Monday, March 31, 2014

April 1–The Day for Fun, Even at Work!

Studies show that those who enjoy their work life often benefit from health and well-being boosts as a result. International Fun at Work Day–April 1—is an opportunity for employers and coworkers to make the workplace more enjoyable, even if only for one day.

But why just for one day? With the following 12 tips on how to put the fun into Fun at Work Day, you may find that the merriment – and its health benefits – can have a lasting effect on your workplace. 

Fun at work

Benefits of Making Work More Fun

If you saw our recent article The Importance of Play, consider that the psychological benefits of play – stress relief, brain refreshing, and enjoying life more – are very similar to the potential benefits of Fun at Work Day. When the workplace is a generally positive experience, both employers and employees benefit – which is why everyone who works with others should consider taking direct fun action on April 1 to be more fun.
  • Employers and bosses know that employee turnover is a major cost to a business.  Employees who enjoy their job and workplace environment are more likely to stick around and continue to add value to your bottom line.
  • Employees know that the way they relate with coworkers has a profound effect on their enjoyment – or stress level. If you initiate fun activities in the workplace, chances are your fellow workers will appreciate the effort and may become more fun themselves.

An even dozen fun Activities for fun at work day

  1. Employee field trips – Fun at Work Day is a good time to make good use of your employee morale budget, Managers.  If you can’t afford a full day’s loss of productivity, then make it an extended lunch event or half-day trip. Just make sure it’s creative and fun – a museum, a beach trip, a picnic in the park, for instance.
  2. Super-casual attire day – Whatever your normal workplace attire is, shaking up the norm is inherently fun. Ideas: Sanction a short pants day, wear the company color day, hat day (with prizes for most creative), or flip-flop sandal day.
  3. Tchotchke gift exchange day – Ask everyone to bring something second hand that essentially has little or no real value/purpose – say, that plastic starfish you bought on your Florida vacation four years ago for instance – and have a gift exchange. Behind closed doors, sticky-note a unique number to each item and have an the end-of-the-day drawing.
  4. Productivity drawing – If your company budget is a bit tight, you can justify a big Fun at Work Day prize pool by making the winners’ gifts something that is a legit business expense – something that increases productivity, for instance – but is a great delight for the winner to receive. Ideas: a super-big screen computer monitor, a new high-end ergonomic desk chair, a mug warmer, or at least something that a marketing budget can justify, such as a company hoodie.
  5. Cater a group lunch – Cater in a lunch for the entire department, making it extra fun by hiring a clown or other performer to put on a show while the employees enjoy the eats.
  6. Pot luck lunch – Here’s one that can be arranged by any employee; encourage your workgroup or your entire department to bring a dish to share with everyone.  For gutsy fun, make it a no-rules potluck; you may end up with everyone coincidentally bringing desert, but if that defines fun, then have fun.  Alternatively, have a signup sheet with side dish, main dish, appetizer, and dessert categories if your group’s idea of fun is a balanced meal.
  7. Coffee break event – Especially if you work where it’s already hot in April, arranging for an ice cream social can make a mid-afternoon fun like nobody’s business. Or if it’s not warm and sunny, hire a portable coffee barista to make the rounds.
  8. Chuckle-worthy attire – To the degree that your boss or company allows, wear something that will (tastefully) cause smiles or laughter.
  9. Set a fun mood – Have a theme, such as “Hawaii Day” or “Italiano Day,” and theme up the office for it, including appropriate music, theme-matched snacks, and e-mailed language tips (How to say “I need this by Friday” or “It’s time for the meeting” in the Italian, for example).
  10. Movie time! – Whether at the office or by renting a theater, bring the team or company together for a work-related movie or TV episode viewing.  Good candidates: the TV series The Office or the movie Office Space, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, or 9 to 5.
  11. Make it a Bring-Your-Dog-to-Work day.
  12. Serenades all around! – Hire a mariachi band or barbershop quartet to go around to everyone’s office and perform. Or if music’s not your thing, hire a masseuse to visit offices.
We’ve heard of companies that go all out on Fun at Work Day, such as when Sprint made it a beach day, complete with truckloads of sand, beach music, and sunglasses all around. But even doing something as simple as bringing in donuts or homemade cookies to share, or creating an Easter egg hunt, will go far to making the day more fun and memorable for all.

Any ideas of your own to share? Use the comments form below to tell us about it!

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 28, 2014

FDA Warning: Think Twice Before Using Antibacterial Soaps

You may assume that you’re doing your family a favor by buying antibacterial soaps. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) surprised consumers with its recent pronouncement that antibacterial soaps are no more effective at preventing illness or spreading targeted infections than plain ol’ soap and water. Worse, the FDA added a caution with their announcement: that some of the most common antibacterial soap additives may even be dangerous to humans.

The new antibacterial soap rule

In December, the FDA proposed a rule that would require manufacturers of hand soaps and body washes with active antibacterial ingredients added to prove that their products are safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections. And, if companies cannot demonstrate this, then manufactures must reformulate or re-label their antibacterial  soaps and washes to keep them on the market. 

FDA research contradicts long-held assumptions

Today, millions of us use antibacterial hand soap and body washes. And why not? – We’ve been assured by manufacturers that they are effective in preventing the spread of germs. However, the FDA studies found no evidence that these products did more for preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water.

Their data also suggests that some of the active ingredients used in antibacterial products, such as the triclosan and the triclocarban, can generate health risks with long-term exposure. Those antibacterial soap risks include your body developing bacterial resistance or experiencing hormonal effects.

According to the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), one of the concerns is the fact that antibacterial soaps and body washes are frequently and widely used by consumers in nearly every environment – home, work, school, and public settings. Consequently, it collectively amounts to extensive exposure to the ingredients in antibacterial soaps. “We believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the CDER.

The big soap question: Is it “GRASE” enough?

The widespread consumer use of antibacterial products, combined with the growing volume of both scientific data and the concerns of health care/consumer groups prompted the FDA to reevaluate what data are needed to classify the active ingredients in consumer antibacterial products as “generally recognized as safe and effective” or GRASE. 

Under the new rule, if it goes into effect, manufacturers may be required to provide the FDA with more data on the efficacy and safety of their antibacterial soaps and body washes, such as clinical study results that demonstrate that these products are not dangerous and are better than non-antibacterial soaps in preventing human illness or reducing infection.

“While the FDA continues to collect additional information on antibacterial hand soaps and body washes, we encourage consumers to make an educated choice about what products they choose to use,” said Sandra Kweder, M.D., deputy director, Office of New Drugs at CDER. 

What you can do NOW to protect your family

Until further research validates the FDA's case, your best bet is to avoid antibacterial soaps and lotions, or at least those containing the antibacterial active ingredients currently under scrutiny. These include:
  • Triclosan (used in liquid soaps)
  • Triclocarban (commonly used in bar soaps)
One of these two ingredients can be found in nearly all soaps labeled antibacterial or antimicrobial.  As well, the FDA cautions that some soaps labeled "deodorant" may also have one of these ingredients.
So what should you use instead? According to Kweder, “Washing with plain soap and running water is one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others.”
When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a smart second-best choice, especially those that contain at least 60 percent alcohol. 

What is not included in the antibacterial soap ban

The proposed FDA rule does not demand the banning of any antibacterial soap products yet. It just requires adequate testing to confirm safety and effectiveness in order to keep using the same labeling or reformulate the product, removing both the antibacterial active ingredients and the antibacterial labeling.
Also, the proposed rule covers only those consumer antibacterial soaps and body washes that are used with water. The rule does not apply to hand sanitizers, hand wipes or antibacterial soaps that are used in health care settings such as hospitals.

Learn more about proper hand washing and antibacterial soaps 

For more information, check out these resources.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Importance of Play

I admit: I tend to get a bit addicted to work. If something grabs my attention, I can be completely absorbed without much thought for anything else. But even if you are working at a job you don’t love, scheduling play in our lives when we have so many other things to isn’t easy. But here’s the thing: play’s incredibly important.

  • Play releases stress. We live in a world where stress is chronic – from our children’s sport commitments, to our careers, even to our families and friends – there is always something that needs done, yesterday. When we let go and do something we enjoy, all that intensity falls away. Think about it: ever notice your shoulder starting to creep towards your ears, or maybe your legs restlessly tapping, because the stress you’re under makes you tense? When we sit back and laugh with friends, move our bodies in an activity we love, or simply relax, it not only adjusts our mindset, but releases the strain.
  • Play refreshes our brain. When we’ve spent too much time focused on work and schedules, our mind closes down to possibility. Our creative juices disappear. We’re less effective at our jobs because our problem solving narrows into one focus, and we struggle to see another perspective. When we get away from it all for a short time, we return with renewed vigor and a fresh viewpoint and become more effective.
  • Play is fun. For some reason, when we became responsible adults, fun became a foreign idea! When we’re children, play is all that exists. But as we age, we get further and further away from the joy of play. And with that shift comes the unpleasant realities of depression and anxiety. One of the best medicines for a sad mind is to have fun.

Okay, so you’re sold on playing more in your life, right? But how do you do it? Where do you find the time? The good news: it’s super easy! Play may mean going on vacation, but it doesn’t have to. When was the last time you smiled? The last time you can remember really having a good time? What’s something you always say you’re going to do, “when I have the time” or “when life slows down?”

For some of us, play means sporting activities, like tag football, basketball, or golf. Perhaps you may prefer taking a hike, attending a hula-hoop class, or even enjoying yoga. But if those activities constitute exercise for you, and not fun, then they don’t count as play!

Consider activities like enjoying a movie or board game with your family, creative pursuits like drawing, painting, or writing, relaxing with a good book, or playing fetch with the dog. For some, having lunch with a friend, going on a long drive, or gardening represent pleasure.

And your desire may change from week to week! Perhaps this week you can afford a massage, and next week, you want to try a jewelry making class. Whatever it may be, let your play bring healing to your soul, new thoughts to your life, and respite to your mind.

What elements of play do you work into your life – weekly or daily? Where do you want to add more play into your life? 

Contributing Writer

Monday, March 24, 2014

Celebrate Women’s History Month!

Throughout history women have paved the way for others, making significant contributions to society and playing a positive role in orchestrating necessary change. During the month of March, which is named Women’s History Month, we acknowledge and celebrate women and their impact throughout history. There are many ways for you and your family to learn more about women’s history and enjoy celebrations being held throughout the month, too.

Women’s History Month Facts:

According to census information:

As of December 2013, there were approximately 4 million more women than men in the U.S.
In 2012, there were 1.6 million female veterans in the U.S.
In 2012, the average salary for women was just under $38,000; the average salary for men was close to $50,000 that same year.
In 2012, 63.7% of women voted compared to 59.7% of men.

Why Celebrate Women’s History Month?

1. Recognize the accomplishments of women throughout history.
2. Identify women of character, courage, and commitment.
3. Discover the victories, struggles, and individual stories of all women.
4. Teach our next generation valuable lessons through women in history.

Contributions by Women in History

While women have had an impact on society in nearly every area possible, here are some examples of fields they have influenced:

Human rights
Animal welfare
Literature, film, and the arts

Significant Women in History

Some of the well-known women in history include:

Susan B. Anthony and Cady Stanton fought for a woman’s right to vote.
Clara Barton, after tending to the needy during the Civil War, was the founder and first president of the Red Cross.
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.
Rosa Parks made significant contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, which all started on a bus.

Yet, for every woman in history named for her accomplishments, there are hundreds of unsung heroes that never receive recognition. Perhaps it’s the teacher who had an impact on a student’s career path, or even a relative who helped mold you into the individual you are today.

Ways to Teach Children About Women’s History:

1. Visit a Women’s History Museum. If you’re not close enough or can’t manage a trip, check out this site for interesting information and online exhibits. For a list of women’s history museums specifically in Washington, D.C., check out
2. Test your knowledge. Visit the National Women’s History Project for quizzes about women in history that will challenge you and your family.
3. Discuss gender equality.  Have a conversation about equal treatment for individuals regardless of gender with your children and the impact women have had on this issue.
4. Recognize significant women in your lives. Point out women in your children’s lives who make a difference in the world on a daily basis and acknowledge these individuals in a special way.
5. Enjoy programs throughout the month. Whether you attend a local program about women in history or watch a televised one, you can celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of women in history close to home.

Kathy Rembisz
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 21, 2014

Kitchen Gadgets for Your Health

It’s tax refund time! Many of us have filed our taxes, or will be filing soon, and plans are already being made for ways to spend our refund. If you are someone seeking to eat healthier in 2014, how about getting some new, useful gadgets for the kitchen? They will pay you back in dividends – not only in better health, but also with more money in your budget as you enjoy eating at home more often!

If you aren’t sure where to begin, use the following as suggestions to determine what might best suit your cooking style. You may be able to find devices that can do double-duty (ie. blenders that also food process). While buying new healthy gadgets can be fun, don’t hesitate to hit up garage sales, thrift stores, or gadget-laden relatives!

Slow cooker. We talked about slow cookers a few weeks ago. They are a must have for the healthy kitchen! In addition to cooking dinners and side dishes, they can be utilized for making broths and other long-cooking sauces and soups. The slow cooker is truly the “fix it and forget it” for the busy family and allows you to create incredible cuisine with little effort.

Food Processor. This can be a heavy hitter in the budget, but worth spending a few extra dollars on if you can afford it. With a food processor, you can do more than just slice and dice raw vegetables. You can make cookie and cake recipes, whip up pancakes in a jiffy, and puree soups and vegetables. When purchasing a food processor, review sizes to get the right one for you, as well as additional features. They can be quite large, so keep that in mind for storage.

Mixer. This is where you may be able to cut some corners if you don’t make heavy dough (like bread dough). A small hand mixer – of sturdy quality, but not necessarily the most expensive – will work well for the average kitchen. However, if you love to bake, you may find your money well spent on a stand mixer. Arm fatigue often plagues batter-makers. Not to mention, higher end stand mixers often have multiple attachments available, like dough hooks, ice cream makers, and meat grinders.

Iron Skillet. The minute you pick up an iron skillet, you’ll know why it’s a must have. It’s a nearly indestructible cooking device that knows how to handle protein and offers a non-stick surface without any chemical concerns. And it will last you for many, many years. Most new skillets come pre-seasoned, but this is where getting a used skillet can pay off. While the pre-seasoning is a nice selling feature, you’ll still have to do a fair amount of seasoning before skillet is truly non-stick, but that is where the fun comes in! From eggs to pancakes to pizza, you can make almost any cooked food on a skillet. It can go from your stovetop to your oven with ease. And the more you cook with it, the more non-stick the surface becomes. Make sure to use plenty of healthy fats when cooking, and you’ll have the perfectly seasoned pan for cooking.

Quality knives. Last but certainly not least, evaluate a good set of knives. If you can afford to get a quality set of knives, they will last you for many years. If not, a chef’s knife and a paring knife are a must for any kitchen. Look for knives that easy to clean, resist rust, and feel balanced in your hand. They should be easy to sharpen and come with a reliable guarantee. Read online reviews to find the right set for you.

With the right tools, cooking healthy food in your kitchen is a breeze. And you don’t need a ton of gadgets – just the right ones for your needs.

What are your kitchen must-have’s? What else would you add to this list?

Contributing Writer

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

March is Social Worker Month

The theme for Social Worker Month 2014 is “All People Matter.” The theme appropriately sums up the profession’s commitment to improving social conditions and the quality of life for everyone. Whether you’re interested in becoming a social worker yourself or just want to learn more about the profession, read on for information about this career that serves so many.

History of Social Work:

According to this site, the profession was established in the 19th century as a way to make sure immigrants and other at risk individuals gained the skills and tools necessary to avoid economic and social poverty.  Today, they work with individuals, families, and communities in a variety of settings to ensure optimal functioning in society based on the NASW Code of Ethics.

What is Optimal Functioning?

Optimal functioning involves the different components of any individual successfully working together to create a well-adjusted person who has the ability to thrive in society. Those components include:

Physical: involving the body.
Psychological: mental and emotional well-being.
Social: relating to or interacting with others.
Spiritual: belief in the sacred. In some instances, spiritual beliefs involve a higher power.

What Does a Social Worker Do?

Depending upon where a social worker is employed, his/her daily responsibilities might vary. Generally, social workers ensure that individuals are treated with dignity and respect. This includes having their daily needs met in a variety of ways.  According to the New York State Society for Clinical Social Workers, the range of issues handled by a social worker include:

Addictive disorders
Illness, injury, and disabilities

Where Do Social Workers Work?

Social workers provide services in a variety of settings, including:

Hospitals, nursing homes, and other health facilities
Rehabilitation centers
Private practices

Important Traits for Social Workers:

Because of the nature of their responsibilities, social workers typically enjoy helping others, ranging from children to older adults. Other important traits include:

1. Patience.
2. Empathy.
3. Strong organizational skills.
4. Dependability.
5. Ability to handle stressful situations.
6. Maintaining a sense of calm in a crisis situation.

Careers in Social Work:

Interested in how to become a social worker? Check out the following:

Educational Requirements:  In some areas, a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree is adequate for a career in social work. A Master of Social Work (MSW) is required in some specialties. If you’re considering a career in social work, check into the requirements for the area that interests you. Regardless of the degree option you choose, your degree must be obtained by a program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
Career Exploration: Think the career might be for you? Speak with a social worker to gain valuable insight, or ask to shadow a social worker for a day. Look into different educational programs.
Volunteer Opportunities: Spending time in a nursing home, hospital, or another healthcare setting might give you an idea whether a career in social worker might be appropriate for you.

To Learn More About a Career in Social Work, check out the following:

National Association of Social Workers
Council on Social Work Education
Bureau of Labor Statistics

Kathy Rembisz
Contributing Writer

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why Your Kids Breathe Easier in Summer

If any of your children suffer from seasonal patterns of sleep-disordered breathing that may even interfere with their physical development and hurt their academic performance, you’ll want to read this.

Sleep-disordered breathing – newly identified cause

Does your child have trouble getting a good night's sleep as a result of breathing problems while sleeping?  You may have noticed that the problem is at its worst in Winter and Spring. Until recently, medical experts believed the causes of sleep disorders in children were primarily asthma, allergies, or viral respiratory infections such as the flu.  But a new study shows that winter viruses are often the source of seasonal spikes in children’s sleep-disordered breathing

The 2013 study, conducted at the Pediatric Sleep Center at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center showed that:
  • Asthma and allergies do not contribute to pediatric sleep-disordered breathing.
  • Viruses alone may be responsible for the seasonal disordered breathing variation in children.
The research has far-reaching implications, potentially altering the way pediatricians treat childhood sleep-breathing disorders, adding heightened relevance to the time of year in diagnosing and treating children. Sleep-disordered breathing in children had already been identified as most common and severe during colder months.  But the study alters the previous assumption that these childhood breathing issues were nonetheless related to asthma or allergies.

A common example of a sleep-breathing disorder is obstructive sleep apnea – blockage of the upper airway by enlarged tonsils or adenoids, causing snoring or even stopped breathing. The result is elevated carbon dioxide levels in the bloodstream, decreased oxygen and, consequently, low-quality and fragmented sleep.

If not treated, childhood sleep-disordered breathing can result in heart disease, stunted growth, and neurocognitive problems that often lead to lower school performance, hindered language development. And, as this 2012 study showed, sleep-breathing issues can also lead to troubling behavioral issues, such as hyperactivity and aggressiveness, as well as emotional symptoms and difficulty with peer relationships.

In their study, the researchers looked closely at the cases of more than 2,000 children and adolescents between 2008 and 2010. The results confirmed results of an earlier study of children 5 to 9: that sleep-disordered breathing is worse in the the coldest months of November to March. Their statistics showed the children under five years of age showed the most stark seasonal variability in their breathing issues. The scientists also learned that neither wheezing nor asthma contributed to the seasonal trend.

The sleep clinic tests were primarily captured in warmer weather.  The researchers believe that, had all the research been conducted in the winter, seven percent more children would have been diagnosed with sleep-disordered breathing.

Researchers concluded that viral respiratory infections – the common element in younger children during colder months – are likely the main cause of the seasonal variability in children’s sleep-disordered breathing.

How might this affect your doctor’s treatment of your child’s sleep-breathing problem?  If it’s the colder time of the year when he or she sees your child, and if the symptoms are not severe, your doctor may advise that no treatment is the right response – that your child’s condition is likely to improve as the weather improves.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 14, 2014

Is Cyber School Appropriate for Your Child?

Cyber schools were approved back in 2001. Since then these virtual schools have become popular alternatives to a regular classroom setting. If you think online schooling may be an option for one of your children, read on for the facts about cyber classrooms.

What is cyber school?

Cyber school, also known as virtual school, is an institution that teaches classes through online means utilizing technology. Students can attend grades Kindergarten through 12; college degrees are available through virtual schools, too.

What’s the difference between an online school and a charter school?

A charter school is a public, nonsectarian school that operates under the sponsoring local school board in a regular school setting. In some cases, a charter school is established to meet specific needs of students, such as the arts or preparation for careers in the medical field.

Are cyber schools publicly funded?

Typically, yes.

What are the benefits of virtual school?

Personal attention.
Education tailored to a student’s specific needs.
More extensive course offerings.
Flexible schedules to accommodate those with health challenges or who participate in demanding extracurricular programs.
Eliminates unresolved harassment and bullying issues.

Is online schooling successful?

That’s debatable. In some cases, students are thriving. Yet, others are falling behind students in regular classroom settings. A number of variables enter the equation, including parental involvement and a student’s motivation. According to this site, “cyber schools are held to higher performance standards,” an aspect of the performance assessment that needs to be considered.  For instance, with cyber schools, demographic groups are assessed, not just age groups, as with typical public schools.

What you should know before sending your child to school online:

Is equipment provided? Most online schools provide a computer, printer, and modem for Internet connection. You should know upfront if you’ll need to absorb the cost for equipment.
How are students performing? Are they measuring up to those in a classroom setting? You should review and be comfortable with the performance of students in the cyber school you’re considering over the past few years.
Talk to instructors and parents. It’s important to get a feel for the instructors, and evaluate if other parents are satisfied with the school.

What are the drawbacks of online schooling?

Cheating. It can be an issue, so parents should be aware.
Lack of interaction with other students. While online students can participate in extracurricular activities, many educators and parents question if they’re missing out on valuable time with other students working together as a team on a project, hearing questions others pose in class, and the day-to-day interaction with others.
Possible lack of routine. A classroom setting does provide students with valuable routine each day. Unless students possess internal motivation for routine, they might be missing out on such an elementary lesson.

When is virtual school most successful?

In rural areas.  In areas where students may not be offered appropriate classes, online schooling can be a great alternative.
When parents monitor and get involved.
For highly motivated students.
For students already homeschooled. Cyber school can be a great alternative for those already accustomed to academia outside the classroom.

As with any other decision that can greatly impact your family members, carefully research and investigate any cyber school you might be considering. For more information on virtual school, visit or

Kathy Rembisz
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Winter Weather Fitness Solutions Part 2

As we asserted in our previous winter weather fitness article you needn't give up on your favorite outdoor exercise activities if you are an avid bicyclist, hiker, or runner. In that previous article, we focused on applying winter survival skills to your favorite outdoor sport. This time, we introduce you to exciting new technologies in winter sporting equipment and gear to keep you comfortable and safe in the worst of winter's weather.

Danger, Will Robinson!

Just as there are inherent dangers with any outdoor activity, even the best of equipment technologies cannot guarantee your safety. And running, hiking, or biking outdoors in harsh weather adds inherent risk.  While the equipment introduced in this article can increase your comfort level and reduce your injury risks during outdoor winter activities, use caution and care out there.

Without a doubt, not having the right equipment for winter outdoor exercising is a significant risk. Consider for example a Seattle coworker of mine who tried to ride his bike to work daily year-round – a goal that came to a crashing halt, literally, when he tried to keep it up without special gear in spite of snow and freezing rain, resulting in a wipe-out and a broken wrist!

Biking in snow and ice? No sweat!

Have you ever wondered if there is any equivalent to snow tires or tire chains for bikes?  Apparently some manufacturers and cycling enthusiasts thought the same thing, and took action.

Introducing snow bikes, also known as “fat” bikes, which look similar to ordinary mountain bikes, except that they have very wide forks to make room for very wide tires – four-to-five inch-wide super-fat snow tires.  The combination of the extra width of the tires, their serious tire treads, and lower inflation standards – 6 to 16 psi tire pressure – means you can giddyup and go on two wheels in up to four or five inches of snow. Don't take my word for it – see video examples of such snow bikes on snowy trails here, or even watch the thrill of downhill bicycle races on snowy glaciers here

Of course, you'll be investing a chunk of change, and a good portion of your garage space, to have a set of snow bikes for every member of your family. Fortunately, there are cheaper solutions for the do-it-yourselfer.

Here is video of one do-it-yourself solution to winter bike tire traction; installing your own studs onto a regular mountain bike tire, making it possible to navigate snow and even ice with a regular mountain bike. The video shows you exactly how to create and install bike tire studs made from screws, and see a demonstration of the screw studded bike tires in action.

Traction gear for walking, hiking, and running on ice and snow

Thanks to three new categories of gear, it's possible to get much-needed traction even when there is snow or ice under your feet:
  • Strap-on shoe traction solutions
  • Traction-providing shoes/boot modification products
  • Modern-day snowshoes
Solution #1 – Upgrade your existing footwear for snow and ice traction
Goat Head Sole Spikes and Icespike are but two companies using a screw-on approach, allowing you to transform the ordinary soles of your shoes or boots into serious ice grippers.  Both  products are made of extra hardened steel and with a screw head uniquely designed for traction. In either case, you are attaching a specialized short screw directly into the sole of your shoe. 
Solution #2 – Strap extra traction onto your shoes
The author's shoes ready
for winter with YakTrax
If you are not comfortable with the idea of modifying your shoes or boots with screw-on solutions, there are still a number of other products to help you increase traction by strapping on a traction strip to your footwear.
Popular products in this category include Kahtoola Micro Spikes, YakTrax (shown here), and Stabilicers. Each provide different levels of traction, and all of them provide the convenience of being able to put them on when you need to traction and then take them off when you are done.
Solution #3 – Float above all that white stuff
Neither of the above solutions solve for deep snow situations. For that, it's time to look at the new version of an age-old solution – snowshoes.

Mind you, these are not your great-grandfather's snowshoes. Modern snowshoes are extremely lightweight, often very easy to get on or off, and are available for different types of outdoor activities.

For example, there are nearly a dozen different snowshoe models on the market designed specifically for running. A few of the more popular models include the Kahtoola RNR 22 Snowshoe, the Crescent Moon Gold Series 12,  or the Atlas Race Speed Snowshoe. Running snowshoes have become increasingly popular as the winter sport of snowshoe racing grows in popularity.

Safety gear

With shorter days, there's a good chance that you'll be doing your outdoor exercise in the dark. If you are doing a form of exercise that puts you near traffic, consider investing in wearable lighting and reflective gear. This is especially important when the darkness is compounded with fog, rain, or snow, which limits a driver's visibility even more.
Available safety solutions worth considering include:
Runner Scott Colantonio keeping
safe with reflective/light gear
  • Wearable headlamps, designed to provide bright light in whatever direction you are looking
  • Flashing lights, designed to clip on or strap on to the back of your clothing, making you more visible to traffic, cyclists, and other pedestrians
  • Reflective gear, designed to bounce the light from auto headlamps right back at approaching cars, making it much easier for drivers to see you in inclement weather or after dark
    The are even combo-solutions, like this light-flashing reflector vest, modeled by runner Scott Colantonio of Wisconsin, who won’t let the cold of winter or the dark of night keep him from his favorite form of exercise.

    More tips for winter exercising outdoors offers a variety of useful tips on safe bike riding in through snow in winter. Also, check out this excellent guidance on how to run safely on ice using the right techniques, or get more great tips on winter biking from BicycleAnchorage .org.

    Ric Moxley
    Contributing Writer

    Monday, March 10, 2014

    Own Your Health

    Going to the doctor is usually a routine experience. You share your symptoms, your doctor offers a knowing nod, and you’re out the door with an answer and a prescription. But what happens when your issue isn’t so simple? Some of us suffer from enigmatic illnesses – like unexplained weight gain, chronic fatigue, and other mysterious maladies – that can be hard to diagnose and treat by even the most experienced medical professional.

    While our desire might be to throw up our hands in defeat, we can’t give up. We deserve our best health; at times, we must fight for it. But how do we start? How can you be your best advocate? And how do you find the answers you desperately need when nothing seems to be working?

    The first step is to list all of your symptoms and start tracking them. Do you notice that you feel exhausted at three in the afternoon? Do you have sinus issues only when you are at work? Are you wide awake at 2 AM every night? In order for a doctor to understand your needs, they require the whole picture. Plus, it’s often in the little things that you find the most astounding connections.  

    Next, do your research. Note: I didn’t say, diagnose via web browser! But it’s worth doing some online seeking to understand the terms surrounding your issues, to explore your symptoms and what they could possibly mean, and to get familiar with the current research. You are up close and personal with your issues, and they are foremost on your mind. But your doctor, especially if you are going to a general practitioner, may not be familiar with all the new techniques and treatments surrounding your health woes.

    Find the right doctor. If you already have a general practitioner with whom you share a good relationship, that is the place to start. But if your symptoms don’t match common maladies, you may need to see a specialist. Finding a doctor might not be fun, but it's easier than you might think. Your general practitioner may offer a referral, or you can search on your own. Sites like Vitals and Healthgrades offer patient reviews and ratings. You may also check with your local health food store or health newspaper for suggestions if you want a practitioner with a holistic orientation.

    Treat your first appointment like a job interview. You might have found a specialist to work with, but is this the right person? Just like any relationship, the medical relationship depends on mutual respect and trust, and it often comes down to like-minded personalities. So during your first visit, come prepared. Bring the tracker of all your symptoms, copies of any tests you may have had in the last few years, and a list of your questions. Present all of this at your appointment and see what transpires. Afterwards, review whether or not this is someone you feel you can work with. Depending on the severity or complexity of your issues, you might be with this doctor for several years. If you don’t feel confident that this is the right doctor, don’t hesitate to visit another one. You may have to travel some distance to find the right person, but when you do, it will be well worth it.

    Mystery illnesses frustrate the sufferer, but there are answers out there for you. Sadly, when we don’t feel well, doing more work may the last thing we want to do, but this is one situation where it may pay off for years to come. Tracking your symptoms, researching your issues, and establishing a solid relationship with a medical professional will get you that much closer to finding a solution and feeling better.

    What have you done in the past to find the right doctor? What tips would you offer someone in a similar situation?

    Contributing Writer

    Friday, March 7, 2014

    Highchairs = High Danger for Your Child

    We recently reported on the increase in child injuries from shopping cart accidents. Now, a new study tells us that your infant child may be in danger right in your own home – that emergency room visits resulting from injuries caused by accidents involving high chairs and booster seats now average nearly 10,000 yearly. Even more disturbing: the rate of these high chair injuries increased between the years of 2003 and 2010 by a whopping 22 percent.  Other disturbing stats from the study:
    • Concussions and other internal head injuries resulted 37 percent of high chair falls.
    • About 60 percent of children received a head or neck injury from their high chair fall.
    • Nearly 30 percent received a facial injury from the fall.
    • Bumps and bruises occurred in 33 percent of the falls.
    With a rate of one injured infant per hour, it’s time to look at what causes these potentially deadly high chair accidents, what accounts for the alarming increase, and what you can do to protect your youngsters.

    Why toddlers are at greatest risk of high chair injuries

    Top-heavy tendencies
    The study, performed by The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, analyzed the data (which included high chair, booster seat, and normal chair-related injuries) and found that more than 90 percent of these ER-level injuries involved falls with younger toddlers.  The researcher theorized that children at this age have a high center of gravity compared to adults.  Their chest-centered balance (as compared to waist-centered with adults) makes them prone to toppling out.  Furthermore, their top-heavy bodies cause them to fall head-first, as the data shows; 85 percent of the injuries were to the head and face.
    Hard floors and high falls
    Two more significant factors in the seriousness of the injuries from high chair falls are:
    • High chairs are, as the name implies, traditionally higher than normal kitchen chairs or restaurant seating, which means the child has a long flight to the floor.
    • Floors of food service areas, whether in a home or restaurant, are most often a hard, uncarpeted surface.  While this makes for easier cleanup from spills, a hard kitchen floor provides no buffer on impact from a highchair fall.
    The combination of the hard floor and the long fall is a grave one for the airborne toddler.
    Chair restraints not being used
    The data showed that nearly two thirds of all high chair accidents occurred when the child was standing or climbing in the high chair before they fell.  In most cases, this is a situation that parents can control, as most highchairs have restraints that, if used, reduce the likelihood that the child can put themselves into a precarious posture.

    Accounting for the increase in injuries

    Why did high chair and booster chair injuries rise from 8,926 to 10,930 in the seven years leading up to 2011? Researchers concluded that three causes are the most likely:
    • The chair restraints are not working properly.
    • Parents are not using the chair restraints.
    • Parents are not using the chair restraints properly.
    There is no question that, in some cases, the efficacy or design of the chair restraints are at fault. During the years of the study data, nearly four million high chairs were recalled for not meeting safety standards or for specific design flaws. The study leaders pointed out that the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act will likely result in a recall reduction over time.

    What you can do to protect your children

    Important steps for parents to take:
    • Use the high chair safety restraints. The researchers concluded that this step alone will have the biggest impact on safeguarding children. Do note that the highchair tray is not a reliable safeguard!
    • Monitor your children. Even if you use the chair restraints, squirming children can cause their high chair to tip over. Make sure an adult is watching your child in a high chair at all times.
    • Lock the wheels. If the high chair has wheels, use their wheel locks.  On a hard, smooth surface, such as the normal kitchen floor, a child’s movement can cause a chair to roll to an unsafe area.
    • Choose carefully the position of the high chair. When placed near walls or counters, children can push against the object, tipping the chair.
    • Watch for recalls.  Even the most caring parents may not be aware of a manufacturer recall related to a model of chair they have purchased. Before buying or borrowing a high chair, check first for high chair recalls at
    While you cannot prevent all accidents, your actions as a parent can substantially reduce the chances of a high chair fall injury by following these guidelines.

    Ric Moxley
    Contributing Writer

    Wednesday, March 5, 2014

    Crockpots for Beginners

    We’re locked into cold weather for a bit longer, which makes it the perfect time to take advantage of your crockpot! If you use one regularly, you know the fantastic advantages they have: efficient, simple, and easy to clean. But if you’ve never cooked with one before, they can be a bit intimidating. However, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be an expert!

    Crockpots – often referred to as slow cookers – are a great way to eat healthy without spending a lot of time preparing food. Cheaper cuts of meat cook up tender in a crockpot, and with some vegetables thrown in, you’ve got a delicious, healthy feast. So where do you start when you are new to the experience?

    If you don’t own a crockpot, this is a great time to visit your local thrift store! They often have all shapes and sizes for very reasonable prices. If you prefer to buy new, department stores offer many choices. Key features to look for include variable heating options (“high” and “low” are typical settings, but newer models may have additional temperature settings), an “off” option when plugged in, and a nonstick interior surface. You can find digital displays with timers on more expensive units, but while convenient, they are not necessary. 

    Decide what size you (and your family) will need. For two people, a 4-quart crockpot is a great size. But if you are feeding 3 or more people, opt for a 5 to 6-quart unit. If you like to make things like traditional roasts, you will need enough room for the meat, water (or broth), and chunky vegetables.

    Where to start? The good news: the hardest part is obtaining your crockpot! From here on out, it’s easy! Recipes for the crockpot consist of a protein (beef, pork, or poultry), a liquid (water, broth, etc.), and vegetables. For example:

    For a basic roast: add 2-3 pounds of chuck roast, 2 cups of water, 1 yellow onion, chopped, and salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 8 hours. After six hours, add in vegetables – like red-skin potatoes, cabbage, carrots, or other veggies of your choice. When it’s done, it’s ready to serve!

    A famous central Pennsylvania recipe is pork and sauerkraut: 2-3 pounds of pork roast, 2 cans of sauerkraut, any other seasonings you prefer, and cook on low for 8 hours. Pair with mashed potatoes for a filling dinner.

    Easy chicken stock: Take a whole chicken roaster, small enough to fit inside your crockpot, and 2-4 cups of water. Put both in the crockpot. Add 1-2 stalks of celery, 1 onion, chopped, 1 tablespoon crushed garlic (substitute 1-2 teaspoons garlic powder, if you don’t have fresh garlic), and salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low for 24-48 hours, until chicken bones are soft. Strain well and use or freeze.

    There are countless easy recipes for your crockpot! If you enjoy using the internet for your recipe hunt, check out this site. If you prefer cookbooks, stop by your local library and check out a few crockpot specific cook books, like Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook or Slow Cooker Revolution.

    Now you are an expert on using your crockpot! What new recipes have you tried and would recommend? Check back here and leave us a comment on your experience using your crockpot!

    Contributing Writer