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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



Family Matters: Melted Witch Parfait


This month, to celebrate Halloween, we’re making a parfait that uses pudding, crushed chocolate sandwich cookies and orange sprinkles to create a spookie and yummy colored treat.

Top it off with a handmade witch’s hat, and you have a dessert all your friends will want to try! 

WHAT YOU WILL NEED:

• Food Club Vanilla Pudding Cups
• Orange Nonpareils Or Orange Sugar Sprinkles
• Food Club Chocolate Sandwich Cookies, Crushed
• Black Construction Paper
• Scissors
• Glue
• Spoons
• Glass Parfait Dishes Or Plastic Cups 

Step 1

Spoon in pudding

Place vanilla pudding, orange sprinkles, another layer of pudding and crushed sprinkles one at a time in a parfait glass. 

Step 2

Layer with extras

Add sprinkles on the next layer against the side of the glass, another layer of pudding, then a layer of crushed Food Club Sandwich Cookies. Alternate layers until they reach the top and place a spoon in the parfait. 

Step 3

Cut, roll & glue cone

To make the top of the witch’s hat, cut 2 1/2-inch circle out of black construction paper, roll into cone shape and glue sides to adhere. 

Step 4

Glue cone to circle

For the hat’s base, cut out a 2-inch circle out of black construction paper. Cut two 1/2-inch slits in the middle of the circle. Glue cone to 2-inch circle to cover up the 1/2-inch slits. Dry and top the hat onto the spoon handles.



Healthy Living: Back to School Peanut Butter Yogurt Dip


School has started and once again I face the annual challenge of reading, writing and arithmetic with my kids, plus the added test of providing them with a healthy, hearty lunch every day. 

I don’t know if your kids are like mine, but they’d eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every single day if I let them. Not that there’s anything wrong with peanut butter – it’s chock full of protein to keep their tummies full throughout the day, and it’s a good choice served on a whole grain bread – but honestly, I get bored making the same lunches day after day after day. I’ve started to swap out whole grain bread for whole grain pita pockets. The boys love ham and cheese in a pita pocket with mustard and they even make ‘mini’ pitas now so my boys don’t waste food (and there’s no crust on a pita so Luke can’t refuse to eat it!). They also like ‘mini meatball subs,’ meatballs and marinara with slices of provolone cheese in a whole grain bun. They don’t mind if they’re served cold. Sometimes we make our own “Lunchables” with whole grain crackers, slices of cheddar cheese and chunks of roasted chicken I have left over from a dinner. 

Getting a serving of fruit or vegetables into a lunch box is one of the most important parts of the meal, to me. My boys love bananas, clementine’s, grapes, strawberries, carrot sticks with hummus and, of course, apples. 

Last year I tried this delicious dip for apple slices, which soon became a big hit around our house – and in their lunch kits. 

View this recipe to print or add items to your Shopping List. 

Peanut Butter Yogurt Dip

One serving is about two ounces of dip and 1/2 cup fresh fruit

Ingredients:
4 oz honey flavored Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 Tbs honey (use local honey if possible – it’s said to reduce histamines which cause allergy flare-ups)
2 Tbs of peanut butter
2 oz fat-free cream cheese, softened

Directions:
Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Chill in the refrigerator for 15+ minutes or serve immediately. Store in the refrigerator. 

Nutritional Information: Calories 145; Calories from Fat 86; Total Fat 10g; Cholesterol 17mg; Sodium 88mg; Total Carbohydrates 10g; Dietary Fiber 1g; Sugars 9g; Protein 6g



Family Matters: Family Road Trip


We all hear people reminisce about family trips they have taken over the years and what a great time it was for their family to bond.  It is funny to hear someone talk about it and then to sit and recall some of your own family road trips – or adventures, we call them.  There are a lot of fun times that come out of a road trip, but for some reason we seem to always forget (or block out) the rest of the road trip.  

As a mother of four teenage daughters I can tell you first hand that a seven hour road trip is an adventure.  Oh, it was fun and we laughed a lot but what about having to stop every hour (or more) because they can’t all seem to need to make a bathroom stop at the same time.  Or, everyone seems to have lost or broke their charger for the electronic devices they are glued to, so you have six people sharing one or two chargers…you can hear the laughter right…  

I was really surprised our air conditioner did not burn up from the multiple times I heard it was too cold or too hot and had to adjust it.  Finally after a few hours of that, the cold natured girls were given blankets to cover up with…that took care of that.  What about the four things of snacks you open up and pass back and forth (sharing, that is nice) and then someone ends up spilling the box or bag of goodies all over the car…laughing again?  After eating the snacks they are all thirsty…and yes, time for another pit stop.  You would be amazed at the great souvenirs you find in truck stops. 

Don’t get me wrong, after you return these things are really funny when you look back but at the time you feel like you want to pull your hair out or take a vacation by yourself.  You love your children but honestly there are times they make you want to trade them in or tie them to the top of the car for a little peace and quiet.  This does not mean you don’t love your kids it just means that you are human and that things do seem to overwhelm us sometimes, but in the end what great memories we do make and what funny stories about family road trips we will have to share with our grandchildren. 

Count your blessings daily and give thanks for the time you have to share with your family…on and off the road! 



Product Talk Monday: Cookie Cake


My younger son’s birthday is coming up in just over a week and, as always, he’s requested a giant chocolate chip cookie cake.   

Brookshire’s bakery cookie cakes have become the birthday celebration staple in our house. Both of my sons ask for them every year and, truth be told, we sometimes eat cookie cake for birthday breakfasts.  

The cookie cakes are generously sized and we’re able to feed our family, plus birthday guests with one or two cakes. The friendly staff at Brookshire’s bakery has always helped me get just the cake my boys want. Last year, Luke wanted a soccer cookie cake. Curt chose primary colors with EXTRA icing and sprinkles for his 10th birthday last January.  

The cookies are deliciously chewy and chock full of chocolate chips. You can get icing in any color or colors with sprinkles and candy confections if that’s what your heart desires. They’ll also write a message on the cake. My boys love seeing their names in sugary icing.  

The only thing wrong with Brookshire’s cookie cakes is that they disappear too quickly in my house. 

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