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Monday, June 30, 2014

book - French Kids Eat Everything

French Kids Eat Everything 
How our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banned snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthy eaters 
by Karen Le Billon

image from

This was such an interesting book! Not only did I learn great tips for teaching kids healthy eating, but she shared history and culture about France that I enjoyed learning about. A great read! I highly encourage you pick this up at the library or order it on She's a witty, sweet, totally realistic mom who struggled to figure out just how to keep her kids from snacking all day long in this foreign country when they moved from Canada to France. It's funny at parts, sad at others, and overall a GREAT and easy read. 

A few tips I learned in this book, based on ideas the author learned from French families in France:
  • Kids need to try foods a number of times (on average 7 times) before they like or don't like it. (page 11)
"Chances are, my children are not going to grow up to go to Harvard, or to be major league sports stars, concert musicians, or NASA astronauts. But no matter who they grow up to be, how and what my children eat will be of great importance to their health, happiness, success, and longevity." (page 12)

"French parents think about healthy eating habits the way North American parents think about toilet training, or reading. If your children consistently refused to read, or even learn the alphabet, would you give up trying to teach them? Would you be content to wait for your children to toilet train by themselves, assuming that they'd eventually 'grow out of it' or 'figure it out'? Probably not. You'd probably figure out strategies to help them develop this essential life skill." (page 13) SO TRUE!

  • Kids are not to play with foods. They are to eat them. 
  • Even everyday meals is like an occasion, something to celebrate. It's not just shoveling food into your mouths. You eat at the table - not couch, not car, not standing up. You sit and eat. Having a nicely decorated table helps the process. (page 20)
  • The table is supposed to be a fun, happy place to be. 
  • Food is NOT punishment or reward. Ever. 
  • It's also not a bribe, pacifier (something to quiet a child, aka emotional eating). It's also not a "substitute for discipline." (page 25)
  • In France, lunch is the biggest meal of the day and it takes two hours. It is 40 % of a child's daily caloric intake. (page 41)
  • Vegetables at every meal, raw one day, cooked the next. 
  • Fish once per week. Fried food no more than once a week. Fruit = dessert most days. 
  • The bottom row of their food pyramid is water. 
  • Kids eat when they are given foods, 4 times a day (3 meals and one afternoon snack), no in between meal snacking. The fewer snacks, the hungrier they are at meal times. 
  • At the daycares, the children ate a few kids at a time, the others waited patiently while the caregivers were one-on-one with kids, feeding them each bite, carefully, slowly. It was a process. (page 51)
  • Food = social. It's a time to talk, check in, smile, laugh, be together. At the table! (page 75)
"The realization slowly dawned on me. Learning how to eat like the French was not just about my kids eating vegetables. It was about changing how we nourished ourselves, and about changing our psychological and emotional relationship to both cooking and eating. This was a bit of a shock. I had thought I would be fighting to change my children's eating habits. Now, I realized, I'd also have to fight my own ingrained eating and cooking habits." (page 81)

  • French parents are less indulgent and strict. They expect their kids to sit quietly, patiently waiting until all are done eating. (page 87)
  • "The French approach, I began to realize, is a very good way to behave if you want to prevent food from becoming a power struggle between parents and kids. At first glance, their methods seem coercive because there are so many rules and limited choices. But in fact the opposite is true. Because there are fixed rules and routines that everyone (including the parents) respects, there is no negotiation and no power struggles. French kids, in general, thrive within this structured approach to parenting. And French parents also make sure that food is fun and tasty, which helps the kids look forward to eating. As a result, their kids are usually happy to come to the table." (page 89)
  • Encouraging kids to eat well does not have to involve conflict. Firm, but with support and fun. (page 104)
  • The best response to kids refusing to eat is indifference. Not caring, ignoring really. (page 109)
  • Rule: you don't have to like it, but you have to try it. (page 111)
  • Kids need to eat REAL food, not processed. (page 117)
  • Eating should be joyful (page 208)
  • Make one meal, that's the only meal you cook. 
  • Don't force them to finish everything on their plate. Serve small portions and let them ask for more. If they have control, they eat better. (page 218)
  • Include something they will like to eat at each meal (page 220)
  • VARIETY = great! Spice it up, try new things.
  • Make a happy face plate (tomatoes for eyes, etc.) (page 222)
"The average French household spends one-quarter of its food budget (excluding desserts) on vegetables. What would your weekly menus look like if you did that?" (page 230)

GREAT RECIPES in the back!
I'd love to try this one: Tomates Farcies (Stuffed Tomatoes)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion 
1/2 lb ground beef
4 large tomatoes
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Optional add spices and/or peppers, garlic

Saute the beef and onion. 
Slice off tops of tomatoes and hollow out.
Combine bread crumbs, herbs and spices together. Add this to meat mixture.
Spoon into tomatoes.
Top with cheese. 
Bake 20 to 25 minutes at 275 degrees.


Friday, June 27, 2014

book - It's Not About the Broccoli

It's Not About the Broccoli
Three habits to teach your kids for a lifetime of healthy eating 
by Dina Rose, Ph. D. 

image from

This book is amazing! I learned so much I want to re-read it just to make sure it all sinks in. I've read tons of books about teaching our kids to eat healthy foods, but this is by far the BEST. I fully intend to purchase this book because I know it'll be a great resource for years to come.

You can tell this doctor is also a mother, because she really seems to understand what kids need and the way they operate around a dinner table. I'm so impressed at how straight-forward the rules and ideas are, they aren't written with huge language or doctor speak, it's plain old mommy English so we can really put these ideas to use in our homes.

She encourages the use of these 3 ideas around food with kids: (page 23)

  • Proportion - "We eat foods like fruits and vegetables more often than we eat foods like hot dogs or crackers." 
  • Variety - eating all kinds of different foods each day.
  • Moderation - Eating only when hungry, stopping when full. 
She said just like learning to walk, talk, etc. learning to eat right doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, encouragement, patience, etc. from we parents. 

On page 32, she wrote about how we are all born with natural preferences for sugar, fatty, sweet foods. "consistently giving your kids sugar... you just ramp up that natural preference, making their craving for sweet things even stronger." 

"If you taste a flavor frequently, it becomes the baseline expectation for how food should taste. That's how habits work." (page 32)

Her philosophy on how what we provide to our kids for food is not only nutritionally feeding them, but also teaching them food habits. For example, giving them one kind of food can make them naturally go toward another food that we didn't plan on them eating. 

"Sweetened fruit yogurts point kids toward pudding and ice cream. Breakfast bars lead to pastries. Crackers teach kids to like chips. Granola bars aim kids toward cookies. Juice sets kids up to drink soda." (page 34)

"Another problem is that when you serve predictable kinds of foods at predictable times, you're creating a limited sensory experience... Kids who eat the same kinds of things at the same time of day, over and over, are more likely to become rigid in their approach to food - and rigidity is the opposite of being willing to try new things." (page 43)

A good idea to arrange this is to serve your kids foods at different times. For example, breakfast for dinner, or a sandwich for breakfast. 

She's not in favor of encouraging kids to eat supper so they can eat dessert. It entices kids to think the dessert is the good stuff, do whatever to get through to that part of the meal, it's better, the sweet part is the good part. These are not great long-term food ideas for kids.

She also suggests NOT encouraging to eat one more bite or to finish their plates... as kids typically won't anyway, it causes them to utilize their only means of control and not eat at all at that point, for the most part. Even if they did eat a bite or two more, what was gained besides you winning and the kid giving up? The goal is to teach kids to notice when they are full and hungry.

The author's rule is "never serve the same food (except milk) two days in a row." 

This is called the Rotation Rule. Rotate through which foods you serve, to encourage kids to eat more variety in their diet. 

She also encourages having Eating Zones, periods of time when breakfast is served, snacks are eaten, dinner is on the table, etc. It doesn't have to be exact minutes, but overall time zones, so that kids learn to eat at certain times.

Variety ... including the sweets are OK!

Rose suggests that "what you eat isn't important; what's important is how often you eat it." (page 123)

"There are people out there who disagree. They would say that your children have to avoid certain kinds of foods at all costs; anything containing high fructose corn syrup is one type that readily comes to mind. I think, though, that you can find a place in your children's diets for anything they want to eat (or anything you will allow them to eat). Candy? Doughnuts? French fries? Bring 'em on. Just keep them in their place. Not only are Treat Foods tasty, but they are everywhere. You can't avoid them. Your kids aren't going to live in a world without junk food. If you don't teach your kids how to put Treat Foods into their proper proportions now, you're sending them out into the world without an essential skill." (page 123)


Serve fruits or vegetables with EVERY meal your child eats. 
It's a crazy thought, but really not that bad. This way you know there is something good there for your child and that she will at least get used to eating those each meal.

A good way to try to give kids vegetables is as an appetizer before lunch or dinner. Have cut up veggies ready to go, even with dip, it's a healthy option. (page 134)

She also encourages you to make dinner not the pressure-filled meal of the day. Make it a take or leave type of meal, something that if the kids are too tired, busy, fussy, etc. to eat it (like most kids are at the end of the day), it's OK, they have filled up on other foods during the day that were healthy.

Rose encourages we parents to have mind shifts. To think differently about what we think we know about feeding our kids. If we can realize that putting veggies into mac n' cheese yes makes it better but still doesn't make mac n' cheese so great to eat all the time, or that the way we encourage our kids to finish their meal before dessert is in theory good but setting them up for short-term success instead of long-term healthy habits, we'll all be better off. 

"When it comes to the task of teaching kids to enjoy new foods, pressure is your enemy. It makes mealtime miserable. Parents push, kids resist, and everyone feels tense. Parents end up communicating  disappointment and failure to their kids because it's hard to applaud that tentative taste when you're hoping for so much more. Kids end up thinking, 'Why try?' On top of all that, the pressure creates a negative association with whatever food you're pushing." (page 141)

I was pleased to see this tip, as it's something I swear by and we've always done with our children: Serve up at least one familiar food you know your kids enjoy at every single meal. That way you know that if they don't like the new fish dinner or the new soup you are trying out on them, they will enjoy the fruit you served or the bread, etc.

"Whether to eat is ALWAYS your child's decision." (page 168)

"Even though there are plenty of reasons not to trust what your children say about being hungry or full, you really have no other options. How much your children eat is something they have to decide for themselves." (page 196)

All parents need backup right?! Rose states that you should feed your kids what you're making, end of story, no making second and third meals. We eat what we're given, that's the end of it. However, sometimes kids just aren't as hungry or aren't as daring... so to avoid the issue, she says to come up with a Backup Meal. 

The Backup Meal needs to be something that's not exciting, nothing tasty that they prefer. So no PBJ sandwiches. She used a Backup Meal of cottage cheese. It's something a lot of kids do like eating, but it's not fruity like yogurt or cereal, and it's filling with protein. If the child doesn't want the regular meal after trying some, the Backup Meal is offered. It's something boring that if the child does this game every night at dinner time, she's going to get sick of it and end up trying the real meal.

Buy different colors, shapes, flavors, different brands of food, etc. Make it different so your kids can get used to different things. For example, kids who love mac n' cheese or chicken nuggets at home but cannot eat those things in a restaurant because they don't taste or look the same. If they were used to various brands, they'd do better when out and things are different. Try various textures and tastes.

When ordering in restaurants, order from the appetizers for kids instead of the kids' menu, sometimes it's healthier. Keep serving sizes small so it's less expectation for kids to try something new. Serve salad or veggies first, then the rest of the meal so there is less competition with other yummy foods for your kids so they try the veggies. (page 188)

"If your kids resist, don't try to coax or to convince. Reinforce Eating Zones with a safety net instead." 

When you pressure kids to eat more than they want (try one more bite!) you teach them to stop listening to their internal cues or to recognize when they are hungry and full, a life skill they need to be a healthy adult. (page 197)

This was such a fantastic book - such real-life, helpful tips. 
She is realistic, too, that's my favorite part. Author Dina Rose encourages having a candy drawer in your house and teaching kids to moderate when they eat from it! What?! In a health book, a candy drawer? I love it. I'm a realist. I want my kids eating healthy food and growing up big and strong, but at the same time I'm living in the U.S. where we're at a birthday party at least once a month and there is cake served and chips and dip and lots of Goldfish around us. I'm loving these ideas of moderation, variety, teaching our kids internal hunger cues and when to notice that they are full or hungry.

These are not novel ideas. We've probably heard these things before. But this doctor and author and originally mother puts these ideas into practice and real ideas that work for busy parents. I LOVE this book. I think you will, too!


Thursday, June 26, 2014

tidbits from Parents

Some great ideas in the recent issue of Parents magazine for July 2014! Check it out!

  • They have a list of great summer places to visit in each of the states in America. I found out about a new one near me I'd never heard of in Greenland, NH, Great Bay Discovery Center. They have story time and activities this summer I'd love to check out! If you're traveling this summer to another state, check out this list of activities! (page 44)
  • Talk to your kids about not petting another dog they don't know until they ask the owner. Great advice I'm sure some parents forgot about! Especially during the summer when we're outdoors more, good tip. 
  • Did you know 9,400 kids are harmed annually from high chairs? Falling out of them primarily. Don't be one of the numbers, strap them in safely! (page 56)
  • This was news to me... apparently a study was done about noise makers and newborns and how they could damage their hearing in those beginning forming stages. For newborns the sound machine should be 6 1/2 feet away from baby's head. 
  • 1 in 30 babies born today is a twin! (page 64) Great article about the positives to having twins.
  • Page 70, great article bout avoiding food dyes and preservatives for kids. We've been monitoring food dyes in our son's diet the last six months or more and while I don't see a huge difference in behaviors, I know it's much healthier. 
  • Teach kids to name their feelings. It's SO important to avoid overreactions and meltdowns. Teach them to say "I'm mad because" instead of just stomping or hitting or using some form of negative behavior to voice their feelings.

  • On page 89, a great article with many recipes about burgers. Who doesn't love burgers in the summer?!
  • On page 108, huge article about thyroid disease and symptoms of it. If you think you have something going on with your thyroid (weight gain or loss, extreme exhaustion and fatigue, etc.) check out this article, great information. 
  • LOVED the article, "Are you naggravating?"on page 116, about how we interact with our partners. Instead of asking the same question 10 times or assuming we're right, we need to listen and choose the right moment to ask them something and not harp on it being done our way. Great ideas we all could be reminded of. 
  • Searching for a new family car? AWESOME article on page 133 explaining the pros about various family options for cars. Well-done. 
Overall, another info-packed, great tips for real moms in this issue of Parents! I LOVE this magazine. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

it's the thought that counts, especially as a mom

Recently I received a bouquet of edible fruits (strawberries, bananas and apples covered in chocolate, um can you say DELICIOUS!?!) at work from one of my best and oldest friends. She lives states away from me, we see each other once a year and talk mostly via long drawn-out voicemails that sound more like we're actually talking to each other or through text messages three days later when we remember we didn't respond to the message because kids were screaming.

She sent me this thoughtful note, a month after my grandmother died, to say she was thinking of me in that grief. She sent it 17 days after my birthday to say "hope you had an awesome day!" and on my final day of work for the summer, after she'd wanted to send it earlier in the year when I had lots of work stuff going on.

I thought this was amazing!  Not only did she remember some big moments in my life, even if later than she'd planned on, but also her life was in chaos that week with house issues and a sick kiddo and stressful job situation. She still took time to acknowledge our friendship.

A week later I received my birthday card and then a separate sympathy card in the mail. This is like 1 1/2 months after she'd planned to send these notes of encouragement and love.

Did I think, "Um, really? a little too late don't ya think?" HELL NO.
I thought, "are you freakin' kidding me?! she's too much, so thoughtful! LOVE this!"

These cards made my day.

Again, I could picture her writing this at 10 at night after all kids were asleep and before cleaning her messy house. I could see her writing it with a toddler nagging at her and pulling on her dress, "Mama!!! Elmo on, Mama!!! I want snack, Mama!!! Mama!!!" and her having to put the pen down about 10 times before sealing the envelope. I imagined, how the heck did she focus enough to even write my address on the envelope?!

I had nothing but admiration, respect and pure joy from her doing these things for me. Some mom friends would have been annoyed at how "late" she was with acknowledging some big moments. They would have thought she wasn't a good friend because she wasn't "on time" weeks ago with her sentiments.

I truly know how it goes. To be so busy or truly exhausted that you can't think straight, you have no idea what day it really is on the calendar, and how two weeks can pass by when you think it's been a matter of a a few days.

I get it. Which is why I am a better friend to my mommy friends than I ever was pre-mommyhood. I respect that sometimes I won't get a phone call back for a week. I get that sometimes texting during the dinner rush meltdown hour after work is the best it's going to get, even when we're discussing something serious like health concerns or the family member's death. I get that sometimes we won't talk for a month and then be interrupted 10 times when we finally do get on the phone and ultimately hang up with "gotta go, bye!" because the baby is screaming or the big kid just pushed his sister.

It's life. It's our reality when you're a mother that you aren't going to do all you say or want to do. You have to prioritize. And sometimes that means you have to pick up medicine at the pharmacy and don't have time to pick up a card for your friend. Sometimes it means having to choose between keeping your child's strict nap time so she is in a good mood later or getting to your friend's house on time. 

We're making choices constantly as moms. Real friends will understand this. 

Friends without kids won't understand this, these choices and dilemmas we moms are faced with when it comes to our friends mixing with our kids and those different lives overlapping. It's not their fault though, I truly believe that. Give them some slack. Teach them, educate them on what your life is like while not preaching, and try to understand when they just don't get it. You probably didn't get it until your kids were born either.

After you have children, your friendships change. Maybe they only alter slightly, if you're lucky. Most go through transformations, ups and downs, moments of distance and moments of closeness. This is normal. You changed. Your entire world changed. Of course your friendships may change along with that. 

It won't always be like it was when you were dressed up and sassy, dancing at your best bud's wedding, focused on nothing else but how your hair looked and which song was coming on next or who ate the largest piece of cake!

That's sad in some ways, but a relief in others.

You have more to focus on now, more that makes your world brighter. And hopefully, if you put time in and you acknowledge your friends' limitations as a mom now, you both grow together and develop this even thicker bond as mom friends.

Well, I decided to pay it forward, this niceness, a dollar short and a day late (or however that saying goes!).

Yesterday I showed up at preschool to pick up my son and I had three small bouquets of flowers for the preschool teachers. I spent $15 at the flower shop. These bouquets were small (daisies, carnations and sunflowers). But they were gorgeous and simple and sweet, just what I wanted.

I wrote sweet notes to the teachers, "Thank you for your patience through our tough stages of not sharing this year. Thank you for helping him on the potty. Thank you for always having a smile and hug for him every single day. You're wonderful at what you do. We appreciate you very much. You taught him so much more than to write his name this year." Things that were specific and meaningful.

They were shocked, hugged me and so happy to feel appreciated.

I felt guilty. I originally wanted to give them something during Teacher Appreciation Week a month ago - a gift card, a cute Pinterest-inspired water bottle filled with treats or something with my son's hand prints. I felt like I was too late. I had wanted to do something for the last day of the official school year last week. I had thought and thought, but had no time, no money, and got busy doing a zillion other things.

So for a few days I decided, oh well, I'll just catch up with them at Christmas time or next June. No big deal.

But then I realized yesterday, it's important. Even if it doesn't make sense, the timing, even if you're "late." It's important to acknowledge what's special, what's important to us. It's OK if you aren't always on track, if you aren't doing it right when your perfect pre-mommy world mind would tell you to do something.


A gift is a gift no matter when you do it. 
A sweet word is nice to hear whenever you say it. 
A beautiful hand-written note is thoughtful whenever you send it. 

I find there's beauty in being honest as a mom.
You know this to be true if you've read ANYTHING I've written the last few years on this blog! I don't like sugar-coating this motherhood adventure. I like being as real as possible, I think it helps us be better moms, honest.

It's OK to say to the preschool teachers, "I really wanted to do this a month ago, but I was so busy at work that I just didn't get to it," or to say to your best friend, "I am so sorry I didn't send you a card when your grandmother died, I had one picked out two days after I heard from you... but then I had no stamps and I couldn't find your updated address, and then my daughter colored on your envelope so I had to find another one... but know I have thought of you ever day the last month."

Just be honest. Don't make excuses. Nobody likes excuses. Just give reasons, facts, the truth. Sometimes that feels like excuses... but there's a difference. If you share from your heart, genuine, thoughtfully, and with kindness... they will respect you.

Who was there before your partner, before your kids? Your friends, for the most part.
So acknowledge them. Remember them. Tell them you miss them and be honest about your experience.

When they don't call you back right away, be OK with that. Imagine they are covered in poopy diapers or changing some laundry over or making dinner and kids are screaming so they wouldn't be able to hear you anyway.

When they don't get that planning a wedding at 1 p.m. is right in the middle of your kid's nap, forgive them, and roll with it with your tired kid.

When they are late to your play date when you busted your butt to get their on time, pick them up a coffee and pass it over with a smile saying, "I've been there, no worries, we've got plenty of time to play."

When they interrupt you 10 times to tend to their kids when you're talking about your partner who is driving you nuts or your work issue or your child's health scare - things so important to you that you've been dying to talk to someone about all week - take a deep breath, find some patience, and smile at how cute your kids are playing together, and keep talking.

We've all been there. That's what it comes down to. At some point you are going to be the friend forgetting, not being on time, sending things much overdue. You are going to be the one who forgets to call her back, whose child deletes the text message so you didn't see it. 

When you are that friend, you'll want the ladies in your life to accept you, to forgive you and roll with it, understanding that this mothering thing is HARD and doesn't always go as planned. 

We just need a little support from our friends sometimes. It'll make your tough job as mom go much smoother, and probably make you laugh along the way.

Here are a few things you could do to keep your friendships with your momma friends strong:

  • Send an email or FB message if it's easier than sending a card
  • Join FB so that the site reminds you of her birthday and you don't have to ever forget again
  • Call her, even if you have 5 minutes. I know sometimes we think "oh I can't call, I don't have the 30 minutes I'd like to talk to her for" but that doesn't mean you can't call. Just call! I have four friends who I call every week on my commute to work after dropping the kids off... I have literally 5 minutes to talk, that's how close drop off at daycare and my work are together. But if I don't call then, I will never call... so I call. Sometimes we literally only get through the "oh how are you? how have you been?" stage of the call, but so be it. It almost always ends with me saying "sorry, I'm walking into the building now, gotta go, bye!" 
  • If she tells you "I'll call you back later!" and then it's 9 p.m. and she hasn't called, let it go. She got busy with kids or she collapsed on the couch scrolling Facebook. It's all good when you're a mom. Be understanding. 
  • Accept limitations... yours and hers. You can't do it all. I wanted to send flowers when my friend's daughter was in the hospital, but I had no money that week... so couldn't. I felt terrible. So I sent a card. It's OK to do what we can do. 
  • If she forgets your wedding anniversary, even though she was your bridesmaid, but texts you the next day saying she saw it on FB and is so sorry for forgetting but loved being part of your day, believe her. We all forget dates from time to time, do you really always know what day it is today?! 
  • Make friendships a priority... even if they come on the list after household chores, job and kids and partner. Make them on the list. That's the important part. 
  • It's OK to be late on things... but remember that when it's REALLY important (births and deaths, for instance) you should stop whatever chores you have lined up or even skip a birthday party so you can at least call, text, or stop by for 10 minutes to show your love and support. When my grandmother died, my friend didn't send a card or flowers until much later, but she texted me every day and called the night of the funeral to see how I was doing. That was enough at that time. Put in some effort, even when you have no time or energy left in you, when it is important. 
  • Go out once a month with the girls! Make it a set time... first Friday of every month for example. If you can't do a regular girls NIGHT out, then get coffee some morning. Do what works. Just put in some effort to make it happen. 
  • Realize it's OK for friendships to change as you get older, as you gain more kids, as you get busier. It's OK to have some distance, then get closer again, distance, etc. It's a process, this friendship + motherhood stuff. That's normal. It doesn't mean she loves you any less. 
  • Accept that nobody is perfect. Not even you. I don't do all these things on this list, I try, but I'm not the greatest friend either. Give credit for trying, that's what counts. The thought... it's what really counts when your moms.
  • Try to focus when you're with her, try not to talk too much about your kid or how awesome you are at this or that. Try listening more than talking. And always, always be honest. Don't sugar-coat your mom experience. If it's a crappy day, share that. And if your friend shares something with you, don't judge her for it. Be supportive. 

HAVE FUN, LADIES! We need more mom-friends who get us! 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

a Story Land adventure - Trisha Antalek

Thanks to Trisha Antalek for sharing her family's visit to Story Land with us! Sounds like so much fun and such great ideas! Great advice about encouraging your child to try new rides and experiences.  Seeing Cinderella sounds like every kid's dream! Thanks!

1. When did you go to Story Land? Who went with you? 
We went May 31st (the 2nd weekend it was open).  It was my husband Mike, daughter Arianna who just turned 2.5, and my parents.  

2. What did you do beforehand to prepare for the trip? How far in advance did you save money? 
I honestly didn’t do any research other than looking on the Story Land website (I was excited about the new wooden roller coaster).  We went last year so I knew what to expect. We didn’t really save money in advance.

3. How much did your trip cost, including hotel, park visits, food, etc. (try breaking it down as much as you remember for us... $$ on hotel, for example, etc.)? 
I grew up in Fryeburg, ME which is about 30 mins south of Glen.  My parents still live there so we stayed with them.  Arianna was free and then we bought the 4 adults tickets. We brought water and some snacks so just purchased lunch (about $15 for 2 adults and 1 child).  We made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but left them at home!  :/  We didn’t purchase any souvenirs. 

4. Where did you start researching for this trip? Any helpful Web sites, you used, etc.? 
I just looked at the Story Land web site since we didn’t stay in a hotel.

5. Did you receive any special discounts, coupons, or have some secret tips to share about saving money? 
Next year when Arianna is older, I think we will go after 2:00 (after 3:00 July-Aug) so we can get in free the next day.  I felt that she was still too young this year to need the extra 2-3 hours. 

6. Did you eat there, pack lunches, leave at a certain time and go back, etc.?  
We packed snacks (I was super bummed I forgot our PB&J sandwiches at home!) and ate lunch there.  We arrived right when they opened at 9:30 and stayed until about 2:00.  We could have tried to squeeze in a few more rides that we missed but it started to rain more heavily and Arianna was getting tired. 

7. What is your best advice for visiting Story Land... pack ___ in a backpack? wear swim clothes? go in afternoon and go back the next day? etc.? 

I spoke to many people (including my relatives who live in the area) and most recommended going the first few weekends they open.  It is still considered off season during the late spring so the park isn’t as crowed or as hot. 

I would imagine that going during the week is less crowded than the weekend but that wasn’t an option for us this year. I also think they the weather played a huge part in the park being so slow that day.  It was overcast, cooler, and there was a 40% change of showers.  It was perfect weather if you ask me!  It wasn’t hot and the lines were super short (or none at all) so that made for a happy family.  It did lightly rain on and off but there are rides and attractions you can enjoy out of the rain.  

The Loopy Lab was really fun.  It is a covered area where kids can “vacuum up” and shoot soft balls at each other. There is also a magic act in there but we missed it.  There are a few shows you can enjoy while hiding from the rain.  Don’t let a “bad” weather report scare you away – embrace it!  You may just luck out like us.

If your kids get tired… take a break on the train ride around the park or watch some shows. 

We didn’t do any water attractions because of the weather but if we did, I would have brought a change of shorts for everyone… or left the change of clothes in the car and go on the water rides right before we left.  

A backpack is a must… hat, sunscreen, waters, snacks, camera. 

8. Top 3 tips for spending the day at an amusement park with your children? 
Go with the flow.  Let your kids dictate (for the most part) where and what they want to explore. 

Gently encourage your child(ren) to step out of their comfort zone but don’t push them too much. Arianna takes 15-20 minutes to warm up to new places/people.  She had no interest in Mother Goose land (she was afraid of Humpty and didn’t even want to explore the playground which is currently her most favorite activity).  She was nearing tantrum territory and we all thought that this trip was going to be a waste. Then, she saw some kids on the small tiger merry-go-round and she snapped out of her foul mood.  There was the smile and excitement we expected!  Arianna then proceeded to ride the teacups with us which really surprised me.  After that, there was no stopping her!  She was a riding machine :) 

9. What would you do differently if you went again on this trip? 
I wouldn’t have forgotten our sandwiches so that we could have saved money on Arianna and my lunch!

10. How old were your kids when they went on this trip, and do you think they got a lot out of it, remember it, etc.? Was it a good age span to go to this amusement park? 
Arianna was 2 years 5 months. I really think she enjoyed it.  She loved looking at all our photos on the computer when we got home.  And, she has mentioned wanting to go back to “tory land” a few times already.  Our first trip was last June when she was 18 months and I know Arianna enjoyed herself much more this time.  I don’t think 18 months is necessarily too young… but you certainly don’t need a whole day there if you don’t have any older children with you.  

11. Best part about Story Land? What did your kids LOVE? What was your favorite part? 
My husband and I loved the new wooden roller coaster, Roar-O-Saurus!  We left Arianna with my parents and went on the ride twice since the line was so short.  

As a family, we enjoyed the tea cups, antique car, and train together.  The tea cup was Arianna’s first “fast” ride so it was fun to watch her.  

The train ride is always nice for a rest.  Arianna also enjoyed the flying shoe, carousel, driving the farm tractor, and of course the pumpkin coach ride up to see Cinderella!  

12. Anything else you want to add?
We are looking forward to experiencing new rides and attractions next year.  Since Arianna is on the short side, she wasn’t tall enough to go on the Polar Coaster or the Bamboo Shoots. My husband can’t wait to take her on those rides next summer! 

the momME summer challenge - focusing on YOU!

It's the official start to summer! YAY! 
We all wait for all year for sunny days, ice cream for dinner, later bed times, splashing in water, and overall just letting lose and enjoying life all the more.

Well, I think something that should come along with summer loving is showing some love to yourself. You work hard as a mother! You are coming and going in different directions. You juggle tons of responsibilities, keep it together, have a memory better than anyone else you know. You do dishes, laundry, carpool, and birthday gifts.

Quite frankly, you freakin' rock! 

So. People who rock deserve some time to themselves, time to rejuvenate and unwind. Time to relax and smile and rest. We rarely get time to do these things, don't we?!

But we NEED it.

I believe that we are better moms, partners, workers and friends if we take the time to care for ourselves. It doesn't have to be a full day of spa treatment (though that's pretty awesome sounding!). It can be 5 minutes of eating ice cream or painting your nails before you crash in bed from a long busy day. It doesn't have to be something glamorous. It could just be going grocery shopping by yourself and grabbing an iced coffee on the way, blaring your own music instead of Frozen songs again in the car.

So I've created a challenge for you.
This challenge is supposed to be FUN, no pressure, no expectations, not a lot of work.

I challenge you to think of yourself. Put yourself first. Address your own needs.
Do this at least once a week this entire summer.

When you do something nice for yourself, I encourage you to post it to the Mommy Stories Facebook page, message me and I'll compile responses for a weekly blog post, or add to Instagram and tag @themommystories. Remember to use the #momMEchallenge so we can follow your progress.

Welcome to the momME challenge! 

Here are a few ideas of ways to treat yourself just to get you started:

  • dance in the kitchen while making dinner
  • get take out instead of making dinner so you can relax a bit 
  • paint your nails or better yet get a pedicure
  • get your hair done... and get it shampooed also instead of passing on the shampoo or drying to get to the fam
  • read a book or magazine - that has nothing to do with parenting
  • go shopping for clothes for YOU, no kids' clothes allowed!
  • pick up some new makeup, even if you rarely put makeup on since you stay at home most days
  • exercise, run, walk, move your body!
  • eat something nutritious, healthy, something that gives you energy and makes you feel better 
  • eat something delicious, sweet, tasty, cold ice cream or amazing chocolate just because it's fun
  • laugh until you cry
  • go out with the girls 
  • organize something that is all about you - your underwear drawer, closet, car, purse, etc. 
  • buy new shoes, underwear, accessories, etc. 
  • buy yourself or pick flowers for your bedroom 
  • write a card to a friend, call and talk for hours, text someone you miss
  • put your feet up
  • drink something amazing 
  • scroll Facebook or Pinterest for absolutely no reason
  • take a lunch break at work. like a real one, where you aren't replying to work emails or checking in on the kids. do something for you during lunch. 
  • take a selfie and tell yourself, "damn I'm awesome and look great after having kids! I'm gorgeous!" and then believe it. everyone else thinks it, so should you!
  • buy yourself something you've been waiting to buy 
  • go to the movies alone or pick a girlie flick when your partner wants to watch something at home
  • don't do chores. even for just an hour. just put them aside!
  • do your chores first - if you usually fold all the kids' laundry first, do yours first this time. see how it feels to change it up! 
  • take a nap, sleep in later than normal, go to bed earlier/later = whatever you need, do it! 
  • BREATHE. just sit and breathe. it's allowed you know?! :) 

You deserve a break every now and then. Take one this summer. Even if you do the challenge just one time, it's worth it. I swear you'll feel better and your family will appreciate you even more :) 


Saturday, June 14, 2014

our Sesame Street Place adventure

When my mom said she wanted to take us on a special trip to Sesame Place in Pennsylvania, right outside New Jersey, I was SO excited! Not only was I psyched about it for my kids, they adore Cookie Monster and Elmo, but also for myself. I'm a huge Sesame Street fan! Huge.

Disney World seems like a far away trip to us, something we won't be able to afford for quite some time, so to me this was the next best thing at this stage in our kids' lives. Of course it's nothing compared to Disney, just saying on a smaller scale it was SUPER exciting for us to take a mini vacation to Sesame.

Hope this helps you plan a trip yourself!

(Next post will be about our second day of the mini vacation, to Philadelphia Zoo!)

We had the most beautiful day at Sesame Street - 80 degrees, not humid, just such a nice sunny day! 

1. When did you go to Sesame Place? Who went with you?
We went the first weekend in June. It was me, my husband and two kids (ages 2 and 4), and my mom and sister and her boyfriend. It was about six hours from southern Maine, so not a terribly long trip.
2. What did you do beforehand to prepare for the trip? How far in advance did you save money? 
I read a lot on the Sesame Place Web site. Tons of information on there! Also, my co-worker had told me a lot about it already so we had some ideas (she also gave us those adorable Sesame Place t-shirts! Score!). As far as saving money, we didn't save long because it was a combined birthday special trip my mom wanted to give to us, so she took care of hotel and tickets to the amusement park, we did food and gas and other things.

I also printed off from the Sesame Web site all of the parade and show times, as well as how much things were going to cost so we could budget.
3. How much did your trip cost, including hotel, park visits, food, etc. (try breaking it down as much as you remember for us... $$ on hotel, for example, etc.)?
Since my mom did this as a gift to us, I'm not sure exactly how much everything cost...but I do know we stayed at a hotel outside the park, so about 25 minutes away in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, because it was much cheaper than staying at a hotel across the street from the park.

We also stayed at Marriott because they include breakfast the next morning. That was a huge money and time saver! I highly recommend staying in a hotel that offers breakfast.

We went to the park in early June to beat the heat and crowds, but also because they offered a spring special, $20 off per ticket. We saved $140 right there! This was a deal that was only online, so check their Web site ahead of time to score some deals!
4. Where did you start researching for this trip? Any helpful Web sites, you used, etc.?
We used their Web site
I had Googled looking for people's reviews on the park but hadn't found much.
5. Did you receive any special discounts, coupons, or have some secret tips to share about saving money?
We saved money by going early in the spring, $20 off per ticket, printed online. Kids under 2 are free also if you have younger children.

6. Best places to eat, stay, visit, etc.? Things you encourage families with kids MUST do while in that area?
We were PSYCHED to find a Margarita's Mexican restaurant literally right outside the park. At the end of a hot, exhausting, busy day, that was the perfect ending - endless tortilla chips with salsa and cold drinks and dinner - perfect! We sat out on their patio, because it's part of the bar area we could get right in without waiting and it was nice sitting outside.

Also right near Sesame Place is the Philadelphia Zoo (another blog post coming on this one!), a children's museum, aquarium, Please Touch Museum, etc. We easily could have stayed in this area at least 4 days!
7. Did you eat there, pack lunches, leave at a certain time and go back, etc.? 
We ate breakfast at the hotel. I packed yogurts and milk from the hotel breakfast in our cooler for later for snacks. I packed tons of snacks: granola bars, peanut butter crackers, nuts and raisins, animal crackers, Goldfish, fruit pouches, bananas, etc. I had these all rationed out into small packages so it was easiest to give to the kids while on the go. We had tons of water also.

My husband loves cold drinks, but those are so expensive at parks like this. So I prepared ahead of time with a tip from my co-worker, and got some single serving mix drinks, Iced Tea, lemonade, etc. He just poured into a water bottle and had a cold drink without the cost. It was $3 for 12 of those single drink mixes!

I also packed peanut butter rice cake sandwiches for both kids. I knew they'd be hungry early on and probably at inconvenient times like in line waiting for a ride, so I wanted to have something on hand that was easy. That with the yogurt from the morning and some fruit was perfect. 

For the adults, we bought lunch there, it was just easy this time to do that. Lunch was not terribly expensive. They had tons of options- healthy and not so healthy. The lines were long though... so for this reason alone next time we go I'd pack a cooler of sandwiches and things and leave that in our car, head out of the park at lunch time to just get a bite to eat in the car (there are picnic tables and a covered shady area right out by the parking lot to sit and eat). I think the break from the crowds would have been nice, too. They do allow you to re-enter, you can even drive away from the park (across the street are TONS of malls and stores and restaurants). 

8. What is your best advice for visiting Sesame Place ... pack ___ in a backpack? wear swim clothes? go in afternoon and go back the next day? etc.? 
In the backpack we had tons of snacks, spare clothing for each child, sun hats, sunscreen, chap stick, band-aids (that we did end up needing for someone who stubbed her toe!), diapers, wipes, sunglasses for the kids, bathing suits, hand sanitizer, etc. Then we brought a small cooler with ice packs, water, yogurts, etc. They only let you bring in a small size cooler, nothing large into the park, you can keep a larger one in your car though.

We wore regular clothes into the park, did all the rides first, had lunch, watched a show, then we changed into bathing suits. My husband had to buy some water shoes there so I'd encourage everyone who is going with you to bring water shoes.

I didn't know if we should wear sneakers or flip flops into the park for the rides at first. I'm SO glad I wore sneakers! It's a ton of walking, and in the afternoon after we'd been in bathing suits and I had flip flops on, my feet were killing me from walking around those last couple of hours in flip flops.

We got there right when they opened, just after 10 a.m. and stayed until 5:30 p.m. when we were all exhausted and hungry for dinner. We did not attend 2 shows, didn't make it on two rides, and did not go on the water slides area... but we did everything else. So if you wanted to make sure you hit absolutely every little thing, I'd say you'd want two days there, one more for rides, and another for water stuff.

9. Top 3 tips for spending the day at an amusement park with your children? 
1. Hydrate! We had to keep reminding our kids to drink, drink, drink, and same with us! I thought I drank enough, but near the end of the day I could tell I was dehydrated.

2. Be in the moment. It's great to take pictures. It's great to make sure you have a route and plan and stay organized, but stay in the moment. Laugh, hug, hold hands, and try to memorize the look on your kids' faces. This is something they'll remember!

3. Pack ahead of time. Because I spent the whole week before we left packing, little by little, making lists, picking things up at the store, etc. it reminded me of things I wanted to be sure we had. Don't leave packing for kids to a big park to the last minute.

Also, when packing, make sure you pack and prepare ahead of time, be organized, not to be controlling, but more so that you can really enjoy your time there. We didn't have to stress out when our child complained that they were hungry while waiting for a show because we had snacks in our bag. We could drink up as much as we wanted to because we brought water bottles. 

We had everything we needed with us in the backpack and stroller, so it made our time much easier and smooth while in the park trying to have fun. You don't want to stop and wait in line for a drink instead of heading to meet characters, instead just pack some drinks! It honestly saved not only money but time.
10. What would you do differently if you went again on this trip?
I'd pack sandwiches and leave a big cooler in the car, instead of eat in the park. The park food was not bad, I had a good mozzarella tomato sandwich. But it's more expensive and not as good as if you make something quick yourself or pick up subs. Also, you save time by packing things... so instead of wasting time in line waiting for food that wasn't awesome, we could have quickly been outside the park, eating quietly, resting a bit, getting more energy, saving money.

I'd also bring a diaper changing pad. I forgot ours (mainly because it's something I used more when kids were babies, now that my daughter is two I rarely use it...) it would have been nice to use because that is my only complaint about Sesame Place... bathrooms were not very clean.

I'd explore the water park more. Most of the water rides are for bigger kids (slides,etc.) but there were some things over there like a wave pool that we didn't even remember to check out.

I'd also bring a carrier for my toddler. We don't use a carrier now and we did have the stroller... but she was in and out of the stroller tons to see characters, to wait in line, etc. and she got super heavy for me and my husband to carry. If we'd had a carrier that would have been nice even just for the lines! 

This water area (above) was super fun and filled with TONS of slides, climbing stairs, water spouts, etc. It was tons of fun, but a little overwhelming. I went in with both kids and had to get out, because I couldn't watch the two of them, they wanted to go to different spots and tons of kids all around us, water pouring from the top and bottom. So I had to have help in there. It was a lot of water! Fun, but just be careful, with tons of kids running around and so much water, it'd be easy to get lost in there.

SECRET TIP: To get on this AWESOME lazy river tube ride (below) instead of getting in line when you first enter the big ship water area, go under the ship toward the water part, follow signs to the cabanas, and there is another entrance to the lazy river. We got right on, no line... whereas the people in the front line waited and waited, at least 30 people in line... Sneaky tip that will work well for you! 

11. How old were your kids when they went on this trip, and do you think they got a lot out of it, remember it, etc.? Was it a good age span to go to this amusement park?
They were 4 years old and 4 months, and 2 years old and 2 months. YES, they got tons out of it! They loved every bit of it! I'm not sure I'd take someone less than 18 months old though, mainly because it's a looooong day in the sun, running here and there, standing around waiting in line, etc. and with naps, I'd think that babies would get fussy there. Younger toddlers can go on the rides though, that was one of our favorite parts - all the kids' rides an adult can go on, too.

I think my son enjoyed the rides more than my younger daughter, but she enjoyed the characters a TON so honestly they both were a great age for it. My co-worker took her boys at age 7 and they loved it and asked to go again the following year.

That's one thing I'll say about Sesame Place, it may seem that Sesame Street characters are for young children, too babyish for older kids, but the amusement park is NOT that way. It's got something for everyone! There are young toddler type activities, shows, and character pictures, and then there are tons of water slides and bigger kid rides for older kids, just like a regular amusement park.
12. Misconceptions: Something you think people don't know or are confused by when making plans to visit Sesame Place that you learned from?
I was totally not thinking this is a big water park. I knew there were water rides, but I had no idea that the water part is at least 50% of the park, if not more! There were tons of people who wore swim suits and cover ups into the park and wore that onto the rides, they were there mostly for the water park. Luckily I packed our bathing suits and towels just in case, so we had a few, which was enough, but you'll want to prepare ahead for this.

It's not just for little kids. I work with middle school teenagers who I think would like this park. Some of the rides they'd think were too babyish, but the water part they'd love, so really any age in your family this is a fun park experience. 

13. Best part about Sesame Place? What did your kids LOVE? What was your favorite part?
Best part was that it was not too large, but also not too crowded. The kids LOVED seeing Elmo, Big Bird, etc. and the parade. The parade is a must-see, in my opinion! We did the 3 p.m. one (they do another at 7 p.m. I think it was). We loved that! Really any spot on the main road (Sesame Street) is a good spot for the parade. 

My favorite part was honestly watching my kids' faces light up when seeing a character. They thought it was the coolest thing!

I also loved that the park was colorful, totally made for kids, and overall clean and so much fun, music playing, ice cream, etc.

We also LOVED the show! We only attended one (there were at least two others we could have seen) because that's just what worked with what we wanted that day, but we loved it! It was cool, air conditioned in there, and a nice break to just relax. We planned on a show right after lunch, during our kids' typical nap time, because we thought they would be exhausted and want to crash. They loved it. It was a good re-charge for all of us.

I also couldn't believe how much was included in the price of admission at this park... water park, amusement rides, several shows, a parade, etc. all for not expensive money! Much better than just Sesame Street Live shows in the winter!

We will definitely go back some time.

14. Anything else you want to add?

  • Park in preferred parking, it's $20, versus $17 for regular, but it's closer and has a picnic area right near it, it was easier to get in and out of the car this way. I'm always the one saying save the money, but with this and only $3 it was a good thing being in preferred parking.
  • People had posted on blog posts here before to just go with the flow, not plan too much, enjoy the time with the kids, even if that meant we went on the same ride 5 times, just enjoy what the kids want to do... and I totally agree with this advice and love that someone told me this ahead of time. I wanted to race out the door in the morning to be in the parking lot at 9:30 a.m., so that we could get sunscreen on and unpack the car, load the stroller, etc. so we were literally in line by 10 a.m. when they opened... well, that didn't happen, we arrived at 10:30 a.m. I think in the line, which wasn't too long, we didn't lose ground, it was totally fine. Going with the flow is a better thing when you're doing a big park like this.
  • Don't forget towels! I didn't see any towels there for you to use, tons to buy but not use, so if you're going for the water part then make sure you bring towels. Also water shoes for everyone, after wearing sneakers to walk around!
  • Re-apply sunscreen often!
  • To see the characters, you kind of have to be in the right place at the right time. We happened to really luck out... coming off a ride we happened to catch Elmo walking to his picture spot, so we were like 15th in line, which went very quickly. The characters walk around all day, random spots, so as you're walking around or waiting in line you see them and can take pictures with them. I would suggest if you see a character and want a picture with them, then jump in line right then, don't think you'll see them later.
  • The lines go quickly! We went in the off-season so I'm sure that had something to do with it, but honestly we never waited more than 10 minutes to get on a ride, most times it was 5 minutes.
  • We brought at least two water bottles per person, and then kept refilling them at fountain drink stations at the restaurants at the water tab for free. Easy and cheap!
  • The gift shops are cool! I saw some things I've never seen from Sesame Street, so it was worthwhile going in.
  • Don't buy their photos. Yes, allow them to take your photo with the characters (they'll give you a card to hold on to so you can check the pics later at the end of the day), but honestly if you have a regular camera or iPhone, you can take just as good pictures yourself! We checked their pictures and honestly all of ours were just as good so we didn't buy theirs. Every time you see a character and get in line to take a picture with them, their staff take your picture first, then allow you to take your own picture, it's totally acceptable there. I loved that!
  • Kids meals come on a souvenir Cookie Monster or Elmo plate and a cup with a cover that you can take home. That was cute!
  • Put easy on and off clothing on your kids. I'm so glad I thought of this ahead of time. Instead of jean shorts with buttons, my son wore shorts without buttons or zippers, much easier to help him slide on and off with the frequent bathroom trips (all that water has to come out!). Same for our daughter, with changing her diaper, it made it so much easier that she had on a skirt with shorts built in, easy to pull off and on. It's a simple thing, but honestly all these little things added up to make things less stressful, more fun!

I highly recommend going on this trip! It was so much fun. Our kids loved every minute of it. And it was also nice to see them be kids... oftentimes even at age 2 and 4, I see them as growing up way too fast, big kids... but at Sesame Place they were so little and so excited, like Christmas morning excited. It's incredible to see that look on their faces.