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Can I Help My Child Be Smarter?

blog2 Yes, you can!  Fatty brain foods help developing brains, baby brains, adolescent brains and aging brains.  I’m talking about Omega 3 fatty acids primarily from cold-water fish such as tuna and salmon or fish oils.  And the specific Omega 3 fatty acid that improves brain development, cognitive function (higher test scores), visual acuity, as well as improving ADD in some school children, is DHA.  Unfortunately, western diets are far too low in Omega 3s.  While our diets are typically full of Omega 6s found in oils like salad dressings (think olive oil), prepared foods and corn oil, Omega 3s are harder to come by without supplementation.

If you have a child age 2 years or younger, his/her brain is growing rapidly, using more than 50% his/her calories for brain growth.  The needed building blocks for proper brain development in the womb and early on in life are imperative for optimal brain function.  Fats make up 60% of our brains and nervous systems.  A diet low in Omega 3s has been shown to lead to a smaller brain, a higher chance of MS (multiple sclerosis) and degenerative diseases, lower IQ scores and a higher risk of vision problems.

Adolescents also benefit from a diet rich in Omega 3s.  Their brains may not be growing rapidly but neural connections are still being formed – and lots of them. Omega 3 fatty acids may actually act as neurotransmitters for these connections, so these fatty acids are extremely important for the ongoing optimal health of our teens and their development of world-changing ideas (and, of course, our teens are smarter than us…just ask them and they will happily remind you).  Furthermore, teens are often either consuming the wrong fats with fast food or cutting out almost all fats (even the good ones) to optimize their appearances, whether due to a culture hyper-focused on physical appearance  or a heightened focus on eating more protein to improve athletic performance.

So, how do you add Omega 3s to your infants’, toddlers’, tweens’ and teens’ diets (and your diet, while we are on this subject, to minimize age-related memory loss along with helping control chronic inflammation, which causes heart disease, arthritis & degenerative disease)?  It’s not too complicated, really; we just need to eat more fatty fish and/or find high quality fish oil supplements that don’t give us disgusting “fish burps” and are actually palatable.  Look for fish oils that have (at a minimum) about 1000mg of EPA and DHA Omega 3 fatty acids combined per adult serving.  And remember to check the ingredient list so you aren’t duped into buying a product (and there are many) that claims over 1000mg of fish oil, but actually has far less EPA and DHA than 1000mg total per adult serving.

Admittedly, many of the fish oil supplements do taste fishy.  Yuck!  But there are a couple of products out there that are truly delicious (no, I’m not joking, just ask the young ones in my family and my husband).  Additionally, a quality fish oil supplement will have removed toxins such as mercury found in our fish these days from environmental contamination, so those of you who are pregnant can partake in the fish oil fest without concern.  Food sources high in Omega 3s include halibut, herring, salmon, tuna, trout, oysters, sardines and halibut.  Flaxseed and walnut oil also contain Omega 3s.  If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, your child receives her Omega 3s from your own personal intake.  Aren’t our bodies and their abilities pretty amazing?  We truly are what we eat, especially in the case of our beautiful brains!

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7 Tips For Mamarazzi With Smartphones

Mamarazzi: Taking Better Pictures With Your Smartphone

“Mooooom, another picture? Really?” I can’t count the number of times my siblings and I squawked that question. I was convinced that my mother could have easily pursued a lucrative career in the paparazzi when I was growing up. Among the contents of her bulging purse was a clunky old camera that she carried everywhere. Literally. She was ready to snap shots of everything from birthdays and graduations to hotel bathrooms on family vacations and the loose tooth my brother persuaded me to extract using a string and a doorknob.

Childhood events, significant and otherwise, were recorded ad nauseam with that 35mm monstrosity. It seemed to constantly emit blinding flashes and grating mechanical whirrs as activities were interrupted to pose for pictures. The worst part: upon developing the film, we’d discover that most of the prints weren’t album-worthy. They were either overexposed or blurry or featured someone blinking in the shot. All that effort Mom exerted to motivate her reluctant children to “say cheese”, only to find that one of our heads was blocked by an index finger that she had unintentionally placed in front of the lens.

Family photography has come a long way since then. Now, we have pocket-sized cell phone cameras that display shots immediately after they are taken. We have editing software that allows the modern mother to perfect photos—eliminate red eyes, add artistic filters, crop unwanted background and zoom in on delightful details. We have a selection of modes tailored to capturing anything from action shots to sweeping landscapes. But these technological advances can be daunting when all you want is to commemorate your kid’s first day of school.

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1. Get close, don’t zoom. Though not exactly beloved by photography purists, smartphone cameras excel when you bring them close to your subject. Their tiny sensor provides a relatively wide depth of field, offering exceptional focus on small details. But the image noticeably degrades if you use the digital zoom function. If you can’t get near your focal point, consider cropping instead. Zooming in on your photo after it’s shot will do a better job preserving the image’s quality.

2. Adjust to lighting. In photography, light is key. Natural light from the sun is the best option. If you’re indoors, move your subject near the window. But if you’re limited to artificial lighting, try to arrange lamps to illuminate the subject as evenly as possible. Just avoid firing the flash, as the little LED lights aren’t powerful enough to capture the whole scene. In fact, I recommend turning off the auto-flash feature. You’ll have fewer blurry, oddly lit, red-eye night photos as a result.

Outside, direct sunlight creates harsh, unattractive shadows. Overcast days or the hours during sunrise and sunset are perfect for shooting. Otherwise, have your subjects stand in the brightest patch of shade available. I try to keep my back to the sun when taking my shot, but if the sun is on the side of the frame, cup your hand around the smartphone lens for a makeshift hood to reduce the amount of flare.

3. Keep the lens clean. From grungy dollar bills to items our kids retrieved from the floor for us to carry, the contents of our purses and pockets make them dirty places to hold our phones. Fortunately, the lenses are tough. Wiping them with a soft cloth (or shirt in a pinch) can’t hurt, but it’s worth it to occasionally use lens cleaning solution to remove grime and prevent spotty or hazy images.

4. Play with perspective. The best part about your phone doubling as a camera is that it’s compact and you’ll more likely tote it everywhere. Take advantage of its convenience and size by snapping lots of photos from various angles. Take 10 to 20 shots of the same person or event, making sure each frame is unique by doing things such as turning your phone sideways, getting down to a kid’s eye level, using a panorama feature, switching to burst mode (available on newer smartphones) for action shots, introducing props or taking candid photos. Most smartphones or camera apps also have a grid feature that can be used to keep the horizon straight and to create more visually balanced photos by placing points of interest along the lines or where they cross.

5. Hold your phone steady. Ditch the impulse to take a quick arm-length shot. It’ll lead to crooked, blurry pictures. To get a good, sharp image, hold the camera with both hands and pull your arms into your chest or stomach. Some phones or apps also offer a stable shot setting for added support. This measures how much you’re shaking the camera and only snaps the picture when your hand has been steady for a couple seconds. Some apps even let you set the sensitivity, so your phone will wait until you’re barely moving to take the photo.

6. Adjust settings. Don’t let automatic features on your phone do all the thinking. For better control and results, get to know your camera modes and perhaps even invest in an app. There are thousands of apps dedicated to camera functions that can help you easily edit and share photos with friends and family. Here are a few important adjustable settings standard on some phones or available with apps:

White Balance Ever notice that your pictures look a bit orange? White balance helps your camera properly process color. Smartphones are pretty good at detecting the white balance until you enter a setting with low light. You can avoid the resulting unnatural tints by focusing on your subject and giving the phone a few seconds to adapt. But if that doesn’t work, try adjusting the white balance yourself. Typically, the phone will have a few light settings such as “fluorescent” or “cloudy” that, when chosen manually, may give you a better result.

HDR Auto iPhones come with an option called High Dynamic Range, or HDR. It allows you to take clear photos of settings with high contrast light sources (such as a bright sunset against a dark mountain) by snapping several pictures in quick succession at different exposures and merging them into a single image. Ideally, the results are clearer photos, but HDR images take quite a bit of space, so I’d suggest limiting its use.

Focus If you want your camera to single in on a particular subject in the frame, some phones will allow you to tap and hold on the object to prevent your camera from shifting focus. To remove the lock, just touch anywhere else on the frame.

Exposure Meter Available on most smartphones, exposure meters are used to brighten (or darken) images before shooting the picture. They are typically identifiable by a meter bar and a sun icon. Slide left or right before taking the shot to adjust the brightness.

7. Strike a pose. Though I usually avoid being the subject in any photo (probably thanks to my mother), it’s useful to know how to best represent your features in photographs. A couple quick fixes I garnered from a photographer are to tilt your head and angle your body. He says people generally look better when they’re not looking dead-on at the camera. So, slightly turn your head to the side or tilt your head down a little and look up toward the lens with your eyes. For the most flattering body position, stand at a slight angle, tilt your hip, put one leg on tiptoe and keep your shoulders straight.

As I adjust my phone to take the millionth photo of my son’s sideways smirk, I’m grateful that technology is so different from the days of my youth. Then I see my son rolling his eyes and uttering a pleading “Moooom.” I guess some things never change.

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Are You Raising A Good Sport?

20090123-Baseball BoysAhead of the Game: Raising a Good Sport

For kids, few things compare to the giddy elation of victory or to the crushing disappointment of defeat. Heck, it’s pretty much the same for adults. Our challenge as parents is to learn to temper these reactions, so we’re not raising whiny kids who scream Not fair! at every loss or who adopt in-your-face attitudes when they win.

Sound familiar? We’ve all experienced this at one time or another. It’s an important issue to address, as this behavior can lead to relentless arguments about scores, cheating, pouting at times of defeat, obnoxious bragging, quitting activities or making excuses rather than coping with loss.

Our instincts are to shield our children from every hazard and celebrate their triumphs. So it’s natural to want to let them win at a card game, overemphasize their role in their little league’s victory or even shy away from competitive activities to avoid potential disappointment. But we live in a competitive world. Sooner or later they will have to learn to deal with opposition without having a meltdown.

As a child, I never had that problem. My family still enjoys embarrassing me by sharing soccer game stories where our team lost because I would chat with other players on the field, unfazed by the ball rolling by. My son, on the other hand, can make a competition out of any activity. In the morning, he declares that he can make it downstairs first. At bedtime, he bets that he can put on his pajamas faster.

While amusing, this competitive bent mixed with his sensitive nature is a recipe for trouble, especially in our family. His closest relatives are his cousins, both varsity basketball players and intensely involved in the game. With March Madness in full swing, they fervidly root for their favorite teams, and my son, significantly younger than my two nephews, mirrors their enthusiasm. Unlike my nephews, when my son’s team loses, it’s a DEFCON 2 fit of despair.

The difference, of course, involves age and maturity, but my nephews have also developed a healthy understanding of competition by participating in sports themselves. They’ve learned to constructively accept loss, respect their opponents and cheer on teammates, even when it shifts attention away from their talents. This healthy attitude developed with encouragement from my sister and her husband. And my nephew’s skills spill over to other activities in their lives, too, from schoolwork to social interactions.

As my nephews have done, learning to face ups and downs with grace will go a long way to improving self-esteem and sportsmanship, even if your kid is an I-will-own-you-at-getting-ready-for-bed type. Not only will they find success in athletic endeavors, but in life as well. Following are 10 tips to help you teach your kids to be better sports, on and off the field.

1. Keep the focus on fun. Once you’ve settled on some activities that interest your children, have them explain to you what they like about each game. Remind them of those things when the scores aren’t satisfying. Whether they are rushing to you in excitement or schlepping home in defeat, always be sure to point out fun moments in the match.

2. Emphasize effort. Remind yourself that your child is not a professional. He or she is not getting paid to perform and therefore has no reason to worry about who is winning. Instead, concentrate your attention on their efforts. Praise ways they give 100 percent and reassure them that a loss or a win isn’t as important as doing their best.

3. Set goals. Help your kid decide what he or she wants to achieve. Maybe it’s to perfect their passing game or score more three-pointers. Or perhaps it’s to simply learn the rules. Whatever it is, keep their focus on achieving those skills rather than comparing themselves to teammates or agonizing over scores. Track their progress and use their setbacks as learning opportunities.

4. Model good behavior. Kids parrot their parents. When you yell at the TV after an opposing team scores, they learn that winning points is important, and, in turn, adopt those frustrations. Whether live or on television, check your conduct during games. Praise others for their efforts, respect the coach’s decisions and congratulate opposing players in front of your kid. They’ll learn from your example.

5. Provide consequences. If they can’t be a good sport, bench them. Once they’ve relaxed, explain to them, in terms they can understand, why they are being punished. Even if they are responding to taunts from an opposing player, explain, “We don’t talk like that on our team.”

6. Downplay celebrations. Teach your kid to keep celebrations low-key. One way to do this is to help them redirect their enthusiasm to the next play. Instead of gloating, they should be thinking, “What’s next?” Also, emphasize team efforts and the role luck plays in the game. “Good thing Jessica passed you the ball,” or “It was lucky the goalie jumped the wrong way.” Urge your kid to recognize excellence and effort in others and to give shout-outs when he or she sees them.

7. Commit to practices and games. It’s ok for your child to decide that a particular activity is not one they would like to pursue. However, they must learn to stick to current commitments. When you sign them up for a sport, teach them that it’s their responsibility to put in the work, sit on the bench when necessary and show up to every practice.

8. Minimize pressure. If your child decides they don’t like a sport or activity, don’t push it. Children who are pressured to do sports often get burned out. Set a balance with non-competitive activities and reassure your child that he or she doesn’t need to perform to make you happy.

9. Ask for input. Ask your kid the rules of good sportsmanship and write their answers down. This will help them consider and commit to better behavior, from respecting the coach to valuing teamwork, by giving them a voice on the subject.

10. Accept loss. When your kid inevitably loses a game, don’t feel too sorry for them or else they’ll put too much importance on the loss. Instead, help them congratulate everyone on the opposing team, identify problems, remedy deficiencies, reset goals and laugh at errors. This will help them realize that falling short of a goal doesn’t mean they are falling short as people and that we love them just the same.

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So what does it mean to “pay it forward”?

Pay It Forward

I woke early, made the kids breakfast, lunches, and got them out the door for school just as I do daily with pride. I do because I am a mom, it’s my responsibility and it starts my kids out with what they need to start their day. Right? Am I paying it forward? My mom did this for me, just as hers did for hers…so I suppose in that regard, as moms we “pay it forward” every day. As I continued my morning on a drive to the Los Angeles area, to spend the day with a best friend visiting from out of town – I called to get her “Starbucks order” as I was stopping along the way. Is that paying it forward? She declined a coffee, so I guess not. As I got to the window, to pay my $7.10 order, the two kids at the drive in window simply smiled and said, “You are going to have an awesome day – you are all set.”  I was confused and handed them my money to which they said, “The lady in front of you paid your bill…. Have a great day.” Do you have any idea how surprised I was? Do you have any idea how that made me feel? I felt great and then I felt like a stalker as I tried to chase her down to thank her to no avail.

I promptly posted on Facebook what a cool thing had just happened (I was not driving and texting) and then I called my husband to tell him my exciting start to my day. His response? “What did she want?” So why is it that a natural instinct is that if someone does something kind for you that our nature teaches us – that they want something in return?

What is the meaning of “Paying it forward” anyway? My Facebook post has 40 “likes” and 2 comments. This is the one I like…. “Love it when it happens so usually I pay it forward the next time I go.” That from a business partner in the San Diego area. She is wise.

I was so taken back when the kids at the window told me I was set – I awkwardly asked, “so, what am I supposed to do now, buy the guys behind me?…. They said no – just enjoy the gesture and move on.” I was secretly thinking good, because there are about 8 people in that van and that would have cost me $24 from my original $7. Then I felt guilty payitforward– and clearly was over thinking this, as I’m just not used to handouts.

As I sit to write my daily thoughts, and to be thankful for my life, I see this quote…”PAY IT FORWARD, it’s about CARING and SHARING, It’s about Compassion and kindness it’s about generosity, it’s about sacrifice…and love – YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE – SO GIVE GOOD. And then the world made sense again.

So what do you say….go pay it forward today, in whatever way you can. Lend a hand, it doesn’t need to be a hand out – but might be a hand up that change the path of someone’s day, and who knows…maybe their life.

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Do you ever feel like a glorified UBER driver?

The Sports Shuffle

TWO boys…..10 teams? WHAT?

11 year old: LAX Rec League, LAX Travel, Spring Football Passing League, Pop Warner, School Basketball.

13 year old: Travel Baseball, Juniors Baseball, School Basketball, Competitive Basketball, Golf.

I worked a successful career in a glamourous media business and now I’m a glorified UBER driver. The worst part is I drive in silence because the minute they get in the car the iPhones go on, earphones in and heads go down.

WHAT AM I DOING WRONG???

I hit a wall a couple of weeks ago. My husband was on day 14 of a 16 day business trip. My boys were at each other’s throats – for real. They are best buds 99% of the time but that 1% is going to kill me. A full on long holiday weekend of bickering and fist fighting came to a screeching halt when the fist fight was now in my car while driving down the 5 Freeway. I LOST IT. The screaming, and yelling began and I was a crazy person. “After everything I do for you kids. I drive you from sport to sport, take you to the beach, buy you this, buy you that – and this is the thanks I get.” Something to that effect.  Throw in a few 4 letter words and it might be more accurate. So right about now the iPhone on, ear phones in and heads down is sounding pretty good right?

The bickering continued until late Sunday night after me yelling more about getting homework done – I reflected on the weekend and broke down. This is not who I want to be. I left that crazy mom behind when I decided to leave my corporate job for one with more flmom blogexibility and balance. I texted my friend and business partner who has three awesome boys (high school and college age) who are so respectful to their mom and to each other – I said – please tell me your boys do this too – or used to. She gave me some great advice. At the moment I can’t remember exactly what she said – but she gave me hope. I had retreated to my bedroom and was reading in silence when both boys came in to see where I was and they said – mom are you crying? While this was NOT the advice that my friend gave me – it WORKED. The boys have never seen me cry other than at a funeral and it spooked them.

Thirty minutes later, my 11 year old handed me this…. A letter with some flowers picked from outside.

“Mommy,

We are so sorry for our behavior this weekend. It was not fair to you. We feel really terrible that we ruined your weekend. It’s not the way you deserve to be treated. We will try harder to get along. We can’t promise it will never happen again, but we can promise we will try harder. We love you and thank you for everything that you do for us. Thank you.”

At that moment, I was ready to put on my UBER driver cap and start the shuffle again tomorrow. It’s a new day, we only have two games and a practice and it’s going to be a good one. I choose to come home to my family – and I’m so glad I did. Just breathe.

How do you cope with days like this?

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Ask Her More: 20 Fun Questions to Ask Your Daughter

Ask Her More

The Oscars have come and gone. But in their wake has been a wave of social media chatter. One of the most surprising reactions involved a negative response to Reese Witherspoon’s endorsement of the Ask Her More campaign, a call to acknowledge that actresses are more than their wardrobes. As parents, we should not only applaud Witherspoon’s efforts, but apply them beyond the red carpet.

For years, the majority of the questions fielded by actresses at award shows have been about their dresses and accessories. So, while men get asked about their roles in nominated films and other accomplishments, women get asked about whether they are wearing Spanx under their outfits.

In an attempt to up the quality (and equality) of these interviews, the Representation Project launched the Ask Her More movement to encourage reporters to diversify their dialogue with Reese Witherspoonactresses. This year, Ask Her More (#AskHerMore on social media) earned a spotlight with support from Witherspoon and other female celebs. Unfortunately, not everyone embraced the endeavor.

From television and radio hosts to Facebook commentators critics have argued that this line of questioning comes with the job and have even expressed outrage in Witherspoon’s challenge. It’s true that a film career is coupled with the expectation to don glamorous gear. But, celebrities such as Witherspoon aren’t asking to abandon the traditional red carpet questions, just to also inquire about the career that got them there in the first place. After all, they worked hard to enjoy the privilege of wearing designer duds and want to discuss their efforts as well as give a shout out to their dress’s designer.

This disparity between the amount of attention given to a woman’s appearance and a man’s isn’t just in Hollywood. It seems to permeate every aspect of our culture, beginning in our homes.

While there’s nothing wrong with complementing our daughters on their outfits and showering them with terms of endearment like “beauty” or “princess,” there’s a danger in overemphasizing a young girl’s looks. It runs the risk of influencing them to place their value in being decorative rather than developing character.

Before telling a young girl her hair looks pretty or making a cute comment about that dress or those shoes she’s wearing, consider asking some of the following questions. Not only will you encourage confidence in her character, but also avoid the all-too-familiar one-note conversations: How was your day? Good. What did you do? I don’t know. Learn anything new? Nope.

1. If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
2. What do you think is the meanest thing people say?
3. What is your idea of the perfect party?
4. What made you smile today?
5. If you could be any zoo animal, which would you choose and why?
6. If you were invisible for a day what would you do?
7. If you could invent one thing, what would it be and why?
8. What is the most important quality for a teacher/parent/best friend to have?
9. What are you grateful for today?
10. What is your favorite thing about this time of year?
11. If you could know one thing about the future, what would it be?
12. If you could get anything in the world as a present right now, what would it be?
13. What do you want to be when you get older? Why?
14. What is the first thing you notice about a person?
15. What is the silliest thing you have ever said or done?
16. What is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?
17. What is the grossest thing you can think of?
18. What is one subject you don’t know about that you wish you did?
19. If you could trade places with anyone who would it be and why? What about someone in our family?
20. What are some ways you could set a good example for others this week?

What creative questions do you ask your daughter?