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Family Matters: Taking care of your cat


Does your cat like to use your couch – or your drapes, or your favorite pillow – as a claw-sharpening device? If so, you may have considered declawing him or her. But before resorting to surgery, you should know that declawing a cat is somewhat of a controversial issue within the veterinary community, and you may be able to alter your cat’s behavior with a few simple purchases and/or behavior modifications. 

The American Veterinary Medication Association, the non-profit association representing U.S. veterinarians, recommends that domestic cats should be declawed only after the owners have tried to keep the cat from using his or her claws destructively. Scratching is a way for cats to mark their territory, groom and stretch, and it’s normal behavior in a healthy kitty. 

Some veterinarians feel that declawing is unnecessarily painful and may change a cat’s personality and behavior. They argue that declawed felines may feel defenseless and may be more likely to mark (urinate on) their territory, avoid contact with others or become aggressive and change their pattern of vocalization (growling, hissing, or increased crying). 

On the other hand, other experts feel that declawing a young kitten will be less traumatic, because young animals are smaller and have less weight to carry on their feet after surgery. They’ll experience less pain and heal more quickly than full-grown animals, and seem to be less affected personality-wise by the surgery. And, some even feel that even adult cats can be declawed without a permanent change in personality. 

If you have a cat with a destructive clawing problem, first consult your veterinarian for advice. But here are some steps to try: 

  • Provide a few “safe” places for your cat to scratch. This might be a cardboard box, a carpet remnant, an old pillow or quilt, or a commercially produced scratching post. For best results, attach the scratchable material to a fixed object, like a wall or post. 
  • Trim your cat’s claws every couple of weeks. This removes the urge in the cat to “groom” its claws, and prevents damage to furniture AND people. You can purchase clippers specially designed for cats. 
  • Give your cats plenty of toys and affection, to keep them from being bored and looking for activity.  
  • Make their favorite scratching spots unappealing. You can spray these spots with a scratch deterrent. These are often herbal- or citrus-scented, and cats don’t like the smell. Or place some double-sided tape or sticky contact paper over the spot your cat frequents.  
  • Use behavior modification: Praise and treat your cat (with liver treats or another favorite goodie) when the cats uses an approved scratching spot. To prevent the cat from using the old favorites, some experts suggest keeping a spray bottle filled with water handy, and squirting it in the cat’s general direction when it appears headed toward a forbidden scratch spot.


Family Matters: Packing a healthier lunch


What’s in your child’s school lunch? More people – including British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver – have been asking that question lately, hoping to encourage parents and schools to give children a more nutritious mid-day meal.

The best way to influence your child’s lunchtime habits, of course, is to pack it yourself. But how do you pack a healthier lunch and end up with something they’ll actually eat, and not toss in the trash, so they’re ready for an afternoon of learning, playing and growing? Get started here:

Get kids involved in planning: If your children go along when you do the grocery shopping, let them select some or all of their lunch components. (This works best, obviously, if you narrow down their choices first to just a few choices, so you don’t spend all day in the store.) If they don’t accompany you, ask for their requests before you head to the store. Again, this works best if you have a list of good choices to start from.

Get the proper packaging: Since kids don’t have access to microwaves or refrigerators, a small investment in thermal containers and coldpacks is worth it. It will allow much more creativity in lunch-packing – soups, pastas, cool desserts – and more importantly, it will keep cold and hot foods safe and appetizing to eat.

Pack ahead: Mornings are a rush job in most households. If you only have two minutes to throw lunch together, it’s far too easy to rely on leftover pizza and a bag of chips. Instead, pack the night before, right after dinner, before you’ve cleaned up the kitchen. Make it a family project; older kids can make their own lunches while you load the dishwasher, or younger ones can help pull out lunch components  with your supervision.

Make simple substitutions, and phase them in gradually: You don’t have to make drastic changes, at least not right away. A few small substitutions will get you on the way to healthier lunches fast. For instance, substitute yogurt-covered raisins, trail mix, or plain dried fruit for candy. Use mustard or fat-free mayo instead of full-fat mayonnaise or sandwich spread. Send pretzels or carrots with ranch dressing instead of chips; lean turkey instead of fatty pepperoni or bologna on a sandwich.

Experiment a little: We all tend to end up in a lunch rut. Get away from the sandwich-chips-fruit combo. Why not hummus and pita chips, or bean dips and baked tortilla chips, or even a container of edamame? Make that sandwich on pita bread, a whole-wheat bagel, or a tortilla. Try a Greek yogurt cup instead of pudding.

Allow the occasional surprise treat: Nobody can be perfect all the time, so it’s fun for kids to discover the occasional unexpected treat. A fun-size candy bar, a small bag of chips, a cookie – anything that’s school-approved should be included at least once in a while, to mix things up and remind kids that moderation is the goal.



Family Matters: National Children’s Dental Health Month


According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, as many as half of all children will be affected by tooth decay by the time they turn 5 years old. Tooth decay starts as soon as your baby’s teeth begin to appear – so it’s important to start proper dental hygiene as soon as your baby starts teething. 

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry encourages parents to have a “dental home” by their baby’s first birthday. But there are things you can do at home to maintain your baby’s beautiful, healthy smile. 

  • After feeding your baby, wipe his or her teeth with a soft damp towel or brush them with a soft toothbrush. When bacteria in your mouth comes in contact with sugar, it produces an acid that can produce tooth decay, so it’s especially important after any meal containing sugars, even “good” sugars like fruit. 
  • One of the biggest causes of tooth decay is putting your baby to bed with a bottle. Don’t do it! The peace and quiet now could result in dental problems later on. Also, avoid giving your toddler sugary drinks, like juice, lemonade and soda, in his or her sippy cup.  
  • Calcium, along with plenty of vitamin D, will help your children’s teeth stay strong and their gums stay healthy. The majority of Americans get most of their calcium from milk and milk products. Current dietary guidelines recommend consuming low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products to reach the proper levels of calcium. Children ages 2 to 4 should consume 2 cups of these products; children ages 4 to 8 should consume 2 1/2 cups; and children 8 and up should get 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. Because our bodies need Vitamin D to properly absorb calcium, look for products that are Vitamin D enhanced, too. 
  • Fluoride plays an important role in keeping tooth enamel hard. Most Americans, including babies and toddlers, now get plenty of fluoride from fluoridated water. However, if your family’s water is not fluoridated, or you drink bottled water, talk with your pediatrician or dentist about fluoride treatments or supplements. 

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, so there’s no better time than now to get on the right track with your baby’s dental care.



Family Matters: New Year’s resolutions


If your New Year’s resolutions to eat better and exercise more are already going by the wayside, here’s an idea: Enlist your family to help.

It will help you stay on track if everybody’s on the same routine. And chances are, they could use a little boost, too. About one-third of American children and teenagers are now overweight or obese, according to the American Heart Association. And even if your children do not have a weight problem now, the habits you help them learn in childhood will help them stay fit and healthy as adults.

Rethink meals:  An easy fix is to reduce fat where you can: Buy lean meats, more fresh fruits and vegetables, and low-fat milk. Cut back on fatty snacks. But that’s easier said than done, especially with kids in the house. Instead, look for healthier substitutes that everybody likes (“light” microwave popcorn instead of chips; yogurt instead of ice cream.) Try cutting the amount of meat you serve in half, replacing the empty space on the plate with whole grains, vegetables and fruit.

Revamp your cooking: Take the kids to the grocery store and let each one try one new “healthy” food – whole wheat pasta, maybe, or a different kind of apple. Rely on NuVal scores to make choosing healthier foods easier – these scores are listed right on the store shelves, and the closer the score is to 100, the better that food is for you. Make it a family mission to look for healthy recipes to try or ways to reduce fat and calories in family favorites. You can often reduce the amount of fat in a recipe by about ¼ without really noticing it at all. (This, however, does not apply to baking, where recipes are more precise.)

Cook together: It’s often stated that kids are more likely to try new foods that they have helped cook. But it’s also important for them to learn their way around in the kitchen, so they don’t rely on junk food and restaurants when they head off to college. It will also help them see just how much fat and sodium goes in some favorite dishes, and understand proper serving size. Since portion control is a big part of weight management, this is an important tool.

Get off the couch: Studies have shown that children tend to imitate their parents when it comes to exercise. So make it a family activity. Challenge them to an active video game – most kids will love beating their parents at Just Dance or Wii bowling. Dust off those bikes in the garage and go for a leisurely (or quick) spin. Look into family membership rates at the Y or another fitness facility; more gyms are now offering fitness classes even for younger children, to get them in the exercise habit early.

Get outside: Raking leaves, trimming hedges, mowing lawns, stacking firewood – all kinds of outdoors chores burn calories and give you a teachable moment about the value of hard work. (And you’ll save money if you’ve been paying a service to do these chores, too.) Or, even simpler: A simple walk around the block or in the neighborhood park costs nothing, and is a good time to catch up on everyone’s day.



Family Matters: Caring for kitty


Cats may seem like the perfect, low-maintenance pet. You give most cats plenty of fresh food and water, a clean litter box, and a couple cozy places to nap, and they are perfectly content.

But cats need health care too. Cats are somewhat less likely than dogs to be taken to the veterinarian annually, according to an AP-Petside.com poll, conducted last fall. So it’s even more important for owners to pay close attention to their cat’s weight, behavior and overall health, so you can catch any minor problems before they become bigger ones.

According to the experts at Nestle Purina Petcare, cats’ needs change over time faster than humans do. After all, since a cat’s average life expectancy is anywhere from 12-15 years, one human year translates into several cat years.

So they suggest owners pay attention to several facets of their cat’s health, to help maintain a long, happy life for your four-legged family member. (And, yes, if you’re a dog owner, these tips also apply to your canine friends!)

Weight-watching: Chubby kitties may look cute, but even an extra couple of pounds can create health problems for a cat. Ideally, a cat should have minimal abdominal fat and just a slight fat pad over their ribs.

Should your cat be a little pudgy, you can begin to control its weight by cutting back on any treats, especially if you have been slipping them forbidden people food, and making sure you are feeding the correct amount as directed by package instructions. If you’re already doing everything right, you might need to start feeding a cat food with less fat and/or fewer calories, such as Purina Cat Chow Indoor Formula or Purina ONE Healthy Weight Formula.

Energy level: Consider your cat’s daily routine. Yes, it may seem they sleep 23 hours out of 24, but the healthy cat also spends time playing. If yours seems sluggish, make sure you offer regular interaction. If the cat doesn’t have any interest in activity, especially those that it formerly enjoyed, consult a veterinarian.

Bad kitty: Cats that suddenly develop behavior problems, such as the occasional missed litter box incident, are most likely just bored. Add a new toy or two, and additional interaction, and see if that helps. However, behavioral problems can also be age-related or health-related.  Cats over age 7 should be switched over to a senior pet food formula, so they receive the nutrients they need for their age. Otherwise, you may want to consider a trip to the veterinarian, to rule out any health-related issues.



Family Matters: New Year…New You


As we celebrate the New Year, let us all take a few minutes to reflect on the past year and look ahead at what we want to accomplish this year. 

Whether you focus on marriage, family, friends, work, or life in general, there are things we can do (without much effort) that would make a difference in all of areas of our lives. 

Think about compassion, patience, generosity, respect, kindness, self-control, integrity, gratitude, faithfulness and, most importantly, love. 

When is the last time you showed compassion, had patience, expressed generosity, practiced respect, acted out of kindness, used self-control and upheld integrity?  What about showing gratitude, faithfulness and expressing love to others? 

Everyone likes to receive these types of things, but we ourselves often fall short of extending them to others on a daily basis.  There are no greater attributes we can teach our children or accomplish as a family than having a passion to make the world around us a better place to live.  We are all extended mercy and grace daily, and we receive blessings we never acknowledge.  

My prayer, for you and your family, is that you to find joy, hope and the courage to be different and to make a difference, in the lives of others this year. Count your blessings daily and give thanks for the time you have to share with your family. 



Family Matters: Beech-Nut Stage 2.5 baby foods


As every parent and grandparent knows, babies change so fast it’s hard to keep up, and it’s all completely on their own schedule. One week you’re elated when you catch a rare smile from your baby; then the next, she’s giving you belly laughs. One week, he can’t sit up on his own; in no time, he’s crawling and climbing. And you can never predict a baby’s development based on what his sister or brother achieved at the same age.

The same is true with your baby’s eating habits. Babies may seem to go almost instantly from breast milk or formula to solid foods, but as you probably know, learning to eat solid foods is a huge milestone for infants, best accomplished in small steps, and taken at the child’s own pace.

That is why Beech-Nut has expanded their “stages” of baby and toddler food, and has introduced a new “intermediate” stage of solids, Stage 2.5. The longtime baby-food maker now offers six stages, geared to the specific needs and likes/dislikes of babies and toddlers, from about 4-6 months to 24 months and up.

As you’d guess, Stage 2.5 foods are meant to be introduced after Stage 2 foods (fairly smooth foods, either single ingredient or simple combinations) and just before Stage 3 foods (more complex infant foods with slightly more texture.)

These Stage 2.5 foods are designed for babies who are ready for slightly more texture than the plainer Stage 1 and Stage 2 foods, and are intended to help babies explore more  complex, sophisticated flavors. The flavor combinations include a mixture of things your baby may have already tried and enjoyed, like apple and pears, with slightly more unusual flavors like zucchini and mango. To help babies’ sensitive palates adjust to the new flavors, Beech-Nut often combines the new flavor with at least one familiar one, so you get combos like apple, mango and carrot; banana and mixed berries; squash and apples; and sweet potato and zucchini.

Of course, exactly when and how you begin introducing solid foods to infants depends on their individual development, your feeding preferences, and your doctor’s advice. Beech-Nut recommends Stage 2 foods for babies 6 months and older, so they suggest you consider adding in the Stage 2.5 foods when your baby is about 8 months or so.

But aside from age, you can also judge your child’s readiness for Stage 2.5 by his or her behavior and development. You can give these foods a try when he or she eats most or all of the solid food offered at any given meal, and even indicates a desire for more; is beginning to have some success with self-feeding; is able to easily chew (or gum!) the foods you’ve already been feeding; and/or has begun sprouting teeth.



Family Matters: Tamales for Christmas!


One of my favorite Christmas memories is of a book my mother always read to us, Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto. Every year, my brother and I would look forward to hearing the story of Maria and the trouble she ran into when making tamales with her family for Christmas dinner. 

Actually, what my brother and I really looked forward to were the tamales themselves! That night, we would always get to eat some delicious, steaming hot tamales. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but tamales have been a Christmas tradition in Mexico and in American families of Mexican descent for many years. And, many other American families, like mine, have now made them part of their holiday traditions as well. 

Tamales are traditionally made of a corn meal, or masa, shell, holding a spicy meat filling. They are carefully wrapped up in a corn husk and then the whole thing is steamed, so the tamale comes out moist and hot. Traditionally, the filling is pork or chicken mixed with some chiles, but you can also find beef or even vegetarian versions. 

Why they have become a holiday tradition is a little less clear. My best guess, and one I’ve heard from others, is that making tamales is so much work, people only want to go to all the trouble if they’re serving them for a special occasion. Many families have an annual tamale-making day, set aside for several generations to share the labor of making enough tamales for the whole extended family. 

If you don’t have a family or friends to share the work, you can still enjoy this Christmas tradition. Just pick up a few dozen tamales at your neighborhood Brookshire’s. They’re already steamed and ready for you and your family to enjoy, so you don’t have to miss out on this wonderful Christmas tradition.

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Family Matters: Fireplace Memories and Cookout


Did you ever sit around the family fireplace talking and visiting during the cold winter months?  No television noise, maybe just some soft holiday music in the background. Quality time laughing with family and friends.  A time to share funny stories of things from the past or catch up on new exciting things just now happening.  You can turn off the lights and just sit around in the glimmering light and reflection of the open fire. 

You can drink hot chocolate or apple cider, snack on popcorn, peanuts and finger foods.  Some other fun things to do are roasting hot dogs in the fire place and making fresh s’mores over an open flame!  Memories in the making… 

Take a wire clothes hanger, untie the top and unfold it to a straight wire.  Then hold one end over the open fire for a few minutes to heat up the wire and get ready for cooking.  Take a hot dog and push the wire through the end a few inches and then hold over the open flame until it is cooked the way you like it.  You can go for slightly browned or almost black and crunchy…your preference – you are the cook! 

You can then use the clothes hanger to make delicious s’mores for dessert.  Take a large marshmallow and put on the end of the clothes hanger, hold it over the open flame and cook to perfection. Again, you can go for slightly roasted or black and crunchy…your preference.  Put the marshmallow between two graham crackers with a piece of chocolate bar (like a sandwich) and you have s’mores, warm and ready to enjoy. 

If you have a fireplace this is a wonderful way to spend cold days or evenings and what better way to spend quality time with friends and family. Count your blessings daily and give thanks for the time you share with them. 



Family Matters: Caring for new pets at the holidays


What child hasn’t wished for a new puppy or kitten for Christmas?

Although some experts discourage giving animals as gifts, the holidays can also be a great time to adopt a new pet as a family: The children are home from school, and many of us have extra vacation time, so we’ll be home more to attend to the needs of a new pet.

If your holiday plans include adopting a new family member of the four-legged variety, here are some ideas to help ease the transition during this very busy time of year.

Introduce gradually to other animals in the household. Ask your veterinarian for advice on the best way to introduce your new pet to older dogs or cats, especially if the existing pet has lived alone for some time, or if your pet doesn’t always get along with new animals. At a minimum, be prepared to feed the new and existing pets on opposite sides of the room or in different rooms altogether; provide a new litter box for any new cat; and provide separate sleeping arrangements, whether in a kennel or in a quiet, closed rooms. Never leave the new animal alone with other pets until you’ve had a chance to observe them together, preferably several times.

Avoid adopting new pets right during the busiest part of the holidays.  New puppies, especially, need almost as much attention as a baby for the first few weeks, and during house training. Cats may not adjust well to a new home if there is a lot of commotion, whether from decorations, lights or parties. So, if you expect lots of guests, or if you plan to leave town for part of the holidays, ask the breeder or the animal shelter if you can pick up the animal later in the holidays. If you’ve intended the animal as a gift for your children or spouse, you can provide a photo and some of the gear, like a leash, bowl, toys, and bed, so there is something to unwrap on the holidays itself.

“Puppy-proof” the house first. Consider which rooms you’ll allow the new pet into, and then set about making them safe for a new dog or cat. Until you know how much of a “chewer”  the puppy is, you’ll want to limit the dog’s access to just about anything – electrical cords, shoes, remote controls, throw rugs, pillows. Cats tend to be less potentially destructive, but you’ll also want to secure cords, drapery pulls and other items that could present a choking hazard. Check the placement of houseplants; they can be poisonous to animals. Finally, get plenty of toys, even just some old socks, so the new animal has plenty to keep its attention, and will be less likely to be destructive.

Make sure they have the proper diet. Kittens and puppies aren’t just little versions of adults; they have their own special dietary needs. Puppies, especially, grow very fast, and need extra nutrients to build muscle, bone and organs. You should feed puppy formula, preferably one that matches the size of your dog’s breed, until the puppy has reached about 90 percent of his or her expected adult weight. (For small dogs, this will occur by the time the dog is one year old; for larger breeds, it might take up to 18 months.) Kittens should be fed kitten formulas to support their growth, for at least the first nine months of life and preferably for one year.

Finally, even though it’s tempting, do not feed table scraps, even as a treat. It’s hard to break eating habits learned young, and too much human food contributes to pet obesity and other health problems. If you want to provide treats – which can be a great tool while training your puppy – choose those that are appropriate to your pet’s size and breed, and limit them to special rewards.



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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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