go along, when you’re ready to sit down and enjoy what you’ve cooked, you won’t have mountains of dishes to worry about. 

Have Fun!
Most of all, remember to enjoy your time in the kitchen and learn to do things your way. Experiment and make changes that work for you.



Family Matters: Giving and Receiving


Christmas is a beautiful time of year with the bright colorful lights, festive music, snuggly weather, and holiday gatherings full of laughter and cheer.  From hanging the lights, decorating the tree, shopping for hours and dancing with glee, sounds like a fairy tale, right?  This is a special time of year for many but a really hard time for others due to circumstances surrounding them. 

As we anticipate the holiday season and the true meaning of Christmas let us not forget to remember those less fortunate.  A lesson we learned young, is a lesson worth teaching our children – it is better to give than receive. Giving of our time to help where needed, our talents to bless others, our cooking to fill hunger, a hug to bring comfort, giving is not always monetary. What does it cost to offer hope to someone who has lost a job, lost a loved one, lost direction?  What is the cost of generosity, compassion and humility?  You don’t have to look far to find someone that needs to be blessed by you this Christmas.  Giving a toy, providing a meal, giving a coat or blanket, providing assistance wherever needed, this is important.  

Let us focus on others instead of ourselves this holiday.  Let us show mercy and love, and extend a hand that makes the difference in the life of someone you may or may not know.  We were given the “ultimate gift” of mercy and grace at no cost. We can’t afford not to extend it to others.  Let us set an example for those around us and show the love of Christ in all we do. 

Giving instead of receiving, the cost is small, the return is priceless.  Let us be a reflection of the true joy of giving and share the true meaning of Christmas.  May your family be a blessing to someone this holiday season.  Count your blessings daily and give thanks for the time you share with your family! 

 

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Family Matters: Puppy Points


When my older son, Curt, was in first grade, he played soccer for the first time.
Let’s just say it didn’t go so well. He didn’t want to practice; he didn’t want to go to games; it was all very overwhelming for him.

But in our family, when you make a commitment to do something you try your best to stick it out.  We decided to offer Curt the chance to earn something he wanted most of all – a little puppy he could pick up. We had a bigger dog, Jill, but she was rambunctious and high-energy and Curt couldn’t corral her at that stage in life. He wanted a small-breed dog he could carry with him.

So he began to earn “puppy points.” He could earn up to two points per practice and game, not if he played well, but if he tried hard and gave it 100 percent. He had to earn a certain number of points over the course of the season to get his puppy.

Low and behold, Curt earned his puppy points and he picked out Tickles, a Morkie (Maltese-Yorkie mix) from a litter we’d found locally.

Tickles went everywhere with Curt. Curt would just scoop up that fluffy little puppy and tote him around like a toy. Fully grown, Tickles is now only about 12 pounds. But the vet told me recently that you really have to be careful about the weight on small dogs. Dogs can pack on the holiday pounds too, you know.
But here are some tips to keep your pooch fit and trim so they can lead a healthy, happy and long life:

• Don’t feed them table scraps and people food. They don’t need it and it’s not really a treat – it’s just fattening.
• Pay attention to the serving size on your dog’s bag of food. You don’t need to give a small dog an entire big bowl of food every day.
• Keep your pet active – take them on a walk every day or provide a green space for running.
• It’s OK to leave your pet outside during the day in mild weather. They tend to get more exercise outside.
• Give them a chew toy instead of a treat as a reward for good behavior.
• Send your children outside to play with the dog. Both get good exercise that way.
And don’t forget the love – a well-loved and cared for dog is the most happy and healthy.



Family Matters: Creating Family Memories


When the holidays roll in and school lets out, it’s a great time to stop and enjoy some free time with your children and grandchildren. Yes, I know it’s the most hectic time of the year, but it’s also the most wonderful from what I hear. And these little moments with our little ones disappear before you can say, “Happy New Year!” 

I have teenage sons and they are way more interested in what their friends are doing than spending too much time with me in the kitchen, so I try to grab every opportunity I can to draw them in to hanging out with me. It’s a great time to talk, as everyone is pretty relaxed and knows some good food is on the way soon! 

These two recipes were some of my sons’ favorites when they were younger. They loved chicken nuggets, but I just didn’t care for the frozen kind – or for frying the nuggets too often. I bake mine, and no one notices that they haven’t been in the deep fryer. The quality of the chicken is also so much better than anything you can get in a drive-thru! 

And once you’ve made Homemade Applesauce, you’re going to be hooked for life. Yes, it takes a bit of time to prepare and to allow too cool down, but it’s worth every single delicious spoonful. Depending on how sweet you like yours, choose a variety of apples and play with the flavors. You really can’t go wrong, and its five simple ingredients I bet you already have at home. 

We still make these recipes from time to time, and it’s adorable to see them flashback to memories from their preschool days. We have had some sweet conversations simply because the food triggered fun days back when I could still carry them on my hip and read Dr. Seuss every afternoon at nap time. Those days are gone, but the memories and the food will stay with us…until grandchildren one day (a long, long way away!). 

Enjoy! 

Baked Chicken Nuggets

Ingredients:
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 cup butter, melted

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400° F. Line the baking sheet with aluminum foil. Cut chicken into bite-size chunks. Mix bread crumbs with parmesan cheese and garlic salt. Dip chicken into melted butter. Roll in crumb mixture. Lay on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove from oven and serve warm. Also good cold for leftovers. 

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 458, Total Fat: 27 g, Sodium: 360 mg, Carbohydrates: 7 g, Protein: 44 g 

Homemade Applesauce
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
6 red apples, or whatever kind you like
1 cup water
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar

Directions:
Core and peel all apples. Quarter the apples, and then cut into chunks. Place apple chunks in a medium saucepan. Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover to simmer until apples soften and break apart. Stir every few minutes. Transfer mixture to a food processor and pulse until you reach your desired consistency. Refrigerate until cooled. Keeps about a week in the refrigerator.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 128, Total Fat: 0 g, Sodium: 3 mg, Carbohydrates: 34 g, Protein: 1 g

 



Family Matters: Baby Wearing


When I had my first son, I knew everything about parenting.

Cough.

Choke.

Snort.

Sputter.

OK, I didn’t. I didn’t know a thing.

Phew. There, I admitted it.

But when I had my second son, 17 months later, I knew all there was to know about parenting.

**crickets**

Busted.

I’m not going to pretend I knew everything then, either, but I did do things a bit differently with son number 2 than I had with son number 1.

One of the biggest things I did differently was embrace babywearing.

What’s that, you ask?

Babywearing simply means holding or carrying a baby or young child using a cloth baby carrier.

My friends wanted to buy me a ticket to Woodstock and make sure I had some recycled sandals.

It’s not like that at all, people!

And truth be told, it was as much as having my hands free for my 17-month old as it was having my newborn up close next to my body. We called my sling, the cloth wrap I wore Luke in, the “papoose.” Luke was often not happy at all if he wasn’t in the blue denim sling I wore him in for hours and hours every day.

(Before you argue with me, he’s 9 and has no attachment issues, thank you very much)

Experts say some of the benefits of baby wearing include:

• Happy Babies. It’s true carried babies cry less! In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that babywearing for three hours a day reduced infant crying by 43 percent overall and 54 percent during evening hours.

• Healthy Babies. Premature babies and babies with special needs often enter the world with fragile nervous systems. When a baby rides in a sling attached to his mother, he is in tune with the rhythm of her breathing, the sound of her heartbeat, and the movements his mother makes—walking, bending, and reaching. This stimulation helps him to regulate his own physical responses. Research has even shown that premature babies who are touched and held gain weight faster and are healthier than babies who are not.

• Confident Parents. A large part of feeling confident as a parent is the ability to read our babies’ cues successfully. Holding our babies close in a sling allows us to become finely attuned to their movements, gestures, and facial expressions. Every time a baby is able to let us know that she is hungry, bored, or wet without having to cry, her trust in us is increased, her learning is enhanced, and our own confidence is reinforced. This cycle of positive interaction deepens the mutual attachment between parent and child, and is especially beneficial for mothers who are at risk for or suffering from postpartum depression.

• Loving Caregivers. Baby carriers are a great bonding tool for fathers, grandparents, adoptive parents, babysitters, and other caregivers. Imagine a new father going for a walk with his baby in a sling. The baby is becoming used to his voice, heartbeat, movements, and facial expressions, and the two are forging a strong attachment of their own. Baby carriers are beneficial for every adult in a baby’s life. Cuddling up close in the sling is a wonderful way to get to know the baby in your life, and for the baby to get to know you.

•Comfort and Convenience. With the help of a good carrier, you can take care of older children or do chores without frequent interruptions from an anxious or distressed infant—which helps reduce sibling rivalry. Baby carriers are also wonderful to use with older babies and toddlers; you can save those arms and go where strollers can’t. Climbing stairs, hiking, and navigating crowded airports all can be done with ease when you use a well-designed baby carrier.

But of course, never put safety second.

Some tips:

Make sure your baby can breathe. Baby carriers allow parents to be hands-free to do other things, but you must always remain active in caring for your child. No baby carrier can ensure that your baby always has an open airway; that’s your job.

1. Never allow a baby to be carried, held, or placed in such a way that his chin is curled against his chest. This rule applies to babies being held in arms, in baby carriers, in infant car seats, or in any other kind of seat or situation. This position can restrict the baby’s ability to breathe. Newborns lack the muscle control to open their airways. They need good back support in carriers so that they don’t slump into the chin-to-chest position.

2. Never allow a baby’s head and face to be covered with fabric. Covering a baby’s head and face can cause her to “rebreathe” the same air, which is a dangerous situation. Also, covering her head and face keeps you from being able to check on her. Always make sure your baby has plenty of airflow. Check on her frequently.

3. Never jog, run, jump on a trampoline, or do any other activity that subjects your baby to similar shaking or bouncing motion. “This motion can do damage to the baby’s neck, spine and/or brain,” explains the American Chiropractic Association.

4. Never use a baby carrier when riding in a car. Soft baby carriers provide none of the protection that car seats provide.

5. Use only carriers that are appropriate for your baby’s age and weight. For example, frame backpacks can be useful for hiking with older babies and toddlers but aren’t appropriate for babies who can’t sit unassisted for extended periods. Front packs usually have a weight range of eight to 20 pounds; smaller babies may slip out of the carrier, and larger babies will almost certainly cause back discomfort for the person using the carrier.

Baby wearing was such a great experience for us that I highly recommend you try it. Bottom line, you have to do what works for you.



Family Matters: Dinner on the Table. Done!


“What’s for dinner?” is such a hard question to answer day after day. It’s hard enough to come up with new and interesting recipes that each family member will eat and enjoy, but today’s fast-paced lifestyle leaves little time for creativity and leisurely cooking in the kitchen. 

Before we go any further, I need to dispel any false ideas you have about mealtimes in my home. I’m a full-time working mom and have two teenage sons who play sports and live very full lives. Our time is jam-packed, every day, but I would like to pretend that mealtime at our house happens every night, and is peaceful. 

In my dreams, I imagine we all sit down happily at the kitchen table while I serve my family a hot meal. We hold hands, take turns thanking God for his blessings, chew with our mouths closed and embrace each other before leaving for school or work. 

Of course it’s absolutely fine to order a pizza for dinner every now and then! But preparing food at home has never been more important to the family’s sense of well-being. Research from places such as Columbia University shows that eating as a family at least three times a week significantly reduces a child’s likelihood to end up on drugs. Eating together as a family also reduces the rate of teen suicide, depression, pregnancy and poor academics, just to name a few. 

In our home, we try to make the evening meal our time to unwind and discuss the remains of the day. It takes work to get everyone’s schedule to somehow align and get food on the table. And of course, like I said earlier, many nights it doesn’t work out as planned. 

But we try, even if it means having a simple soup night, I don’t think it matters what the meal is as long as you are eating together, sitting down, with as few interruptions as possible. 

I have seen that the more often we make time to eat together, the better our family relationships become. We have learned to work together to get the food on the table; the boys open up about their day and their thoughts more easily, and even their manners have improved. And I love the laughter that comes from full stomachs and the sense of security a family dinner can give. The sharing, laughing, relating to one another that naturally will come…it’s priceless. 

It’s not easy to get dinner on the table; I struggle with it just like you do. But I’m convinced more than ever that it’s one of the best things we can do to guard the hearts and minds of our children. 

Easy Weeknight Three-Cheese Broccoli Soup
Serves 4

Ingredients:
6 Tbs unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
Dash ground thyme
1 (13 3/4 oz) can chicken broth
1 cup low-fat milk
3 cups bite-size broccoli florets
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp hot pepper sauce
1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded Havarti or Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese 

Directions:
Melt butter in 3-quart saucepan over low heat. Blend in flour and seasonings. Gradually add broth and milk; cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Stir in broccoli; simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in cream, Worcestershire sauce and hot pepper sauce. Add cheeses; stir until melted.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 560, Total Fat: 45 g, Sodium: 723 mg, Carbohydrates: 19 g, Protein: 22 g



Family Matters: Apple and Eve Fruitables


It’s that time of the year again. 

No, I’m not talking about Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah; I’m talking about ARD time for our family. 

ARD is the acronym given by state’s education association for an “Admission, Review or Dismissal” meeting. If you have a child in special education, as I do, you have an annual (at least!) ARD meeting to check on your child’s progress, review his goals and set new ones for the year, assess his needs and put in place anything that needs to be changed in his education plan. My son’s team attends his ARD meetings; his father and I are present, as is his homeroom teacher, the school principal, the diagnostician, his occupational therapist and the school resource representative. ARD meetings can be stressful, but luckily ours this year was smooth sailing. 

When my older son, Curt, was diagnosed with autism at age 2 1/2, we didn’t know what the future would hold for the little boy with the big brown eyes who didn’t speak, but who loved lights, ceiling fans and anything else that spun or sparkled. 

Today, those brown eyes are even bigger and he talks a blue streak. He still has an affinity for spinning objects, but he can also tell you any fact you want to know about the Titanic, is developing a Power Point presentation for this fifth grade teacher about division and just earned his yellow belt in karate. 

I don’t know what caused his autism and this is not the platform for the varied theories on the topic. I do know, however, that when he was diagnosed with a disability (or different ability, as I like to think of it) then my mind kicked into overdrive trying to think of ways to make all other aspects of his life healthier and happier. 

For a long time, Curt was on the GFCF diet – gluten free and casein free. While many children on the autism spectrum benefit from this diet, we didn’t see any significant change in Curt during the time he was on the diet.  What the diet did do, however, was emphasize the importance of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, not only in his diet, but in the eating regime of the entire family. 

As Curt did not like hot foods, but loved cold ones, we ended up making a lot of homemade popsicles when he was younger (and still today!).

Apple and Eve Fruitables have one full serving of the USRDA of fruits and vegetables, and 1/3 less sugar, to boot. 

In a Popsicle mold, pour your favorite flavor to fill halfway. We like Strawberry-Kiwi. Freeze until set. Fill the other half with another flavor, like Apple Harvest. Freeze until set and enjoy! These treats are pretty to look at and parents can rest assured that their kid – any kid – is getting some of the nutrients they need.



Family Matters: Friends and Family


When you think about friends and family, some people may consider them separate, but to many of us, our friends are part of our family.  We all have people in our lives who are more than just a friend; they are sometimes even closer to us than some of our own family.  When you find that special friendship, it is something that you cherish and hold tight too.  

As years pass, we find ourselves in situations we thought we would never see ourselves in and face things that seem impossible.  It may be something with a spouse, a child, our health, church, work or life in general.  It is during these times that we rely on our friends to pick us up, dust us off and help us put one foot in front of the other and make some sense out of what has happened.  If you stop and think, for just a moment, you can remember a time when one of your friends did this exact thing for you.  Think now…have you done that same thing for them?  It is great to have a friend, but even more so to be that special friend to someone else. 

A friend is someone who helps you move forward when you think it is not possible, gives you a hug, a shoulder to cry on, listens when you talk, believes in you when others don’t, and someone that no matter what, is there to support you in any situation.  Most importantly, a friend is someone who will pray for you daily, pray with you when you need it and gives thanks for you and what you mean to them.  We are blessed with extraordinary friendships during our lifetime and it is up to us, not to take them, for granted.  Having a special friend(s) is a true gift from God. 

Focus on your friends and family. It is time well spent and most rewarding.  Count your blessings daily and give thanks for the time you are given with them.  

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