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Family Matters: Italian Soda


Italian SodaBring your family back to the table for dinner, Italian style. September 22 is National Family Day, focusing on bringing families together, especially around the dinner table. This month, we are celebrating Italian style with Italian meals. Even if you just make a big pot of spaghetti and garlic bread, your kids will love helping you make these sweet cream sodas to top off your meal together. 

Mealtime is family time in Italy so let your child take part in the family’s Italian feast with this easy recipe for Chocolate Italian Cream Soda. Rich and creamy, this quick and simple soda serves as a refreshing drink or dessert that’s great with your family’s Italian favorites. Fill a glass three-quarters full of ice. Pour a half cup of club soda into the glass, followed by three tablespoons of chocolate syrup and two tablespoons of half-and-half; stir. Top with whipped cream and enjoy!

Buon Appetito!



Family Matters: Back to School


Back to SchoolIt’s inevitable that summer vacation draws to an end and a new school year begins. It’s also inevitable that I spend the last week of summer vacation wistfully thinking about the passage of time and what we accomplished – or didn’t – over summer break.

In the “win” column for this summer is the 100-Mile Challenge. We have a 1.2 mile loop in our neighborhood that I’d deemed safe enough for the boys to ride their bikes, or walk or jog around. They had to complete approximately 83 revolutions to finish 100 miles this summer. They did it!

Another win is the Summer Story book. In May, I wrote a paragraph in a spiral-bound notebook and handed it to my older son. He added a paragraph, continuing the story I’d started, and he passed it to the younger son who contributed his part. It came back to me and we continued that all summer, ending up with a hilarious short story penned in our own handwriting.

The Mystery Bag was another fun summer game. Every Wednesday, I left a project of sorts in a large gift bag on the kitchen table for the boys to find when they woke up. One week, it was an experiment on what happens when you put Ivory soap in the microwave. Another week, it was materials for each boy to construct their own board game. They loved to see what Wednesdays were going to hold.

Now in the “fail” category: I logged onto the middle school website two weeks before school began to print out the school supply list. Looking for the school supply list, I found a PDF file called “Summer Reading List.” Uh, we hadn’t DONE any summer reading, nor did I even know about it until right that minute. When I told my son he had to read two books – and summarize each chapter – before school began, the meltdown that ensued was of epic proportions. I’d like to report he finished two books. He didn’t. He didn’t even make it through the first one, although he read and journaled diligently every day. It just didn’t work out. Next year, I’ll know to look early.

All in all, it was a great summer and we’re all ready for the new school year. 



Family Matters: Never Too Old for Story Time


ReadingMom, will you read me a bedtime story? Cherish these words spoken from your child because they will not say them forever. My daughter Grace is now twelve and we are long past the bedtime stories.

The other day I was reading an article (nothing I haven’t really read before) about the more you read to your children, the more they will enjoy reading and the better readers they will be. I thought about Grace and how reading and spelling are not her favorite subjects in school and thought for a moment, maybe I should go back to reading her bedtime stories. I finished reading the article and didn’t think too much about this anymore.

Later that same night, I tucked Grace in bed like I usually do, kissed her on the forehead and said good night. As I was walking out of her bedroom, I heard those familiar words once again. Mom, will you read me a bedtime story? Did she just say what I think she said? My 12-year-old just asked me to read her a bedtime story! I am a woman of faith, so I believe the Lord was looking down at me with a wink in his eye and saying here is your opportunity. What are you going to do with it?

We have been reading together every night for the past two weeks. This is a special time that we both look forward to and one that I am going to cherish. Don’t miss out on opportunities to seize the moment with your family. Count your blessings and give thanks for those special moments.

 



Healthy Living: Back to School


When I was younger, I would start getting excited about the back-to-school season around the end of July. I loved going to the store with my parents to pick out the coolest school supplies, the most fashionable clothes and the most delicious snacks for my lunch box. 

I remember once school started my dad would get up early every morning to make my lunch. Some days I would get a turkey and cheese sandwich, and other days I would get my favorite, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My favorite part of my dad making my lunch was that each day my sandwich would be cut into a different shape. I loved opening my lunch box to see what kind of design was cut into my sandwich.  

If your kids love PB&J sandwiches, I highly suggest trying this recipe: PB&J sushi rolls. It’s easy to make and it brings variety to your kid’s lunch.

PB&J sushi rolls

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:
4 slices whole wheat bread, crust removed
1/4 cup jam
1/4 cup peanut butter

Directions
Press down on bread to flatten. Spread about 1 tablespoon of jam and peanut butter on each slice of bread. Starting at one edge, slowly roll the bread tightly. Slice into rolls about 2 inches wide, cleaning the knife between each cut to separate rolls neatly.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 220, Fat: 9 g (2 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 213 mg, Carbohydrates: 29 g, Fiber: 3 g, Protein: 8 g



Family Matters: Hand-Me-Downs


I don’t know about your family, but our kids love to get “hand-me-downs.” It is getting new things without the hassle of shopping and it costs nothing…what could be better! When we get a bag of hand-me-downs from a friend, our girls put it in the middle of our living room and tear through the bag to see what fits and what looks good on them, and then they claim it as their own. Of course in a house where three of the girls wear the same size clothes, nothing is really ever your own, but it feels good at the moment to think it is all yours!

Our family takes all of our hand-me-downs to a local clothes closet that benefits less fortunate families.  We can take clothes, shoes, toys or anything that is still in good shape and donate it to be used for the good of others. We have a saying at our house: “Your hand-me-downs can raise someone else up.” This means that something we can no longer use or wear can be given to someone who is in need, and it will bring them comfort and a sense of joy. What is more rewarding than knowing you are helping others by just giving — something that cost you nothing? 

Don’t throw good, used clothing away for there is always someone who can benefit from items that your kids have outgrown. If you can’t find a local charity that takes used clothing, I promise there is some friend with kids that would love to have them, just ask. Rule of thumb: don’t donate items that have holes in them or stains (things that your kids would not wear).  When you want to raise someone else up, make your hand-me-downs something they will be proud to wear. A great time to do this is right before your kids go back to school. If they are like mine, they grow out of everything by the next school year. Clothes and shoes are expensive so this is a great way to teach your kids how to give to others.

Count your blessings daily, and give thanks to the Lord for the time you have to share with your family and the opportunities you have to raise others up!



Family Matters: Chocolate Dipped Cherries


What’s better than chocolate and cherries? How about cherries dipped in chocolate! Don’t let the season come and go without dipping some beautiful ripe cherries in chocolate. There is really no skill required to make these fun, kid-friendly treats.

My daughter and I look forward to cherries being in season. I buy them weekly for us to snack on or to make a fresh tart cherry pie! This week when I buy cherries, I’m going to let my daughter make these adorable and delicious chocolate dipped cherries. She will love making them, and this will allow us some quality mom and daughter time in the kitchen.

Chocolate Dipped Cherries

Finely chop one pound milk, white or dark chocolate. Combine three-quarters of the chocolate and two teaspoons shortening in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring, until chocolate is melted; stir in the remaining chocolate until smooth. Dip fresh cherries by the stems into the chocolate, add festive sprinkles and set on parchment or wax paper. Let harden at room temperature.

Enjoy and have fun in the kitchen with your pint-sized little one!



Family Matters: Blended Families


My boys have a mom. And a dad.

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

And you know what? It’s great.

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

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

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

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

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

Put the kids first.

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

Put the kids first.

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

Put the kids first.

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

Put the kids first.

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



Family Matters: Salad Sandwhiches


Recently, my boys’ father shared with me that he’d woken up one Saturday morning to sounds coming from the kitchen.

He got up to investigate because usually the boys will just play a video game or wake us parents when they get up.

Not this time. He found our younger son in the kitchen, preparing “breakfast” for the family. He knows better than to try to use the stove without adult supervision, so he was improvising with things he found in the fridge and pantry.

Spread out on the kitchen counter was his creation – Salad Sandwiches. Ingredients: Bread, lettuce and tomato.

He was so excited about making breakfast for the family that they went with it, modifying his creation only slightly to add bacon and make BLTs.

It got me thinking: I should give the boys a little more freedom in my own kitchen. They usually get to each choose one meal per week, but I execute it. Maybe I should just let them have at it and let their imaginations run wild. They’d probably actually eat what they made, too.

Win/win.



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.



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