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Family Matters: “The Suzanne”

The months before my first son, Will, was born were some of the most stressful in my life. He wasn’t easy to get here, and I was worried sick for months that something bad was going to happen.

On top of that, I have a tendency to obsess when I am passionate about something, whether it’s working on a project, training for a race or becoming a mother. I am either all in or all out…nothing in between.

I read every baby book I could find, researching cribs, car seats, food, diapers and anything else I thought a mom needed to know to ensure success from day one.  But there is one thing I forgot to factor into my equation: Will was a real live baby – not what I came to call Handbook Baby.

Handbook Baby is the baby in all the parenting books who apparently follows a schedule, eats and burps on command and sleeps through the night from the time you bring him or her home from the hospital.

Handbook Baby does not exist, and all I could think was someone without children had to have written these books.

Little by little, I learned to recognize Will’s cues and figure out what he and I both needed to survive our first year together. For me, part of that meant he slept on my chest for the first three months, and right by me for the next nine.

I could not bear to hear his cry, and if it weren’t for the wisdom and experience of my dear friend, Suzanne, Will and I would have had many difficult late nights of tears…both of us.

Suzanne came over just after Will was born, bringing us a homemade apple pie and some advice that I use to this day when holding restless babies. In fact, among my friends, we came to call this calming move, “The Suzanne.” It isn’t a complicated move, but it works to quiet crying babies almost every single time.

Holding your baby, simply stand with your feet together. Take a step to the right with your right foot. Bring your left foot over to your right foot. Then bend at the knees, like you would to sit in a chair but not quite that far. Stand back up and repeat moves to the left. Back and forth.

There’s something about the rhythm of “The Suzanne” that is almost magical. I’ve seen babies quit crying in under a minute. It worked for Will – and his younger brother – again and again.

My sons are now teenagers and twice my size. It was a sad day for me when I realized I could no longer hold them. These days, I like to find a crying baby in a restaurant and ask the parent if I can hold the little one for a minute. Most of the time people will let me, and “The Suzanne” gets passed to another grateful family.

Family Matters: Baseball and Hot Dogs

Throughout the year there are two seasons I look forward to. The first one is without a doubt my favorite – Christmas. There’s just something magical in the cool, crisp Christmas air! The other season I look forward to is baseball season. I count down the days to when the gates swing open at the Ballpark in Arlington and the first pitch flies straight into the opponent’s strike zone.

I grew up with a love for baseball. After World War II my Poppy was a pitcher in a softball farm league. Growing up he would take my brother and I to what we called “the lot.” He would pitch ball after ball to us until we hit a game winning home run. When I started playing softball I was fortunate enough to be the pitcher and I knew it made my Poppy proud. To this day people still tell me what a great pitcher my Poppy was. I truly cherish the time we spent at the lot playing softball and I feel he is where I got my love for baseball.

Every year I anticipate going to the Ballpark in Arlington to watch a Rangers game.  The excitement of the fans all around you makes the experience worthwhile. The one thing that makes the trip to the ballpark outstanding is a juicy, ballpark hot dog. Having a hot dog while the warm, Texas sun is beaming down on you, the fans are cheering, and your team is winning makes the perfect package for a wonderful game. I was unable to watch the Ranger’s Opening Day victory, but that evening my family enjoyed a hot dog in honor of Opening Day. I know hot dogs are not the most nutritious choice of protein, but having one occasionally for a baseball game is just fine. Of course I used the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System when picking out which hot dog I would enjoy. This is what I discovered about NuVal hot dog scores:

Ballpark Beef Hot Dogs: NuVal Score 7
Oscar Mayer Beef Hot Dogs: NuVal Score 9
Jennie-O Turkey Hot Dogs: NuVal Score 12
Oscar Mayer Turkey Hot Dogs: NuVal Score 14
Ballpark Turkey Hot Dogs: NuVal Score 23
Hebrew National 99% Fat Free Beef Hot Dogs NuVal 23

We all know a hot dog is not complete without a bun. While scanning the buns this is what I found:

Mrs. Bairds Hot Dog Buns: NuVal Score 24
Sara Lee Heart Healthy Hot Dog Buns: NuVal Score 29
Nature’s Own Whitewheat Hot Dog Buns: NuVal Score 33

Hot dogs are fun treats for watching baseball on a Friday night or fireworks on Fourth of July!

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Family Matters: Duke to the rescue

Before my dog Duke came into my life, I wasn’t much of an animal lover. It’s not that I disliked dogs and cats; it’s just that I never understood the connection some people have with their pets. I kind of thought these people were crazy.

It all began when we were at a friend’s house watching the 2011 Super Bowl when my sons came running in and asked if I would come outside and see a dog that some neighbors had found but couldn’t keep. The boys begged me to consider taking him home with us. If I remember correctly the exact words were, “This dog is going to be put to sleep if we don’t take him with us, Mama! You don’t want to be known as the one who killed a dog, do you?”

No, I don’t want to be remembered as the dog killer, although at that moment I thought I might be a child killer if they kept trying to guilt me into a new dog. I went outside with the boys, telling them that there was no way we were adding more chaos to our already chaotic home.

And on top of that, the dog needing rescuing wasn’t a cute little lap dog. It was a 95-pound German Shepherd. All I could think was: Huge. Sheds. Eats. Kills on command.

At this point, I forgot I was the parent. I looked at the boys and said, “Have you lost your minds?”

The boys have a nickname for me: “The Changer-Minder.” I have a very hard time enforcing “no means no” when they either make me laugh or melt me with their sweet words and kisses.

And that was that. Somehow this big dog went home with us that night for a trial sleepover.

For the next couple of days, Duke and I spent a lot of time together. He turned out to be the sweetest, gentlest – and smartest – creature I had ever been around. He stayed by my feet all day as I worked. He followed me from room to room, and slept at the end of my bed every night, coming to my side of the bed several times a night to check on me.

Needless to say, Duke never left our home. Duke attached to me as his primary caregiver, always hovering and protecting and loving. There have been times he has done things at just the right time, in just the right way that I truly believe he has to be my angel.

I know, I know, I now sound like one of those crazy dog people, but I don’t care. It’s been a little over a year that we rescued Duke, but I’m pretty sure he has done most of the rescuing.

Family Matters: Our Camping Staycation

Our children never ask us what our plans are each spring break. They know that, in our home, spring break means one thing: Time to go camping!

It seems everyone else had the same idea we did because every state park nearby was full before I could make our reservation. I guess lots of folks enjoy camping in the great outdoors!

I did not want our camping tradition to be broken, so I decided we would just have to have a “camping staycation”— camping at home!

We spent Thursday night preparing the menus and grocery shopping for the weekend’s events. Friday night’s menu was grilled steak, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, rolls and our traditional s’mores for dessert. Saturday night was hamburger and hotdog night followed again with the kids’ favorite—s’mores! Sunday was a busy day – the perfect time to make taco soup in our slow cooker.

Each night, we sat outside at our picnic table and pretended we were camping in a state park. We live in the country with lots of critters running around, so it was easy to imagine!

One of our camping traditions is to watch scary movies at our camp site, so each night, I popped popcorn, and my husband set up a TV on the deck to make sure our scary movie nights continued. We turned off all of the outside lights, lit lanterns and built a fire in the outdoor fireplace.

Even though we didn’t actually go anywhere to camp out, our family had a great time during our own backyard “camping staycation!”

Slow Cooker Taco Soup 

1.5 Lbs ground beef
1 chopped onions
2 cans chopped tomatoes
1 can kidney beans
2 cans pinto beans
1 can chopped chilies
1 can corn
1 pkg taco seasoning mix
1 pkg ranch dressing mix

Brown ground beef with onions. Drain water from beans and corn. Place all ingredients in a slow cooker. Add 2-3 cups of water. Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.

Family Matters: Celebrity chef creates baby food

Now that I have teenagers, I look back and realize that things may not have been as difficult with my babies as I face now, but at the time, I worried myself to death about everything from how long my children would sleep each night to if I were giving them the best nutrition possible.

A child’s relationship with food begins earlier than you might think, and I did not want to create any stress or bad habits that might haunt them later on. I just wanted them to grow strong, be healthy, and learn to enjoy the pleasures of good food.

My first child was born 15 years ago, and honestly, there just wasn’t a lot on the market I felt really good about feeding him. And although I did make a lot of his baby food from scratch, hours in the kitchen were not a practical, long-term solution for my schedule – which of course only seemed to add stress and guilt to my list of new mom angst.

Thankfully, parents today have many great choices for giving their children the best possible start in life when it comes to creating a healthy food relationship. Some of these new choices have sprung to life because of to the popularity of cooking shows and celebrity chefs. We are paying more attention to how we cook and eat, and although some of it may not be only entertainment, chefs such as Tyler Florence are making a real difference.

“As a father, I’m always thinking about how I can get my children to eat healthy, even when time is an issue,” Florence states on the Sprouts website. “As a chef, I want to treat them to foods that are delicious, and create a good relationship with a variety of foods.”

Being the chef he is, he rose to the creative challenge and started the company, “Sprouts.” Sprouts is a 100 percent organic line of nutritious, delicious food options for young eaters, and Brookshire’s is proud to be carrying it now as part of our initiative to help our customers make healthier lifestyle choices.

We all know that obesity is on the rise in our country, and thanks to companies such as Sprouts, we can take the steps needed early in our children’s lives to instill good habits and delight in healthy eating.

Family Matters: Self-serve parfait bar

For birthday parties or a special after-school treat, kids love the fun of a make-it-yourself sundae bar. So why not steal the idea, but give it a healthier twist – and create a self-serve parfait bar. (After all, as Donkey famously said in the first Shrek, everybody loves parfaits!)

Grade-school kids can make these themselves, with a little supervision and prep work from you, and even younger kids can choose what toppings they want. You can make this work with just about any kind of non-citrus fruit, but berries, peaches and bananas seem to work the best. We’ve listed some treat ideas for toppings, but use your imagination. To keep it healthier, offer only a small amount of things like chocolate chips, and make sure there are plenty of better choices such as nuts and seeds.

For a shortcut, you can use pre-sweetened vanilla yogurt or honey yogurt, but I prefer plain. That way, you can control the amount and type of sweetener used.

Do-it-yourself yogurt parfait
Makes 2 parfaits

1 cup nonfat plain or Greek yogurt
2 Tbs honey or agave nectar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sliced fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, bananas, peaches, pineapple)
1/3 cup granola

Additional toppings, such as toasted coconut, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, graham cracker crumbs, chocolate shavings, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, chopped nuts

Combine yogurt, honey or agave nectar, and vanilla.

In an ice-cream sundae glass, or a medium-size clear plastic cup, place a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt. Layer with about one-quarter cup of fruit and a spoonful of granola. Repeat layers of yogurt, fruit and granola, ending with one small dollop of yogurt. Repeat to make second parfait.

Let each guest add choice of toppings. Serve immediately.

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Family Matters: Only Use Car for Emergency

The other weekend, my husband and I went out of town with some friends to hear Mat Kearney in concert at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas.

We had been planning the night away for months, which meant we had also painstakingly arranged for our boys to stay with friends while we were gone.

But as the date approached, our 15-year-old son decided he was old enough to stay home alone, and thus began his campaign to convince us that he indeed could handle any possible problem that could come his way.

I now know he is destined to be an attorney, God help him. I’ve never heard any trained lawyer more eloquently or determinedly develop a rational argument to explain why his or her side is the right one.

If only all attorneys approached their work with such determination and passion!

Well, either way, he wore us down. By Friday he convinced his father and I that he was up to the task. We decided this was one of those moments we needed to listen to him and give him an opportunity to be responsible. We didn’t tell him that we had every neighbor in a three-mile radius checking on him and checking in with us all night long.

I should also tell you we have a 100-pound German Shepherd who would kill anyone who tried to enter our home unannounced. So, all in all, we thought we were good to go.

Apparently, our 13-year-old son stopped in that night to get a change of clothes while the older one was still at baseball practice. When we got home the next morning, we found this note from the younger to the older on the kitchen counter:


And here all this time I was worried they would simply forget to brush their teeth and say their prayers.

All joking aside, my boys are great, and I don’t have to worry about these things in their lives just yet. But it’s a much harder world than when I was their age, so I think I will choose to be grateful for each day with no pot…or beer…or girls.

Parents are Gone Pepperoni Bread
(OK, you know as well as I do he ordered Domino’s. If I were home, we would have this homemade!)

12 Rhodes™ Dinner Rolls or 1 Loaf Rhodes™ Bread Dough, thawed & risen
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon parsley flakes
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
4 ounces sliced pepperoni
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

Spray counter lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Roll loaf or combined dinner rolls into a 12×18-inch rectangle. Combine butter with seasonings. Brush mixture on dough, reserving a small amount to brush on top later. Arrange pepperoni on top of seasoning mixture and sprinkle with cheese. Beginning with a long side, roll up dough jelly roll style. Tuck ends under and place, seam side down, on a large sprayed baking sheet. Using a sharp serrated knife cut several vents in the top. Brush with reserved seasoning mixture. Cover with sprayed plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Remove wrap and bake at 350°F 20-25 minutes.

Family Matters: Natural pet foods

When it comes to pet food, a big trend the last few years has been a growing consumer interest in more natural, wholesome pet foods. This makes a lot of sense: Many of us are more interested in eating more natural, organic, fresh foods, so why wouldn’t we want the same thing for our four-legged family members? And because pet obesity rates have been growing sharply, many of us have become more vigilant about watching exactly what is going in those food bowls.

One in five pet owners even admits to purchasing human foods to feed their pets, according to a recent national pet owner’s survey. But you don’t have to go that route: More companies are responding to the demand for healthier pet foods by developing natural, high-quality foods and treats.

Check out some of these wholesome options, available at most Brookshire’s stores, unless noted otherwise:

Freshpet:  This company uses high-protein meats and eggs, real grains and veggies, and no byproducts or artificial preservatives in its dog and cat foods. Its philosophy is that pets benefit from eating fresh, minimally processed foods, just like humans do. These refrigerated foods include Freshpet Select slice-and-serve rolls, Home-style cups, prepared Roasted Meals for dogs and cats, and Dog Joy treats. Available at select Brookshire’s and Super 1 Foods, plus FRESH by Brookshire’s.

Nurture Heavenly Harvest Holistic Dog Food: This food is notable for what they do use – healthy natural grains, veggies, fruit and herbs – as well as what they don’t. (No corn, wheat or soy meal; no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or excess water.) Developed for owners interested in a healthier, holistic lifestyle for their pets, the natural food includes a unique vegetable and herb blend that promotes digestion, plus natural antioxidants that assist in the aging process.

Purina ONE Beyond: Dog kibble and cat food with real meat, whole grains, and all-natural nutrient and whole grains, to provide all-natural nutrients. Keeping with the natural theme, Purina has adopted several sustainable practices in making this food. For instance, it comes in packages made from 92 percent renewable materials, printed entirely with vegetable-based soy inks, which are also more renewable than other inks.

Milkbone Healthy Favorites: These biscuits are made with real beef, rolled oats, flaxseed and carrots, but no corn, soy or artificial preservatives.  Corn and soy can cause allergic reactions or digestive issues in some dogs, even in small amounts as they’d get in a treat, so this may be a healthier option for your pet.

Family Matters: Birthdays and Bombs

In our home, birthday mornings begin early with stacks of pancakes and presents piled on our kitchen table. Our son Will’s five-year-old birthday morning began this way — September 11, 2001.

It was still early when the phone rang, and I remember asking Will to come answer it, thinking his grandparents were calling to wish him a happy birthday. A good friend was on the other end, and she said, “I know you don’t watch much TV, but you need to turn it on. Right now.”

And that was that.

My husband and I shielded Will and his younger brother from the day’s horrific events. I tried hard to appear calm, but inside I was freaking out. My mothering instincts went into overdrive, and I kept the boys home from preschool in case something else horrible was coming our way. I’m not sure what I could have done to protect them, but I wanted them under my wings.

Do you know how surreal it was to spend that day on a golf course with two giggly toddlers, hitting golf balls, doing somersaults, and drinking lemonade, while continually checking the sky? God knows what I expected to see.

What I did see that day — what the whole world saw — was widespread destruction and death. The death of many innocent people. The death of feeling safe on our own soil. And the death of beliefs we assumed were sacred and, therefore, untouchable.

It’s impossible for us to ever again feel as free now as we did before September 11. The same feeling happens when you lose someone you love; life’s rose-colored glasses shatter, and your life becomes marked in terms of that one single event. Pre-divorce. Post-cancer. And now, post-9/11.

But we don’t need those glasses anymore to see what we need to see. In fact, we might even see better. Until 9/11, the values we held close to our hearts were just part of an assumption of a way of life. You’re not supposed to wake up in America and wonder if a bomb is going to drop in your backyard.

Everything has shifted, and yet nothing has changed.

Many birthdays have thankfully passed since that day, and we still sit at our table to open presents and eat pancakes. We laugh, love and give thanks for the time we have…today.

Birthday Blueberry Pancakes

2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups Food Club buttermilk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Nonstick cooking spray
1 cup fresh blueberries (or other berry, chocolate chips, nuts)
Maple syrup, as desired

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs on medium speed until frothy. Add flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla. Stir just until the batter is smooth, being careful not to overmix.

Heat an electric griddle or skillet to medium-high heat. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Ladle 1/3 cup batter onto the griddle for each regular-sized pancake. Scatter 1 tablespoon of blueberries or other mix-in over each pancake. Cook until the top is bubbly and the batter is set, about 90 seconds. Carefully flip pancakes with a spatula and cook 2-3 minutes more. Continue with remaining batter. (Hint: To keep pancakes warm while cooking, heat your oven to 200°F and place cooked pancakes on a baking sheet in the oven, tented with foil.)

Serve with butter and warmed maple syrup. Makes enough for 4 hungry people.

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Family Matters: MyPlate

March is one of my favorite months because it’s National Nutrition Month. Today, with 17% of children from ages 2 to 19 years old classified as obese, it’s more important than ever to take advantage of this annual observance, and resolve to teach our children more about nutrition.

And teaching kids about nutrition is getting easier. Last summer, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) replaced the nutrition icon that many of us grew up on – MyPyramid – with a new one, MyPlate.

MyPlate is super-easy for children to understand. It provides a visual representative of a balanced diet based on the 2010 Dietary Guideline for Americans. MyPlate is divided into the 5 food groups; fruit, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.

Fruit and veggies: The USDA suggests half your plate should be filled with nutritious fruits and vegetables. This could be a 1/2 cup of cranberry juice at breakfast, an orange at lunch and a half cup of sliced apples at dinner. Have a sweet tooth? End each meal with a piece of fruit. For many families, vegetables can be a harder sell – it’s harder to find veggies that kids will like, and they’re often more work for parents to prepare. But don’t be discouraged – frozen and canned vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh, and a lot easier for busy families to fit into their meal plan.

Grains: One-fourth of your plate should be made up of grains. This can be a 1/2 cup of cooked pasta, 1 cup of dry cereal or a slice of bread. Half of your grains should be whole grains. Look for products with whole wheat, brown rice, bulgur, buckwheat, oatmeal, whole grain cornmeal, whole oats, whole rye or wild rice as the first ingredient; this ensures you’re getting a whole grain.

Protein: The remaining fourth of your plate is reserved for protein. Protein is not only steak and chicken, but also nuts, seeds, peanut butter and beans. Meat, poultry and fish should be 2 to 3 ounces or the sizes of a deck of cards. Other protein options are 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or 1/2 cup cooked beans.

Dairy: Off to the side of the plate is a place for your nice, cold glass of low-fat or fat-free milk. You can replace the cup of milk with a cup of yogurt or 1 1/2 ounces of low-fat natural cheese. (Sour cream fan? Replace it with plain, low- fat yogurt).

With the new MyPlate icon, kids can easily visualize what a healthy diet is supposed to look like. As you’re planning meals, get them to discuss how to make the meal fit that pattern, and encourage them to come up with healthy foods they like that will balance out the plate. And soon, helping them eat better will be a piece of cake…or, make that a piece of fruit.

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