Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Healthy Ice Cream?

When I first came to the gluten free lifestyle, I arrived kicking and screaming. I loved bread and pasta. I lived on macaroni and cheese. And give up my bagels? Sacre bleu! But as with all changes in life, I adjusted. I discovered Cool Ranch Doritos are safe, gluten free pretzels taste just as good, and thank goodness, ice cream is usually sans gluten.

Two children eating ice cream


But as it frequently happens with those of us now responsible to forage the grocery store for allergen-safe nutrients, you start to notice other things on the labels, like added sugar, “color lakes,” and MSG. It occurs to you that perhaps there is more to be concerned about than just wheat and its many hidden forms.  You start looking for products with ingredients you can pronounce so they are a bit easier to look up on your smart phone while standing in the middle of the canned soup aisle. Little by little, you gravitate to products with less than ten ingredients on the label, to companies that ensure their nutritional information is easy to read and understand, and to foods that are a bit less processed than your average Twinkie.

The change is subtle, and it doesn’t happen overnight. But sure enough, whole foods end up being the preferred way of nourishing your body. And let’s face it, it’s a healthier way to eat.

I started making a lot of my own foods as I continued my gluten free journey. Soups, chicken fingers, pizza crusts – they all became as easy to make as a boxed meal. But there was one I was afraid to tackle.

Ice cream. That creamy luxury terrified me, the novice kitchen hack. Plus I didn't want to eat just any old frozen treat. I wanted a healthy ice cream.

How bad can it really be for you? Just flip over the quart of vanilla in your freezer. You’d be surprised how many odd ingredients you can find in your average flavor. And to make it worse, they aren’t required to make ice cream delicious. So with a bit of scouting on how to make ice cream, I discovered a few recipes to help me get started, purchased a simple ice cream maker, and was on my way.

Ice cream is surprisingly easy to make, and even mistakes end up being quite delicious (we’ve had a few smoothies and milkshakes with my recipe faux pas), and with a few tricks of the trade, you’ll be the local expert on how to make ice cream and impressing your friends and family.
  • Look for recipes that are easy. The more complicated the recipe, the less likely you are to get started. Save the tough recipes, like buttered pecan, for a later date when you’ve already tackled a dozen or so pint
  • Get an ice cream maker you can afford, but make sure it’s one that includes a self-contained freezer canister. Rock salt and ice get tedious, especially if you are making it for more than one person.
  • If you are making ice cream for adults, add a little alcohol to keep it from freezing hard. Two tablespoons of vodka or rum work perfectly, or if you are making a fruity recipe, Chambord might be ideal.
  • The more water you have in the recipe, the icier your ice cream will taste the next day. To maximize creaminess, use high fat ingredients. You can also add an avocado for an even creamier consistency.
  • Going for a dairy free recipe? Use canned coconut milk. It is a great substitute and creates a wonderfully creamy result.

Ice cream bowl with berries

Don’t be afraid to create your own recipe. Once you have a base, you can make any flavor you like, and even play a bit with some new ones.

Here’s my favorite vanilla ice cream base with nourishing ingredients – from here, you can create all sorts of delicious recipes!

Vanilla Ice Cream (6-8 servings)
4 eggs, pastured
4 egg yolks, pastured
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 can (15oz) + 1/2 can coconut milk (or raw milk in equal amount)
1/4 -1/2 cup raw honey
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Celtic salt
2 tablespoon vodka (optional)

Optional mix-in ideas: frozen berries, chopped up chocolate chips, mint extract, chopped nuts. I usually add these about halfway through the ice cream maker process, when the ice cream is just starting to thicken.

Mix all in a blender until smooth. Pour into your ice cream maker and follow the directions. Once this has thickened in your ice cream maker, transfer it to a freezer-safe container and let it freeze over night.

Made an amazing healthy ice cream recipe you’d like to share? Please do – I’m always looking for a new flavor to try.

Ally Bishop 
Contributing Writer

Monday, July 15, 2013

SOLD! Holding a Profitable Yard Sale

You've purged your home and it feels fantastic. Now, how do you handle the boxes and bags of discards sitting in the middle of your living room floor? A garage sale is a great way to rid your household of unwanted items while making some extra money at the same time.

Sale sign


Yard Sale Tips:


Check the date you have in mind for your sale. Your chance of success is not as great if it’s already a busy day with events in the community.
Get neighbors in on the sale. Larger sales draw more attention. Make it a block garage sale and increase your profits.
Look into licensing requirements in your city or town to ensure you have the proper documentation on the day of the sale.
Organize your items into categories for best results. Kitchen items should be in one area; baby clothing and supplies should be in another area. All items should be clean and in working condition.
Research online to help with yard sale pricing. Either label items individually or make large signs for a specific price point and place items in the appropriate area. Check out www.money.usnew.com for yard sale pricing tips.

Advertise, Advertise, Advertise…


While advertising can be costly, yard sale shoppers do check local papers for listings. At least a small advertisement is a necessary evil.
Local Websites allow free postings for garage sales. Post your sale a week prior to the date, and update the posting throughout the week leading up to the event. Visit www.today.com for additional tips.
Check out rules and regulations for posting signs in your town or community. Where allowable, post several signs on major roads leading to your street. Address, date of sale and an arrow pointing in the correct direction will help shoppers find your sale.

Garage sale prices

How to Haggle:


1. Expect buyers to negotiate on prices since everyone likes to bargain hunt. Adjust pricing to allow for negotiating with customers.
2. Don’t take negotiating personally or get defensive with shoppers because you feel your items are worth more. Haggling is part of the garage sale game. Have fun with it!
3. If you’re eager to sell items, consider lowering prices later in the day. Shoppers love a smart bargain and will shop sales late specifically looking for lower prices. You can find additional pricing ideas at www.bankrate.com.


Don’t Forget:


Have plenty of change available the day of the yard sale. Surprisingly, many sellers forget this important factor and lose sales as a result.
Bags and cardboard boxes might be necessary for larger purchases
Extra hands (and eyes!) are helpful
Be prepared for early birds

Yard sale

What to do with leftovers:


Before carting everything that didn't sell back into your basement or garage, take stock of items and decide what you’ll keep, what you can donate and if there are items that should be thrown away. Here are some ideas for those unsold items:

Box or bag and donate to a local thrift shop.
Arrange for pick-up from a veterans organization.
Remember, itemized lists of items that are donated may be used as a tax deduction.  Visit www.irs.gov for more details.

With just a little bit of time and preparation, your garage sale can be profitable and successful. Good luck!

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Report: Kids With Mental Disorders Rises to 20 Percent

The CDC reported in May that today’s youth (ages 3 to 17) have a much higher rate of mental disorders than expected, and that the rate appears to be climbing.  According to study results, as many as 20 percent of the youth in the U.S. today have a mental disorder.

The study, entitled Mental Health Surveillance Among Children — United States, 2005–2011, described the statistics revealed as "serious deviations from expected cognitive, social, and emotional development." 

Some noteworthy and surprising statistics from the study:

  • Between 13 and 20 percent of the children studied experience a mental disorder in an average year.
  • Study surveillance of youth in the seven year period between 1994 and 2011 showed the prevalence of these conditions to be increasing.
  • Mental disorders in the U.S. were among the most costly conditions to treat in children.  Including health care, services (such as special education and juvenile justice), and decreased productivity, mental disorders among those under 24 years of age  was estimated at $247 billion annually.
  • Suicide – often an outcome of mental disorders and other factors –was the second leading cause of death among children between 12 and 17 years of age in 2010.

What types of mental health problems were being reported? Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (at 6.8 percent) was the most commonly reported diagnosis among children aged 3–17 years, followed by:

  • Behavioral or conduct problems (3.5 percent)
  • Anxiety (3.0 percent)
  • Depression (2.1 percent)
  • Autism spectrum disorders (1.1 percent)
  • Tourette syndrome (0.2 percent among children 6–17 years of age)

Adolescents (12–17 years) in particular were involved in significant amounts of troubling activities:

  • Nearly five percent admitted to illicit drug use disorder in the past year.
  • About four percent had an alcohol abuse disorder in the past year.
  • Nearly three percent reported cigarette dependence problems in the past month.
  • Approximately eight percent reported 14 or more days per month of mentally unhealthy days.
  • The overall suicide rate for persons aged 10–19 years was 4.5 suicides per 100,000 persons in 2010.


Summer activities to improve children’s mental health


As the parent, you have as much, or more, influence in your child’s social and psychological well-being and development than probably anyone else, other than themselves. Not sure how to use this influence to help your child this summer during their school break? Try the following tips.
Bored children

Tip #1.  Turn off the television
TV viewing among kids is at an eight-year high. Too often, television becomes a substitute babysitter – and a poor substitute at that. Studies show that too much television is associated with many physical and mental problems, including weight gain, and even brain damage risk. One study involving nearly 1,500 children looked at potential connections between TV viewing habits, psychological distress, and levels of physical activity. Results: Children who watched high levels of TV and screen entertainment (greater than 2.7 hours daily) were 24 percent more likely to have high levels of psychological distress than children who watched less.

At the very least, TV is an activity that usually involves little or no interaction with others, and takes time that could otherwise be spent in social activities, reading a book, or family communication.

If you limit television viewing, no doubt you may hear your children say “I’m bored.” But more often than not, the activities they turn to when they are bored from lack of access to the TV will be activities that are more conducive to mental health and feelings of well-being.
Tip #2.  Be present
It’s best not to assume that kids will be just fine on their own.  Children cope with difficult situations better in the presence of adults who have more experience and skills at dealing with difficult times or situations. An activity or confrontation that may cause a child to become frustrated, hurt, or depressed will seem much less overwhelming when they see the more mature response of an influential adult. As well, children can be cruel to one another, but tend to be less so when adults are present to intervene or “play referee” in a potentially hurtful or bullying situation.
Tip #3.  Plan whole-family activities
Creating positive, heartwarming family memories can go far to helping a child feel loved and worthwhile as a human being. Family experiences give them an anchor: a sense of identity and belonging. During the summer while school is out, capture some of those idle moments and turn them into a fun family adventure. It needn’t be expensive – go fly a kite, have a picnic, visit a museum, or play some Frisbee or croquet in the backyard.
Tip #4.  Create focused one-on-one time
Beyond family time activities, it’s important to have one-on-one time with your child – a time to talk and listen. Consider setting aside a little time to do this every week. Making a regular helps your child come to expect and respect these times. During these moments, let them know that this is the right time to talk openly about their feelings and emotions. With such a habit and trust established, your child will feel much more comfortable talking with you when there is a problem.

Mother talking to daughter

If you don’t feel confident knowing how to start up these one-on-one times, try one of these two parent-child communication activities to help each of you get more comfortable.
Tip #5.  Promote physical activities/outlets
Exercise and physical activity is beneficial not only to physical health but toward mental health as well. Studies indicate that exercise and physical activity are associated with better quality of life and health outcomes.


Make a difference this summer


For more guidance on how to be a positive influence on your children’s mental health this summer, read Adventures in Parenting – a free digital booklet From the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, describing how parents can use responding, preventing, monitoring, modeling, and mentoring to help them successfully raise children from birth to age 14.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer


Monday, July 8, 2013

Forget About It!—How Stress Harms Your Memory

While it’s hardly news that stressful living is not good for us, more recent studies show that stress can negatively affect your ability to think and to remember things.  Fortunately, scientists have also identified a potential solution to treat stress-related damage to the brain.  But until that solution is proven out and becomes available to doctors, here’s what you need to know about the dangers of stress to your memory.


Stress – a known hazard


Long before this recent discovery connecting stress and memory loss, stressful living had already been implicated in a litany of human misery:
In short, stress can tear you up physically and emotionally.  This new research adds memory impairment and decision-making disability to this list – just one more reason to take steps to remove the stress in your life.

Full calendar


Research connecting stress and memory loss


The study, from the State University of New York at Buffalo, found a connection between repeated stress and damage to the brain’s prefrontal cortex – the part of your brain that affects how well you think and remember.

This is not the first study to connect chronic stress with changes in the prefrontal cortex, but this research effort has revealed the how it happens – what neural stress responses actually harm many mental abilities.
The study focused on the effect of repeated stress on the working memory of rats.  Researchers found that stress interfered with the connections between neurons (synapses) in the front of the brain: the prefrontal cortex. 

The prefrontal cortex controls both your working memory and your decision-making prowess.   Unfortunately, stress hormones in the brain zero in on the synaptic connections in this part of the brain.  The number of connections remained constant, but not their functioning; researchers report that the connection quality took a dive, which they identified as a drop in glutamate receptor activity on the very neurons that are known to the quash memory function.

With prefrontal cortex dysfunction to blame for many stress-related mental disorders, as well as memory and decision-making, figuring out the molecular mechanisms affected by stress is a substantial step forward in our ability to understand how stress influences mental abilities.


Is there Light at the end of the stress tunnel?


The researchers in this stress study not only identified the way that stress affects brain function, but also experimented with ways to block these stress-induced decreases in glutamate receptors and the resulting memory malfunction.  Could these synaptic-strangling reactions to stress be prevented?

The answer appears to “yes,” at least in mice.  The researchers used chemicals known as protease inhibitors, injecting them into the prefrontal cortex.  They discovered that this infusion blocked the glutamate receptor damage done by stress. 

Today, this is good news for mice.  But in the future, scientists suspect that this infusion technique may be usable on the human brain as a treatment to prevent the effects that repeated stress has on our brains. 

Stressed man at work


Ways to reduce stress in the workplace


Ironic, isn’t it, that we are often stressed out because of the mental load that a hectic schedule or challenging work assignment puts on us, and yet this stress worsens our ability to manage such tasks and juggle these stressful responsibilities.  Employers can learn from this, taking steps to minimize workplace stress. 

For example, many studies have tied physical exercise to stress reduction.  Providing facilities for employee physical activities (ball courts, fitness centers, game fields, and showers/locker rooms) and encouraging work breaks for using these facilities may provide beneficial stress relief to employees that, in turn, could boost productivity by reducing stress-related memory loss.


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, July 5, 2013

Quick and Easy 4th of July Cleanup

The fireworks were spectacular and the food was delicious, but now the 4th of July festivities are over. While house cleanup can seem like a daunting task after a spectacular July 4th, turn it into a group activity, follow a few simple guidelines and wonderful 4th of July memories will be all that linger long after the day is over.



Cleanup and Disposal:


  • Determine if any decorations can be salvaged or reused. For instance, unused sparklers make fun additions to cakes for upcoming birthdays and other special occasions. Other red, white and blue-themed items may be used throughout the summer months. 
  • Separate items that are regular trash from those that require recycling. This is a great task for children and young adults to assist with; make it a fun challenge by color-coding bags or bins for quick collection.
  • According to The Balloon Council, latex balloons re biodegradable and may simply be disposed of in the trash without threat to the environment. However, Mylar balloons, those with a shiny silver finish, are not biodegradable. Yet, these types of balloons can easily be recycled and used for craft projects or as mementos to keep them out of landfills.
  • If sparklers or any kind of fireworks have been used for 4th of July, soak items in a bucket of water before disposing of them. Children should not perform this task unless supervised by an adult. Visit www.fireworksafety.com for additional information.
  • Allow charcoals used for barbecuing to burn completely and wait 48 hours before throwing out the ashes. Wrap cold ashes in aluminum foil and place in a non-combustible container for safe and easy cleanup, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. This particular chore is best let to adults.
  • Remember, an American flag should never be destroyed unless it is beyond repair. In that case, the flag should be disposed of in a dignified manner, preferably by burning. Visit www.usa-flag-site.org for more guidelines.


Handling leftover food:


  • Any uncooked dairy- or egg-based foods, such as salads made with mayonnaise and desserts topped with whipped cream, should never be left out in the heat. Since bacteria starts to form quickly in hot temperatures, these dishes should be refrigerated or kept on ice during the course of a party. It's safest to discard any questionable food items after a 4th of July celebration to prevent possible food poisoning, according to the ServSafe guidelines of the National Restaurant Association.
  • Grilled meats such as leftover pork or cooked chicken can make healthy meals by utilizing simple recipes. Always refrigerate meats after thoroughly cooking to ensure their safety in leftover recipes.
  • Leftover pork or cooked chicken can be sliced and added to salad greens to create a delicious, healthy summer salad. Other simple recipes using leftover BBQ or grill recipes include wraps, tacos or simply serving grilled meats over rice or pasta, either warm or cold. Check out the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Website, www.nhibi.nih.gov for additional healthy meal ideas.

Incorporate these guidelines for house cleanup after your 4th of July celebration and enjoy many more safe summer celebrations this season!

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Keeping Your Kids Safe This Summer

Summer is the best time to be a kid. It’s the season of beach weekends, camping trips, sun bathing, and long days at the pool. Unfortunately, it’s also the season of riptides, spider bites, sunburns and swimmer’s ear. Injuries, illnesses, and accidents can quickly transform a fun day in the sun into a harrowing – and expensive – trip to the emergency room. Here are a few tips to help prevent some of these summer mishaps and keep the good times rolling.

Emergency room sign


Watch the water


Water safety is no small concern when it comes to protecting your kids this summer. According to reports released by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission , 137 children under 15 years old drowned in a pool or spa during the summer of 2012. According to the report, fifty-four of these fatalities occurred soon after the child moved away from a nearby adult. Talk to your children about the importance of staying close while swimming, and make sure you always keep your kids in clear sight. This is especially important when visiting the beach or a lake, since these places are not usually monitored by a lifeguard.

You may also want to learn about what drownings actually look like. They are less noticeable than many people might assume, which is why parental vigilance is so essential around bodies of water.

Children in water


Watch for critters


Summer is the season of mosquitos, spiders and ticks, oh my! It is a good idea to wear bug repellant when spending extended time outdoors, so go ahead and stock up on your family’s supply. In addition, here are a few other tips to help you deal with unexpected critter appearances this summer:

  • Remember to check your children for ticks on a fairly regular basis, especially since they can often go unnoticed.
  • If you find a tick on your child’s skin, do not panic. Instead, remove the tick immediately with a pair of tweezers. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT a good idea to use a hot match, kerosene or petroleum to remove a tick. Once removed, you should save the tick for identification, in case your child develops symptoms and needs to see a doctor.
  • You should take your child to a doctor if he or she develops a fever, headache, rash or any other symptoms following a tick bite.
  • Spiders! They may be gross, but the good news about spiders is that only a few species have dangerous bites. The spiders you most need to look out for are the black widow and the brown recluse spider. If you suspect your child has been bitten by one of these spiders, apply ice to the bite to slow absorption of the venom. You should then seek medical attention for proper treatment.
Tick on finger


Stay safe indoors, too


Home safety can sometimes be overlooked when thinking about how to keep kids safe this summer, but the security of your home is an important aspect of summer safety. If your children are the appropriate age, they may spend quite a few hours at home with little to no adult supervision this summer. Make sure your kids know they should never answer the door for strangers. It is also a good idea to keep a list of phone numbers for neighbors or nearby family friends who your children could call if they ever ran into an emergency at home.

Now may also be a good time to invest in a home security system, especially if you are planning to go on family vacations and will be periodically leaving your home empty. If you decide to get a security system, make sure you teach your children how to operate the system to ensure it is used effectively and to avoid false alarms.


Keeping summer fun


A safe summer is a fun summer. Taking a few key precautions can help keep your family both happy and healthy this summer, ensuring that it is a memorable season for all the right reasons.

Brian Jones
Guest Writer
Brian is the father of three beautiful kids and has been writing about personal safety for as long as he has been a dad. Feel free to reach out to him on Twitter

Monday, July 1, 2013

Valley Fever: Is the Epidemic in Your Neighborhood?

Do you live in, or travel to, the southwestern states or abroad?  If so, you need to know about valley fever, a debilitating and potentially deadly illness.

Alarmingly, the valley fever danger zone is expected to widen; experts believe that hotter temperatures may cause the habitat of the mold spores that carry valley fever to expand beyond the current zone. 

Are you at risk?  Read on to make sure you understand valley fever risks, valley fever symptoms, and valley fever treatment options.


What is valley fever?


This debilitating illness comes from a common fungus found primarily in the southwestern U.S., as well as Mexico, Central America, and South America.  The valley fever fungus, also known as Coccidioides, lives in soil. Simply inhaling particles in the air from this fungal soil is enough to make you ill with valley fever, also known as Coccidioidomycosis.

Not everyone who breathes in the valley fever fungus will get valley fever.  Those who do get it usually develop flu-like symptoms.  However, unlike most flus, valley fever symptoms often lasts for weeks, or even months.

The severity of the valley fever symptoms differs from one victim to the next.  For those hit hardest by valley fever, the infection spreads, going from the lungs to the rest of the body.  When this happens, some have suffered meningitis or even death.


How big of a threat is the valley fever outbreak?


Valley fever is under close public health surveillance by the CDC in 15 states. In 2010 alone, there were over 16,000 reported cases, most of them in Arizona and California, and the annual number of cases has been increasing in recent years.

A March 2013 CDC article states that more than 20,000 new cases of valley fever are reported each year in the United States.  The number could be much higher though, as scientists believe that many more cases go undiagnosed. Some researchers put the valley fever estimate at more than 150,000 people affected annually, with many of its victims not knowing why they are sick or with what.


Who is at risk of getting valley fever?


Who you know or associate with does not affect your risk; valley fever is not contracted from others, only from contact with the Coccidioides mold.  Factors that do increase your risk:
  • Where you live or travel to matters, as mentioned above.   The CDC’s valley fever risk map below shows the higher-risk areas in the U.S., where valley fever in endemic:
    Valley fever map
  • Have you recently moved to an endemic area?  Those who do are statistically more likely to get infected by valley fever than current residents.
  • While anyone can get valley fever, age can increase risk.  Valley Fever is most often contracted by older adults, particularly those 60 and older.
  • Other demographics groups that are at a greater risk for developing the severe forms of valley fever include African Americans, Asians, women in their third trimester of pregnancy, and those with weak immune systems.
  • Weather or natural events, such as earthquakes and dust storms, can be a risk factor too.  Outbreaks of valley fever sometimes happen when events like these disturb large amounts of soil.

 


Symptoms of Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever) 


The  valley fever symptoms usually appear between within the first three weeks after exposure to the fungus.  If you’re lucky, the valley fever fungus may cause just very mild flu-like symptoms that go away on their own.  If you develop a more severe infection, you may experience fever, Image of Skin lesions due to Coccidioides immitiscough, headache, muscle aches, joint pain in the knees, joint pain in the ankles, or skin lesions/rash on the upper trunk or on your extremities, Such as the one shown here.  One valley fever victim described symptoms as utterly sapping energy reserves.

In the most advanced cases of valley fever, you can expect skin lesions, meningitis, chronic pneumonia, bone infection, or joint infection.

The one good piece of news regarding your risk of getting valley fever: once you get valley fever, your body develops immunity that will protect you against future infections. That said, some have experienced a "relapse" – symptoms getting worse after initially getting better.


What should I do if I am exposed to valley fever spores?


If you feel you have been exposed to the fungus and develop symptoms of valley fever, contact your healthcare provider (or contact the Occupational Health Department at your business if you had an exposure at work or in a laboratory.

There are no over-the-counter medications for valley fever and there is currently no vaccine to prevent you from contracting valley fever.  But if you develop valley fever infection, treatments for valley fever are available and usually effective. If you develop symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.

Often, treatment is not necessary, since symptoms may resolve on their own. Some doctors will prescribe fluconazole or a similar antifungal medication to prevent a severe infection. 

If you are in a high-risk group, get treatment as quickly as possible; if you develop a severe valley fever infection, you’ll need to be treated with antifungal medications as advanced valley fever can be fatal if not treated. In the most severe cases of valley fever, you may need respiratory supportive therapy or hospitalization.  In severe valley fever cases, the nervous system can experience long-term damage.  Those with weakened immune systems can develop chronic pneumonia.

If you think you have coccidioidomycosis (valley fever) ask your healthcare provider if you need treatment.


How can I learn more about valley fever?


You can get more information about valley fever from articles at University of Arizona, scaryair.org, Arcadia News, Mayo Clinic, or from the CDC.

If you live in an area with Coccidioides in the environment, contact your local or state health department for the most up-to-date information.

Ric Moxley 
Contributing Writer