How To Train Your Dragon 2 – PARENT REVIEW

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A couple days ago I took my 2 1/2 year old son and my 13 year old brother to see How To Train Your Dragon 2, so I thought I’d write up a review for the movie. My goal with any review is to be thorough in order to help you make an informed decision as to whether that particular movie (or book, etc) is right for your family. That said, this review is loooong, and if you don’t want any spoilers, you might not want to read on!

Before I get started, one more thing. You might be wondering, “she took her 2 1/2 year old to the movie theater? Why in the world would she do that?!” Well, two reasons. Number 1, I had a little bit of a movie gift card to use up and number 2, K loves dragons. He loved the first movie (which we own), so I thought he would love the second as well. Someday soon I’ll try to write up a post on how we’ve handled TV/movies with K.

So, without further ado, the review…


 

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How To Train Your Dragon 

If you haven’t seen the first How to Train Your Dragon, you might be a little confused as to some of what’s going on in the second movie, so I would recommend renting that first if you need to. Here’s a short summary of the first movie, skip ahead if you’ve already seen it.

HTTYD is set on the viking island of Berk, where they have a particularly nasty problem with dragon invasions. The main character, Hiccup, is the son of Stoick the Vast, chief of Berk. All vikings are rough, tuff, dragon fighting machines. That is, except Hiccup, who is a tiny, meek inventor. Desperately trying to win his father’s approval, Hiccup uses one of his inventions to try and bring down the deadliest dragon of them all, the Night Fury. Thinking he has not succeeded, to his surprise, Hiccup comes across the injured night fury in the woods. Thinking this was his chance to impress his father and the town, Hiccup attempts to kill the Night Fury, but when he sees the fear in the dragon’s eyes, he cannot bring himself to do it. He lets the dragon go. Over a period of time, Hiccup and the dragon (now named “Toothless”) bond, eventually becoming inseparable. Meanwhile, Hiccup has been enrolled in dragon fighting lessons, which he is actually succeeding in because of his newfound understanding of dragons. However, when he is chosen as the student to receive the public honor of killing his first dragon, Hiccup knows he must try and bring peace between dragons and vikings. His plan completely backfires and his father, furious and disappointed in his son, takes Toothless and uses him to find the dragon’s “nest,” intent upon finishing off the dragons once and for all. In the end, the queen dragon is too powerful for the vikings, but Hiccup and Toothless save the day (and Toothless saves Hiccup’s life), bringing peace between vikings and dragons.

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How to Train Your Dragon 2 – Plot Summary

In How to Train Your Dragon 2, the story opens once again in the town of Berk. Although, instead of fighting dragons, they now race dragons! The dragons live in the city and are loved by all. Stoick is trying to convince Hiccup that it is time for him to take over as chief, but Hiccup is not sure he is the right person to take over for his father. Hiccup, in part caused by the hole he feels from never knowing his mother, is searching to figure out who he is and what his place in life is.

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In his search for inner understanding, Hiccup occupies himself with outer searching as he and Toothless fly far and wide, mapping the surrounding areas, discovering new dragons and lands. In one of these searches, Hiccup and Astrid (Hiccup’s love interest continued from the first movie), discover a destroyed area, with buildings demolished and covered in ice. They have a run in with dragon trappers, who are capturing dragons to bring to their master, Drago, who is building a dragon army. After a narrow escape, they fly home to warn Stoick.

Upon hearing the news, Stoick begins to fortify the city, commanding everyone inside. Hiccup pleads with his father to ride to Drago and try to convince him not to fight. Stoick will not listen, as he has had experience with this ruthless killer before. Hiccup, determined to try and bring peace, does not listen to his father, and instead he flies off to find Drago. Astrid flies after him and the two go looking for the dragon trappers.

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As Hiccup and Astrid are trying to convince the dragon trappers to lead them to Drago, Stoick and some of the others find them and attempt to bring them home. Hiccup once again does not listen and continues on by himself. Stoick commands Astrid to take the other young people home, and he continues on with Gobber to bring Hiccup back, afraid at what might happen to his son.

As Toothless and Hiccup are flying, they are ambushed by a strange person in an outfit made to look like a dragon. They are taken into a cave and are surrounded by dragons, fearing for their lives. However, the mysterious stranger takes off her mask and it is Hiccup’s mother! She, like Hiccup, was unable to kill dragons, wanting peace instead. When Hiccup was a baby, she was unable to kill a dragon to protect him, and when a dragon carried her off, she was afraid to return. So, instead, she had spent the last 20 years living with the dragons. Soon, Stoick and Gobber find Hiccup and Stoick and Valka (Hiccup’s mother) reunite.

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Meanwhile, the other young vikings are worried because Hiccup, Stoick and Gobber have not returned yet, so they set out after them. They convince the trappers to take them to Drago, however, their plan backfires when Drago takes all their dragons and attempts to kill Eret, the main trapper. As Drago goes to kill Eret one of the dragons surrounds him with her wings and saves his life. This act turns Eret over to the side of the dragons. Drago and his army leave to capture the rest of the dragons and then declare war on Berk. Astrid, Eret and the others manage to escape and free the dragons. They then attempt to catch up to Drago.

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While Hiccup, Stoick, and Valka are being happily reunited, their bliss is interrupted by the attack of Drago, coming to take the dragons in Valka’s nest. As the battle begins, it looks like Valka’s dragons will come out on top because they have their Alpha Dragon, a giant dragon who breathes ice. However, it turns out Drago has an Alpha Dragon as well! The two Alphas fight, and Drago’s comes out on top. Because of this all the dragons must come under the command of the new Alpha Dragon, including Toothless. As Hiccup tries to convince Drago to make peace, Drago commands his Alpha dragon to command Toothless to kill Hiccup. Toothless tries to resist the trance like state, but he cannot and he attacks Hiccup. Stoick comes in at the last second to save Hiccup, taking the deathly blow himself.

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Drago takes the dragons and leaves the vikings to mourn the loss of their great chief. After regrouping, Hiccup takes on the role of the chief (finally beginning to understand his purpose) and the vikings take a wild ride on the baby dragons (who don’t listen to anybody!) back to the Island of Berk to save their people.

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When they return to Berk, Hiccup goes to Toothless to try and get him out of his trance. He succeeds and the pair (along with the others) attack the Alpha dragon to try and loosen his grip on the other dragons. As the other dragons come out of their trances, they join Toothless who is now challenging the Alpha dragon. With the other dragons on his side, Toothless wins the battle with the Alpha dragon, defeating Drago, becoming the new Alpha dragon, and saving the people of Berk. Hiccup officially becomes the new chief and they all live happily ever after. 🙂

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Why You Will Want To See This Movie

  1. Action-packed fantasy – Fire breathing dragons, vikings, strange new worlds – it’s a great movie for the budding fantasy lover in your family.
  2. Great discussion starters – The main crux of the story was the battle between power and peace. Drago had been harmed by the dragons, so he strived to take them over and rule them by force and power. Hiccup had also been harmed by the dragons, but instead sought to bring about peace. Another big theme is Hiccup trying to figure out who he is and what his purpose in life is.
  3. Loyalty – In the end, the dragons broke through the power of the evil side and gave their allegiance to Toothless and Hiccup. They were loyal to the ones who loved them.
  4. Forgiveness – Toothless kills Hiccup’s father, yet he still returns to save him. Him and Stoick also forgive Valka for leaving them.
  5. Sacrifice – One of the dragons sacrifices her freedom to save Eret and in a powerful and emotional moment, Stoick sacrifices his live to save his son.
  6. Parallel to the power of sin – I thought there was a great lesson/analogy about the power of sin in this movie. Under the influence of the evil dragon, Toothless did the unthinkable. He was unable to come out of this “trance” without help and forgiveness. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it got me thinking. Brings to mind Genesis 4:7 “…But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
  7. The power of influence – At one point in the movie, they say something to the extent of “a good dragon under the control of an evil person will do bad things” (can’t remember the exact quote). Brings to mind Psalm 1:1 in a way. Could lead to a good discussion on the way other people in our lives can influence us for good or bad.

 

Why You Might Not Want To See This Movie

  1. Scary Scenes – I thought there was a good deal more fighting and fire breathing in this movie then in the first one. This type of thing does not phase my dragon loving, bad guy fighting little guy at all, but if your child is sensitive to scary images you might want to skip this movie.
  2. Difficult plot – The themes in this movie were way over the head of my two year old. All he really grasps is good guy fights bad guy, good guy wins. If he didn’t love dragons, I probably would have skipped this movie until he was a little older and understood more of what was going on.
  3. Death – Hiccup’s father, Stoick is killed towards the end of the movie. In the (I’m assuming) traditional viking way, they send him off in a ship and then shoot the ship with flaming arrows.
  4. Disobedience – Hiccup repeatedly does not listen to his father who loves him and is trying to protect him. In the end, his father was right, and Hiccup’s decisions cost him a great deal.

 

Final Thoughts

I LOVED How To Train Your Dragon 2! That said, I am a fantasy lover, so it was up my alley. I loved the deeper themes that ran through the movie and think it would make for some great family discussions. My son, of course, loved the movie, although he was getting a little antsy towards the end, ready to get up and move around a bit. My 13 year old brother enjoyed the movie too. So that’s six thumbs up from us!

 

I’d love to hear if you have seen/are planning on seeing How To Train Your Dragon 2. What are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments!

Three Words That Forever Changed How I Deal With Tantrums

Three Words That Changed how I Deal With Tantrums

He was screaming for what seemed like the millionth time that morning. There is no denying it, my son has a fierce temper. (We’re not even going to talk about who he got that from). I had a feeling this was how the morning was just going to be after we had stayed up late the night before.

I removed him from the room after my initial attempts to get him to calm down failed. As we took a seat in the living room I spoke to him in a quiet voice, my words speaking as much to me as him.

“Take a breath.”
“I don’t want to take a breath!” he raged.
“K, you need to calm down. Take a breath.”
“Nooooooo!”
“I’m going to count to three and I want you to take a breath” I said, still trying to maintain my own composure.
*Screams*
“1…. 2…. 3”
“I wanna take a breath! I wanna take a breath!” he cried, before further consequences needed to be dealt.

He took a deep breath, tears streaming down his face, still taking short gasps of air. Just like that, he was calm again. We prayed and he went about his business, a happy two year old once again.

Its no secret, tantrums are a hallmark of the toddler years. I figured there was no avoiding it, so early on I decided I would employ two strategies:

  1. Be consistent and patiently wait for this phase of his life to pass.
  2. Try my best to teach him how to deal with his emotions.

Remembering that if I could consistently handle tantrums patiently, yet firmly, “this too shall pass” really helped keep my focus in the right place. It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day, but keeping view of long term goals helps to balance that out.

A key to my being consistent, though, was finding a way of dealing with tantrums that worked for K. Unfortunately, there’s no magic solution to avoiding tantrums so I had to experiment to find the solutions that worked best for him. I found out early on that logic didn’t work, and I knew I didn’t want to resort to bribery. Distraction sometimes worked if the fit was minor, but not always. So, I soon landed on the common method of removing him to his bed to throw his tantrum. He could come out as soon as he was calm. This often worked to help him decide to calm down before we even made it to the bedroom. However, it wasn’t always possible to remove him to his room, so something had to change. One day, on a whim, I added three simple words.

Take a breath. 

I didn’t know if it would work, but after using it consistently with every tantrum, I began to notice a difference. I would look him in the eyes and calmly repeat the words. He learned to breath deeply and calm himself down. Sure, he still lost control of his emotions regularly, but he was learning how to regain that control. As an added benefit, saying the words helped me stay calm too.

Just using these three simple words has really helped turn a no-fun situation into a learning and growing experience for both me and him.

I’d love to hear from you! What methods work with your kids? If you give this a try I’d love to hear how it goes!

 

Tips For Surviving Time As A Long-Distance Family

“No! My daddy stay at my house! Awight?”  I pushed back the tears welling up in my eyes and told my son that it wouldn’t be too much longer before daddy would be with us again. However, inside, I felt the same way he did. This was only his third time getting to visit with his daddy in the last 5 months and we were both sick of saying good bye.

In K’s short 2 1/2 years of life his daddy was away for almost 10 of those months. Unfortunately, for various reasons, we’ve had to spend time living life as a long-distance family.

If you’re facing a similar situation, here’s 8 tips that helped us get through this difficult time.

  1. Stay in each other’s routines. Even though we were 600 miles away, K could expect to call his daddy every night to pray and say goodnight. I could usually expect a call during nap time to catch up without interruptions. Facetime and Skype make this easier than ever.
  2. Make the most of visits. We had four visits of varying lengths during our last 6 month separation. During these times we tried our best to make family time a priority and eliminate unnecessary distractions – even if that meant playing catch up with the laundry afterwards!
  3. Send the love. I tried my best to document life and send it to my hubby in the form of pictures and videos. The good and the bad. The exciting and the boring. Its not really almost like you were there too.
  4. Snail mail. For daddy’s birthday K helped me bake him cookies and picked out a few little things to send in a package. It was great because daddy gets some love and K got to be involved in making a connection. I wish I would have been better about sending pictures and letters too.
  5. Fight the discontentment. It is so easy to settle into the mindset of “everything will be better when…” Every time I found myself thinking that it was a red flag to step back and make sure my mind was in the right spot. We tried to immerse ourselves in what was going on at that time and be fully present in the moment.
  6. Anticipate the re-entry. Whenever you’ve spent time away from your spouse there is going to be a period of readjustment. Being a very independent person, this was harder for me than hubby, but knowing it was coming helped. I knew it was hard for me to transition to functioning as a unit after spending time functioning independently. Knowing this, I could prepare myself mentally for what was coming.
  7. Focus on gratitude. My husband was living in Minnesota for next to nothing with a friend, working a job earning money we really needed. During this time K and I lived with my in-law’s. We had a great place to stay and I had support while I was effectively single parenting. We also knew that there were a lot of families that had to be apart for a lot longer than we did. There was a lot to be thankful for.
  8. Look for the lessons. In any time of difficulty, there is the potential for growth. This situation was no different. We both learned a lot during our time apart and we were able to use our time apart to grow our family together.

The time spend apart was far from easy, but using these tips and a lot of prayer we were able to make it through.

Has your family ever had to live apart from each other? Even though I hope to not have to go through the experience again, I’d love to hear how you made it through!

Are You Confusing Reasons With Excuses?

When my husband and I first got married, one of the areas we had conflict in was with excuses. My husband was raised to never make excuses, so it drove him up the wall when I did. However, from my perspective I often just wanted to share my thought process. I didn’t think I was giving excuses, I thought I was giving reasons.

Have you ever thought or said that? “I’m not giving an excuse, I’m giving a reason!” I sure have. Problem was, I didn’t really have the slightest clue what the difference between the two was.

Well, fast forward a couple years and I think I’ve finally got it figured out. In this current season of life, I’ve tried to do a better job about being intentional in my thoughts and a while back it occurred to me what the difference between an excuse and a reason is.

It’s responsibility.

When I make an excuse, I am trying to shift the blame (even if its just a small portion) off of myself. For example, something I might find myself saying is “I didn’t wash the dishes last night because I was frazzled from a long day.” In this scenario, my long day was an excuse for my inability to complete one of my responsibilities. In my mind I might be thinking, “but I really did have a long day! I just wanted to relax. I’m not trying to make excuses.” However, no matter how big my pouty face may be, I am still making an excuse.

Now, if I took that same scenario and changed it into a reason it might look a little more like this: “I decided not to do the dishes last night because I had a really hectic day and I felt like I needed some time to unwind. I will do the dishes this morning after breakfast.” In this statement, I am providing the same information about doing the dishes and my hectic day, however, the difference is that I am taking responsibility for my choices. I gave a reasonable explanation for why I did what I did. I also took responsibility for the consequences of my decision (having to do the dishes in the morning).

I have found that realizing this distinction greatly aids in communication. It’s not just my husband who doesn’t like to hear an excuse. For a lot of people, as soon as they think you are giving an excuse, communication starts to break down. However, if you give a reason and take responsibility, the other party is able to better hear your reasoning and come to an understanding of what you are trying to say.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to give reasons instead of excuses. I often find myself squirming inside as I take responsibilities for my choices. If I’m honest, it’s so much easier to just make an excuse! However, I am trying to be better in this area, and I have noticed a difference.

What do you think? Will you give it a try in your communication? If you do, please share in the comments how it went down!

Great Picture Books For Toddlers Volume 1

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My son loves to read. I’ve never met a young child with such a long attention span for listening to picture books! Because of this we go through a lot of library books each week. Some are great, but a lot are duds. The purpose of this series is so we can pass on our tried and true favorites to you and your budding reader. You can read more about how I select a picture book here.

Here’s the first ten. I hope you enjoy some of these books as much as we did. Don’t forget to leave your favorites in the comments!


UnknownThe Very Hungry Caterpillar – by Eric Carle  This book is very well known, but I had to include it because it is one of K’s absolute favorites right now! We’ve read it so many times he’s practically got it memorized!

 

Unknown-1Where Is The Green Sheep? – by Mem Fox   A fun story about all kinds of sheep. Great for practicing colors, opposites, and vocabulary. The continued question “Where is the green sheep?” keeps my little guy engaged to the last page.

 

Unknown-2Karate Hour – by Carol Nevius   I picked this book up when K started his “hiyah!” phase. He loves it. It is a fun, rhymed book taking you through a karate class. K loves to try to do what the kids in the book are doing. A great introduction to karate.

 

Unknown-3This Little Chick – by John Lawrence  Like many toddlers, K loves anything to do with animals. He loves this book about a little chick so much that one time I read it to him five times in a row! This cute, sing-song story about the adventures of a little chick is great for learning rhythm, animal names, and animal sounds.

 

Unknown-4Hey, Pancakes! – by Tamson Weston   A fun and silly rhyming story about making and eating pancakes. Great to read and couple with whipping up your own batch of pancakes!

 

Unknown-5Noah’s Ark – by Jerry Pikney   By far my favorite children’s rendition of the Noah’s Ark story. Well written, but the real shining start is the gorgeous pictures.

 

Unknown-6The Thingamabob – by Il Sung Na   A cute story about an elephant who doesn’t know what to do with an umbrella. Reading this book taught K the word umbrella.

 

Unknown-7I Love Bugs – by Emma Dodd  My little boy loves bugs, so we bring home a lot of bug books. This one has definitely been one of our favorites. But watch out for the spider at the end!

 

Unknown-8Jamberry – by Bruce Degen  Reminicent of Dr. Seuss, this silly story is all about berries. The pictures are as fun as the story, with all sorts of silly stuff hidden in them. An added bonus was that it only took a couple readings of this book for K to remember the names of the different types of berries and it’s just darn cute to hear him try and say “clickity-clack berry.”

 

Unknown-9How To Speak Moo – by Deborah Fajerman  Get ready for some super silliness in this book! If you thought cows had just one kind of “moo” you were wrong – but now you can learn to speak “moo” too!

 


 

Be sure to share your favorites in the comments! We’d love to check them out!

Finding Good Picture Books For Two Year Olds


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K is at a fun age for reading. He is finally growing out of his baby board books and in the last few months his desire to listen to stories has boomed. All the reading we’ve done with him since his was a baby is paying off! However, I have discovered that it’s been difficult to find pictures books appropriate for his level of understanding. Especially now that we’ve moved from the small shelf of board books to the rows and rows of picture books at the library.

When I’m looking for a good picture book for a toddler or young preschooler, I’m looking for one or more of the following six qualities:

  1. Concise. I want a short book (1-3 sentences a page max) that also has a good story.
  2. Simple. 2 year olds are concrete thinkers. Books that are abstract or use flowery language go right over his head. He wants to learn about things that make sense in his world.
  3. Teaching. Every book teaches a two year old something. Whether it’s teaching about something funny, a new kind of animal, a word he’s never heard, a moral lesson, or something else, I’m looking for books that continue to open my child’s mind to the world around him.
  4. Active. Books that encourage motion are a huge plus because they are both very well liked by the wiggly crowd and they also serve to further cement an idea in a little mind through kinesthetic learning.
  5. Engaging. Nothing’s worse than reading through a monotone book. We like books with emotion! Something that you can read with passion and drama. Books that ask questions also help to engage the reader.
  6. Beautiful. Books with beautiful, well made illustrations are a must since so much of the story is conveyed through pictures.

I like to have a mix of fun, easy books, coupled with some books that are right on the edge of his comprehension level. This challenges him enough to keep him moving forward in his ability to understand (and sit still!), without being too frustrating as to make reading time unenjoyable. Finding books that fit these qualifications without having to read the same ones a million times over is hard.

So what has my solution been? Quantity. 

Every Saturday morning for the last few months we’ve headed to the library to load up our stash for the week. While K plays, I pick out 25-30 picture books. My method is haphazard: search a little here, a little there, pull a book out, open it up to a couple pages, if it looks promising, throw it in the pile. Out of these 25-30 books, although we end up reading them all, I usually only find 3-5 “keepers.” Books that we both loved and I wouldn’t mind adding to our collection.

While I don’t mind taking a half hour to pour through shelves and shelves of children’s literature, I realize that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is also likely that when you go to the library you might prefer a higher success rate of “keeper” books as well.

With that in mind, I want to begin sharing with you the books that we have found and loved, with the hope that you will enjoy them as much as we have. As soon as I have a list of ten favorites, I will pass them on to you. That way, when you go to the library, you can get in, get out, and get to reading! Tune in tomorrow for the first installment!

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What are some of your qualifications for a good book? 

You Don’t Know What It’s Like Until You Do It

“I could write a book” he said to me with a smile, letting me know he was half teasing, half serious. My husband is a lot like me and thinks he can do pretty much anything without too many problems. It’s a serious condition I like to call “how-hard-could-it-be?-itis.” However, this time I knew the truth. Writing a book is hard.

Finished First Draft

I had just recently finished the first draft of my first fiction book and it had stretched me like crazy. Not only did it teach me a whole lot about writing, it also taught me this important lesson:

“You don’t know what it’s like until you actually do it.” 

It’s easy enough to criticize the last book you read, noting all its flaws and feeling quite confident that you could do much better. It’s a whole other story to put the pen to the paper (the fingers to the keyboard?) and actually do it. The same thing occurred to me when I started to learn the basics of photography, and again when I started teaching myself the introduction to photoshop and graphic design. Oftentimes, things that look easy from the outside looking in, turn out to be the effort of years and years of hard work and practice in that field.

Actually doing it has also helped me to do two more things:

#1 Have a lot more grace for others who are doing it. Whether its an author or some other profession, I know it’s hard work and I know what it feels like now to stare at that blank screen with nothing to say.

#2 Have a lot more respect for others who are doing it. Whether you’re an author, graphic designer, business owner, or something else, your job is hard and I respect that. I respect the knowledge you’ve learned and the hours and hours of practice you’ve put into your career.

These days, I’m trying to be better about assuming I can do everything (although I must admit, I’m always up for a challenge!). Trying new things definitely keeps me humble and reminds me that not everything is as easy as it seems.

What about you? Have you tried anything new lately? Let’s talk about your experience in the comments!

Six Easy Ways To Tamper Your Sweet Tooth

photo by joyosity @ flickr.com

photo by joyosity @ flickr.com

We all know one…you know who I’m talking about… the non-sweet lover. The “I’m not really a dessert person” person.

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Not only do I know one, I happen to be married to him.

Is there any way to guarantee this gene is passed down to my children? It obviously didn’t happen with K because the little dude loves chocolate. I’m pleading the fifth on who he got that gene from.

Okay, okay, there’s no denying it. It’s true! I have a sweet tooth. Majorly. However, I know that not only is sugar horrible for me (and my waistline), if I eat too much (and by too much I mean more than a very small amount) it really makes my stomach queasy. So, over the years I’ve come up with some tricks to lessen the draw of the sweet stuff.

Here’s my top six tips to tamper that sweet tooth!

  1. Knowledge. It doesn’t take much digging around to learn about the harmful effects of sugar on your body, especially when it’s consumed in excess. Having these facts in your mind helps when you’re temped to whip up a double batch of chocolate chip cookies. If you need somewhere to start try here or here.
  2. Cut it in half. Start by gradually lowering the amount of sugar in the recipes you already love. I can often cut the sugar in a recipe in half with no major difference in taste. In fact, in a lot of things I’ve found that it tastes better with less sugar because you can actually taste the food and not just the sugar.
  3. Don’t buy it. For me, the temptation to spend my money on something is far less than the temptation to eat something that is right in front of me. I try to make it a habit to not keep my cupboards stocked with things I don’t want to be eating.
  4. Use a replacement. Sugar cravings are going to come, so outsmart them! Have a healthier swap that is easily accessible. For me a couple squares of dark chocolate or fruit and yogurt (plain with a little honey) can do the trick to quell the desire to eat a whole pan of brownies. Note: I am not advocating artificial sugar replacements – but that is a whole other topic.
  5. Not Worth It” list. If I’m going to eat something that’s not particularly good for me, my theory is that I had better at least really enjoy it. Gooey fudge brownie? Check, yum. Haagen Das Ice Cream? Hand it over! Cookies that taste like cardboard? Not so much. Sugary cereal that made me sick but didn’t even taste that great? Keep it away! Whenever I eat something that I regret, I immediately place it on my mental “not worth it” list and try to remember that the next time it’s attempting to seduce me.
  6. Savor your treats. For me, it is easy to feel guilty when I am having a treat. However, I’ve found that doing giving in to the temptation to feel that way is actually counter productive and often leads to binging (because if I’m going to fail, might as well fail big!). So instead, I try to eat my treat slow and really savor it. That way I end up eating less and enjoying it more!

While I definitely still have a sweet tooth, using these tips has helped a lot. Which is good, because I’ve still got some leftover baby fat that’s gotta go!

What about you? Do you have a sweet tooth? I’d love to hear some more tips!

How I Won The Green Bean Battle

photo by OliBac / edited by me

photo by OliBac / edited by me

It was no secret. My son hated vegetables.

I had done everything “right.” I did everything that was supposed to help you avoid ending up with a picky eater: ate a varied diet while pregnant, exclusively breastfed, transitioned to solids with baby-led weaning. When he started on solids, he ate everything. He loved vegetables. “Sweet,” I thought, “it worked!” However, our vegetable heaven didn’t last long. As soon as he got a taste for the rest of the world of flavor, there was no turning back. He wanted meat, dairy, fruit – anything but vegetables.

At one point I took an inventory of the vegetables he would eat. It looked a little like this…

Things he would pretty much always eat:

  1. Sweet potatoes (duh, they’re sweet!)
  2. Tomatoes (might technically be a fruit, but I’m counting it!)
  3. Corn (grain – I know, I know, but I’m desperate here!)

Things that he would sometimes, not usually, eat:

  1. Cucumbers
  2. Peas
  3. Carrots

Obviously we had a little nutrition problem here. I mean, come on, he didn’t even like mashed potatoes! What kind of kid doesn’t like mashed potatoes?

Another thing that I would like to mention is that it wasn’t that he didn’t have an adventurous palate or like bold flavors. He would routinely eat spicy Mexican food, sour plain yogurt and sauerkraut, and bitter grapefruits. The only thing he was waging war against was the veggies.

However, fast forward about 1 1/2 years and the list of vegetables he will routinely eat has grown dramatically. Sure, vegetables still aren’t his favorite, but we have seen improvement. How you ask? Well, one of the first things that really helped was that I read the book French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. In this book, Karen tells the story of how her two girls transformed from picky eaters to great eaters upon moving to France and following 10 “food rules.” I thought this book was full of great information and helpful tips, not to mention a interesting look at a different culture. I didn’t put into practice all her rules, but her book greatly influenced how I view the topic of picky eating.

So, using that book as a starting point, I put into practice the following “food guidelines” that would work with a toddler.

  1. Pickiness is most likely a phase. This was my favorite tidbit that I took away from Le Billon’s book. The majority of toddlers and preschool age kids go through a phase of pickiness. The solution is to expose them to as wide a variety of foods as possible before the phase and then stick it out once the phase hits. Many parents make the mistake of catering to their child’s pickiness, only feeding them “kid friendly” foods, thereby keeping them stuck in the pickiness phase. I have definitely been guilty of this, but I try to avoid it when I can!
  2. Keep the atmosphere around food positive. As much as possible I tried to keep meal time a happy time. There was a few times we “forced” him to try a bite of something. However, eating really is something you have to choose to do for yourself. We couldn’t chew and swallow the food for him. I usually just encouraged him to “just try one bite” and praise him when he did. We also modeled enjoying eating all our food. Oftentimes he was more likely to try something when he saw grandpa or daddy enjoying it.
  3. One bite of everything. I would put just one bite sized portion of the foods I knew he didn’t care for. Sometimes I would tell him he had to eat everything before he got second helpings of his favorites, sometimes not. The important thing was that the food was always there for him as an option. We never talked about it as a food he didn’t like, we just kept offering it under the assumption he would learn to like it eventually.
  4. Keep trying a wide variety of foods. I didn’t want “picky eater” to become a label, so I had him keep trying new foods, or foods cooked in different ways. This was how I came to find out he loved sauerkraut and grapefruits – both foods I thought he would refuse.
  5. Get him involved in the food preparation. This is a tip you see a lot, but I really think it makes a difference. Last year we even had a garden he could help with and he loved it. He helped plant, care for, harvest, and preserve many different types of vegetables. It even encouraged him to try one of his most detested foods – green beans. He would still spit them out, but you could tell after being so proud of helping grow them, he wanted to eat them too!
  6. Use choices when possible. Having a choice between two equally healthy options usually ensures that he will eat what he is served. For example, he is more likely to eat sweet peppers (and even get excited about it) if I give him a choice of colors. He also loves choosing vegetables at the grocery store. One time he ate over half of an English cucumber in one sitting because he picked it out himself.
  7. Make vegetables normal. So often, veggies get the “blech stigma.” They are seen as yucky foods that we only eat because they are healthy. To reinforce that veggies are just a normal part of the foods we eat I would include them in pretend play a lot. For example, pretending to work in the garden or pretending to eat salad in the play kitchen.

K not liking vegetables had become so normal that when out of nowhere, in the same week, he ate salad, broccoli, and even the hated green beans. I was astonished! I really believe that a lot of it had to do with the tip number one. I had accepted his pickiness as a phase, but I kept him in a vegetable rich environment. He is still eating green beans like they have always been his favorite and I can proudly say that I emerged the champion in the battle over the green beans. Sure, he’ll probably always have some foods he doesn’t like, but so do I! However, his continuing acceptance of vegetables gives me confidence that he is well on his way to being a great eater.

Do you have any tips for picky eaters? I’d love to hear them. I’m always looking for more tips to add to my bag of tricks!

 

*Note: for the purposes of this post I am referring only to kids who are truly “picky” and just need to expand their palates. I acknowledge that there are also kids who have sensory issues or other difficulties that can sometimes look like just “pickiness” but are completely different than the topic I’m addressing here.

Five Tips For Being More Efficient At Anything

efficientI didn’t even realize that I was an efficient person until I got married. Needless to say, my husband was (is) not. I don’t like spending more time than is needed on most tasks, so It never occurred to me that some people were naturally slow moving and non-efficient. When I took some time to think through what I do to be efficient, I came up with five tips:

  1. Remove distractions. We might realize that stopping to check our Facebook or email is a distraction, but seemingly “productive” things can be distractions too. For example, if I’m trying to efficiently clean the kitchen, doing the laundry or picking up the toys in the living room are both distractions that keep me from my goal of efficiently cleaning the kitchen.
  2. Have a plan of action. Whether detailed or simple, having a plan keeps you from wandering around aimlessly, losing time in the process. Returning to the example of cleaning the kitchen, I follow the same plan every time. First I clear the table, putting dishes on the counter by the sink and food on the island. I then wipe the table and I am done with that area. Then, I gather any other dishes from around the kitchen and place them by the sink. I put away everything else on the counters, the food, spices that are laying out, random papers, etc and wipe the counters. At this point I’ve usually only been cleaning up for 10 minutes but the kitchen is mostly clean! Next I load the dishwasher and then wash whatever’s left by hand. Done!
  3. Eliminate unneeded movement. Wasted movement is wasted time! This may take some thought at first, but eventually it will become second nature. For example, the reason I put all the food together in the same area before putting it in the fridge is because it is wasted motion to carry one or two items from the table to the fridge at a time. This way I’m only making one trip to and from the fridge.
  4. Move quickly, but not in haste. Do not confuse efficiency with haste. As the old saying goes: “haste makes waste!” If you are moving so fast that you are not thinking and are actually making more work for yourself, slow down a bit and focus more on eliminating wasted movement. The goal of efficiency is to do something as quickly as you can while still doing it well. (My favorite way to get moving is to put on some upbeat music!)
  5. Practice repeated tasks. For tasks that you do often, keep practicing your plan for doing them efficiently until you get to the point you can do them almost automatically. I’ve been cleaning the kitchen the same way for years. By doing it the same way every time I don’t even have to think about it anymore, I just do it quickly and be done with it!

 

As a final word, I think it is important to remember that efficiency isn’t a be all end all. Its not necessarily better to be efficient, its just more..well, efficient! There are plenty of times where is it more appropriate to not be efficient and just live in the moment.

Do you have any tips for being efficient? Any examples of ways you are efficient in your home or work? I would love to hear them!