Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How to Make Better Coffee at Home

Brew better with these killer coffee-making tips

Even if you are not a skilled barista, you’d still like to have a great cup of coffee before you leave home in the morning, right? Good thing we’ve got the scoop from a seasoned barista – tips for awesome do-it-yourself coffee preparation. Now, you can easily turn your morning brew into a worlds-better cup of joe. 

Meet our barista

Idyllwild, California resident Chris Bayer is not just a longtime barista and coffee roaster. Bayer is also a fan: a true aficionado of this favorite American drink – the most popular hot beverage on the planet, in fact.

His first and last piece of advice: “It’s all personal: a matter of personal taste.  My wife and I disagree on the best way to make a cup of coffee, and that’s okay. Even baristas disagree on the perfect way to get a perfect cup of coffee, but your own taste buds are the ultimate judge.”

In this introductory article, we'll start with Bayer's first-step recommendations: starting off with the right coffee selection. After all, no matter how perfectly you store your coffee or prepare it (which we'll cover in part #2 of our barista interview), it will be nearly impossible to get a great cup of coffee if you haven't purchased the right beans.

How to select the right coffee beans

Not all coffees are created the same.  “Where it’s grown, the elevation of the fields, the processing of the beans, and other factors make a flavor difference, so you may need to try a few different coffees to find one that fits your taste,” Bayer says.

Rather than go into great detail on the different varieties – which could violate Bayer's taste preference theorem noted above, we'll start with this word of advice: “It’s easy to get sidetracked in your coffee bean selection by packaging labels, like fair trade, organic, country of origin – even the pricing. Don’t be swayed too much by all this,” Bayer cautions.

He points out that, for example, the process of getting the organic label on your product is costly enough that it fails small farmers. Their simpler methods of farming may in fact fit organic labeling requirements but they often cannot afford the organic certification process.

“Even the price can be more about marketing that quality,” Bayer asserts. “While the best tasting coffees are not likely the cheapest, coffee doesn’t have to be the most expensive choice to be great tasting.”
So then, how can the average consumer get the right bean for their home roast?

“The easiest way is to find the a good coffee roaster near you who knows this sort of thing,” Bayer says, “someone who buys the beans green – pre-roasted – and then roasts them onsite. Not only is that an assurance of freshness, but a good coffee roaster is going to be your best source of information.”

How the supplier processes the coffee can also affect flavor. “Coffee is like wine in many respects, not only in that both coffee and wine are generally acquired tastes and vary greatly in flavor and quality based on the location of the coffee plantation and the weather conditions in which it was grown, but also because the methods chosen for processing the coffee bean can dramatically affect the flavor and quality,” Bayer says.

“What few people realize is that the coffee bean is not a bean at all, but rather the pit of a fruit – sometimes referred to as the cherry of the fruit. Like other fruits, the flavor can change significantly depending several factors, including whether or not it was allowed to ripen before removing the fruit from the vine, and whether or not it was processed immediately after harvesting.”

Yes, even how the beans are harvested can affect the flavor. “For example, a small farmer may hand pick the beans, instead of using a big tree shaker that is less discriminating in filtering for the best beans,” Bayer explains.

Freshness is everything

Bayer’s strongest recommendation in buying your coffee beans is to get them as fresh as possible.  “Unlike wine, coffee doesn’t age well. Once it’s been roasted, you’ll taste the difference in freshness after as little as two or three weeks.”

The advantage of buying directly from a coffee supplier that roasts its coffee beans is that it has likely been fresh roasted.  "In fact, many local roasteries even have a ‘roasted on’ date on their labeling," Bayer says, "which also explains why good, freshly roasted coffee beans are often more expensive; by date-labeling the coffee, the roaster may end up throwing out batches that don't sell within two or three weeks."

Are there disadvantages to buying from a small local roastery?

"There are some, although I find that the advantages usually outweigh the disadvantages," Bayer says. "The obvious disadvantage is that, without mass production, you'll probably pay a bit more if you buy your beans from a local roastery. Also, consistency can be an issue. While a local, small-batch roaster’s coffee beans will be fresher than a national supplier, the local supplier cannot offer the mass production benefit of  uniformity.”

A matter of taste

Barista Chris Bayer’s first word is his final reminder as well: “Your taste buds must be the ultimate judge of a good cup of coffee. For instance, while I appreciate the local coffee shop that sells and roasts their own beans, I don’t believe it’s necessary in order to have a great cup at home.”
Stay tuned for our follow-up article and interview with Chris Bayer: Storing and Brewing Techniques for the Perfect Cup of Coffee, coming soon.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, April 28, 2014

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance seems to be a buzzword in today’s world. Most of us know the term means some type of issue with milk, but what is it exactly? Does it vary in intensity? And how do you know if you have lactose intolerance?

Lactose is the sugar found in milk and dairy products and can cause problems when the body does not produce enough lactase to digest it. When you are unable to properly process lactose in your body, you can experience a host of symptoms, including but not limited to:

  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Headache
  • Discomfort and/or gurgling in your belly

The best way to be diagnosed is by a doctor – not self-diagnoses! But if you notice that you have digestive issues when you consume dairy, it’s worth monitoring your symptoms until you are able to see a doctor.

If you discover that you are intolerant of lactose, it can feel like the world – at least, your eating world – is coming to an end. And truthfully, those with severe lactose intolerance may have to limit their menu. But food intolerances often span a spectrum. So if you discover that you are lactose intolerant, don’t count all as lost just yet.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may need to allow some time for your digestive system to heal after exposure to lactose. But once you are feeling well, you can start to experiment with your tolerance to lactose. For some people, you can have a small amount per day. Other people can have a serving or two per week without symptoms. Lactase supplements may help with your tolerance.

Foods like hard cheeses and Greek yogurt often digest a bit easier, compared to milk and ice cream. Be patient, and try a few foods at a time. If you have a severe reaction to a trial food, give your system time to heal before trying another food. You might also consider diary products from animals other than cows. Goat yogurt, milk, and cheese is often tolerated by those with lactose intolerance. 

If you discover that your reaction to dairy is severe – or you simply want to avoid it – there are plenty of alternatives! From coconut milk yogurt, to rice-based cheeses, you do not need to feel deprived. Insider tip: eat soy and rice-based cheeses as part of recipes, rather than alone. Remember that they are made of different ingredients, so there will be some taste/texture differences. But with some trial and error, you’ll find the ones that work best for your tastes and recipes. (For example, check out this dairy free macaroni and cheese recipe!)

If you are game to try to heal your intolerance, some medical professionals believe you may be able to cure it. With time and persistence, you may find relief, or perhaps, just higher tolerance.

So, if you find yourself facing a dairy intolerance, take one step at a time. It’s an opportunity to find new toppings for your burger, play with new pizza recipes, and explore flavor combinations you’ve never experienced. And as you explore, keep us posted on your progress!

What dairy-free recipes have you tried that you’ve loved?

Contributing Writer

Friday, April 25, 2014

What is Ayurvedic Medicine?

Also known as Ayurveda, Ayurvedic Medicine originated in India over 3,000 years ago. It is one of the oldest medical systems, falling within the category of Eastern medicine.  Ayurveda promotes the use of herbs, special diets, exercise, and treatments under the guidance of a trained Ayurveda practitioner.

What are the components of Ayurvedic Medicine?

Prakriti, or your body’s particular make up, is an important consideration with treatment.
Dosha, or are life forces, are taken into account by a practitioner, as well.
Connectedness among all individuals, their health, and the universe.

What are the Ayurvedic types?

There are 3 main Ayurveda types, which are based on your physical characteristics as well as emotional behavior. They are:

  1.  Vata: Individuals fitting this type usually have a small, thin build, dry skin and hair, and are adverse to cold temperatures.
  2. Pitta: Represented by a medium, muscular build, sharp mind, and fair skin that sunburns easily. Individuals fitting Pitta type are usually uncomfortable in the sun and hot weather.
  3. Kapha: An easy-going, relaxed personality, prone to being overweight, with soft hair and skin. This Ayurvedic type doesn’t like cold, damp weather.

Often, individuals are a combination of several types, resulting in these combinations:
  • Vata-Pitta
  • Vata-Kapha
  • Pitta-Kapha
  • Vata-Pitta-Kapha
Find out your Ayurveda type by taking this test:

How do you find an Ayurveda practitioner?

Typically, Ayurvedic professionals are not licensed as doctors in the United States. However, practitioners may be licensed and recognized as other specialists, such as midwives or massage therapists. Visit the National Ayurvedic Medical Association for more information.

What are some Ayurveda remedies?

Turmeric is often used for inflammatory conditions, among other disorders. Evidence shows that turmeric may help with certain digestive disorders and arthritis.
Boswellia (Boswellia serrata, Boswellia carterii, also known as frankincense) has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and immune system effects. When used in patients with osteoarthritis, it was found to be more effective on their pain than the placebo they were given.
Treatments such as massage therapy for a specific ailment is often beneficial to patients. These services are often tailored to an individual’s needs by utilizing an oil or compound that is based on the patient’s particular Ayurveda type, illness, or health complaints.

Check out more ailments/remedies at

Who can benefit from Ayurveda?

The basis of Ayurveda is a focus on preventing illness or imbalance in the body. However, specific illnesses are treated, as needed. Practitioners suggest that this type of medical system is extremely beneficial for individuals who recognize the importance of the mind-body connection.

Is Ayurvedic medicine safe?

According to experts, it’s important to utilize Ayurvedic medicine and treatments under the supervision of an Ayurveda practitioner. Also, remember to tell your healthcare provider about any Ayurvedic treatments, specifically herbs and metals, that you try, as this can impact your overall health as well as medications he/she might prescribe.  Utilizing a combination of Eastern and Western medicine can be beneficial to individuals when used safely and correctly.

Where can you learn more?

Visit for a complete overview of Ayurvedic medicine.

Be Wize & Be Healthy

Spring Cleaning, Naturally

When you think of spring cleaning what comes to mind? Washing windows, polishing furniture, and cleaning closets may be part of your plan. For others, decluttering and reorganizing every room in the house might be in order. Regardless of what constitutes spring cleaning for you, you can tackle it efficiently, effectively, and naturally.

What are the benefits of homemade natural spring cleaning products?

Natural cleaning products, also known as green products, are safer for your family and free of hazardous toxins.
Natural home cleaning is relatively inexpensive.
You may already have ingredients for natural cleaning recipes in your home.

What ingredients do you need for natural cleaning recipes?

The basics for most natural cleaning solutions are:

Baking soda
Liquid detergent
Hot water

When combined, these ingredients can make:

Natural window cleaner: Combine vinegar, water, and ½-1/4 teaspoon liquid detergent.

Oven cleaner: Use 1 cup of baking soda, water, and a squirt of liquid detergent to form a paste.

Soft scrub: Mix ½ cup baking soda with liquid detergent.

Furniture cleaner: Combine lemon juice and olive oil.

Check out this chart for more natural cleaning recipes.

What if you’re not inclined to make your own cleaning products?

Commercial natural cleaning products are available. They probably won’t be as inexpensive as do-it-yourself products. But, if you don’t have the time or desire to make products yourself, they can be a good option. It’s a good idea to check a green product’s rating and safety with the Natural Products Association (NPA) before using.

Are natural cleaning products effective?

According to a variety of sources, including AARP and Green America, natural home cleaning is effective. While you might need to use a little more elbow grease than you would with commercial brands, natural cleaning products really do measure up.

How to get organized for your spring cleaning:

1. Gather supplies. Decide what ingredients you’ll need for green cleaning solutions. Old T-shirts make great cloths for dusting and cleaning furniture. Recycle newspapers for washing windows.
2. Create a plan. Which rooms will you tackle and what tasks will you perform in each room? Also, will you perform one specific task throughout the house, i.e. dusting and polishing furniture, or will you handle each room from top to bottom?
3. Enlist the help of your family. Assign age-appropriate duties to children. Responsibilities such as dusting furniture, cleaning out closets, and changing water can be fitting for children of all ages.

Green cleaning hints:

*Hydrogen peroxide makes a great bleach alternative for your laundry.
* Plants make great air fresheners.  Best bets: Boston fern, English ivy, bamboo palm, ficus, gerbera daisy, peace lily, spider plant, golden pothos, and mother-in-law’s tongue.
*Natural potpourri is inexpensive and easy to make. Fill a small pot of water with citrus slices, cloves, and cinnamon. Simmer on the stove, and you have a fresh citrus scent that quickly fills your home, naturally.
*If allergies aren’t a problem for anyone in your family, open your windows as soon as it gets warm enough to allow fresh air into your home.

By enlisting the help of your entire family, you’ll make this year’s spring cleaning a family event and teach your children the benefits of green cleaning.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thursday – The Day to Take Your Child to Work

This Thursday, April 24, it’s officially the day for parents across the U.S. to Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work

Did your mom or dad do this with you when you were growing up – take you to their place of work for a day? If so, then you know what a lasting and positive memory that can create for any child.

This Thursday is the perfect opportunity to carve out some of your work day to take your son or daughter to work and build such special memories for them.

Share your story of going to work with your parent

My father was a church pastor. When I was nine years old, a time when he was working towards his Masters of Divinity, he carpooled with a couple of his fellow seminarians three days a week from the Georgetown, Ohio area to classes at the seminary school in Lexington, Kentucky, several hours away. One memorable day, Dad took me with him. To this day, decades later, I remember vividly that day – the funny carpool conversations, coloring pictures at the student desk beside Dad’s to pass the time while a professor lectured, and eating lunch with him in the campus cafeteria. In a family with four siblings, such extended one-on-one time with Dad was a rare treat, and one I value as a red letter day in the calendar of my life.
If you had a memorable time with your mother or father on a workplace day with them that you think might inspire or encourage other parents to do this with their children, won’t you please share your story using the comments field below? We’d love to hear about it!

What parents can do

To make your own Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work day extra special for your child or children, consider these tips:
  • Notify your child’s teacher and school of your plans so they can be prepared for the planned absence.
  • Clear your plans with your boss. Even if your place of work supports the take-your-child-to-work concept, you can help the day go smoother if your supervisor has a chance to prepare, perhaps by using a different day to schedule long meeting or intensive group work sessions.
  • If you have more than one child, consider a rotation plan; one child this time, the next child next  year. This  time with your son or daughter will be a more special memory if the day is carved out for just him or her. Each year, consider making it a different child’s turn for the field trip to your work place. Alternatively, enlist your spouse’s transportation assistance on the big day so that one child has the morning with you and the other child has the afternoon.
  • For older children, use this as a teaching opportunity. Show them exactly what you do; maybe even teach them the basics of some of your tasks.
  • Knowing your child’s attention and interests may wander, be ready with age-appropriate games or crafts for them to work for those moments when you need to take a call or really must be productive.
  • If you have tasks that cannot be put off and that require your concentration, find out if a coworker is also participating with their child, and work out a one-hour swap – an hour where the coworker watches both children and an hour when you watch both children.
Remember to set realistic expectations that your work time will be less efficient due to the limited attention span of any child; that’s okay. The value of creating a positive lifetime memory far outweighs the tyranny of the day’s normal work priorities.

What managers and employers can do

Supervisors, please do your part to grease the skids for your subordinates’ participation in this important event. Tips:
  • Make an official proclamation to be certain that your employees know they have your support and even encouragement; they may be uncomfortable asking if it’s okay to bring their child to work.
  • Offer optional parent-child events that your employees can take advantage of, such as arranging a mid-afternoon ice cream social, supplying craft materials, giving each child a company-branded knick knack to take home as a souvenir of the day, or arranging for a group parent-child company photo.
  • To make the day extra-special, arrange for a photographer to take a photo of your parent employee’s big day with their child – and give them a 5x7-inch framed glossy that the child can keep in the bedroom as a remembrance.

To learn more about Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work day and to get more tips on how to make the day a success for you and your child, go to or to

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

What Rhymes With National Poetry Month?

April’s National Poetry Month celebration is the perfect opportunity to get your kids, your family, and yourself enthused about poetry. National Poetry Month exists to celebrate the art and history of poetry – to introduce generations to poets and poetry. To help you make the most of it, we offer these eight tips to enrich your life with poetry and change the way your family thinks about poetry.

Why should I care about poetry?

Poetry is found throughout the written history of humankind – an omnipresent representation of our thoughts and feelings. In the words of author Amy Lowell (Poetry and Poets: Essays), “Without poetry the soul and heart of man starves and dies … It is the height and quintessence of emotion, of every sort of emotion. But it is always somebody feeling something at white heat, and it is as vital as the description of a battle would be, told by a soldier who had been in it.”
Poets gives us new eyes – a way to experience life in ways we might otherwise overlook.  Sometimes, in the art of the poet’s expression, you’ll find your own heart and soul. Poets can take an otherwise drab day and add color, shade, and shadow. Through the words of a poet, you can awaken your senses.
Are you ready for this? Then take advantage of the following.

Top eight ways to celebrate national poetry month

Here are our favorite 10 tips for infusing your life with poetry. Need more, check out

  1.  Add a poem to your e-mail signature.  Educate and inspire your coworkers or friends by adding a short poem (or a short passage from a longer poem that has value on its own) to your mail program’s e-mail signature. Consider using a Haiku, Tanka, Diamonte, or Cinquain – all short for easy consumption.  Learn about all four of these short poetry forms here.
  2. Write a poem. If you have any creative leanings, now’s the time to add your own wisdom, humor, or feelings to the body of poetry in this world. If you’re not sure how to get started, find guidance and encouragement at On Writing  on the site.
  3. Read a nightly poem as a family. Either as an after-dinner reading or a bedtime reading, make the month special by sharing poetry as a family.  Need a great poetry for children resource? Try children’s author Kenn Nesbitt’s website Poetry4kids – a  big collection of funny poems and classic children's poetry. To get you started, here’s a poem kids will enjoy: I Love to Do the Laundry.
  4. Create poetry with your children. Make Poetry Month unforgettable for your family by teaching them some poetry basics. Encourage them to write about their feelings or observations, whether or not they rhyme. Teach them about rhyming. To get started, check out Giggle Poetry, a site filled with poetry contests,  games, and ideas for teaching poetry to kids.
  5. Hold a poetry lunch at work. Invite your fellow workers to join you for a poetry picnic to honor National Poetry Month. Make the announcement far enough in advance to give attendees a chance to locate a favorite poem to share with the group.
  6. Revisit an old favorite. If you have a favorite poem from your past, make sure you read it again this month.
  7. Listen to poetry on your commute. If you are an aural learner, you can get audio books of poetry from various online or local resources. With poetry, listening to an aloud reading can reveal qualities hidden in its melody, rhythm, or alliterative qualities that you might otherwise miss. Plus, many downloadable readings are done by the poem’s author – a special treat!
  8. Try a new poem daily. makes this easy; simply subscribe to their Poem a Day e-mail delivery.

For more poetry exploration, explore The Poetry Foundation website, which not only has featured poems from back issues of the literary journal Poetry but also highlights the inspiring work of 250-plus poets.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gardening with Kids

Looking for a fun activity for the entire family to enjoy? Try gardening! Whether your focus is vegetable gardening, growing flowers or herbs, or a combination of gardening activities, introduce your family to gardening this spring.

Benefits of gardening with kids:

Kids of all ages learn how to plan, nurture, and enjoy growing flowers, vegetables, and herbs.
Provides an opportunity to teach the monetary savings of growing your own food and flowers.
Teaches important lessons such as patience, responsibility, and nurturing.
It’s an activity the family can enjoy together outdoors.

Types of gardens:

Backyard: Those gardens planted and cultivated in the privacy and convenience of your own property.
Container: A great choice for small spaces such as apartments, container gardens offer the enjoyment of gardening in a little space.
Community: Often located in cities, community gardens provide a plot of land for each participant to plant, cultivate, and enjoy as his/her own. In addition to the benefits of gardening, this type of garden provides a great sense of belonging and community.

Planning your garden:

1. Determine what planting zone you live in. This will affect what vegetables and flowers will thrive in your garden.
2. Check your local garden center or the Farmers Almanac for suggestions of what to plant.
3. Create a planting schedule. This is based on the last frost of the season as well as the type of plants you’ll be growing.

How can you get your kids involved with gardening?

Make gardening a fun activity for the kids, and they’re likely to want to join in. In addition, follow these guidelines:

1. Develop a plan for your garden as a family. Allow each family member to choose a vegetable or flower to grow.
2. Assign specific tasks for actually planting the garden. Younger family members may be responsible for digging holes and planting seeds. Older kids may assist with marking rows or putting up a fence.
3. Develop a routine for maintaining, watering, and weeding the garden.
4. Monitor and track progress to help determine what to plant next year.

What are some gardening activities for kids?

Create a garden art box.
Plant extra seeds to grow food for the needy in your community or at your place of worship.
Plant specific gardens that attract butterflies or gardens that smell good, for instance.
For more ideas on gardening activities for kids, check out this site.

Gardening crafts:

Design your own place markers for rows of seeds. Use sticks, discarded flatware, and other materials you can find to create unique pieces for your garden.
Paint rocks to decorate your garden. Check out this video for making ladybug rocks.
Create an earth loom for your garden. Made out of remnants found in your yard, such as sticks, twine, and stalks, combined with fiber and yarn, a garden earth loom makes a wonderful addition to any garden. Check out some ideas here.
Encourage kids to make signs. For instance, if you’ve planted carrots, paint a sign discouraging bunnies from trespassing!

Regardless of what you grow and how simple or elaborate your garden is, gardening can be a great family activity. In addition to resulting in delicious produce and flowers for your family to enjoy, gardening provides hours of fun, teamwork, and entertainment for your entire family.

Monday, April 14, 2014

This Wednesday, Hug a Librarian!

This Wednesday, April 16, is National Librarian Day and the whole week (April 13-19) is National Library Week. If you know any librarians personally, give them a hug – or at least a thank you card and a smile – to show your appreciation for the work they do.

The National Librarian Day holiday honors librarians from coast to coast for their service and their knowledge. If you’ve ever needed the services of librarians to find the right book or material, then you know how true the words of English author Neil Gaiman are: “Google can bring you back a hundred-thousand answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

Put another way, librarians are living proof that the computer is not yet ready to take over the world.  While a library computer database can sift and filter broadly, they are no match for a librarian’s ability to understand the context of your more complex research needs.

As well, librarians are the masters of the Dewey decimal system – the process that libraries use to determine where on the shelves books should go.  As a result, librarians can often save you time when you have little to spare, locating exactly what you need in record time.

And if your librarians are like most that I’ve met, they are more than happy to help! “Librarians are the coolest people out there doing the hardest job out there on the frontlines,” Gaiman has also said. “And every time I get to encounter or work with librarians, I'm always impressed by their sheer awesomeness.”
But do librarians deserve their own day of recognition? Again, we turn to the words of author Gaiman who said, “A culture that doesn't value its librarians doesn't value ideas. And without ideas, well, where are we?”  If you concur, then do something special this Wednesday for your librarian.

Even if you don’t know a librarian personally, you can show appreciation via Twitter by “tweeting” about how the library has changed your life. By doing so with the hashtag #LivesChange, you’ll be adding your voice to those of all others who have been affected positively by a librarian. If the story of your enrichment from the deeds of a librarian cannot be told within the 140 character limitations of Twitter, you can add your story to the library story collection, where you can also read the encouraging, heartwarming, and sometimes humorous stories of others.  If you like certain stories you read there, you can give them a nudge upwards in the story list by giving it a high rating.
First sponsored in 1958, National Library Week is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and libraries across the country each April.

Today’s libraries are driven by the needs the community. Whether you’re looking for e-books, information on student loans or 24/7 homework help for your kids – your local library has the resources to meet your needs and those of the whole community.

If you haven’t been to your library recently, drop by and you’ll find that its role has grown over the years. Community-building connections are happening all the time at your library. From new moms connecting at story time to small business owners convening to make opportunities happen, to teens meeting up after school, the library helps foster all types of communities. Libraries have become trusted places where everyone in the community can gather to reconnect and reengage with each other to enrich and shape the community and address local issues. 

In fact, did you know that librarians work with elected officials, small business owners, students, and the public at large to discover what their communities needs are and meet them?  Whether through offering e-books and technology classes, materials for English-language learners, programs for job seekers or those to support early literacy, librarians listen to the community they serve, and they respond.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 11, 2014

April is School Library Month

The school library is an important, yet often overlooked, aspect of the educational experience. Access to public libraries is dwindling and the direct purchase of books is becoming unaffordable for many families. As a result, an increasing number of students and parents are relying on school libraries to provide reading material, resources, and the support necessary for students to excel both in the classroom and in life.

Benefits of school libraries:

Students have convenient access to a variety of books within their own school system.
May provide the only access to books for students if the public library has closed or parents have limited income for purchasing reading materials.
Provides a place for students to study at school.
May offer after school activities.
Helps instill the benefits of reading in students.

Benefits of reading:
According to Reading is Fundamental:

Readers make better listeners.
Readers are typically better students.
Reading helps students build a strong vocabulary and language skills.
Learning and discovery.

Resources school libraries offer:

1. Books.
2. Resource materials for research.
3. Computers for Internet access and learning.
4. Introduction to digital devices.
5. Access to educational movies and other learning tools.
6. Direction and guidance of a librarian.

Positive impact of school library programs:
According to School Libraries Impact Studies, school library programs can result in the following:

Higher student achievement and motivation.
Help produce quality learners.
Students who achieve better reading scores.
Assist in strengthening at-risk students.
Linked to college success.

Importance of librarians:

Introduce students to great books and promote the benefits of reading.
Choose books to include in the library catalog, and maintain books and resources within the library.
Assist students in finding and using other resources.
Well versed in a variety of reading materials and topics.
Help strengthen the educational experience.

Information on School Library Month (SLM):

Started in 1985, SLM was established to recognize the importance school libraries and librarians play in the educational process. The theme for 2014 is Lives change @ your library; Jeff Kinney, New York Times bestselling author of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” is the national spokesperson. This month long celebration of school libraries includes activities and programs in school libraries throughout the country.

Specific days within the month of April are also dedicated to celebrating particular aspects of the educational experience related to the library:

Tuesday, April 15 is National Library Workers Day
Wednesday, April 16 is National Bookmobile Day
Thursday, April 17 is Support Teen Literature Day

Check out for more details on these specific days and activities.

How can you get involved?

Thank your school librarian for the work she does for students. Have your child make a gift to demonstrate his/her appreciation, if possible.
Join in on the many activities being held throughout the month in celebration of School Library Month.
Express the importance of your child’s school library and staff by signing a declaration in support of the library here.
Use social media, such as twitter, to share how the library has impacted your life. Make this a family project by including comments by individual family members.

For more information:

Visit American Association of School Librarians (AASL).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Managing and Treating Sinus Conditions

Sinuses are the hollow cavities located within your cheekbones, around your eyes, and behind your nose. They contain mucus that helps to filter the air you breathe. While seemingly harmless, sinuses can wreak havoc when inflammation or a blockage occurs, often resulting in infection.

What are the signs of a sinus infection, also called sinusitis?

Sinusitis is one of the most common health conditions. Symptoms include:

Thick nasal discharge, yellow-green in color
Postnasal drip
Pain in teeth
Pain and/or swelling in face or eyes

What causes a sinus infection?

A sinus infection may start as a common cold, but can turn into a viral or bacterial infection. Other causes or factors may include:

Nasal polyps
Deviated septum
Immune system deficiency

What is the difference between an acute sinus infection and a chronic one?

An acute infection typically lasts less than 4 weeks. Chronic sinusitis can go on for more than 12 weeks, despite medical treatment.

Do all sinus infections require an antibiotic?

According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), not all sinus infections require an antibiotic. Those caused by viral infections don’t necessarily require an antibiotic; sinus infections caused by bacterial infections usually require an antibiotic for treatment.

The ISDA warns that an overuse of antibiotics can result in the development of superbugs that are resistant to medication and cautions individuals about taking antibiotics unnecessarily.

Is there a difference between sinusitis and rhinitis?

Rhinitis, inflammation of the mucus membrane of the nasal passages, usually occurs before sinusitis. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, there is a close relationship between sinusitis and rhinitis. As a result, sinusitis is often referred to as rhinosinusitis.

What are some treatment options for sinus problems?

1. Home remedies:  Try breathing in hot, moist air for relief. Also, washing the nasal cavities with salt water and/or a neti pot may be useful. Check out this FDA report on neti pots for safe use.  Experts also recommend keeping the humidity in your home at an appropriate level, as dryness can be irritating to sinuses.
2. Medications: Your doctor may suggest a decongestant to control allergies and/or steroid nasal spray. Once an infection has developed, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic. Remember: if you need to fill a prescription your doctor has given you, use your FamilyWize Discount Prescription Drug Card for maximum savings.
3. Surgery: In some cases, home care and medications are not successful. A new procedure, called balloon sinuplasty, stretches the sinuses ten times wider, allowing fluid to drain properly. This procedure can be performed in a doctor’s office.

How do I know when to see a doctor for sinusitis/rhinosinusitis?

If cold or allergy-like symptoms persist for 10 days, it’s likely that a bacterial infection is at the root of your problem.  Check out the chart here for clarification on symptoms of a cold, allergy, or sinus infection. When in doubt, it’s always safe to make an appointment to see your healthcare provider.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Work-Life Enrichment Month

Celebrated during the month of April, Work-Life Enrichment Month is significant in drawing attention to the importance of work-life balance.  Whether you work in an office, out in the field, or from your own home, work-life balance is difficult to attain. Yet, by developing a plan, setting up boundaries, and being aware of the harmful effects of imbalance, you are taking crucial steps in maintaining your family’s happiness.

Why is work-life balance important?

Studies show that work can improve your home life and your home environment can improve your work life. Failure to maintain this delicate balance may result in:

Loss of productivity at work.
Lack of interest in activities or hobbies.

What are the signs of burnout?

1. Physical signs: Frequent fatigue, headaches, and change in appetite or sleep patterns.
2. Emotional signs: Include an overall negative feeling about your situation, your life, or your job. Detaching from others, loss of motivation, and feeling defeated in general.
3. Behavioral indicators: Isolating yourself from others, missing work or school, or using a crutch such as food, drugs, or alcohol to cope are all signs of burnout.

For more information on burnout, visit this site.

How can you find work-life balance?

Set limits. Even if your work life is demanding, don’t allow it to take over your entire life.
Make time with family and friends. Place importance on relationships and connecting with those around you.
Spend time engaged in activities you enjoy. As with many work-life balance tips, this one in particular helps recharge your batteries.
Exercise regularly and get adequate sleep. In addition to being a great stress reliever, exercise helps you keep different aspects of your life in perspective. Sleep is necessary with managing stress and maintaining overall good health.

Benefits of work-life balance:

Maintaining a healthy balance helps support, improve, and enrich your life.
Good work-life balance helps increase your productivity, creativity, effort, leadership, and overall contentment at work.
Individuals with healthy work-life balance report having fun at work.
Those who maintain balance realize better relationships with family members and friends.
May result in lower stress levels and overall better health.

What factors can interfere with work-life balance?

A demanding job.
The ability to telecommute or have access to information regarding work from home.
Working weekends and/or nights, when family members are typically home.
Lack of vacation or free time.
A constant tie to digital equipment and information.

For more work-life balance tips, visit The Mayo Clinic.

Are your work and life in balance? Check out this quiz at and see how you score.

Life is demanding, regardless of your job, your family situation, or any other factor. Yet, maintaining work-life balance is crucial to leading a healthy, happy life, for both you and your entire family.

How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance? Feel free to share tips that have worked for you.

Friday, April 4, 2014

What's the Big Deal About Fiber?

A common problem associated with not having enough fiber in your diet is chronic constipation.  But did you know that ongoing constipation can lead to numerous health problems, including hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, diverticulitis, and even colon cancer? Other than avoiding health risks, having a diet high in fiber has health at least four key health benefits.  

What is fiber?

Dietary fiber is the a substance found in the outer layers of grains or plants and which is not digested in the intestines. Fiber is also the substances in foods such as fruits, oats, barley, and legumes that are made of carbohydrates and dissolve in water.  These two sources of dietary fiber are known as soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
  • Soluble fiber attracts water and turns to gel during digestion, which slows your digestion. You can get soluble fiber from foods such as oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. You can also get soluble fiber from psyllium, a common fiber supplement.
  • Insoluble fiber is found in foods such as wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. It adds bulk to the stool and appears to help food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines.
Both types have important health benefits.

Vegetarian chickpea salad

Four key benefits of fiber

  1. Fiber lowers heart disease risks.  According to one 2013 study, adding fiber to your diet can lower your risk for heart disease. The study looked at both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, and how they affected coronary heart disease – plaque buildup in the heart's arteries that could lead to a heart attack – and cardiovascular disease – heart and blood vessel conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. Researchers found those who consumed more fiber reduced their risks from either type of heart disease.  Although the recommended amount of dietary fiber is still 20 to 35 grams per day, the researchers concluded that even adding as little as seven grams of fiber to a daily diet boosts heart health.  You can get that much fiber from eating a pear or a large bowl of oatmeal.
  2. Fiber reduces type 2 diabetes. Soluble fiber can also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In people who have diabetes (type 1 and 2), soluble fiber can help to control blood glucose levels.
  3. Fiber relieves digestive problems. Insoluble fiber in your diet can help with such digestive tract problems as fecal incontinence, constipation, chronic diarrhea, and hemorrhoids.
  4. Fiber eases bowl movements. More than any other benefit, fiber is known for its ability to bulk stools while making them softer and therefore easier to pass.

How to get fiber in your diet

Some of the highest fiber foods include legumes (peas, beans, etc.), bran cereals, figs, apricots, dates, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries, corn, broccoli, plums, pears, apples, raisins, prunes, spinach, beet greens, kale, almonds, Brazil nuts, and peanuts.
You may be surprised at what foods do or do not contain much fiber.  Take out the mystery by studying the Fiber Chart offered online by Mount Sinai Health Systems. The chart allows you to see the fiber count of hundreds of common foods and compare their fiber content. 

High fiber recipes

Thanks to the Internet, finding delicious high-fiber recipes is super easy. Here are four particularly bountiful collections to get you started.


At, you'll find more than 2,000 recipes classified as high-fiber. Good ones to try first:

2. Mayo Clinic

Though the high-fiber recipe collection at Mayo Clinic is not nearly as robust as AllRecipes’, the Mayo Clinic recipe collection is a good place to start if you've got constipation issues, as these recipes are particularly high in fiber. Some good examples:

3. Betty Crocker

You no doubt have a Betty Crocker cookbook in your home – an American staple for generations. On their website, you can filter for just high-fiber recipes. Some tasty samples to get you started:

4. Food Network

The Food Network has created a dedicated fiber rich recipes section, with  600-plus recipes. Some of the more tantalizing fiber recipes include:

Dietary fiber risks

If you are getting your fiber from natural food sources, there are few risks and a host of benefits. Use the chart linked above to make sure you are getting the recommended minimum of 25-30 grams daily.
There are two risks worth noting. First, drink plenty of water, especially when consuming insoluble fiber. Fiber without sufficient water intake can cause severe constipation. Second, be cautious with taking supplements, drugs, or laxatives to ease constipation. Even those labeled as "natural" have the risk of dependency. Continued use can fatigue the colon to the point that your body relies on the laxative to achieve bowel movements at all.

Ric Moxley 
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

(Healthy) Grocery Shopping with Ease

It began with good intentions: your focus to eat right and move more for the new year/month/week. You had a goal, a plan to get there, and perhaps, the journey even started out promising. But then life/work/family obligations struck, and suddenly, going to the grocery store becomes a rushed task, and all attempts you made at better choices dwindles down to what is most time efficient not only to make, but to grab at the supermarket.

Man grocery shopping

The key to any healthier eating plan is consistency and planning, but what happens when the best laid plans fizzle in the face of life’s complications? It’s not as hopeless as it may seem. With some tweaking, you can design a healthy lifestyle, even under the toughest time crunches and demands.

Start with a simple (pre-assembled) grocery list. There are several smartphone apps that meet the criteria, if you love technology. You can create “favorite” lists, with your usual items listed each time you load it. From there, you can add in the items as you think of them. (Check out apps like AnyList and Grocery IQ.) If you prefer paper and pen, make a basic list with items you purchase each time, along with plenty of blanks to fill in, and make several copies. Hang them in a place where you and your family can jot down items for the list each week. If you have some recipes in mind, give them a quick glance and note the items you will need on your list.

Go grocery shopping with focus...and a time limit. When we start shopping with our health in mind, often new food choices can distract us. If you have time to browse, enjoy it! But when you are in a rush, the choices can be overwhelming. Instead, set aside the amount of time you have available and stick to your list. Avoid the temptation to wander down aisles with foods not on your list and stay on the perimeter of the store.

Keep things easy. When you have the time to make complicated recipes, take advantage of it. But when time is short and demands are intense, stick with tried and true recipes and easy combos. Try a slab of fresh fish and a green veggie, served over rice with lemon and butter. Grab some chicken thighs, wrap them with bacon, and bake, along with a baked sweet potato and a side salad. Frozen vegetables are fast, tasty side dish and retain most of their nutrients.

Don’t let best be the enemy of better. Every little change we make to eat and live healthier is a step in the right direction. Perhaps this week, you didn’t get to the store at all and ate out more than you wanted to. Or desire got the best of you and you finished the pan of brownies. Whatever it may be, keep moving forward and let the mistakes be what they are: momentary lapses. Embrace an 80/20 approach: 80% of what you buy is good food that your grandparents would recognize. And let 20% of your menu and life be the fun stuff that while not ideal, won’t hurt an overall healthy diet.

Changes in our lifestyle have to be sustainable for them to last! So rather than letting bumps along the path derail us, let’s embrace what we are changing, and let go of the rest. One step at a time, we will reclaim our health.

What are your top tips for grocery shopping when you don’t have much time? What are your favorite meals that are simple and quick to make?

Contributing Writer