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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.



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: 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: 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: 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.



Healthy Living: Kid Friendly Energy Bars


It’s right in the middle of soccer season and we have a tournament coming up this weekend. That means a 7:30 a.m. game in a town an hour away.

The early game is the first of three on Saturday and probably one of five for the weekend, unless we lose on Saturday, of course.

My 9-year-old son plays in a pretty competitive league and he’s a pretty competitive kid. In other words, he’ll play his heart out in all his games.

All the parents take turns providing snacks for the after the games, and I have snack duty after that first, early game Saturday.

I’m going to make these energy bars so the boys get off on the right foot and have stamina for the rest of the day. Each bar has six grams of protein and only 12 grams of sugar.

These would also be good for Halloween, in place of candy, for kids that you know.

Kid Friendly Energy Bars
Makes 20 bars

Ingredients:
2 cups oats  
1/2 cup almonds
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/4 cup sun dried apricots
1/2 cup granola
1/2 cup honey
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla

Directions:
Toast the oats and almonds under a low broiler, allowing them to begin to turn a light golden brown before removing. Set aside to cool.

Combine apricots, cherries, currants, and blueberries in a food processor. Pulse to mince, being careful not to allow it to paste up.

Add minced dried fruit, oats, almonds, and sesame seeds to a large bowl and mix well. I use my hands to gently roll the mixture, getting the dried fruit to separate from itself and blend with the oats. 

Bring 1/2 cup of water to a boil in a small sauce pan. Add the 7-grain cereal, stir thoroughly, and remove from heat. Allow it to rest in the pan for 2 minutes. Add peanut butter, honey, salt, and vanilla to the pan and return to a medium low heat, stirring frequently, for about 7 minutes. You want the mixture warmed throughout and well combined. The mixture will begin to glisten and roll off the sides as you stir it. Do not overheat the mixture, as you will need to be able to handle it.

Add the peanut butter mixture to the oat mixture and combine thoroughly. Work it with your hands to combine well.

Firmly press the mixture into a 8×8 glass baking dish. Don’t be shy about it. You want to compress it into the bottom of the dish so that the top becomes level. I use a flat metal spatula. Allow the dish to rest at room temperature for two hours or longer. The longer you wait, the firmer the bars will be when you cut them.  Cut into bars and enjoy. The bars should be firm enough to retain shape, but will give to pressure.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 232; Calories from Fat: 75; Total Fat: 8 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 114 mg; Total Carbohydrate: 34 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 12 g; Protein: 6 g



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