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Family Matter: Summer Fun, Summer Challenges


Summer Fun, Summer ChallengesSummertime is hard, especially if your kids are school age, you work and you can’t take the whole summer off yourself.

My kids are now old enough to stay home alone during the summer, but it’s not much fun for them, if we’re being honest. There aren’t any kids of a similar age nearby, so they end up relying a lot on each other during the summer (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

The challenge comes in keeping them occupied in a productive manner, even though I still have to go to work each day. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this situation.

Generally, they sleep late. When they wake up, they each have a job to do around the house, like vacuuming or cleaning their bathroom. This summer, they’re going to be in charge of some meal prep, too. They exercise every day, usually alternating between running, walking and riding their bikes through the neighborhood (they keep a cellphone with them for safety or emergencies). They will still play outside in the sprinklers; I don’t think you ever outgrow that. I’ve purchased some books for them to read over the summer, as well as what they have assigned for school.

My older son just got a part-time job. My younger son will attend one week of theater camp, and we’ll take a family vacation together one week as well.

It’s not the best solution. They still have too much screen time, but I’d be curious to hear from readers in the comments about what you do with your kids during summer vacation!



Family Matters: National Pet Month – Small Animal


National Pet Month - Small Animal

May is National Pet Month and a great reason to celebrate all the people out there who take care of small pets like hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits.

The goal of National Pet Month is to promote the benefits of owning a small pet, support the adoption of small pets, raise awareness of the benefits of owning a small pet for both owners and furry friends, increase awareness of services available from professionals who work with pets, and draw attention to the valuable contribution of working companion animals to society.

So, let’s talk about owning a small animal.

The first benefit is space! You don’t have to have a lot of it, or a yard, or an outdoor space to keep a small pet happy and healthy! They don’t tend to break furniture, chew up your shoes or need to go on walks.

Small pets tend to be fairly clean and keep themselves clean with little effort on your part. They don’t eat a lot and don’t tend to be very expensive, either for initial cost or upkeep. Small animals are also independent, and they’re a great choice if you want the companionship of a pet without having to keep one constantly entertained.



Family Matters: National Pet Month – Dog


National Pet Month - Dog

May is National Pet Month and a great reason to celebrate man’s best friend.

The goal of National Pet Month is to promote the benefits of owning a dog, support the adoption of dogs, raise awareness of the benefits of owning a dog for both owners and furry friends, increase awareness of services available from professionals who work with pets, and draw attention to the valuable contribution of working companion animals to society.

There is a reason dogs are called “man’s best friend.”

If you get a dog, the chances are that the dog is going to love you for life. Dogs are loyal, committed, protective, territorial and playful. They can have a variety of talents and skills. Some dogs will hunt with you. Others are great for herding. Some varieties are great for farms, and others are perfect for your lap.

Dogs, like humans, come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. It shouldn’t be hard to find one that suits you and your lifestyle. Dogs are great with families and with children. They can help protect your house. They will ride in the car with you. They love to be petted, walked and played with.

My dog, Astro, is a 100-lb lap dog. He thinks he’s a lap dog, anyway. He is thrilled when I walk through the door at night. He stands beside me if the doorbell rings. He alerts me any time someone walks into the front yard. He cleans up any food that I drop on the floor. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it. He brings so much joy to every day. I can’t imagine not having him around.



Family Matters: National Pet Month – Cat


National Pet Month - Cat

May is National Pet Month and a great reason to celebrate all the people out there whose furry friends are of the feline variety.

The goal of National Pet Month is to promote the benefits of owning a cat, support the adoption of cats, raise awareness of the benefits of owning a cat for both owners and furry friends, increase awareness of services available from professionals who work with pets, and draw attention to the valuable contribution of working companion animals to society.

I ended up owning a cat by accident. My neighbor in an apartment building had a litter of kittens, and it’s a proven fact that you can’t hold a kitten and then walk away without it. Pretty much everything I’d thought about having a cat proved to be untrue. My cat was very loving and very social. She wanted to be held and petted, and she didn’t mind being picked up. She loved water. She would sit on the edge of the bathtub and draw her tail back and forth through the bath water as I bathed. She was very vocal and would greet me when I walked through the door with a series of small meows.

Cats are great pets because they are pretty independent. You don’t have to take them on walks, and they don’t necessarily need to go outside. They are loving and can be good companions. Cats tend to have longer lifespans, don’t need a lot of space, and can groom themselves.



Family Matters: National Pet Month – Bird


National Pet Month - Bird

May is National Pet Month and a great reason to celebrate all the bird owners out there!

The goal of National Pet Month is to promote the benefits of owning a bird, support bird adoption, raise awareness of the benefits of bird ownership for both owners and feathered friends, increase awareness of services available from professionals who work with pets, and draw attention to the valuable contribution of working companion animals to society.

Let’s talk about the benefits of owning a bird. I do not have one myself, so I texted a friend who has a parakeet named Nellie, asking her what benefits she gets from being a bird mom.

“I have constant company, and I really believe Nellie talks to me and carries on conversations,” she wrote back. “Nellie is highly intelligent and communicates effectively without ever saying a word.”

Another benefit of owning a bird is that they have a long lifespan and can be a constant companion over many years.

Birds also encourage humans to be more social, as many of the talking varieties will actually converse with you in a give-and-take exchange.

Having a bird lowers your stress levels as you play with and talk to your pet. It also keeps your mind sharp as you train and work with your pet.



Family Matters: Handprint Gifts


Handprint GiftsMother’s Day and Father’s Day are rapidly approaching, and (to me) there’s no better gift than something that your little one has had their hand in. Literally.

Handprint gifts are the best. I can look back from years ago and see the sweet preciousness in their tiny handprints.

One year, my younger son made me a clay flower pot with his handprint as the green base and stems of a plant with his multicolored fingerprints as the flowers. It’s in my kitchen, holding pens and pencils.

Another year, we made footprints in a concrete paver for the back garden. Their sweet little feet are forever immortalized in concrete with the date and their names stamped into the stone. It’s my favorite thing in the backyard.

I have a bookmark with my oldest son’s handprint cut out of craft foam, mounted to green pipe cleaners to look like a flower. It has his name and the date on the back, lest I forget which small, sweet hand it belongs to.

I have handprint clay molds and handprint Christmas ball ornaments.

The possibilities for these special gifts are endless (there are so many ideas online that I can’t even name them all). I promise that any gift this unique will be treasured forever, and you won’t even feel bad about wiping their chocolate pudding handprints off the living room wall.



Family Matters: Solid Foods


Solid FoodsBy your baby’s seventh month, he’s been introduced to solid foods.

Some babies are more adept with solids at 7 months than others, but all should catch up by the 12-month mark.

By 7 to 12 months of age, your baby should be able to hold a bottle or sippy cup, and drink from it while sitting upright in a high chair.

He should be able to eat thicker pureed foods (7 to 8 months) and softer finger foods.

Your little one will enjoy teething biscuits that soothe swollen gums. While teething, they’ll often put anything, edible or not, in their mouths to chew on.

Your baby’s meals are more consistent these days, and breast-feeding is equal or lesser to the amount of other food they are taking in. Your little one stays full longer after eating.

In the second half of their first year, baby knows what he likes and does not like, and he will reach for food he’s interested in. That doesn’t mean to stop offering food he turns away. Sometimes it takes several attempts to get baby to enjoy something new.

Baby will show a strong reaction to new smells and tastes. Keep offering them to him to help expand his palate.

During this time, he will start to eat finger foods. Let him pick them up and make a mess! He’s learning fine motor skills and enjoying significant sensory development.



Family Matters: Baby’s Vision


Baby’s VisionMy best friend’s daughter is going to have a baby any day now, and they’re both beyond excited (rightly so!).

My best friend’s love language is decorating. She’s helped her daughter prepare the nursery, painting the walls the perfect shade of light, smoky blue, hanging vintage toy airplanes from the mobile over the crib, and framing antique maps for the walls to complete a theme of travel and adventure for her new grandson.

He’ll love it in a few months, but in the early days and weeks, your baby can’t see very well. Unlike hearing which is completely developed by the end of baby’s first month, vision takes longer to form. In fact, when baby is born, his vision is about 20/400, and he can’t see color well. It will take 6 to 8 months to fully mature.

Initially, baby can see about the distance from his face to yours when you’re cuddling him.

He might not be able to make both eyes move in tandem in that first month, so don’t be alarmed if they cross or wander randomly. They’ll get stronger as he develops. Lock eyes with your baby and move them back and forth. It will help him learn to do the same.

While baby can see color, he might not be able to distinguish tones. This is why he likes high contrast patterns in black and white over pastel pictures. He’ll also like bright, primary colors and objects that are all one color.

Baby also doesn’t have very good depth-perception. He might reach for your nose and grasp the air several inches in front of your face. This will start to come together around the 4-month mark. You can help him by handing him an easy-to-grasp toy, like a rattle. Have him reach for it and take it in his grasp. Position it differently, so he has to look for it in different places.

Baby’s favorite thing to look at is your face. Let him spend lots of time gazing at you. He might also like a mirror and might start to recognize himself during the latter half of his first year.

Eye exams are part of every well baby checkup. Make sure to let your pediatrician know if either of baby’s parents have serious vision problems or a family history of vision problems.



Family Matters: “Get a Job”


Get a JobEarlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet the world famous Dr. Temple Grandin and hear her speak.

Dr. Grandin is world-renowned for her work in animal-behavior in the livestock industry, and she has designed the front end of every meat-processing plant in the country. She’s also maybe one of the most recognizable and vocal autism brains in the world.

The point of Dr. Grandin’s speech was that society has done a great job of diagnosing autism and offering early intervention options for our kids. What we are not doing well, as a society and as an educational system, is transitioning people with autism into the real world.

When you think about it, this probably extends far beyond only young adults with autism.

Every time someone in the audience would stand up to ask a question, she asked how old the child in question was, and then her response was a resounding “Get them a job,” no matter the question.

A job outside of the home, working for someone other than family, is the first step in building confidence and responsibility in our young people, she said.

Having to keep a schedule and be accountable is a life skill that is best taught early and often, according to Dr. Grandin. Kids as young as 11 and 12 can walk dogs, do yard work or serve as greeters and ushers at church, she offered.

Having a job gives our youth skills, lets them earn their own money, and helps get them out of their bedrooms and away from video games, she emphasized repeatedly.
(Brookshire’s hires teenagers at 16!)

It’s important for kids to do internships, she said, starting every summer in high school and working their way through college or trade school. It’s also important for adults to serve as mentors and TEACH children good skills and work ethic, instead of doing it for them.

She suggested pursuing internships in a variety of fields that interest you, as it helps kids focus in on what they want to do later in life.

My 13-year-old already has a job and my 15-year-old is looking for one. Perhaps, we’ll have him look a little more diligently.

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Family Matters: Save, Spend, Give


Save, Spend, GiveBoth of my boys got their first jobs recently. I’m so proud of them both for wanting to earn money, for the responsibility it takes to hold down a job, and for the life skills they are gaining while working in their early teenage years.

With the first job comes the first paycheck. Seriously, nothing was more thrilling for them than holding that piece of paper in their hands.

That first paycheck brought the opportunity for new life lessons. They opened their own savings accounts. They are responsible for their bank ledgers. They will learn how to reconcile a bank statement.

They will learn the value of the dollar.

My older son wanted to spend his first paycheck immediately. He knew what computer part he wanted to buy.

My younger son had an idea of something he’d like to purchase, but he also wanted to save his paycheck.

It was time to introduce “Save, Spend, Give.”

My parents always taught us to “pay yourself first,” so that’s what I’m teaching my boys. Seventy-five percent of their paycheck went into their savings account. They can buy a car with that money later on, if they can wrap their heads around the fact that this is an investment in their future.

The next part of their paycheck was cashed for spending money. You can decide what percentages work best for your kids and your family. Since 75 percent went into savings, we decided on 20 percent for spending, and the remaining 5 percent goes to giving. Philanthropy is an important value in our family. Whether the money goes to church or to a nonprofit agency, I want them to know that it’s important to give back.

Some families do 40/30/30, and this is great, too! With younger kids, you can use clear jars and actually divide the cash out so that the visual makes an impact on your children.

I hope this lesson will stick with my kids and carry on the very valuable skills they are learning as contributing members of the workforce.



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