What's Your Daughter's Dress Code?

On vacation recently, I caught up with an old friend who lives several states away. We raised our toddlers together, long ago. “So how old is Jessica now?” I asked. “Sixteen…” my friend cooed. Long pause. “And her BOYFRIEND comes to visit us tomorrow for the rest of vacation.” Her tone was almost… gloating. I get it - her mixture of pride, trepidation, and wonder that her baby now has a boyfriend. But I tell you, I wondered whether she’d feel the same strange mix of emotions if her son’s girlfriend was coming to visit. Would she even emphasize the word so possessively? Why do our daughters’ beauty, dress styles, and boyfriends (or lack thereof) trigger so many passions in moms - the same moms who don’t seem to worry about a son’s bathing suit style or when he starts wearing cologne? We’ve all seen young girls dressing “too” provocatively. But when it comes to our own daughters, it’s a puzzling topic. To what degree should moms regulate our daughters’ clothing? At what age do we “let” them wear makeup and perfume? How much thigh or belly or bust should the clothing we buy them reveal? Does our daughters’ prettiness make us feel like better, somehow like more successful mothers, superior to mothers with less attractive, less stylish girls? Is this the latest round of the mommy wars - not whose four-year-old is reading first, but whose teenage daughter is hotter? Or uprising about our own fading magnetism…do our daughters’ lithe bodies and ardent boyfriends rekindle our younger, sexier selves? Are we happy for our daughters as they discover their own seductiveness? Or do we feel sorry, remembering our own missteps and insecurities? Are we rejoicing in being more sympathetic, communicative mothers than our own mothers were to us? Is the goal for our daughters to experience a confidence we once felt, or an elusive freedom we never enjoyed? Does the fact that we do not control either our daughters’ sexual attractiveness or their innocence scare us like nothing else on earth? Are our daughters’ bodies even any of our business? Yes. No. I have no idea! This sure is a thorny topic. All I can discern amid the brambles is the following. No one should blame the girls for their trashy mistakes. My eight year old recently stumped me by asking how old one has to be to wear thong underwear. How can girls possibly know what the “rules” are? Within the range of normal errors: a too-short skirt, a see-through top, lipstick, blush and eyeshadow applied in experimental colors. I once stepped out in a skintight white polyester strapless gown - to my high school soccer team awards dinner. Just because I dressed like a 16-year-old call girl, didn’t mean I was one. Part of growing up is learning from our own stupidity. Let the girls learn. Always give them the benefit of the doubt. Never shame them. Second, we moms need to keep ourselves - our issues - out of the way of our daughters’ normal adolescent experimentation. Whether our reactions to their wardrobe choices are based in fear or feminism, our hard-earned opinions should be relegated to our own wardrobe choices. We cannot pack 40+ years of wisdom into 13-year-old bodies. Our daughters live in their own world - as they should. Lastly, it is appropriate to set reasonable, rationale guidelines. My 12-year-old daughter is allowed to wear makeup - just not to school. One of her dresses is a mini but most of them are not. I know a mom who has promised her daughter a cell phone - but not until ninth grade. Another took her daughter to a department store consultant so she could learn how to dress and apply makeup in appropriate ways. In other words, react to our daughters’ boyfriends, ripped t-shirts, excesses and growing pains like the older, mature, wise women we are.

Warning: Showing Off May Cause Injury!

I’m all about dads playing hard with the kiddos, but around here I’ve noticed that “playing with” the kids has a tendency to transform into “showing off” for the kids.  Unfortunately, when the showing off starts, the risk of Daddy-o injuries increases. That famous quote from Top Gun often comes to mind: “Your ego is writing cheques your body can’t cash.”  I must admit that when such adult injuries happen, I’m not exactly sympathetic. One particular incident occurred a few years ago. Daddy-o had the kids outside to demonstrate some bike tricks. Before long, he entered the house, bracing his arm and saying I had better drive him down to the hospital. I quickly determined that the arm injury was the result of falling off his bike - the bike that he was standing on… while riding down a hill. I suggested that rather than have me pack up all six children for some quality time in the ER, he use his good arm to get himself to the hospital. My compassionate nature does not always shine when our family experiences a showing-off induced injury. I know other families have suffered such mishaps as well. I recently ran into an old high school friend shopping with his family. When we were kids in the same neighborhood, this guy lived on his skateboard - riding it everywhere and doing impressive tricks with all his boarding buddies.  As we stood chatting in the shop, I noticed his arm was in a brace. When asked about his injury, he told a tale involving breaks in several locations, hospitals, surgeries, pins and rehabilitation. Curious, I asked about the cause of the injury. His wife sighed and rolled her eyes. Yep, you guessed it - he’d dusted off the skateboard to show the kids a few of his old tricks. Other injuries we’ve encountered have come from lifting heavy items, and an unforgettable one involved wood chopping and an axe.  How about you? Has the show-off injury phenomenon made its way into your home? Who do you take to the ER more often - your kids or your spouse?

"Pedophile Speak" - Inside the Mind of a Sexual Predator

When you hear Jerry Sandusky talk, it is "pedophile speak." The convicted child-abuser believes that he loves children and was just showing his love. However, this is the "logic" of many convicted child-molesters. When a pedophile like Jerry Sandusky says, “I did nothing wrong, I love children,” that is part and parcel of how a child abuser can rationalize their continuous abuse of children. It's difficult for the average person to understand, but a true pedophile thinks that the child is a willing participant. He makes the child think this as well, and therein lies why children often do not report when they are abused. The offender makes his/her victims feel complicit in the abuse, and as a result, the child most often feels it was his/her fault. The child feels shame, anger, embarrassment, guilt, confusion and often, utter hopelessness. Many victims feel that if they tell their stories, no one will believe them, especially when the perpetrator is someone as revered as Jerry Sandusky. At the end of the day, a child is no match for a predator. KidSafe Foundation is on a mission to change that. What do we mean by that? We want every child to understand that they have the right to be safe. The right to a voice. The right to access help and know that no matter the situation, it is ALWAYS the adult's fault. And we want to do more than that, because we know it won’t be enough to keep our children safe. KidSafe Foundation provides sexual abuse prevention training which every adult working with children should be mandated to undergo. Knowing how to create a culture of safety in an organization (school, sports league, social service agency, etc) does not come naturally - we need to be educated on proper protocol, boundaries, and red flags. This sends a clear message that child abuse will not be tolerated and it teaches employees that their jobs will NOT be in jeopardy should they report a crime (and thus save a child). Only will then adults tie their reputations and identity to their own integrity, rather than to the institutions they work for. Educate all adults - parents, teachers, coaches, anyone that works with children - in sexual abuse prevention. Not only will this help adults recognize the red flags of an offender, but it will also teach them what do and how to respond to and protect children. If an organization, institution, or agency makes Sexual Abuse Prevention Education Training mandated as part of the requirements to work or to be involved with children, it sends a clear and concise message to pedophiles - stay away. Protecting children is of the utmost importance and anyone who suspects a child is being harmed must report it or they too will be held accountable - only then will our children have a chance at being safe. Take the recent case of the elite private school Horace Mann. According to recent reports, there were dozens of child molesters at the school and children were abused over decades. Are the pedophiles on a message board telling their cohorts about the school and how easy it is to prey on children? I have no idea, but what I do know is that child abuse went on for decades while the school simply swept it under the rug or “passed the trash,” having teachers move on for no apparent reason. We must, as a society, recognize that child abuse is an epidemic and allocate an appropriate amount of time, money, advocacy and training into teaching all how to protect our children. Then and only then will our children, the future leaders of the world have a chance to be safe.

Get Organized for Back to School Success

This summer, the head coordinator of the PTA of a local private school in Los Angeles hired me to give a presentation to the parents on getting students organized.  I decided to call the workshop "Back to School Success." The parents submitted several questions that were on their minds.  Here are some of the most common questions and my answers: 1. What kind of system can you suggest to keep all the kids' paperwork in one place? Each child should have a basket, container or drawer to put their school work in that is kept at home, and it should be easily found for reference for themselves.  For example, when your child gets back from school and wants to leave their "work in progress" notes, spelling test, and assignment at home, they will have a holding area.  This insures there is a place for them to look for work that needs to go back to school. This basket can be in the kitchen or family room or close by where they do their homework. It should be thinned out once a month and kept up to date. 2. What methods (whiteboards etc) do you recommend using to help the kids know which day they are expected to bring in what? Some mothers like whiteboards and some students respond well to them.  You can use different color dry erase markers for each child/student to keep track of different schedules. A whiteboard can be used for homework and school/activities appointment, as well as a wall calendar. Some homes need a hard poster board to write each activity and schedule for the day.  It mostly depends on how much each child (and mom) needs to be reminded.  Calendar boards are really good, especially if they are used religiously and diligently. 3. What is the most important thing we can do to help our kids become organized? When parents model good habits for their children, that is the best form of support.  That means that the parent is on time and follows through with activities, requests and promises. Having a good CEO is the key to success for any organization, and the CEO here is the parent.  Other than that, set up a well-organized home and try to keep it clutter and stress-free.  Have everything well planned out and follow up with a smile and praise.  (Just like in a well-run business.) 4. By the time they reach junior high, should we help them to plan their time or should they do it themselves? I think each parent should evaluate how much time their child needs to get work done.  For example, you will find that some of your children will need to eat something small as a snack while they are doing their homework, while others will need complete silence and nothing on the table.  Some might need background noise like music to work and concentrate.  This same priniciple goes for time management also.  Each child works at a different speed.  Spend time observing your child and talking to them.  Experiment with different locations in the house to complete homework and /or different types of environment.   Some might need to go to the library to do work, or use a different location in the home. Some students do well starting with the hardest homework first and saving the easiest for last, as they might get tired in the later evening.  On the other hand, some students like to start with the easier work first to give them encouragement that they can do the harder assignments.  5. Do you think organizing their room is part of helping them organize their homework? I personally think an organized room helps the student focus.  How can children works in a cluttered distracted environment?  I vote for setting up a homework area with a desk and chair, good lighting and supplies.  6. How much input do you think that the parents should have when helping to keep kids organized? The parent should set up the system and supply the tools to make the organization "user friendly".  This means giving them a plastic container for their supplies, a drawer or basket for their papers and homework folder. Follow up daily or weekly.  See what they need and mix things up if something isn't working.  Think of school as their job.  Sometimes the supervisor or boss needs to give advice and input to make the project successful.  School and students are not difference then employer and employee.  Remember, your home and children are your most important assets.  Protect, support and value their work and efforts.

Are you one HOT Mama? Keeping it Cool During Pregnancy!

When the heat is on during the hottest days of summer, you may feel like you are going to spontaneously combust at any moment.  Don’t worry, that hardly ever happens :) During pregnancy your body is hard at work. Your metabolism is kicked into high gear, and so you are more likely to feel the effects of summer heat. The reality is that you are more likely to perspire heavily, as your body tries to keep you and your baby cool.  The extreme heat of summer requires your body to use more water than usual. It becomes easy to dehydrate which is a common cause of pre-term contractions. Keep your water bottle handy - and here are some more great ways to keep cool when the mercury rises: Chill Out Schedule errands and appointments during the early hours of the day to avoid mid day heat.   Swim!  Swimming not only cools you down and provides relaxation but it can also help your baby get into the best position for labor.   Plan indoor activities with people that bring you joy. You can plan to meet good friends in cool places such as the mall, the movies or your local tea house.   Nap. Find a comfy, cool spot and take a nap. Napping just fifteen minutes a day has enormous health benefits for you and your baby.   Tools for Staying Cool Water bottle with fan   Cooling gel bandanas (found at sports shops)   Herbal wipes   Aromatherapy spritzers   Cool clothing - It’s a good idea to avoid tight clothing, dark colors, and non-breathable materials.   What did mommas do before air conditioning? You can learn from the wisdom of the ancient Ayurvedic texts that have long kept many families healthy and happy. These texts are the foundation of Hindu medicine and teach balancing techniques for the body using diet, herbal treatments and yogic breathing. In Ayurvedic terms, keeping cool means balancing the effects of the Pitta dosha, which controls the metabolism and increases heat in the body. To do this, it is recommended to eat foods that have cooling effects, such as sweet, balancing and astringent foods.  Avoiding salty and spicy foods during moments of increased heat can also be helpful. Additional suggestions include avoiding iced drinks and carbonated beverages as they slow down digestion.  Slowing digestion only makes the body work harder, which can increase heat!  During pregnancy, your digestive track is working overtime and the hormones of pregnancy can increase your risk of indigestion and reflux.  Promote healthy prenatal digestion by drinking cooled or room temperature liquids, not iced. Foods that balance Pitta include melons, cherries, mangoes, cucumber and zucchini.  Cooling herbs include fennel, mint and coriander. In the heat of the afternoon try a smoothie with chilled mango, mint and coconut milk. While keeping cool is important for your comfort and (let’s face it) your sanity it is also important for the health of you and your baby. A little pre-planning on your part can make the warmest days of summer more bearable.  Remember, pregnancy doesn’t last long nor does summer. And there’s nothing wrong with occasionally wearing just your birthday suit.   For more information, check out http://www.thegreatestpregnancyever.com.  Also available on Kindle!

We've Been Having The Same Fight For 20 Years

My husband and I have been together since 1993.  If you’re not so good at math, that’s coming up on 20 years.  Or, to put it another way, it’s officially half of my life. We met in college, and he was supposed to be a senior year fling, nothing serious, just a little fun before I moved away, went to law school and started my life for real. Sometimes, I think it’s pretty amazing that we’re still together, given the lack of serious thought I put into dating him.  I mean, if I had met him when were older and had to consider whether he was marriage material or not on the first date, I probably would have passed based on his musical preferences alone.  But here we are, amazingly, still in love.  A lot has changed in twenty years.  We have kids, a dog, a mortgage.  When we met, I was burning to become a lawyer, and he was obsessed with producing movies.  We both ended up on completely different paths.  Along the way, our dreams have changed, our taste has changed, the kinds of vacations we like have changed.  But one thing has remained a constant, always.  One thing has never wavered: We still fight about exactly the same thing.  It seems to me that most couples have one thing they fight about over and over again, like a recurring dream.  No matter how many times you argue about it, no matter how sick you may be of having the same argument, no matter how many times you swear that you will try harder, that you will not fight about this anymore, no matter what, the fight always finds a way to suck you in, and you find yourself yelling the same words you've yelled a thousand times before, like you’re stuck in an angry version of Groundhog Day.  Our fight is about the tone of voice I use when I am frustrated, or annoyed.  For example, DH will ask me a question, which I will then answer, pleasantly.  A minute later, DH will ask the same question.  I will usually answer pleasantly again, unless I am getting my period.  The third time he asks, PMS or not, I am usually annoyed that he has not listened to me the first two times, so I might, perhaps, have a slight edge to my tone when I ask why he didn’t listen to me the first two times.  At which point he will, predictably, say, "that doesn’t mean you have to yell at me."  And I will say, "that wasn’t yelling.  I didn’t even raise my voice."  And he will say, "it is yelling, and it’s unacceptable."  And I will say, "no, it’s not yelling.  It’s being human and humans have feelings and one of those feelings is annoyance when they’re not being listened to, so I was just expressing my feeling of annoyance."  And he will say, "oh, so I annoy you?"  And I will say, "yes, you do when you don’t listen to me."  And he will say, "I don’t care if I annoy you, it’s unacceptable for you to yell at me."  And I will then yell, "this is so f-ing stupid, why can’t you just let things roll of your back?  Why can’t you just let me have my two seconds of annoyance and let it go?  Why does it have to be a fight every time?"  And he will say, "you just yelled at me again."  And I will yell, "yes!  Yes, I did!  Because now I’m angry, and when people are angry they yell!"  I swear, if the whole thing wasn’t so annoying it would make an amazing comedy routine.  Most of my friends have a similar kind of fight that they constantly engage in with their husbands.  It’s a different subject matter for them, yes, but the frequency and the I-have-had-this-fight-so-many-times-I-could-do-it-in-my-sleep quality is the same.  It’s not serious enough to be divorce-inducing, and it’s not angry enough to be makeup-sex inducing.  It’s just run of the mill, low-level marriage kind of stuff, like putting his dirty dishes in the dishwasher because he always leaves them in the sink.  I have learned in therapy how to avoid engaging in this fight, but yet, I still engage it every time.  Honestly, if we were to ever stop having this fight, I think I’d be afraid; afraid that we’d be leaving time and space open for other, scarier kinds of fights that we wouldn’t recover from quite so quickly.  At this point, even though I know our fight isn’t good for us, there’s almost something comforting about it, like mac and cheese.  After all, I have been doing it for half of my life.

Very Delicious Veggie Chips Recipe

As moms we know our kids plead with us for salty chips and other less than healthy snacks.  So we are thrilled to have a great alternative to share.  Even Tammy's pickiest daughter, gave them the A-OK.  So we know they are kid-approved! Add this healthy twist to your cookout by replacing those greasy, salty potato chips with these VEGGIE CHIPS! Not only are they much better for you, but they taste better too! Veggie chips are low calorie, low fat, AND provide a whole array of health benefits depending on the vegetable. And they are super easy to make! Below is a list of suggested vegetables along with approximate cooking times and health benefits: Kale (10-15 min.) Fiber, calcium, & iron Carrots (30 min.), Beta- carotene Beets (20 min.), Antioxidant betalain Taro (20 min.), Dietary fiber & vitamin E Green Beans (20 min.), Calcium(surprising little boost) Sugar Snap Peas (20 min.), Vitamin K & manganese Potatoes (25 min.), Vitamin C Sweet Potatoes (25 min.), Vitamin A Zucchini (15 min.), niacin & thiamine Eggplant (25 min.), dietary fiber & manganese Radishes (15 min.), folic acid & vitamin C Turnips (25 min.), Vitamin B6 Whole Wheat, High-Fiber Pita Chips (15 min.), dietary fiber(not a veggie, of course! but another alternative for dipping instead of high- fat fried chips)   Directions Preheat oven to 350°F. Slice your desired veggies very thin (about 1/16inch thick). Place them individually on a nonstick baking pan and drizzle a very little amount of olive oil and salt (pepper and other spices are optional). * We actually prefer to put our oil in a spray bottle to still get the flavor but minimize the calories. Put them in the oven at 350Fo. Some veggies take quicker than others so check in on them periodically. (See the list above for the estimated cooking time for each vegetable.) As veggies look like they are beginning to get crispy (about half way through baking time), flip them. Once veggies are equivalent to the crispiness of a chip, remove them from the oven before burning. After veggies have cooled, enjoy them for snacks, with meals and on-the go! They are fantastic light summertime treats! *Note. Vegetables shrink a significant amount after baking. Therefore, you may want to bake more than you would expect.

How to Make Sports Practice Fun For Moms!

Football has once again taken over our lives as my son Nicholas has started his second season of football. As much as I talk about how important sports are to children, I am starting to realize the commitment it takes to be a parent of a sports kid and it's a lot! Practices began in August with two hour practices, 3 days a week. Then Saturday morning pre-season games, which have you at the field as early as 7:15am. I know football is not the only sport that requires this much time: hockey, swimming, and soccer moms have been telling me the amount of time (very early time for hockey and swimming) they have been spending at the fields, rinks, pools with their kids watching practice. Not only are parents at the practices, often younger brothers and siblings are spending a lot of time watching their older siblings practice. It can be very long, and not always enjoyable. However, I realize this is not going to change, and watching practices will be a big part of my life the next 10-15 years. So I have to stay positive about it.. instead of hoping it rains every Monday, Wednesday and Friday! Anyway, I came up with some tips that can make the long practice hours a little bit better for moms: Prepare Pack the car with uniform equipment, chairs, whatever you can do the night before. The less you have to do while you are rushing around to get to practice on time the better. The first week I brought my sons to practice, their helmets and pads were scattered all over the garage. I was stressing out, but now I know just like the start of school, having everything ready to go beforehand makes it a lot easier to get out the door. Assign Jobs This may take a few tries to establish, but trust me, once it is done it will be well worth it. Give your sport-playing child one job that they can be “responsible for.” It can be filling up their water bottle or carrying their equipment to the field. This will help you have one less thing to worry about, and also teach them to appreciate everything that goes into making it possible for them to play the game they love to play. Activities for Younger Siblings For younger brothers and sisters, it can be very boring spending nights at practices. So try to make it fun for them too! If you have a big field to play on, bring extra balls and toys that you can play with while you are watching practice. Bring coloring books, cars, Legos - small but fun things kids can play with in the stands at a swim practice. Look for other siblings that also are watching big sibling’s practices and turn the practice into a fun play date! Squeeze in a Workout Get up and move! Walk around the track at the football/soccer field. See if you can swim in the empty lanes next to your kids' swim practice for some extra exercise. Make this time productive for you too! Play Catch-Up If you have work things to do, bring your laptop. Want to just read a book or magazine? DO IT!  A practice is different from a game, it's totally ok to take this time for you and just sit and relax. It will help you unwind be a better parent, and maybe even make you excited to go to practice. Even invite a friend to keep you company and have some girl talk! These are just some ideas I have thought of in my two years of watching practices! Any suggestions from experienced sports moms? I would love to hear them!

Talking to Your Kids About Depression

Depression is a disease, not a weakness. I was heartbroken when I heard about Robin Williams’ death yesterday. He lived in my small town of Tiburon, California, and I would see him on occasion at local restaurants like the Buckeye Roadhouse and Luna Blu. I received the sad news right before my family sat down for dinner, and we talked with the kids about how great he was in movies such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, and Jumanji. Of course, my kids weren’t around when he was on the sitcom “Mork and Mindy” in the late 70s- early 80s, but for me, the lovable alien Mork from Ork was Robin Williams at his finest. We talked about why he died and what it means to suffer from depression. I told my kids that depression is a disease, like cancer or diabetes. Because we use the word “depressed” in our common lexicon, such as “that movie was so depressing” or “I was so depressed after I saw that homeless man,” we tend to belittle the clinical term “depression” as something less than serious. Those who suffer from depression know that it is much more than just feeling unhappy or in a bad mood for a few days. We all go through spells of feeling down, but when you're depressed, you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days, and you are not able to function normally. I explained to my kids that depression is not a sign of weakness or something you can "snap out of" by “pulling yourself together.” Depression is a real illness with real symptoms. Psychological symptoms include lasting feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and loss of interest in things you once enjoyed.  Physical symptoms can include chronic fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, and addiction to drugs and alcohol. Robin Williams was vocal about his lifelong struggle with depression, alcohol and drugs. After starting his battle with addiction in the 1970s he told People magazine in 1988: "Cocaine for me was a place to hide. Most people get hyper on coke. It slowed me down." As parents, it’s important that we talk to our kids about depression. Depression is the most common mental health problem in the United States, affecting approximately 1 in 10 adults, according to the CDC.  As many as 1 in every 33 children may have depression; in teens, that number may be as high as 1 in 8. The good news is that depression can be treated and rarely leads to suicide. Studies show that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is most effective at treating depression. If you suspect your child has depression, it’s important that you get help. Schedule a visit with his or her doctor to make sure there are no physical reasons for the symptoms and to make sure that your child receives proper treatment. A consultation with a mental health care professional who specializes in children is also a good idea. Here are some signs and symptoms of depression in children: Irritability or anger Continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness Social withdrawal Increased sensitivity to rejection Changes in appetite -- either increased or decreased Changes in sleep- sleeplessness or excessive sleep Vocal outbursts or crying Difficulty concentrating in school, lower grades Fatigue and low energy Physical complaints (such as stomachaches or headaches) that don't respond to treatment Lessened interest in activities, friends, school and hobbies Feelings of worthlessness or guilt Impaired thinking or concentration Thoughts of death or suicide Drug or alcohol use Rest in peace, Mr. Williams. We will miss your smiling face.    

Healthy and Tasty Pizza Recipe (Under 300 Calories!)

Some evenings, you just feel like cuddling up on the couch... and if it's been a long week, you might not feel like making dinner either. You’ve worked hard and earned a much needed relax night. That is why they invented pizza night, after all! Pizza night is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, which is why so many of us like to celebrate it several times a month. But if you're working hard at eating healthy, pizza can be a slippery slope when you're tired and hungry - unless you have the will power of Shera or He-man. So if you want to have your cake and eat it too, here's a great recipe for an easy-to-make pizza that won't leave you feeling guilty about blowing your whole diet and fitness program out of the water. It's so quick you can make it faster than ordering your favorite pie. My favorite part: the pizza is individual-sized which is great for portion control. Have a whole family to cook for? Throw a few more pizzas on the pan with very little effort. Guilt-Free Vegan Pizza Recipe Ingredients 1 whole wheat pita ¼ cup pizza sauce 10 veggie pepperonis 3 tbsp. shredded soy mozzarella style cheese herbs - a small sprinkle of your favorite or whatever is fresh in the garden (optional)   Directions Preheat oven to 400F. Place the pita onto a non-stick baking sheet. Top pita with sauce, and spread evenly around. Place pepperonis on the pita in a nice little design. Evenly spread the soy mozzarella cheese on the pita. Top with a small sprinkle of your favorite herbs if you’d like an extra boost of flavor, or can you douse it in hot sauce after it bakes like my husband likes to do. Wait for the oven to finish pre-heating because that is how quick it was to make your pizza. Bake until cheese is melted and edges of the pita are a light golden brown, approximately 8 minutes. Cut into triangle slices, the more triangles, the more pieces you get ;-). Enjoy! (Yum!) It varies depending on what brands you use, but here is an approximate calorie breakdown using the brands I purchase: Whole Wheat Pita - 130 calories Pizza Sauce - 50 calories Veggie Pepperoni - 50 calories Soy Mozzarella Style Cheese - 68 calories Total: 298 calories This is a great recipe to remember for the busy school year, and when you’re rushing around to sports practices. It alleviates the guilt of getting take-out and is much friendlier on the wallet too! With love, gratitude, & yummy bites,  Wendy Irene

Top Tips for Back-to-School + Giveaway!

We’re quickly approaching that time of year we both love and hate. The thought of adding some routine back into our lives is very attractive, but the hazy, lazy days of summer have been pretty sweet and tough to give up. Face the back to school season with a successful plan. Here are a few strategies that work in my busy household. I have to get six kids out the door by 7:45am so I mean business in the morning! 1)    Set up routines kids will stick to  Tired of being a nag in the morning? Feel like a broken record barking out things like, “Don’t forget your lunch!” and “Have you packed your homework?” Stop the insanity. Set up a simple system that will get them out the door while keeping your frustration levels down. At our house, we have a “Before School Plan”, which is a chart listing all of their morning duties. My kids mark off each duty as they complete it. If I see a child standing in the middle of the kitchen with a “deer in the headlights,” look I don’t bark and ask them what they should be doing, I refer them to their “Before School Plan”. Training your kids towards independence is the best gift you can give yourself. 2)    Organization starts with you Everything has a home. Each child has a cubby for their agendas and homework. There is nothing worse than running around in the morning trying to find gym shoes. Avoid the chaos by designating a location for all school and lunch supplies. Do as much as humanly possible the night before – pack lunches, lay out school clothes and set the breakfast table. If anyone in your house thinks changing their mind about what to wear in the morning is an option, remind them it is NOT. 3)    Streamline lunch-packing Freezing sandwiches to use throughout the week, or even making casseroles and soups on the weekend to throw into a Thermos, is a favorite with my kiddos. Got yourself a little juice addict? I say cut them off cold turkey. Water is the best drink for kids at school and it’s easier on the environment than the hundreds of little juice boxes you’d use in a year. Get children to start making their own lunches or help with lunches as soon as you possibly can. 4)    Save money and time by planning ahead Shop off-season, clear out closets to assess what can be handed down and for goodness sake, go to www.mabelslabels.com and label all clothing to make sure it comes home at the end of the school day. There is nothing more horrifying than the lost and found at elementary schools! Parents spend a lot of money on clothes, uniforms and school supplies. Make sure they don’t get lost. 5)    Top tip – find yourself some helpers! Don’t feel like dragging a toddler and baby to the bus stop every morning in the dead of winter so you can get your older kids on the bus? Yeah, me neither. See if an older kid who goes to the same bus stop is happy to do the morning pick-up and afternoon drop-off for a cool $10 or $20 a week. “Bus buddies” are a good investment for busy mamas. Another good investment is a homework buddy. Homework is often a time of conflict for parents and kids because we are too darn emotionally attached - things heat up when we get frustrated. I have a high school student come to the house and my kids love having some time with their big kid friend. Homework is not something any of us dread anymore! With the right support, routine, tools and environment – you can say you’ve done your part in setting your kids up for success while also saving yourself from back-to-school insanity. GIVEAWAY! Get your kids back to school ready with Mabel’s Labels. Would you like to WIN an Ultimate Back to School Combo? To enter, share in the Facebook comments what you think are the 3 most important school items to label and follow Mabel’s Labels at Facebook.com/Mabelhood! The contest will be open until August 15th 11:59PM EST. 

8 Horrifying Facts About Raising Boys

Usually I blog about tablet technology (which you can read about here) but since I’ve spent the last five days with my two young boys, 3 years old and 4 ½,  I thought I would change things up a bit.The more parenting I do the more I realize that it is about survival and nature over nurture, particularly when raising boys. Here are a few of my observations: 1. Moms who have boys dress for functionality a.k.a. survival as opposed to moms with girls, who (sigh) look all pretty and dressed up.That’s not to say that moms of boys don’t look put together, it’s just different. I dress each morning to ensure that if I have to do the 100 meter dash to catch my son I can.2. I understand why there is so much fighting in the world.My boys love each other very much, but let me tell you 15 seconds after they get up in the morning, there can be screaming and fighting over a toy, a day-old dried-up blueberry or a sock. It doesn’t matter. There always seems to be the need to show who is more dominant in the relationship at any given time.3. I know more about dinosaurs, monitor lizards, trains, Pokémon and Minecraft than I can imagine. At some point this information will be useful, right?4. My bathroom constantly smells like an outhouse and there is nothing I can do about it, no matter how often I clean it.Apparently, aiming for a large white bowl is a daily challenge. I guess having a small dangling thing between your legs is tough. (I must admit I’m really glad I don’t have one.)5. Farting is the funniest thing EVERNot only is it funny, but it must be done and then announced at every single occurrence. And if someone else farts, we cannot allow them their dignity, we must proclaim it loudly for all the world to know. And then make-up songs to sing about it. Or fake it all with the famous arm-pit fart.6. Burping is the next funniest thing EVERYour son will guzzle whatever drink is near at hand just so he can produce the greatest burp possible. He will attempt to say the alphabet while burping, he will say burp while burping, he will do whatever he can while burping. He will rank his burps, and he will do this all at your family dinner, at a restaurant.7. Feet stink like deathDo not, for the love of all that is holy, place your son’s feet, socks, or shoes closer than 25 feet from your nose unless you want your nose to literally peel off your face and run away. I suggest placing all footwear outside at all times, in a gallon of Febreeze.8. Teeth can somehow get brushed without ever getting the toothbrush wetI don’t get this one. You tell them to go brush their teeth, they stay in the bathroom for 45 minutes, and they still manage to come out having forgotten to brush their teeth. Then you ask them if they did and they are adamant that the teeth have been brushed, and yet the toothbrush is as dry as the Sahara.Butwhile all of the above makes life interesting (as well as making me want to pull my hair out on many occasions), there is one aspect of raising boys that is very special - it is the unconditional love a mother receives. It is wholesome, honest and unbreakable. Is my life chaotic, absolutely, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.Agree or disagree -what’s the best thing about raising boys?

Simple Tip For Losing Weight

The tortoise may come in first after all. A recent review of 22 well-designed studies shows that slow eaters seem to be able to keep their weight down better than their counterparts.  We are all aware of the obvious forms of weight control such as healthy low calorie food choices, but eating slowly has not been high on our lists. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to let your stomach know that you are full. So, the slower you eat, the more likely it is that you will eat less which leads to lower calorie meals. The experts suggest that we chew slowly, concentrate on every bite, and take smaller portions. It is so easy to grab a bite of this or that during our busy, rushed days, but we often have no concept of how many calories we are really ingesting. It is interesting to note that according to the studies, slow eaters do not appear to be any hungrier later on in the day than faster eaters and don’t snack anymore than anyone else.   

5 Tips to Build Resilience in Your Life

“I believe in pink.  I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner.  I believe in kissing.  I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong.  I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls.  I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.” – Audrey Hepburn Though Audrey Hepburn was considered the most naturally beautiful woman of all time, and was a renowned actress, she devoted her later life to UNICEF and helping disadvantaged children.  She grew up in Europe during World War II.  Her dad was a Nazi sympathizer. Her mother caught him in bed with the nanny then he abandoned the family.  During the Nazi occupation, her uncle was executed. Young Audrey suffered from malnutrition and developed anemia, along with edema and respiratory problems.  How did a woman with such a devastating childhood grow up to become the iconic symbol of beauty, wisdom and grace?  Resilience is one of the most important building blocks for success and happiness in life.  It is the ability to bounce back, to adapt to tough circumstances.  It’s a learned skill.  We develop it over time through falling down and getting back up.  An emotional muscle that gets stronger with each challenge.  Resilience is the ability to believe in yourself even when things go wrong, and the power and patience to find the solutions to make things go right.  It may surprise you to know that one of the funniest men alive (and the man I would most want to be stranded on a desert island with, excluding my husband of course :)) experienced tragedy in his childhood.  Stephen Colbert’s father and two brothers died in a plane crash when he was ten.  When his mom moved the family, Stephen had a hard time making friends in his new neighborhood.  He went through a period of distraction and was unable to relate to other kids.  He spent a lot of time in fantasy and role-playing, the results of which we see now in his genius comedy.   As a young man, Colbert wanted to study marine biology but a botched surgery left him permanently deaf in his right ear. He had enough inner ear damage to destroy his hopes for a career that required scuba diving.  When he decided to try his hand at acting, Colbert discovered his true love. And who hasn’t heard Oprah Winfrey’s powerful story! She ran away from home as a young girl, after years of being molested by several family members.  She lost a baby when she was only fourteen years old.  But tragedy gave her a fierce determination to triumph.  She became an honors student in high school, won an oratory contest, received a full scholarship to college and the rest is history.  All this to say, it doesn’t matter so much what life hands us.  What matters is what we do with it.  5 Tips on Building Resilience Take positive action. Resilient people have as many negative thoughts and grief as others do, but they work through them with positive actions and nurturing self-care. Connect with others. Resilience grows through close ties with family and friends.  Sometimes it takes a village. Ask for help. Admit when you are feeling overwhelmed.  Seek out the resources you need. “Banish self doubt” as Frozen director Jennifer Lee put it.  We all suffer pangs of being less than we really are, especially when times are tough.  Practice seeing yourself as resilient and capable of handling whatever comes.  Tell yourself you will figure it out and you very likely will. Have patience with your circumstances.  Change is the only certainty in life.  Each of us has the power to turn our challenges into triumphs.  Ciao, Princess Ivana  

Overnight Steel Cut Oats (Slow Cooker Recipe)

Overnight Steel Cut Oats are a fabulous back to school recipe, and they are great for anyone who wants to eat a healthy breakfast but feels a serious time pinch in the mornings. No matter how early we get up, it seems like there is always a time crunch to get my kids off to school. Our family goes through times when it seems like all our kids eat for breakfast is cereal, and that is when I start to feel the Mommy guilt come on because I want them to eat a more nutritious breakfast. It’s so important to start the day off right. If you’re like me, overnight oats is the answer you’ve been searching for.  Put it together in less than 5 minutes the night before and you’ll have a hot, delicious breakfast waiting for when you wake up. You might even find yourself waking up early to the delightful scents of coconut and cinnamon. I’m sorry to even mention back to school for all of you enjoying every minute with less routine, and soaking up the slow, glorious dog days of summer, but I do hope this recipe makes your transition a little brighter and easier. Overnight Steel Cut Oats   Yields: 8 servings Ingredients: 2 tsp. coconut oil 8 ½ cups water 1 (13.5 oz., 398 ML) can coconut milk ¼ cup maple syrup (or your preferred sweetener) 2 cups steel cut oats (for Gluten-Free use a Gluten-Free brand such as Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Steel Cut Oats) 1 tsp cinnamon ½ tsp. sea salt 1 tsp pure vanilla extract   Directions: Grease the inside of the slow cooker with coconut oil. Add water, coconut milk, maple syrup, steel cut oats, cinnamon, and sea salt. Stir to combine ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. Add vanilla extract, stir. Ladle into bowls, and serve with your favorite fruits, seeds, nuts, or nut butter. *Note – If you have leftover overnight oats, cover and refrigerate, then heat the next day with a splash of your favorite non-dairy milk.   To Print, Email, or Text recipe click here. With love, gratitude, and sweet morning wishes, Wendy Irene

How to Get a Good Night's Sleep

"A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book." - Irish Proverb There has been a lot written lately about sleep, or actually, the lack of it.  Most of what I have read in blog postings center around hilarious middle-of-the-night wake-ups because of ill or restless children.  My theory is that sleeplessness results in an awakening of some inner sense of humor that serves as the coping mechanism for the inability to sleep while kids need attention.  While I totally enjoy the read, there is nothing funny about the underlying reason. I have read about teens who actually need more than eight hours of sleep, but seem to get far less.  So when they say they can’t get out of bed for school because they are too tired, they probably are. Lastly, how much sleep does a woman over the age of 70 years really need, and what kind of games is her body playing on her that makes her awaken after a few hours?  I went searching for some answers.  To get the info for this post, of course I went to the National Sleep Foundation’s website as well as the National Institute of Health (NIH) for content on sleep and beinggirl.com (see links to the sites below). Here are some facts that I learned about sleeping.  Some you may already know and others you may find surprising: 1. Sleeping is NOT a passive activity.  Sleeping is as important to our well-being as eating.  Animals need sleep to survive.  It impacts our nerve-signaling chemicals or neurotransmitters, our psychological and physical health, and how we metabolize food.  2. “Fatigue is the best pillow.” - Benjamin Franklin  There is NO one amount of sleep that everyone needs.  Each person is different, so no matter how old or young, each individual has his/her own sleep needs.  For example, I have a colleague who requires very little sleep.  While up at two a.m., she isn’t watching cooking shows or reruns of Sex in the City, she works and creates.  As a result, I used to get emails from her timed at all kinds of sleeping hours.  When awake, she always seemed chipper and energetic.  Not me, if I was awake at two a.m. I would watch Two Fat Ladies and if really fortunate, reruns of Andy Griffin, and then be one fat b*tch in the morning.  3. The majority of teens don’t get enough sleep. Teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night to function best (for some, 8 1/2 hours is enough). Most teens do not get enough sleep - one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights. Another issue with teens is that their sleep patterns are irregular, as their weekend patterns usually differ from school days and their school sleeping patterns differ depending on what is going on.  For example, less sleep may happen when studying for a test or participating in sports that require early practice.  As a result, it impacts their ability to concentrate, remember things, and listen.  Not ideal when education is the key part of their life.  4. The consequences of not getting enough sleep are real and can result in physical or psychological issues.  Not getting enough sleep can result in acne or other skin problems in teens.  It can also lead to aggressive or other inappropriate behaviors.  Importantly, no matter the age, people who don’t get enough sleep are heavier than those that do.  That may be because they are eating too much high fat food and not metabolizing it well.  Also, not getting enough sleep can lead to driving accidents, as well as accidents because equipment is not being used safely.  5. Sleep needs DON’T decline with age.   While aging doesn’t decrease the amount of sleep needed, aging messes up our sleep habits.  GREAT!  So while older adults are awakening more throughout the night and taking longer to fall asleep, they are also suffering more from sleep apnea and from a decline in their important REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  The Mayo Clinic defines sleep apnea as, "a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts".  Everyone needs a certain period of time for REM sleep in order to have a complete sleep cycle.  Altering that changes ones sleep pattern negatively.  Some causes of sleep problems in adults are: GERD, due to the pain of esophageal reflux; restless leg syndrome; too much caffeine, and the urge to urinate. So what to do? First, let’s look at how much sleep we need a night.  According the NIH, “infants generally require about 16 hours a day, while teenagers need about nine hours on average. For most adults, seven to eight hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as five hours or as many as ten hours of sleep each day. Women in the first three months of pregnancy often need several more hours of sleep than usual.”  The RELAXation Method for falling asleep: Say to yourself, you are getting sleepy, you are getting sleepy…(only kidding).  Actually, Beinggirl.com recommends the following - When you get to bed, close your eyes and get comfy. Focus your attention on the parts of your body that feel uncomfortable. Take a deep breath, and as you breathe out, focus on relaxing each of those areas, one at a time. Take two deep breaths for every body part that you relax. Continue this deep and relaxed breathing. Deep breathing should help you sleep better. Once your body is relaxed, clear your mind by focusing on pictures of numbers or letters. For example, picture the number 30 in your mind. Imagine that the number 30 is getting blown away by the wind, erased by a pencil eraser, or fades into invisibility. Then picture the number 29 appearing in a different color, size, shape, and handwriting than the number 30. Once you have the image in your mind, imagine the 29 getting erased in a different way. Continue picturing each number with lots of details, and imagining each one disappears until you get to the number one. If you don't fall asleep before you get to the number one, your mind will be free of stressful thoughts and you will be able to sleep better. Tips to Help Improve Your Sleep Patterns: Eat earlier and lighter. Take a short walk after a late meal or a very active evening to help you unwind Train your mind:  Keep to a regular sleep schedule, going to sleep at the same time every night, and waking up at the same time every day. Get at least eight hours of sleep a night and eight to ten hours of sleep if you are a teen and can. After a few weeks, you will start feeling sleepy at bedtime and will be awake and ready to go before your alarm clock. No matter what is going on in the rest of your house, create a tranquil, comforting environment in your bedroom.  Turn on some soothing sounds and spray your sheets and room with lavender. If you need it totally dark to get your proper rest, try a sleep mask or scented eye pillow. Indulging in relaxing activities before bedtime can help too. Take a warm (not hot) bath or listen to soothing music.  Some people fall asleep reading. Keeping temperatures above 74 or below 54 degrees Fahrenheit can impact sleep.  Everyone is different, but most scientists agree that sleeping in a cooler room is better for sleep and a hot room can disrupt sleep patterns. Light and dark influence when we get sleepy, think night and day.  Bright light can keep you awake so turn them down!! Give yourself enough space to sleep.  If you are sleeping with someone, make sure you have enough room to move around and not wake the other person - or be woken up yourself due to someone else’s restlessness.   Do you get a good sleep at night?  If so, any other tips to offer?

Robin Williams Found Dead at 63

Shockingly sad news today. Oscar winning actor Actor Robin Williams was found dead at his home today according to the Marin County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff's investigators believe his death to be a suicide."Robin Williams passed away this morning," his rep confirmed. "He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time." Williams' wife, Susan Schneider, issued the following statement: "This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin's family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin's death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions."  Truly a sad sad day. For all of us who spent our lives laughing with Williams, you will be desperately missed and you will live in our hearts and on our screens forever. 

Why We Are Like Mama Bears

When my sons and I finished watching BEARS, the Disney Nature movie, I never thought my life would parallel that family of bears so much. The journey that the Mama Bear takes with her two cubs is really no different than the journey that we modern day parents are taking with our children. Like the Mama Bear I need to teach my children so many life lessons to survive in this world. The necessary life lessons like respecting themselves and others, don’t litter, be kind to others, always lend a helping hand so that they can function it the ‘real world’ are a given, but teaching my children to listen to their instincts and to trust themselves is something that they need to first understand the importance and then hone the ability to queue into and listen to their gut and inner voice. Today, in this day and age (yes, I said it, yes I know it has aged me!) as parents our natural instinct is to protect our children from all the evils of the World and today the World is a lot different than when I stayed out all day and played ringolevio until the lamppost went out. Yes, there are more positive opportunities for our children – opportunities to expand their minds, trying to try new adventures and find their passion but more opportunities for trouble as well. Our technological advances will continue to expand which will result in more of everything: cyber bullying, drug abuse, for connecting with the wrong individuals, for making poor decisions based on their immediate wants and desires. I will protect my child like that fierce Mama Bear at all costs but I will also give my boys the abilities to protect themselves as well. I will take on the hard lessons and teach my children the skills to tap into their natural instincts. To fight when they need to and to relent when it’s necessary. Because there will come a time, although I dread that moment, that my children will need to distinguish what is right from wrong, rely on themselves to make good decisions, trust and love themselves on their own. We, along with that Mama Bear, know that parenting is hard and that every age comes with different challenges, these new challenges will guide us on our parenting journey and will bring joy, love and some pain as we rear our children to become wonderful adults or ummm Bears! BEARS is available on Blu-ray™ Combo Pack, Digital HD, Disney Movies Anywhere (DMA), and On-Demand August 12th! Order Now. 

Tired All the Time? It Might Be What You're Eating

“You’re just a busy mom,” the doctor told me after returning with test results that showed no indication of an underlying medical condition that would account for my chronic fatigue: no anemia, no hyperthyroidism, no urinary tract infection or heart issues—all possible causes of extreme exhaustion. “Try to give yourself a break,” he recommended. “Take time to exercise every day, and make sure you get enough sleep.” But I did exercise, and I was getting enough sleep.   It wasn’t until I made my way to a nutritionist, on the advice of a friend, that I got the wake up call that I needed. The nutritionist had me keep a food diary for a week, writing down everything that I ate and drank each day. The results were eye-opening. My breakfast consisted of a double soy mocha (I am lactose intolerant), followed by a muffin or piece of fruit at mid-morning. My lunch was a sandwich on a baguette with tuna salad or turkey. My dinner consisted of 2 glasses of wine, lots of pasta (I was always starving by dinner time), bread with butter, and some type of meat or fish. I’d make a green salad but wouldn’t eat much of it. After dinner I craved something sweet-- soy ice cream and a handful of M&Ms usually did the trick. “Of course you feel dull and drowsy most of the day,” my nutritionist informed me. “You are living on carbs, sugar, caffeine and alcohol.” We’ve all heard the cliché “you are what you eat.”  But many of us fail to apply the adage to our own diet.  Your body, like your car, won’t perform well when it doesn’t have the proper fuel.  How you choose to fuel your body will impact your energy level and your body’s ability to function. Although I wasn’t overweight, the foods I was eating were leaving me feeling sluggish and worn out through the day.  Thanks to a total makeover in my diet, I have regained my energy and zest for life. I am also less moody and don’t experience the 4 p.m. “crash” that required a double espresso or nap to get me through the rest of the day. Here is what I have learned about the food/energy connection and how what you eat can be making you tired. 4 Ways Food Could Be Making You Tired 1. Not enough protein for breakfast Most of what we eat for breakfast—bagels, muffins, cereal—are high in carbohydrates, which send you into a downward energy spiral. The result? You are hungry an hour later and end up reaching for short-term snacks that only do more of the same. Your body needs protein for sustained energy and to prevent blood sugar crashes from carbohydrate consumption (yes, fruits are carbs). A healthy protein shake in the morning will control your blood sugar levels all day and help keep your energy intact. A high-quality protein shake is a great way to start your day. I use pea protein, which has 25 grams of protein per serving, a real mega-dose! You can also use whey, egg white or soy protein if you have no food sensitivities to these foods (more on that later). I add almond milk, some frozen blueberries or raspberries, a scoop of almond butter, and lots of ice. This keeps my hunger at bay for hours, and it’s delicious. If you don’t like protein shakes, you can have some turkey sausage and eggs, or another high-protein food (at least 20 grams) before heading out the door. 2. Eating too infrequently Skipping meals, and going too many hours without eating, can cause your energy levels to plummet. After three to four hours, your body’s blood sugar levels start to drop. Your body sees that as a crisis and starts to slow down. To deal with the blood sugar crisis, your adrenals produce more cortisol to raise your blood sugar (since you have none in your body from food). Cortisol, the stress hormone, is “public enemy number one” according to Psychology Today. Short term, elevated cortisol will make you feel edgy and exhausted. Long term, scientists have found that elevated cortisol interferes with learning and memory, lowers your immune function and bone density, and leads to weight gain, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Lesson? Rather than three big meals a day, aim for three smaller meals and two snacks each day. 3. Undiagnosed food sensitivities Food sensitivities are different than food allergies. Just because your lips don’t blow up from eating a nut or you haven’t been diagnosed with an official disease or allergy, it doesn’t mean its safe to eat any food. When you eat something you’re sensitive to, you might have an immediate reaction like bloating, gas or diarrhea—or you may have no reaction in your stomach at all. You could experience things like acne, joint pain, weight gain or fatigue. Since these reactions may happen slowly over time, you may never make the connection between them and food. The two most common food sensitivities are to dairy and gluten You’ve probably heard a lot about gluten sensitivity. It’s well known that gluten can trigger symptoms such as bloating, migraines, fatigue and brain fog. It’s also been known to contribute to the onset of autoimmune diseases for some people. Dairy can cause many of the same gastrointestinal and energy problems. Yet even if you stop drinking milk and eating yogurt, there are dairy-based additives such as casein and whey snuck into foods like dips, mayonnaise and salad dressings (thick sauces typically contain gluten), and even canned chicken broth. Read labels carefully before you buy! You can try eliminating gluten and dairy, each for one week, to see how you feel without them in your diet. If you suspect that other foods might be causing you to feel tired, you can try cutting out them out for a few days at a time and see if you notice a difference. As long as you keep a sensible, balanced diet while doing this, there should be no harm in experimenting. 4. Too much sugar in your diet You already know that sugar is bad for your waistline. Sugar is stored as fat in the body, so if you’re looking to lose weight, you need to cut out the sweet stuff. But that’s not the only reason to go easy on the sugar. The average American consumes 22-25 teaspoons of sugar each day without even knowing it. Besides the obvious culprits like soda and candy, sugar is hiding everywhere, in every packaged food you can imagine: ketchup, salad dressing, and even in “healthy” foods like yogurt and granola bars. Many “organic” packaged foods, while appearing healthy on the outside, are loaded with sugar in the form of honey, molasses or dates. Besides dramatically boosting your chances of becoming diabetic, sugar in any form causes your blood sugar to spike and crash, which leads to a major drop in energy. Make a habit of checking food labels on everything you buy and ditch foods that have more than 6 grams of sugar per serving. When you have a craving for something sweet, it’s usually a sign of low blood sugar. Opt for an apple with almond butter or a handful of almonds instead. Protein will satisfy your sugar craving and leave you feeling satiated. Final word: Feeding your body the right foods at the right times can dramatically increase your energy levels—making you feel better and more ready to respond to the many demands of your busy day. If you can make the decision to shift some old habits, you have the ability to feel more focused and alert than you have in a long time.

Top Three Reasons Moms Overspend & How to Cut It OUT

There is a psychology to everything – even why we let more dollar bills wiggle out of our wallets than might be wise. But the good news is that once you understand why you do what you do, you can try on a new, more budget-friendly habit. Here are the top three reasons moms tend to overspend. We can be people pleasers.  I know you have been there: you are in the supermarket and your children are looking at you with those big puppy-dog eyes and pleading, “Can’t we just buy the super pack of cookies with the marshmallows or the cereal with the pirate map or the jump rope that has SpongeBob handles?” It reminds me of my son’s birthday party that I had a few years back at a party-themed restaurant. More kids showed up than I had expected and a few bold parents were ordering “gluten-free everything” off the menu. Mid-party I knew I was sunk – I had overspent. And then this damn balloon-making clown strides into the party room. Happily, he exclaimed, “Do the kids want balloons? They are only $3 a piece!” I looked at all their hopeful little faces already lining up asking for a dog or a flower and wanting to please them all I said, “Why not?” (All the while cursing the clown.) I went home that night and tallied just how much “extra” I had spent and vowed never to be mowed over again. It’s a wonderful quality to care for others and to want to make people happy – but having a limit and sticking to it is healthy for all concerned. I’ve found it helpful to know my limit, to write it down and to communicate it to my family beforehand. That way you and they know that there is a firm line. There’s no guilt, there’s no pleading, there’s no puppy-dog eyes. By sharing the plan, you can all act as a family unit to stay on track financially. There is a high to getting a good deal.  Face it. Who doesn’t want to feel smart and savvy, like they scored – like they found a deal that may never be found again? There is an actual endorphin rush that occurs when you feel you are the queen of the shopping mall. Now it may seem like I am obsessed with clowns with balloons – but I once purchased a summer purse at a store grand opening because they had happy clowns everywhere. And, yes, the purse was being sold at a good price. But it was nowhere near summer and by the time summer came along, there were plenty of purses in my budget that would have done the job. But I can still remember the excitement at having secured my summer purse at an unheard of price. I nearly wanted to high five the clown. Purchasing can be an emotional bottle.  Just as a baby asks for a bottle when he or she is not hungry (really just wanting the comfort) so goes the shopping trip. Ever shop when you have the blues or feel bad about yourself or your life? Yeah – me too. It didn’t go well. Four months ago, I had a fight with a friend while on the phone in the grocery store. After I hung up, I purchased twice the amount I usually buy! Out went the budget and in went thoughts like: we haven’t had really good steak in a while, maybe I should stock up on two-for-one gummy bears since they remind me camp when I was nine, my son loves mango ice cream, maybe I will buy two gallons. It wasn’t pretty. I got home, unpacked it all and was stunned. It was as if I had been shopping while impaired.  How to watch the overspending: Think about your firm-budget line before you enter a store, before you go on vacation, and before you throw a birthday party. Communicate it to your family. Make it a family project to stay on track. Remind yourself that telling yourself “no” is a positive habit. Reward yourself in a non-monetary way when you stick to your budget. Remember that you may experience discomfort when you can’t please everyone. Practice it – I’m telling you it gets easier! Have an instant gratification alert. Sure it may be a good deal, but do you need the product? Good deals will come along again – pat yourself on the back when you can walk away from a purchasing high. Don’t shop while emotionally impaired. If you are hungry, angry, lonely, tired or overwhelmed (H.A.L.T.O.) back away from the store. Get some rest, soothe your soul and approach the purchases when you feel more balanced. Use an app to stay on track! There are some wonderful new apps out there to help you monitor and control your finances. Some that I like are:  http://expenditure.com/, www.mint.com or http://www.ireconcile.com/ireconcile .  If you find yourself falling off track, don’t beat yourself up. We can all slip backwards when exhausted, feeling vulnerable or if we’ve just had a bad day. Just gently pick yourself up the next day, dust yourself off and whatever you do – if you see a clown with a stack of balloons, head the other way.

Dark Chocolate Almond Granola Bar Squares

If you want a sweet healthy snack or treat that you can feel good about giving your active kids, these bars are perfect because they’re filling and satisfying.  And if you're like us, you'll love them too!   owever, because they can add up a bit in calories, we tend to have a small square as a dessert, just like you would do with a chocolate bar. Dark Chocolate and Almond Granola Bar Squares Ingredients 2 cups oatmeal 1 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup honey 1/2 cup almond butter 1 tablespoon coconut oil 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/8 tablespoon ground nutmeg 1/8 tablespoon ground cloves 1 cup dark chocolate, coarsely chopped, divided   Directions Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, mix the oatmeal, almonds, and 1/2 cup chocolate in a large bowl. In a medium saucepan, mix the salt, honey, almond butter, coconut oil, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  Warm over medium-low heat until the coconut oil is melted. Pour the honey-almond butter mixture over the oatmeal, almonds, and chocolate.  Mix until everything is well incorporated and the dry ingredients are well coated with the honey-almond butter mixture. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for about 10-15 minutes. While still warm, cut into rectangular bars. Cut 6 rows of 3.  This way you will have 18 bars.  Place the bars in the fridge for about 20 minutes, or until cool. After the bars have been cooling for about 15 minutes, begin to melt the remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate in a double boiler.  Be sure to stir the chocolate often. Once the granola bars are cool, remove from the fridge.  Dip half of each bar into the melted chocolate.  Place back on baking sheet and return to the fridge until the chocolate has hardened, about 20 minutes and cut in half to have 100 calorie treat. Nutrition Facts Serving Size: 22g; Servings per Recipe: 36; Calories: 105; Total Fat: 6g; Saturated Fat: 1g; Sodium: 17mg; Total Carbohydrate: 11g; Fiber: 1g; Protein: 2g If you make 15 bars, each will have 250 calories.  Do you have a favorite chocolate and almond recipe? Our awesome intern Bonnie Averbach created this one and we're obsessed!

A Mother's Love: Bears DisneyNature

I’ll admit it, nature films tend to make me nervous. I’m a softie, I hate to see animals hurt (or dead-I’m still not over the death of Bambi’s mother.) I went into the Disneynature film Bears with cautious optimism. Disney makes fantastic films, but I was prepared to hide at any sad parts. Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, Bears (2014) follows a mother Alaskan brown bear and her two cubs from hibernation through their first year in search of food. Narrator John C. Reilly humorously guides us along with the bear family highlighting the bears’ different personalities. This G rated flick is appropriate for the whole family. Mama bear, Sky, and her babies, Scout and Amber, trek from their den in the mountains over rugged terrain and down to the beach below in search of food-salmon in particular. Along the way they run into a group of bears also looking for food and have to stand strong and earn the right to feed with them. Sky scares off a wolf looking to make a meal out of Scout. She desperately searches for months for the nutrient rich salmon that will sustain her cubs through the 6 months of hibernation. It is hard to believe how close the camera men and women get to the wildlife in this film. The end of the film shows them with their cameras just yards from the enormous bears. Scenic Alaska provides a breathtaking backdrop, with shots so crystal clear you can practically feel the icy waters and smell the fresh air. I am constantly in search of new movies for my family. Bears pleased us all. My three year old sensed the tension in the music and turned her head a few times, but she oohed and aahed over the adorable baby bears. My 8 year old loved hearing all the facts about the bears, I can easily guess the topic of her next school report. Even my 14 year old put down his phone and joined us for the entirety of the film. I peeked over and watched him smile as the cubs goofed around at the beach. I loved watching the mama deal with her cubs’ different personalities in different ways, with 5 kids I can absolutely relate. The bear cubs love and watch out for each other. I hope that I’m nurturing the same bonds in my own children. This tender film about the strength of a mother’s love and guidance of her cubs through a dangerous world, teaches children compassion and helps them see how a strong family can overcome many obstacles. BEARS is available on Blu-ray™ Combo Pack, Digital HD, Disney Movies Anywhere (DMA), and On-Demand August 12th! Order Now. 

Kindergarten Dilemma: Held Back or Youngest in the Class?

As I limp toward the finish line of summer vacation, I start to cycle through thoughts of my kids being the youngest in their respective classes.  And wonder what, if anything, I should do about it.  I have three kids - boy, girl and boy.  I feel like I’ve been churning on this topic for years now, and I feel this way because I actually have been churning on this topic for years. We just moved from the US to Canada and the age cutoff for the start of school is very different, which has forced me to consider AGAIN something that I didn’t think I would have to worry about. The cutoff in Chicago for the public school system (CPS) is September 1.  This made my eldest child, a July baby boy, a candidate for youngest in the class.  He started kindergarten last fall, indeed, as one of the younger kids in his class.  My husband and I, a few years ago, contemplated holding him back solely based on his age. But a number of factors changed our mind, primarily his social and emotional development.  That, and we were told that whenever we enrolled him in CPS they would put him in the age-appropriate grade regardless, so without sending him to private school, there was no way around him being the youngest. Fortunately, he had a number of July boys in the class with him so in the end it all worked out fine. In the middle of this year, we moved to Toronto where the cutoff is December 31st. He is now in the middle of the pack, age-wise.  His younger sister has a January birthday so she hasn’t been terribly affected in either city. My youngest son is a December baby, and he’s actually still somewhat of a baby (18 months), so I’m a tad crazy for even worrying about this right now.  But I can’t help but wrestle with the topic and every once in a while bring it up with my mom friends for their opinion.  His mid-December birthday just about guarantees that he will be the youngest in his class when the time comes, and there are a lot of factors to consider when thinking about whether he should be held back a year. Now as a side note, in the US you are legally required to enroll your child in school in their kindergarten year, while preschool or pre-k is optional.  In Canada, you are not legally required to send your child to school until Grade 1, so junior and senior kindergarten are optional. However, my concern isn’t how old they are when they start school.  My concern is more around their ability to thrive in an environment where there is a significant age disparity of which they have the disadvantage.  Which of course, no matter when the cutoff is, there will always be a youngest and an oldest child. So the question becomes, what do you do?   What measures, if any, do you take to keep your child from being the youngest?  Should you take any action at all?  Or should you just trust the system? Well, the answer isn’t the same for everyone and depends on a number of factors. Factors such as gender, individual personality and maturity all play a role.  Studies show that the brain develops faster in girls, and at a young age their performance in school tends to be better than that of boys.   Where a child falls in their family, whether they are the oldest, middle, youngest or only child can matter.  I wrote a post about birth order and its impact on our personalities, too much to delve into here, but a first born child with a Type-A personality, even if they are the youngest in the class may not have an issue adapting to their classroom setting, whereas a third born child may.  Other considerations are the child’s individual personality and maturity.  You know your child best, how are they developmentally in relation to their peers? I love reading Malcolm Gladwell books and one of them (Outliers), looks at professional hockey players and their birthdays.  A disproportionate number of elite athletes in that profession have birthdays in January, February and March.  Is this a coincidence with the Canadian public school system and cutoff dates, or a direct correlation?  Gladwell says it's a positive correlation.  Children born early in the calendar year are older than their classmates and physically larger (generally) than their younger peers. This means they tend to get selected for the elite teams, get more ice time and that increased exposure to the sport (along with a TON of hard work) gets them to the NHL, at a disproportionate rate to their classmates born later in the year. Now, I have no delusions that my kids are NHL material since neither of their parents can ice skate (poor kids).  But take that example and consider that if my daughter and my youngest son were born in the same year, keeping their birth dates the same (January 6th and December 13th) she would have 25% more life experience than he would.  25% more time (nearly a full year) to develop her social skills, cognitive abilities and fine motor skills. All of the tools that are necessary to set a child up for success in future grades. Fortunately, my youngest is only 18 months old so I still have plenty of time to stew about this and watch as his personality emerges.  But I really don’t know what the right answer is and I don’t know what we will do.   What did you do with your kids?  Would you do anything differently if given the chance?  What WILL you do with your kids?  Do you have thoughts on it?  

My Best Parenting Advice: You Can Never Spoil a Child With Love

My brother and his wife are expecting their first baby any day now.  Every time the phone rings I hold my breath and hope that it's my brother calling to tell me that his wife, Julie, is in labor and that my new little niece, Skylar, will soon be born. I can hardly wait to hold her and to watch my brother step into the role of being a daddy.  I have watched him be an amazing uncle for the past 18 years to his 14 nieces and nephews, so I have no doubt in my mind that he will be an amazing father.  But since I am his older (only by two years) and wiser (what can I say, he went to the University of Florida and I went to Florida State) sister, I thought I would share some parenting advice: During the first few weeks after Baby Skylar is born, you will find yourself looking at your precious little bundle of joy and wondering how one tiny baby can be so much work.  You will wonder if you will ever get more than three or four hours of uninterrupted sleep in a night and ever have some semblance of a normal schedule again. I promise the lack of sleep and seemingly never ending chaos of diaper changes and feedings will come to an end.  It won’t be long until your child is a teenager and you are looking at the clock on a summer morning and wondering how on earth a kid can sleep until noon and miss the better part of the day.    As for feedings, they will become a frenzy during the teenage years which will leave you needing to take out a second mortgage on your house just to keep the pantry stocked.   You will wonder how your little baby went from drinking 4 oz. of milk in a feeding to eating four bags of chips, three sandwiches, 2 bags of cookies and one gallon of milk in a feeding.  The cry of the baby needing a diaper change will soon become the holler from your potty-trained child asking, “Can someone in the house please bring me some toilet paper!” Don’t be in a rush for them to reach each milestone.  You will anxiously wait for them to take their first steps and say their first words.  It will seem like it is just a matter of days when suddenly they are 16 and asking you for your car keys.  You will long for the days when all they knew was the safety of being in your arms.  As for the words that you are so anxiously waiting for them to utter, just wait until they become teenagers and that mouth can begins to fire off words that leave you wondering why we ever wanted our children to learn to say more than “ma-ma and da-da?”  If sweet Skylar has a meltdown in public one day and she will, please don’t be embarrassed or get overly stressed about it.  We have all been there, we have all had children who have at one point or another have had a fit in public that is worthy of an academy awards.  It doesn’t mean you are a bad parent nor have an unruly child.  Children lack the maturity and ability to express their thoughts, feelings and emotions in words and at times it just comes out in the form of a meltdown.  Anyone who gives you the stink eye because your child is having a meltdown, lacks the maturity or memory of what it was like to be the parent of a young child. But most of us remember those days and are likely to be the ones giving you a look of complete understanding. My final advice is never; ever think that if you hold your child too much you will spoil them.  This is a very different world than the one we grew up in as children.  Each day there are stories in the news that leave all of us speechless.  I remember after 9/11 how one of my daughter’s wouldn’t go upstairs to sleep in her room and she was adamant that all of her siblings sleep downstairs with me in the master bedroom.  When I asked her why she said, “Mommy, what if a bad guy flies a plane into our house and you can’t get upstairs to get us?”  That was the moment I realized that the world my children will grow up in will be filled with fears and happenings that many of us never dreamed would happen.  If I can hold my children and make them feel safe and secure in my arms for as long as I can, I feel as if somehow I am fulfilling one of my primary duties as a parent. Love is not a material possession that spoils a child. Having a child who longs for you to pick them up or be close to you is not a bad thing.  Have you ever heard one of the people who have committed some hideous crime on innocent people say, “Judge, I did it because when I was child I was held to much, rocked and cuddled whenever I was afraid and was given unconditional love so as to never feel alone.”?  No, if anything you hear just the opposite.  So don’t be afraid to hold your child as often as you can, talk to them, listen to them, hear them and let them know that you will always be there for them.  That is far from spoiling them. Congratulations to my little brother, Giff and his wife Julie and welcome to parenthood.  It is a job that is more challenging and more difficult than you ever could imagine it would be but it is also more beautiful and fulfilling than anything else you will ever experience.  Welcome to the world Baby Skylar! Share your parental words of wisdom that you would give a first time parent with Blythe at bwnewsome@hotmail.com  or at www.facebook/blythenewsome.com.  

Why I Almost Love My Dog More Than My Kids

I remember vividly the night before my daughter was born.  I was having a scheduled C-section the next morning, so my husband and I knew that it was our last night as a childless couple.  As we lay in bed, anxious and excited and nervous, my enormous belly making it hard for me to breathe, we talked about our hopes and dreams for the little girl we’d be meeting in a few hours.    At some point during the conversation, Chloe, our three year-old Wheaten Terrier, jumped up onto the bed and laid down at my feet.  She looked up at me with her big, brown eyes and I almost started to cry.  "I know that I will," I said to my husband, "but I honestly can’t even imagine how I’m going to love this baby more than I love this dog.  I just love her so much," I told him.  "I really don’t see how there’s room in my heart for any more love than this." Yes, before we had children, my husband and I were those kinds of people.  The dog went with my husband to his office every day, I had pictures of her on my desk at work, we took her with us on vacation, we enrolled her in agility classes, we favored restaurants with outside seating so that we could bring her with us to dinner.  Chloe was our baby, the love of our lives. When I said I couldn't imagine loving a real baby more than I loved her, I really, really meant it. But of course, I was wrong.  Two weeks after my daughter was born, I was locking the dog outside because she barked every time I’d put the baby down for a nap, and within days, she went from being my baby to being just a dog.  Ah, the silly, naïve things that expectant parents say! My sweet Chloe has since passed on, and we have a new dog, Wookie (a.k.a. the Wookster), now three, the same age Chloe was when my daughter was born. The Wookster was born into an already fully-formed family, so he never got to be the baby that Chloe was.  And really, looking back, poor Chloe never stood a chance against my actual babies, with their sweetness and helplessness and perfectness.  Plus, they smelled a lot better.   But the Wookster’s in a different position.  Now that my kids are older, they’re fairly less enchanting than they were as infants, or even toddlers.  And while there’s no doubt that I love my children more than I love my dog, I’ll be honest: the gap isn’t quite as wide as it used to be.  ‘Cause, ya’ know, my kids can be really freaking obnoxious, and my dog is pretty awesome. My dog, for one thing, loves my cooking.  He never tells me that he doesn't like chicken, or that fish is disgusting, or that the turkey meatballs “taste funny.”  Wookie likes everything I make.  He practically begs for my food.  Also, Wookie never tells me he’s bored.  He always manages to find something to do when he’s home all day.  I’m not suggesting that my son should sit around and lick his penis for twenty minutes, but I’m sure he could find something to keep himself occupied.  Oh, and what about this: Wookie is always happy to see me.  When I come home, he whimpers and cries and gives me kisses.  My kids can barely manage to pull themselves away from Jessie long enough to muster up a simple hello.  And, my kids always want new stuff.  They want this, they want that; nothing they already have is ever good enough.  But when I find an old dog toy that’s been sitting under the couch for two years and I show it to Wookie, he acts like it’s Christmas morning.  Does he complain that it’s already been chewed?  Does he whine that it’s covered with dust?  No and no.  Wookie doesn’t get embarrassed if I kiss him and hug him and talk to him in a baby voice in front of other dogs.  And when I tell him it’s time to go somewhere, he’s always ready to go.  I never have to wait for Wookie to fix his hair, or to finish this one last thing.  Most of the time, he’s waiting by the garage door before I even get downstairs.  And the best thing about the Wookster?  He’s always - always - good for a cuddle at bedtime. So maybe I was on to something that night so many years ago, on the eve of first time parenthood.  Maybe I just didn’t quite know how to articulate it back then.  I certainly don’t love my dog more than I love my kids.  But, he’s definitely a hell of a lot easier to deal with.