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Family Matters: I Spy Bottles


I love the games “I spy” and “Where’s Waldo.” So do my kids.

Countless hours have been spent searching for the guy in the red-and-white-striped shirt. More countless hours have been spent in check-out lines and airport queues playing “I spy” to distract my boys from interminable minutes with nothing else to do. 

So when I read that you could make “I Spy” bottles, I rushed to develop them for some little friends I know (my kids were too big at that point and entertained themselves in line with electronics).

The varieties on these are limitless, so use your imagination!

I Spy Bottles

Materials:

Plastic water bottles

10-20 Small objects or charms for each bottle, craft pellets Or birdseed, rice, sand, salt, sugar, plastic pellets, lentils, or small pasta
Super Glue or other strong-holding glue
Ribbon (optional)

Directions:

Make sure you have a clean, dry, plastic bottle with the label removed.

Take a photo (this step is optional) of the items that will be placed in the bottle. This can be printed and attached to the bottle as a reference card.

Pour some of the filler material in the bottle. Then drop some of the objects in the bottle. Repeat until all the items are in the bottle. Only fill the bottle about 3/4 full. The objects need room to mix around and move.

Glue the lid in place with strong glue.

Decorate with a ribbon (optional) or if you didn’t take a photo of the objects, type a list and attach it with ribbon or string around the neck of the bottle.

Once the glue is dry, children can gently shake and rotate the bottle to try to find the objects.



Family Matters: Baby


As I sit down to write this blog, my son is celebrating his 11th birthday. 

Eleven years old.

I can’t really remember where the past 11 years have gone.

I also can’t remember where I got the idea for the tradition of the Birthday Chair.

Each year, in the dark hours before the birthday boy wakes up, the Birthday Chair is born.  It started with balloons fastened to a high chair for a 1-year-old to bat around with cake-smeared hands. When the boys were toddlers, they were bent on dismantling the Birthday Chair moments after waking up; not on purpose, but that’s just what toddlers do. 

The Birthday Chair is usually decorated with balloons – we used to have one balloon per year of age, but 11 balloons didn’t fit on the chair when I was decorating it last night. Some years it’s festooned in crepe paper matching the theme colors of the birthday party. One year it was Batman crepe paper for a child particularly captivated by the Dark Knight. One year the crepe paper ribbons and balloons were all primary colors to match the bounce house rented for the occasion.  One year I made a fabric cover for the back of the chair in festive birthday fabric. 

No matter how it’s decorated, the Birthday Chair is always the place of honor for the birthday boy, until the crepe paper wears off days later and the balloons pop (or are spirited away for balloon wars). 

The past few months leading up to this 11th birthday have been an exercise in all things being too babyish for my fifth grader. I wondered how he’d react to the Birthday Chair this morning, as I never quite know what will set off an episode of “THIS IS TOO BABY!!!” 

“Mom, make sure I always have a birthday chair,” he said. 

And I will.



Family Matters: A Touch of Strawberry


Our family loves strawberries and we are always looking for new ways to prepare them.   We experiment to see how they taste in different recipes or prepared with different toppings.   Our favorite recipe is for Strawberry Bread…it is delicious for breakfast, snack time or a bedtime treat.  

You can heat a slice in the microwave and add a little butter – my husband’s favorite thing to do!  A friend shared this recipe with me back in 1986, and I have been making it ever since.  It is a family tradition each year to bake loaves of the Strawberry Bread and give as gifts to close friends, teachers, and serve at family gatherings.   If you enjoy strawberries, this is a must try recipe!

Strawberry Bread

Ingredients:
2 cups Sugar
4 Eggs Beaten
1 1/4 cup Vegetable Oil
3 cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Soda
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 cup Chopped Pecans (optional)
2 – 10 oz. Strawberries

Directions:
Mix sugar, eggs and oil well and then add strawberries.  Sift together flour, soda, salt and cinnamon and then add to the mixture.  Add nuts (optional) and stir together until moist.  Put in greased and floured loaf pan.  Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees.  After it is cooled sprinkle top with a little powdered sugar (optional). 

When strawberries are in season, it is nice to use fresh strawberries mashed up in place of the frozen.  Also, you can bake it in a Bundt pan for a fancy look and it is a great party item.  

Take time and try this bread recipe – time in the kitchen with your kids is an opportunity to talk and bond with them.  It may become a family tradition that you can pass on for generations to come as I have with my girls.  Count your blessings daily and give thanks for the time you share with your family!      



Family Matters: Family goes far deeper than bloodlines


Sometimes being a family doesn’t’ mean you’re related by blood. Sometimes it means that you’re there for someone else, through thick and thin, no matter what. 

Although my family would do anything, at any time for me, they live far away, but I’m blessed – and blessed is the only word for it – to have several close friends nearby who I consider as much my family as my flesh and blood. 

We’ve seen each other through divorces, job losses, ailing, aging parents, a cancelled wedding, countless boyfriends, children troubles, children triumphs, a new baby and several new places to live. We’ve helped each other move, we’ve painted bedrooms, we’ve held garage sales together and taken trips together. We’ve taken a few of us to the emergency room and gone to birthday parties and celebrations for our children. It’s quite fair to say we’ve done a lot of laughing, a little crying, a ton of talking and texting and phone calling. We’ve been irritated with each other and we’ve spoken our minds, but at the end of the day, we’re still so much like sisters it’s… yes, a blessing. 

Every Thursday is Girls Night Out. We get together, usually at the same place, and wrap up the week. The food is fabulous and the conversation is even better. I love our weekly tradition and I love the women who are my family, when my flesh and blood is far away.

Family goes far deeper than bloodlines. Family goes straight to the heart. 

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Family Matters: Keeping your pet warm in the winter


The weather outside can be frightful, but your pet still needs to go outside to potty.

Or, if your dogs are like mine, they spend the majority of their time during the day while I’m at work outside playing (and digging…).

It’s essential your outdoor – or indoor – pet stays warm in the winter. For animals that are spending time outside, whether just during the day or all the time, they need shelter that protects them from wind, rain and snow. A place that is small and well insulated, for the pet’s own body heat to keep the temperature up. You can even use hay and blankets to keep shelters or doghouses nice and cozy. For inside pets, soft, warm places to snooze are a must, especially if you have tile, stone or wood floors instead of carpeting. Older pets, especially, will snuggle into thick beds with egg-crate-type padding. Older pets are extremely susceptible to cold, so think about a warm sweater or wrap for your older pet as well.

Don’t forget about food and water. With freezing temperatures, water bowls freeze as well. Make sure your pet has a fresh supply of non-frozen water to drink during the day. Some retailers even offer heated bowls to help keep your pet hydrated.

In the coldest of colds, use caution when starting your car if you are a cat owner. Cats notoriously creep into car engines to stay warm.

If your pet goes out to potty, you might want to consider pet shoes or booties to keep his paws protected from snow and ice. Just be sure to ask him to wipe his feet before he comes back inside.

Finally, if at all possible, bring your pets inside as often as you can!



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.



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The products mentioned in “Share, the Brookshire’s Blog” are sold by Brookshire Grocery Company, DBA Brookshire’s . Some products may be mentioned as part of a relationship between its manufacturer and Brookshire’s.

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