Back at School: Creating a Healthier Next Generation

Written by Role Mommy Wing Mom, Danielle Feigenbaum
snaLogo.jpg Many parents in this country are obsessed with their children’s nutrition, and rightfully so! We know the sad statistics about childhood obesity being on the rise. Speaking for myself, I want my kids to have a well balanced diet and be active so they stay fit. Since school started this year, I decided to stop feeding my kids a sugary breakfast so I give them a hard boiled egg, banana and cereal high in fiber and protein. I want to make sure their brains are sharp, ready to learn and keep them full until lunch. Speaking of lunch, school lunch plays an essential role in our kid’s lives and I think parents and educators need know what is going on in our school cafeterias.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended the School Nutrition Association Conference back in July and it really opened my eyes to everything that goes in to getting the right food into school cafeterias as well as teaching the kids to eat it and even like it. School districts around the country are getting on board with this initiative. From the USDA: “Through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by the First Lady and signed by President Obama, USDA made the first major changes in school meals in 15 years, which will help us raise a healthier generation of children. The new standards align school meals with the latest nutrition science and the real world circumstances of America’s schools. These responsible reforms do what’s right for children’s health in a way that’s achievable in schools across the Nation.”
I think some parents (like myself) feel that they can pack a nutritious lunch for their child, but if your home is anything like mine in the morning, it is so hard to pack their lunches at all, let alone make it healthy! Beth Teitel wrote an article for the Boston Globe called At lunch, home-packed may not mean healthy… “The nutritional shortcomings of school lunches have been a matter of national debate for decades — but the focus has been on what schools serve, not on what moms and dads pack in the lunch bags. Now Tufts University researchers have looked inside all those bags — and discovered that none of the lunches met all five National School Lunch Program standards, which emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low- or nonfat dairy, and only 27 percent of the lunches met at least three of the goals. There are many ways to go wrong with lunch, but one of the insidious is what she calls the “at least” strategy. “Parents make the ‘at least’ compromise,” she said. ” ‘At least’ chocolate milk has calcium. ‘At least’ chicken nuggets have protein. If you think of the cumulative effect of the ‘at least’ mindset, we’re teaching our kids the exact opposite habits we want them to have. We’re dumbing down their diets, and more importantly, we’re pushing their taste buds towards junk and away from healthy foods.”
This is such a good point, I find myself doing this all the time. As hard as I have tried, my ten year old and seven year old are pretty picky eaters. When my daughter was at sleep away camp this summer she tried so many new foods and ate healthy foods she never tried before because that’s what all the girls at her table were doing. Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing ūüėČ How great would it be to have that at school as well? All the kids trying the healthy new item that’s for lunch, together. We wonder why European children eat so much better? I saw an article that showed the amazing lunches they serve to their children at school… French school lunches show how to teach kids healthy eating habits. That is all they know and that is what they eat.
Not only do we need to get healthier foods into the cafeterias (which the SNA is doing a great job with), we also need to educate students on why they should eat healthy. Let’s get creative! Some schools have tried colorful signage in cafeterias, creative food presentations (fruit cut into shapes, etc.), taste-test events, student cooking contests, themed-days, and nutrition curriculums incorporated into the classrooms. You can also help at home–read through the menu with your kids, discuss the healthy options, ask them about the new foods they tried at school, maybe reward them with a cool sticker if they try a new food.
For information about cafeteria menu items, nutritional information, or ingredients in your child’s school lunch, contact your school Cafeteria Manager. He/she can answer questions about everything from meal preparation methods to waiting time in line. For more detailed questions, the Cafeteria Manager may refer you to the Nutrition Director who oversees cafeteria operations and menu planning for the entire school district. The Nutrition Director’s contact information is usually available on the district website.
Let’s all get on board and do what we can to help keep our kids healthy!
The School Nutrition Association launched Tray Talk as a way to provide parents with information about healthy school meals and offer tips on how to get involved in school nutrition programs. Join the conversation at Facebook.com/TrayTalk
For more great information please visit: www.schoolnutrition.org

Creating a Healthier Next Generation

Written by Role Mommy wing mom, Danielle Feigenbaum

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Last week the School Nutrition Association held their Annual National Conference in Boston, MA. I was lucky enough to attend the conference where I met so many amazing people and learned a ton about providing schools with healthy food. Who knew how much actually goes into getting healthier foods into our kid’s schools AND trying to figure out how to educate them to eat it! So many kids across the country are not exposed to different fruits and vegetables at home. It’s great to have healthy food in the schools, but we also don’t want to waste it – we want the kids to eat and enjoy it!
healthyplate.jpg The huge exhibit hall had hundreds of companies that are working on lowering the sugar and sodium amounts in their products as well as meeting new government standards for whole grains. In the upcoming 2014-2015 school year all grains served for breakfast and lunch should be whole grain-rich (at least 50%). Some of the pizza companies are working on making their crusts with more whole grain, but keeping the look of white flour so kids will eat it. There were also companies who are creating ways to get younger kids to try new foods and learn about staying healthy. They have fun stickers you can receive that say “I tried it!” when they try something new (what kid doesn’t love stickers?) And this fun plate that shows all the different food groups you should be eating at each meal.
I had the pleasure of being escorted around the exhibit floor with two amazing District Supervisors of School Nutrition. First, Debbi Beauvais from Rochester NY. I had no idea how much actually goes into planning the food and the payment schools received for each kid. There are many challenges when you live in an urban area, unfortunately it is very expensive to get lots of fruits, veggies and non prepackaged food. On the other side was Director Doug Davis from Burlington, VT who participates in a Farm 2 School initiative to bring local produce to the cafeterias. I love the idea of kids being involved in knowing where the food they eat comes from. If we can get the kids outside planting and visiting farms, maybe they will be more likely to try new and healthy foods. We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and The Burlington School Food Project serves free breakfast to all students. Debbi and Doug both had a ton of knowledge regarding school nutrition and as a parent of two picky elementary school children, they really opened my eyes to what is going on in our school. I was very inspired to get more involved and I think parents everywhere should know exactly what is going on with their school’s breakfast, lunch and snack.
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The SNA and USDA want to create a healthier next generation. Kids spend so many hours in school and need to be better educated about why eating healthy is so important. Thanks to updated standards kids are now eating 10% more veggies and 23% more fruit at lunch. But this is only the start, we need to help schools get the proper equipment and funding to make healthier foods as well as the education component.
The School Nutrition Association launched Tray Talk as a way to provide parents with information about healthy school meals and offer tips on how to get involved in school nutrition programs. Join the conversation at Facebook.com/TrayTalk
For more great information please visit: www.schoolnutrition.org

The Secret Life of an Artist Mom

An Essay by Playwright, Actress and Role Mommy Anna Fishbeyn
When my son was born and I was averaging 45 minute-intervals of sleep, my daughter quietly noted: “Daddies go to work, but Mommies stay at home!” I turned bright feminist-red, forgetting for an instant that my daughter was only four, and delivered my rather weak retort: “Did you know, pumpkin, that there are Mommies who go to work just like daddies?” She smiled and said: “But YOU, thank God, are not one of them!”
Not one of them? My mind crashed against the debilitating dichotomy of our time: stay-at home moms vs. working moms? Every day I read a new article dissecting motherhood, twirling like a baton the concept of “having it all.” I read with detached envy the protracted Internet debate between Anne-Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg, wondering nervously where I fit in.
On the surface I was staying at home with my children, but secretly I was working. Yet this “work” did not bring in any money. I convinced my husband that I needed to hire help to enable me to sleep. But clandestinely, while I was supposed to be sleeping, I worked. Only the nannies knew my secret, knew I had one eye on my computer, the other eye on them. It gnawed at me that my work did not carry equal weight to that of my husband’s, that I could not even claim to be “working,” that even though I had deadlines no one cared if I met them. I could not compete with the glamorous stories of women in high heels climbing corporate ladders, juggling ambition, marriage and children like acrobats on tightrope while society watched and judged. Yet strangely, even though my uniform was a pink robe and slippers and my office was wedged between the children’s play area and the living room couch, I felt as if I was one of them: focused, haggard, brimming with passion and irrepressible ambition.
Because what I am I could not alter after I gave birth to my children, so I coined a term for myself to soothe a chasm in my mind between the necessity to create and the necessity to sacrifice myself for my children: I was – I am an artist mom.
How many of us, artist moms, are out there, I wondered, how many of us write, paint, play, sing, dance in secret, pretending to the world to have been – through the miracle of birth – cured of the grueling tyranny of one’s imagination? I wondered too, if I could successfully string these two words together, or did they signal an incurable contradiction, a mockery of an old established tradition we, mothers, were never meant to penetrate?
Images of struggling artists came to me in reveries: there was Picasso making love to his hundredth model, a man with a family and children, but they may as well have been his self-¬≠‚Äźportraits, silent and un-intrusive. I saw Hemingway defeating his writer’s block with Daiquiris and Martinis, and a drink called Death in the Afternoon. Jonathan Franzen was barricading his windows with mattresses to write the great American novel, steadfastly keeping the outside world from seeping in. Phillip Roth was awake and frantic in the middle of the night on a Connecticut farm, jotting down brilliance on yellow post-its presciently resting at his bedside table.
Then there was me: my nightstand overflowed with bottles and pacifiers, and a Medela Breast Pump rested against my laptop. My breasts contracted involuntarily from pain, my second C-section bent my stomach in a crooked angle, preventing me from straightening up, and my fingers swelled from post-partum water retention. Would anyone see the romance, the thrill, the enigma in the image of a mother – of me – writing as I breastfed, cradling my son with one hand to ensure his proper latching while revising the strewn pages under my armpits, crossing superfluous sentences out with my other, my free hand? Or in lieu of that ubiquitous image – the Starbucks writer-in-deep-thought, there was me in deep thought – changing my son’s shit-filled diaper. What began as a feared chore grew into a beloved routine, an exploration of ideas: I solved a seemingly intractable problem in my fourth chapter, conjured a tear-jerking epilogue, gave birth to an essay entitled, Conversations With My Breasts, and so it went.
Was I a bad mother? Did the fact that my thoughts strayed from his exuberant poop or that I wiped his royal buttocks mechanically, routinely, blankly mean that I lagged in motherly devotion – that I did not measure up to Our Current Idealized Stay-At-Home Mother‚ÄźGoddess/Goodness/Madness? Did Shakespeare ever feel guilt, in the aftermath of his greatest epiphanies, for not thinking enough about the children he never had the time to see? No, I reprimanded myself: think like the male-artists, liberate your brain from the socially-constructed mommyisms. Futile. I was besotted with guilt. Guilt at every quarter- turn, from every infinitesimal crevice. Guilt for not concentrating enough, for not being awake enough, for not sacrificing enough! Guilt for the aftermath, when I put my clean lavender-smelling son in the playpen, gave my daughter watercolors, turned on Mozart for their collective brain development, and ran to jot down my ideas, which if ignored even for a second on such minimal sleep would be irretrievably stricken from memory.
Where did my ideas go – you ask – computers, post-its, fancy leather bound journals? Try grocery store receipts from Fairway, Zabars, and Whole Foods. Try napkins and paper towels, and backs of old decrepit magazines. I had no time to plan ahead or to extract suitable notebooks out of my old writing bag as my infant howled from the playpen, and my toddler whined, “I’m bored with painting! I want outside, I want toooooo gooooo OUTSIDE!” And when an hour later, after eating and feeding and dressing and putting suntan lotion on cringing screaming faces, I finally found myself in the open air and walked down to the Hudson River, I heard them gurgling again at my temples, ideas erupting from obstinate nooks of memory, demanding to be heard like the children I held in my arms. I stopped abruptly, and resting against a bench, one hand on the infant’s carriage, the other in my toddler’s fearful grip, I said, “Hold on, pumpkin, for a minute, Mommy has an idea she must write down!” and wrote it down: “Hold on to me, you’re a pumpkin for just a minute: Mommy is an idea she must write out!”
At night, while everyone slept – children, husband, city – I would decipher those crumbled, milk-¬≠‚Äźstained, transparent scraps of paper, those sticky reminders that my mommy brain, part-sleep-addled imagination, part-crazed determination, could not breathe or function without art.
Yet I resented it too, the way art lorded over me and tore me away from my children, superimposing fiction onto reality as if it were crisscrossing train tracks inside my head. Art was a thief who robbed your mind of the space and time you had allocated for them – your children – robbed them of one more I-Love-You, one more kiss, one more 3 embrace, irreverently demanding that you choose between loving and thinking, between their needs and your own.
Enviously, I eyed Hemingway and Roth, or heck, the boys in my writing program from New School, sailing forth; “Look at all the able-minded men, whether married or single or divorced, they create, they write, they multiply; they’re untethered, un-guilt-ridden, unattached. They say unabashedly – ‘I’m a writer!'” What about how I write – has anyone cared to ask?
I write without sleep, my visage drained and unkempt, anxiously aware of art’s grand robberies, kissing my children often, doling out I-Love-You’s in large, generous portions. I write while burping an infant on my shoulder, asking my toddler calmly why she’s throwing tomatoes on the floor, rebuffing credit card companies’ incessant calls about bills pending, bills unpaid; my fingers move furiously across the keyboard, stringing together sentences from wet grocery store receipts. Yet out there, in the world of playgrounds and preschools, I am tremulous and brutally insecure: “me, oh, I don’t do much, I’m just a stay-at-home mom.”
Where is our culture’s romance with mother-¬≠‚Äźartists, where is the dialogue – the text we can turn to – that will bridge the word, “stay-at-home,” with “working nonstop?” Where are the essays and poems and puff pieces about us – the 24/hour cave-watchers, the warrior-worriers, the protectors stationed in our homes like hawks, like soldiers, working yet anchored – doing everything yet accused of doing nothing – what will they ever make of us?
Here’s the funny irony in meshing these two words together: it was my children’s births, my postpartum brain, my two C-section scars, my protective instincts that drew this thing out of me, this thing that I had long known existed but never saw in full bloom: an artistic will. My children released me from past baggage, from procrastination, from the ennui born of youth’s confusion and opacity to the swift passage of time. They freed me by binding me, freedom parceled out and cut up into fragments of time, twenty minutes here, seventy seconds there, a minute in a distant future – there I lived and wrote, in the constant in-¬≠‚Äźbetween, art cut up and then sown together in a collage, more pronounced, more real, more vulnerable than reality itself. I now had the courage to acknowledge my fears and discard them, to put ideas on the page without waiting for approval, to describe myself without referring to the simplified, media-engendered dichotomies – labels – that categorize and imprison the mothers of our day.
By the time I wrote and performed in my play, Sex in Mommyville, I knew that my art was inextricable from motherhood. It was the dancing and singing and playacting with my children that spawned an artist out of me. My wings wrapped round their little bodies, my wings painted by them. I saw our fictionalized story on a page, on the stage: living intertwined with writing, loving intertwined with a dream.
121713_WheelsUp__02341.jpgAnna Fishbeyn is a feminist playwright, producer, actor, author, painter, and proud mother of two children. Her plays, Sex in Mommyville, and My Stubborn Tongue, continue to be performed in New York City. Her articles such as “Wall Street Makeover,” “The Miniskirt Dilemma,” And “The Secret Life of An Artist Mom” examine the media-engendered pressures and socially acceptable double-standards affecting women and mothers today. Anna’s website brings her work under one roof and introduces the blog, XO, Feminist: at once a personal journey, a critical analysis of our culture and the media, and a humor column to prove to everyone that feminists can be funny.
*Essay republished with the permission of the author.

The Power of Unplugging at Sleepaway Camp

Written by Lauren Kasnett, Co-Founder + Summer 365 Counselor
Give me a U
Give me a N
Give me a P
Give me a L
Give me a U
Give me a G
WHAT’S THAT SPELL?
Yea, you know what we’re talking about. UNPLUG! It’s a simple and beautiful (and perhaps elusive) concept that is becoming a big fixture of conversation for us lately. One of the most commonly asked questions and discussions we engage parents in about sleepaway camp is – what is the electronics policy? And of course it is. In a world where we are totally and pretty much unavoidably immersed in technology, parents want to know what happens during summertime at camp.
In our everyday lives, for both parents and kids alike, there are a whole lotta screens and a whole lotta hours logged in front of them. Between cell phones, computers, TV, video games, and apps we are constantly connected and forever liking / commenting / scrolling / refreshing (and we bet sometimes you even think you feel your phone buzzing even when it’s not… yes this has a name it’s called Phantom Vibration Syndrome). And this is a not an anti-technology PSA. In fact, we love technology (wait for it… here is our plug) and hope you enjoy our website, blog, and social media accounts! However, as wonderful as technology is we know our kids are spending too much time connected to their screens and not enough time connecting to real people in real life. There is an increasing amount of research showing that technology is affecting our biological capacity to connect with other people (Barbara L. Frederickson, a professor of psychology at UNC, wrote a great op/ed piece in the NYT “Your Phone vs Your Heart”).
So this takes us back to that question what is the electronics policy at camp? And we are over-the-moon, elated, jubilant, and ear-to-ear when we tell our clients that by and large the majority of sleepaway camps are electronic free zones. We can almost always hear a smile over the phone in the event that a parent doesn’t give a small cheer or a “that’s awesome!” While every camp has their own specific policy (some do not allow campers to bring anything with screens, others just prohibit wifi enabled devices, some only allow music on an mp3 player, and so on) there is a common ethos and philosophy shared by camp directors and leaders – camp is a time to unplug which provides the opportunity for SO MUCH MORE. It is a time to connect, communicate, collaborate, engage, and be outdoors and have fun! Children will write letters home (yes ones actually sent via snail mail) and sit for a meal without a phone or iPad in hand and have conversations. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?!
So there will be none of this…
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and lots of this…
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We wanted to share this absolutely fantastic, insightful, and powerful TED Talk from camp industry leader, Steve Baskin. He so poignantly articulates the conundrum we face with modern technology when it comes to our kids, and he explores the most magical place where kids can unplug and create genuine connections and friendships and learn critical interpersonal skills. It’s a place where both elementary aged kids and teenagers put down their phones, log off the computer, turn off the game system AND thank their parents for it. We bet you can guess where this place is, eh?!!? This is a must watch (especially for any parents who have friends that aren’t so sure about sending their child away to camp or if you have spouse that needs some convincing). Share this video and spread the summer camp love!
Unplugging Our Kids: Steve Baskin at TEDxSanAntonio

Unplugging Our Kids: Steve Baskin at TEDxSanAntonio


Make sure to check out Summer 365‘s website and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and for more great camp advice and information!

Reason # Billion and One Why My Mom is the Best on the Planet

url.jpgAs moms across the world get ready to celebrate Mother’s Day, I have to say that as a daughter, I am truly lucky. You see, I’ve been blessed to have the most supportive mom one could ever have in her life. My mom, Lenore Stoller, has been my biggest cheerleader throughout my life. She’s the one whose shoulder I lean on when I am stressed out beyond belief and the first person I call when I receive good news. Even when she’s away half the year in Florida, I never feel like my mom is that far away because all it takes is a phone call or skype chat to catch up, crack jokes and lament about the latest problem we’ve each been encountering in our lives.
Over the past year, my mom has endured a great deal of stress and yet, she powered through with that same positive energy and spirit that everyone around her knows best (including me). Sadly, my aunt passed away this fall and then shortly after, my 47 year old brother suffered a heart attack. Thank goodness, he survived and is on the road to recovery. While I’m positive she spent many sleepless nights worrying about my brother and me, whenever I speak with her, I always get her unwavering support no matter what I do. In fact, the other day, after I complained that I had so much work on my plate and didn’t know what to do, Mom encouraged me it would all get better soon. A few days later, she sent me this note via email:
I just happened to be looking thru the newspaper and found a message that was just perfect for you…
It said: Don’t sweat the small stuff- Relax and things will come together nicely! This little
message was your horoscope– Sorry I sent it so late but I was caught up doing some silly stuff in the house.
Love Mom
Right after I read that note, I instantly smiled and remembered how my mom used to write notes to me every day at school. She’d address them to her “favorite daughter” (I was her only daughter) and every day without fail, I’d open my lunch bag to find an encouraging note from my mom. Back then, I was struggling socially since I was a bit overweight and became the butt of a lot of kids jokes. But my mom and my dad were always there to support me. In fact, growing up, we did everything together.
We joined Weight Watchers together when I was 12 and together lost about 80 pounds as a family.
We traveled to Israel, Italy, Greece, London, the Caribbean and California and loved every minute of it.
We shopped and shopped and shopped.
We reminisced about my grandmother after she lost her battle to Alzheimer’s
When I walked down the aisle on my wedding day, I will never forget my mom saying “I love you” right before she handed me off to my husband to be
She walked and walked and walked after I was in labor for three days
She and my dad were instantly at my house the day I told them I thought our son was on the way
We celebrated, danced and smiled at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah
We cook together — mom does most of it and we have memories of our biggest food disasters. One year, she set fire to her famous marshmallow and yam when she accidentally turned on the broiler.
She reads and reads and reads and even has a notebook where she records every single book she’s read over the past few years (over 120).
We laugh, we cry and we hug. A lot.
My mom has been there for me for everything. Graduations, marriage, children, job changes, family issues and more. I honestly don’t think I would have become the person I am today without her love, her support and her guidance.
So as Mother’s Day approaches Mom, I just want to say, I love you with all my heart and I always will. You truly are everything a daughter could ask for and so much more.

Make Mother’s Day Meaningful with Mother’s Day Movement

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This Sunday is Mother’s Day and if you are a mom, hopefully you will be getting pampered. I personally love having my breakfast in bed, homemade cards from my kids and maybe even a little gift. A staggering $18 billion is spent annually in the United States on Mother’s Day celebrations. Given the number of women and children suffering globally, and here at home, a group of moms felt it was time to rethink Mother’s Day giving priorities.
Mothers’ Day Movement was founded in 2010 by four mothers living in Connecticut. Each year they partner with a worthy charity committed to improving the lives of mother’s in some of the developing world’s neediest communities. This year Mothers’ Day Movement is helping ClearWater Initiative.
Mothers and children in Uganda spend hours every day carrying 40lb containers long distances over rough terrain to get water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Often children have to miss school to help get water. The leading cause of death for children under age 5 is diarrhea, which is directly linked to access to clean water and basic sanitation. Diarrhea kills one child every 21 seconds, more than measles, malaria, and AIDS combined.
Together we can provide sustainable clean drinking water, sanitation, and education programs to keep mothers and children healthy and strong.
ClearWater Initiative is working in more than 40 communities and bringing clean water and education programs to over 1,500 families. So let’s take a moment to help moms around the world. Click here to donate now.

THE CONFIDENCE CODE

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Role Mommy Q & A with the authors of “The Confidence Code” Katty Kay & Claire Shipman
1. Why were you inspired to write ” The Confidence Code”?
It really grew out of our work on our book Womenomics. ¬†We’d noticed, in our reporting, that many of the extremely successful women we would interview would often express a certain hesitation about their abilities. They might laughingly confess they didn’t know how they’d achieved what they had – or suggest they weren’t sure they were really qualified. ¬†Since we’d often felt that way ourselves we understood it, but when we kept hearing it, we thought it was worth digging into. And, in fact, we found out that what had always seemed to be harmless or “natural” feelings, were in fact a manifestation of a widespread lack of confidence.
2. Does “fake it ’til you make it” work?
No! It sure sounds good though, doesn’t it? Here’s why: First, humans are quite adept at reading non-verbal cues. It turns out we can sniff out frauds quite handily. Second, knowingly “faking it” actually contributes to a sense of underlying insecurity and unworthiness. ¬†Authenticity is critical to true confidence. ¬†It’s true that the ability to create real confidence can require a jump-start – sometimes you will experience fear, and you need to overcome it. But a fa√ßade doesn’t work.
3. Tell us about the research you learned about while writing “The Confidence Code.”
There was more than we imagined about the science and biology of confidence in some ways. We really did not expect to find that confidence, for example, is genetic. ¬†But it is – to some extent. Most experts believe it’s a trait that is somewhere between 25 and 50 percent inherited. ¬†There isn’t one “confidence gene,” but there are a number of genes that have been identified that play a key role in supporting confident behavior. ¬†Some of them are the genes that control Serotonin, Dopamine and Oxytocin in our brains, for example. ¬†
We didn’t find a clear gender gap genetically, however. But we also found substantial research that suggests there are some biological, or structural differences in male and female brains that could affect confidence. ¬†This is a hugely controversial subject – and we initially hoped to avoid it – but we found we couldn’t in good faith. ¬†Research in ongoing, nothing is definitive, and male and female brains are much more alike than different. Still, some scans show different levels of activity, or different sorts of matter, or a different use of parts of our brains when looking at gender-differentiated brain scans. And some researchers believe that could account for the fact that women might operate more cautiously, or might be prone to ruminate. Both of those things can affect confidence.
Hormones play a big role as well. A multitude of studies show that testosterone encourages risk-taking, and sometimes a herd-like mentality. Men have substantially more testosterone, obviously.
4. Is confidence the same as self-esteem?
No, actually. We took a long an tangled journey through the many definitions of confidence and its cousins: self-esteem, optimism, self-efficacy, self-compassion. Confidence means many things to many people, it turns out. But what we filtered out, after all of our research, is that confidence has an element of action about it. Indeed, one academic put it in very clear terms for us. “Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action,” according to Dr. Richard Petty of Ohio State University. That action might not be running a marathon, or storming into your boss’s office. It can be the action of making a decision. But it’s the frame of mind that allows us to believe we are able to do what we set out to do. And you can see why that frame of mind would make action of all sorts more likely. You can also see why, therefore, experience matters. The more experience we have taking action, learning, and mastering things – the more we create a frame of mind that says we think we can.
5. Do you have any advice for raising confident daughters? 
Yes – let them fail! Let them be messy. Let them make mistakes. We found that our girls are being taught to be too perfect – not always consciously. Who doesn’t want a child who’s helpful and contentious and who does extremely well in school? Our girls today are academic superstars, but they aren’t learning the lessons that will help them in the real world – that failure is ok, and that risks are worthwhile. Sports help enormously, but despite Title lX, girls are dropping out of sports at a much higher rate than boys as they hit puberty.
6. Public speaking is an iconic issue for women’s confidence. Do you have any tips?
Practice helps. But that’s obvious. What we found is that, first of all, it’s important to see making mistakes here and there in public speaking as natural. The audience actually likes that, because the speaker seems more human. Knowing your mistake might help you connect can ease some of your tension.
But we also found that for women, it can be hugely helpful to reframe your remarks. Women feel more confident and more at ease when they are speaking on behalf of others – whether it’s a cause, a company or friends. It shifts the mental spotlight off of us somehow, and allows us to display our passion and knowledge with more ease. So if you can find a way to recast your remarks, or even the way you think about your remarks – it can be a huge boost for speaking with confidence.¬†
7. Studies suggest there are a number of reasons women tend to earn less than comparably educated/experienced male colleagues. Which one (or two) do you feel is most notable, or easiest to address?
We need to ask for more. Straight out of college women don’t negotiate for higher salaries but men do. We need to ask ourselves, “What’s going to happen if I ask for a raise?” The worst is that you don’t get the extra money; you’re not going to die because you ask for something, so give it a go. That’s what men do. And if you don’t get it the first time, don’t give up. One day it will work and that will give you the confidence to ask again the next time. Women should remember they are just as competent as their male colleagues so they are worth as much.
8. Women tend to be underrepresented in leadership positions, from the C Suite to Capitol Hill. What gives? What can we do about it?
There are lots of reasons. We still don’t have as many role models at the top as men do, so we tend not to see ourselves so easily in those leadership positions. As one woman put it to us, men look in the mirror and see a senator; a woman would never be so presumptuous. It’s certainly not lack of competence. Women are better educated than men. But we also hold ourselves back, somehow doubting our right to rule at the top. That’s where the confidence gap between men and women really shows itself. Confidence is the missing link to our success.
9. What advice might you offer women who want to climb the corporate ladder or negotiate their salaries/benefits? What about new college graduates ready to launch their careers?
Know that you are valuable and don’t assume that just by keeping your head down and working hard, your natural talents will be recognized. You need to ask for what you want – whether it’s more money or a promotion or better benefits. Often your bosses are so busy, they haven’t even thought about your situation. It’s up to you to let them know what you need and up to you to believe that you deserve it.
10. Is there anything you would like to add?
Everyone can choose confidence. It’s hard, deliberative work building self-assurance – but it is a choice. You can choose to walk across the room and introduce yourself to that interesting looking stranger ¬†– or choose not to. You can choose to raise your hand in that meeting – or choose not to. It’s not easy but confidence is a decision. But the two most¬†inspiring¬†things we uncovered are that – as you choose to take action here and there, as you choose to take risks, and learn, and master situations, you are not only building confidence – you are changing your brain. You are building a new way of thinking. The research on brain plasticity is extraordinary.
Claire_Katty_GreyBG.png And a cornerstone of confidence, we found, is authenticity. We don’t have to try to emulate a male style of confidence – that might look just too macho for us. It doesn’t always have to be about speaking up first, or being the loudest, most aggressive person at the table. True confidence comes from knowing and expressing our values.¬†
For more information, please visit www.theconfidencecode.com.

The Deeper Meaning of Mac and Cheese

By Yvette Manessis Corporon
Thumbnail image for authorphotofinal.jpeg I was 29 years old the first time I tried mac and cheese.
It happened in the cafeteria at CBS News headquarters in New York where I was a producer in the local newsroom. The salad bar was typically more my speed, but that day, as I gave a passing glanced at the breadcrumb crusted lunch special, I mentioned to a colleague that I had never tried the all American staple. She nearly dropped her tray. And you call yourself American? She shook her head and waved a forkful of the orange hued elbows towards me.
Yes, I am proudly American, and who, despite my colleague’s disbelief, was raised neither under a rock nor in a cave, but in the New York City suburbs. It was however a Greek immigrant suburban home, dominated by very Greek values on life, culture, heritage, morality and of course, food. Did I mention that I’m Greek?
Ours was not a home where you would find boxed mac and cheese or boxed anything for that matter. In my mother’s kitchen we feasted on her meticulously made Pastichio. Much like its American cousin, mac and cheese, Pastichio is considered the ultimate in Greek comfort food. It’s a trifecta of flavors; buttery noodles topped with savory tomato meat sauce infused with cinnamon topped by a crowning layer of cloudlike b√©chamel cheese sauce hidden beneath a crispy brown crust of baked cheesy goodness.
You can’t get that in a box.
Growing up in that My Big Fat Greek Wedding kind of way, my mother couldn’t pronounce fluffernutter, let alone make one, a bowl of soup never required a can opener and I was never treated to rice crispy treats. In our home we made baklava, buttering and layering each delicate sheet of filo one by one and getting down on our knees to smash the hand cracked walnuts in a dishtowel against the floor with our hands , the way my mother’s mother, and her mother had done back in their mountain top Greek village home.
As a kid, I never had any interest in these dishes, making them, learning about them and for the most part even eating them. But even so, I was made to sit and watch, and despite my protests, occasionally to help. I wanted to be anywhere but in that kitchen. I wanted my food to be as crust-less wonder bread white and homogenized as I so desperately wanted to be as I clipped a clothes pin to my nose night after willing it to transform to the enviable all American button nose of my best friend. But living under my parent’s roof that was impossibility, because after all – we, my nose, and our food, were Greek.
I was 21 when I first began to cook for myself.
I was saving money for a trip to Paris with my best girlfriends and cooking, instead of ordering take out seemed the perfect way to fund the trip. As I shopped for groceries and prepared my meals, I surprisingly gravitated not to the boxes and cans that I had coveted in my youth, but to the fresh ingredients and flavors that my own mother had favored.
When I wanted soup, I bypassed the Campbell’s and instead bought a fresh chicken which simmered for hours with onions, carrots, and celery and bay leaves, like my mother had done.
When I wanted roasted chicken, I bypassed the rotisserie birds. Instead I marinated and broiled the meat in oil, lemon, fresh garlic, salt and fragrant oregano, which I had picked and shredded myself at my grandmother’s home when I visited each summer, like my mother had done.
As much as I had tried to escape my mother’s kitchen, claiming I could care less about her cooking lessons, a culinary osmosis had been taking place all along.
I saved $500 that month, enough for a week’s worth of wine and baguettes in Paris. But I also saved something else that as I cooked every meal in that tiny kitchen of my first apartment; my cultural identity.
I finally realized then what my mother had done with her insistence of the ingredients, foods and recipes of her own childhood. Those flavors, those smells, dishes and yes, even technique (just try telling your friends to smash walnuts on the floor when a perfectly good Cuisinart sits on the counter) transported her, and eventually me, back to that beautiful mountain village and to her own mother’s kitchen. These foods and flavors were not meant to separate me from my American life, they were a simply conduit to my Greek life. They were a reminder of the selfless women, like my grandmother, who had encouraged my mother to leave their tiny village and seek a better life in America so that I, as an “Amerikanida” could have opportunities she could never even dream of. These meals were a reminder of the women, like my grandmother, who has no material possessions to speak of, but poured everything they had, every dream, every prayer, every ounce of love, into cooking for the ones they loved – no matter how meager the pantry.
Today, I’m 45 years old. I am my mother’s daughter.
At the first sniffle or cough from my children, I’ll make a steaming pot of soup from scratch. I season pretty much everything with the large jar of oregano that my children shredded one summer afternoon under the watchful eye of my grandmother right after she taught them how to smash walnuts on the floor of her Greek village home.
My own daughter, Christiana, is now 12. Her favorite food is mac and cheese, which she is constantly asking me to make. Sometimes I give in, usually I don’t. I prefer Pastichio.
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Yvette Manessis Corporon is a producer for EXTRA TV. She is the author of the novel “When the Cypress Whispers” (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers)
When the Cypress Whispers is the story of a young woman named Daphne and the deep and magical bond she shares with her Greek grandmother, her Yia-yia. It’s based on Yvette’s family and takes place on the magical Greek island that they still call home. She grew up listening to her own Yia-yia’s stories of life on the island and how as a young mother she befriended a Jewish Girl named Rosa whose family was hiding from the Nazis. Despite the risk to themselves and their families, not one person on their island gave up the secret of Rosa’s family – and they were saved. Even though the Nazis had said that anyone found hiding Jews would be killed, along with their entire families, night after night her grandmother would throw open the doors to our home to welcome Rosa inside. It is their stories which resonate in Yvette’s heart and on the pages of this book. You can purchase your own copy of the book from Amazon here and click here to watch the trailer.

Top 10 Family Night Activities

Written by Role Mommy contributor, Christine J. Williamson.

Top 10 Family Night Activities.jpg I overheard my son talking to a friend the other day about our family game nights. The other kid asked, “What’s that?” I told my son later I had overheard the conversation, and I really liked his patient response to his friend who really didn’t understand the concept of a family getting together to enjoy each other’s time.
Sadly, I’ve heard similar things from other parents that they don’t have time, are too tired, or the kids wouldn’t be interested anyway. I don’t like saying anyone is outright wrong when it comes to anything to do with parenting, but they are so wrong. Studies show that families
who participate in a regular family night are closer, kids do better in school, and many games teach life and educational skills. With that in mind, I’d like to share our top 10 family night activities.
10. Super Dessert Night
Let your family make their own desserts. After dinner one night, set out small bowls with a
scoop of ice cream in each one. Also have chocolate syrup or whatever flavors your family
enjoys. Candy pieces, sprinkles and other yummies to put on their ice cream will let each
member of the family design the ice cream sundae they think is best. If you want, take a
photo of each family member with their sundae before they dig in and save it for a scrapbook night.
9. Zoo Night
Check with your local zoo to see about their family night activities. Many zoos offer special
discounts for families and night activities that range from movie nights at the zoo to specially arranged night hikes where hikers get to meet and learn about an animal.
8. Museum Night
The museum doesn’t have to be a boring experience. Make it fun with a scavenger hunt.
Make a list of random things to look for in exhibits throughout the museum. Our local museum is online, and yours probably is too, and just make a list like “mummy sarcophagus” or “beard on a statue” and see who wins.
7. Family Blog
You can use a service like Blogger.com or WordPress.com and set up a free blog. Let your
kids choose the colors, lettering, template, and add some photos from your other family
activity nights. Both of these blog places have the option to keep your blog from being
indexed so it won’t show up on search engines. If you want to keep your blog private, so only the family can see it, you can do that too in the privacy settings and choose who can see your family blog. Both sets of grandparents enjoy seeing our posts, especially the posts they are in like when my parents came over for family night and played Jenga with us.
6. Camping at Home
This is a fun activity that we’ve done numerous times. The first time we came up with this idea was when the kids were very small, and it was winter. So we camped out in the living room. Now that they are older, we set up the tent in the backyard, and you have to plan to bring everything you need out with you. No one goes back into the house. We cook over our grill, make S’mores, tell scary stories, and we have a large traditional breakfast of pancakes the next morning.
5. Home Video Night
This is a fun night of memories. Take your old videos of your kids and show them. Talk about the little things you remember about your kids. When my daughter was 3 years old, she used to have elaborate tea parties that often included our very patient cat who would sit in a chair along with her stuffies and dolls. Sharing those memories again is great for bringing your family unit closer.
4. Talent Show
Think American Idol or X-Factor without Simon Cowell in it. Let each of the kids come up with a talent, parents or anyone other family members need to participate too, and have fun! Videos for family video night or photos for the family blog or scrapbook should be taken on this night.
3. Movie Night
We love movie night. We usually let each family member name a movie and then choose
from there. Eventually, we pick everyone’s movie. We stream movies from Netflix, Amazon
Prime, and HuluPlus so there is never a shortage of great movies to watch.
2. Family Scrapbook Night
One year my daughter got a scrapbooking kit for a birthday gift. The other kids were intrigued, and everyone wanted to do a page in her scrapbook. That’s how our family scrapbook night was born. We do this at least once a month, we have long since scrapbooked baby photos, family vacations, and birthdays. We now do our current family photos, and sometimes we all design one page together or each child will get to do their own pages. It’s something everyone looks forward to doing. Often the kids get out the scrapbook and are just looking at it, seeing memories.
1. Game Night
Yes, we have video games in our house. We tried incorporating the Kinect Games (the ones where you get up and move with the game) into our game night, but it just turned into kids playing games and parents being bored watching. It wasn’t a true family event. So when we say “Game Night” we mean board games, card games, and other games. No video games. Take age recommendations with a grain of salt. You know your kids best as to what they can and can’t do. I buy board games yard sales and store clearances. We now have a closet full of games for the family to choose from with not a lot of money invested.
Playing games with your kids teaches life skills such as cooperation and patience.
Responsibility is practiced when they play by the rules. Honesty is learned by playing fair.
Good sportsmanship is learned by both learning to win and lose gracefully. Other family night activities will stimulate your the creative thinking in your kids, develops longer attention spans, and it’s fun. As you can see there is no downside to scheduling a regular night of fun with your family. As a parent, you want to build lifelong family bonds that are strong, spending quality time with the family as a whole unit is a great way to keep those bonds strong.
Christine J. Williamson is the co-founder and writer for Super Mommy blog. She is blessed with two amazing boys and a great husband, and 100% loves blogging at I’m Super Mommy. Connect with her on Twitter! Cheers!

Take a Holiday Tech Break with Downtown Bookworks

Guest post by Julie Merberg, founder of Downtown Bookworks
Because good, old-fashioned fun is just that.
As much as I’m looking forward to holing up in our little farmhouse upstate, working my way through my “Best Books of 2013” stack, making soup, snowy walks, and family board games over Christmas break, I’m also dreading the fights I know I’ll have with my kids over screen time. Here are a few of the things we’re planning to do to keep busy, happy, and engaged–without any tech:
FieldGuideKit-WOODS.jpgNature Adventures are a biggie, particularly for my 5-year-old. Armed with A WALK IN THE WOODS by Emily Laber-Warren, we will head outside and see what we can see. In the summer, we always bring a basket and make a mission out of collecting and identifying as many different wildflowers or berries as possible. In the winter, we look for animal tracks, gather as many different types of pine cones as we can, look for birds’ nests in naked trees, and generally spot whatever “treasures” we can: bright red winterberries, animal bones, or a hunk of tree bark dotted with woodpecker holes.
Nature Crafts are the perfect sequel to a treasure hunt. I’m busy testing projects for our upcoming PBS KIDS DO-IT-MYSELF CRAFT KIT: STICKS AND STONES. Acorn babies (in a milkweed pod cradle) are one of my favorite projects. Maccabee finds homes for them on the windowsills, the mantle, the dining table…It’s like a bunch of fairies have moved in.
BIRD-acious-finalcover-mockup-front.jpgAnd then there’s owl puke. My 10- and 12-year-olds both studied birds in school and became passionate birders. The colder months can actually be a great time to observe birds: Those that don’t migrate are easily visible, and happy to find birdfeeders full of treats. We will see who shows up to dine, and learn a thing or two about birds in BIRD-ACIOUS by Melissa Stewart. And (possibly best of all), BIRD-ACIOUS comes with an owl pellet–the vomited-up remains of a barn owl’s meal. It takes a good hour to properly dissect an owl pellet, digging out delicate bones and sorting them to determine what kind of creature they belong to. Yes, it’s fun.
Let them eat…whatever they want to make. I’ve already packed THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO COOKBOOK by Matthew Mead and I’m sure we’ll be pulling it out day after day. Because painting with icing = hours of fun, we will definitely make super hero cookies using the logo stencils that come with the book. We’ll have a DIY super hero pizza party using pre-made pizza crusts and cut-up vegetables. And so they won’t think I’m a horrible mother for hiding the iPad, I’ll let the boys make Indoor S’mores as well from THE DO IT MYSELF KIDS’ COOKBOOK by Laurie Wolf.
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Everyone loves a fireplace. Since it’s dark by 4:30 but way too early to think about dinner then, we will also be doing a lot of reading by the fire. I’m always looking for books that will appeal to my three youngest boys (ages 5, 8, and 10) since I read to them together every night–and to me, since I’m selfish. Over the last year or so, some of our collective favorites were:
HATCHET by Gary Paulsen captured everyone’s imagination, and continues to spark many discussions of what they would each do to survive in the wild.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s historical fiction: CHAINS, FORGE, and FEVER were riveting, and made all of the boys very curious about the relevant time periods and events.
WONDER by R.J. Palacio was so moving for all of them–I think they were surprised and delighted to become so emotionally invested in a character.
They’re dog lovers and we adopted our own mutt, but I suspect they would have loved BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo anyhow.
And the cliffhanger chapter endings in THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY books by Trenton Lee Stewart meant many late nights to accommodate their demands for “just one more chapter.”
My 14-year-old son is a great source of recommendations, as is James Patterson’s site, readkiddoread.com so we’ll spend some time there making choices for the week.
As long as my kids get outside, do something creative, and use their brains a bit each day, I won’t mind if they watch a movie or 2, or 12 as well.
julie-and-books.jpgJuile Merberg is the founder of Downtown Bookworks whose mission is to raise a new generation of book lovers–with every one of their books carefully designed to engage, inspire, and feel good in small hands. Julie began her publishing career 25 years ago as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster–which now handles sales and distribution for Downtown Bookworks. Many years as an editor and then as a packager led her to launch Downtown Bookworks as a book packaging company in 2005. But it was her experience as a mother of 4 boys that compelled her to start a children’s publishing company with the mission of raising a new generation of book lovers. The list reflects her passions–science and nature, crafts, the arts (and her husband’s passion–super heroes). Her in-house focus group helps to insure that every book has major kid appeal and does double-duty–educating while entertaining. Julie lives in Tribeca with her husband and their boys, and spends her weekdays running around downtown between home, work, and the kids’ schools.