Friday, August 30, 2013

School -- Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow

The stats prove it; good school attendance can make a significant and positive difference in your child’s future.  Whether for illness, family issues, or just plain truancy, research shows that missing just 10 percent of the school year – that’s just two or three days a month – is enough absenteeism to cause children to struggle academically. 

And the problem is not insignificant; 7.5 million students nationwide were chronically absent last year.  When chronic absenteeism (defined as a student who misses 10 percent – roughly 18 days of the school year) happens at the kindergarten and first grade level, statistics show that these children are unlikely to be reading proficiently by the end of third grade. 

Research also shows that, by 6th grade, missing 10 percent or more of school leads to course failure and often to dropping out at the high school level.  And at any grade school level, teachers and school administrators have learned that this 10-percent-or-greater level of absence is enough to indicate that the student is likely headed for trouble.

One positive development in the effort to improve attendance is the national Attendance Awareness Month, sponsored by the nonprofit organization Attendance Works.

Children getting on school bus


Why school attendance requires an awareness month


This alarming education crisis has been largely overlooked – something that the founders of Attendance Works are trying to change.  The goal of the organization and its school Attendance Awareness Month is to reduce absenteeism by promoting awareness of the problem and by supporting community-based solutions to reduce chronic absence at all grade levels. 


What the folks at Attendance Works are doing to make a difference


Attendance Works has already reached thousands with online tools and resources, presentations, and workshops.  As well, they maintain a media presence, educating the public about the risks of missing 10 percent of school days and how best to address this problem.

Previous successes by Attendance Works include shaping a Buffalo New York plan that reduced chronic absence by eight percent, a Los Angeles plan that resulted in 48,000 fewer absences, and an Oakland California toolkit for elementary schools designed to reduce chronic absence rates.

Their current year plans include assisting states in developing new research to expand awareness regarding chronic absence, engaging with key policymakers via a U.S. Conference of Mayors resolution, working with school superintendents to create a Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, and expanding access to school attendance tools and webinars.


What you can do to help


Yes, there is much that you can do to reduce the problem of and risks from chronic absenteeism, whether on the home front or in your broader community.  Here are five ideas to get you started:
  • Stay on your attendance toes. Sign up for Attendance Awareness Month Updates to be apprised of events and activities you can get involved in to encourage attendance. 
  • Make a difference on Facebook.  Facebook users can download an Attendance Awareness Month Cover Photo.  The photo is exactly the size you need to display it as the cover photo on your Facebook Page as a way to help spread the word about Attendance Awareness Month and show your participation.
  • Learn more by watching!  If you or your children are not likely to find the time for, or interest in, reading the stats and info about school attendance and school absenteeism, check out the 6-minute  Attendance Works video: a well made, informative, and interesting tool to help you and your kids absorb the information you need to make a difference in your family’s or your community’s school attendance.
  • Promote attendance locally at your school, library, town hall, or business by downloading school attendance posters or banners. There are large-sized posters for elementary and separate banners for middle/high school,  good to keep up year-round; the kind that can you get printed at your local Staples or FedEx Kinkos for about $50.  Or you can download and print an 11×17 inch Attendance Month flyer from your own printer – the perfect size for posting throughout the community to raise school attendance awareness.  For the workplace or library, download the attendance infographic, spelling out the facts about chronic absence in the early grades. 
  • Make a difference with your wallet.  Given all the successes of the Attendance Works organization and it’s well articulated plans for the current and future years, consider making a donation to this worthy cause.
If you’re really gung ho on making a difference, get perfect attendance with the Count Us In Toolkit, which includes info on the importance of attendance and chronic absence, ideas for community partners and coalitions, proclamations, press releases, media tools, suggestions for incentives, contests, and events, and more. Better school attendance – this could be the easiest and cheapest way for you to improve your child’s success in school and beyond.


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Celebrate the gift of sight during National Eye Exam Month

August is National Eye Exam Month and it arrives at a significant time of the year—just in time for back to school. While routine eye exams are critical for all individuals, children in particular can benefit from an annual comprehensive eye exam.

Did you know?


According to the Vision Council of America, 48% of parents with children under the age of 12 never take children to an eye doctor
One in four children have eye problems
School performance is directly linked to vision problems. In fact, eye problems in children are a common reason for students not doing well in school. Yet, the problem often goes undetected.

Girl getting fitted for glasses


Who requires a routine eye exam?


In addition to children requiring eye exams on an annual basis, the following guidelines are suggested:

Adults over 50 or with diabetes should have a comprehensive eye exam annually
Adults with no eye symptoms or risk factors, such as past eye problems or a family history of eye disease, should have an eye exam every 2-4 years

Why is a comprehensive eye exam important?


Problems with overall health can be detected   Conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can often be found simply by looking at the eyes.
May prevent eye conditions and save vision Diseases such as glaucoma which, left untreated, may lead to blindness, are important to diagnose early. In addition, early signs of macular degeneration and cataracts may be found.
Poor vision may explain frequent headaches   Correcting vision can help alleviate headaches, eyestrain and squinting.
Determine proper prescription   As eyes change, glasses or contacts are often needed. Or, when corrective devices are already used, they may need to be adjusted.  Over 12 million Americans require some type of vision correction but don’t use any.

What to expect during a routine eye exam:


Review health history with doctor
Have vision checked
Any eye symptoms, pain or distress will be noted; findings will be reviewed
Eyes will be examined, inside and out, using a variety of eye tests
Ways to ensure good eye health, proper eye care and eye precautions will be discussed

Woman at the eye doctor


What type of eye tests will be performed?


Your eye doctor will determine the tests appropriate for you. Below is a sampling of what you might expect:

Visual Tests: Using a series of charts, near and far sight as well as peripheral (side) vision will be checked.
Dilation: Special drops cause the pupil of the eye to expand. This allows the doctor to view certain parts of the eye otherwise difficult to see.
Refraction: The doctor will try a number of different lenses place directly in front of your eyes to determine your prescription for glasses or contacts, if needed.
Slit-Lamp Test: By shining a small beam of light in the eye, the doctor can detect conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration.

A comprehensive eye exam is a painless, important way to ensure healthy eyes for you and your family. For a listing of free eye exam sites for children, visit www.sightforstudents.org or www.infantSEe.org .  In addition, individuals over the age of 65 or those with a family history of eye disease may be eligible to receive a free eye exam through www.eyecareAmerica.com.

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Monday, August 26, 2013

Easing Allergies in Pets

Sneezing, itching and runny eyes—it’s allergy season again. But, you’re not the only one who can suffer from season allergy symptoms; in fact, your family pet can experience many of the same symptoms. However, with the proper diagnosis and treatment, your four-legged friend can enjoy a symptom-free season.


What pets are likely to develop allergies?


In cats, all breeds are susceptible to developing allergies; those exposed to common irritants seems to be at higher risk of developing an allergic reaction.
In dogs, any breed can develop allergies although they are especially common in terriers, setters, retrievers, pugs, bulldogs and Boston terriers.
Genetics play a large role in pets developing common allergies.

Cat on window sill


What are common symptoms of airborne/environmental allergies?


According to www.pets.webmd.com:

1. Itchy, red, moist or scabbed skin
2. Increased scratching
3. Itchy, runny eyes
4. Itchy back or base of tail
5. Itchy ears and ear infections
6. Sneezing
7. Vomiting
8. Diarrhea
9. Paw chewing, swollen or red paws
10. Constant licking

Like their human companions, pets can be allergic to a variety of different irritants. However, the most common allergies include:


Tree, grass and weed pollens
Mold spores
Dust and dust mites
Dander
Feathers
Cigarette smoke
Perfumes
Cleaning products
Fabrics
Rubber and plastic materials

Visit www.aspca.org for additional allergies

Dog at the beach

How to treat airborne/environmental allergies in pets:


Consult with your veterinarian about allergy testing, which can help determine your pet’s allergy.
Cortisone, steroids or allergy shots may be prescribed.
Antihistamines can work, but they’re best if used as a preventative, administered before exposure to an allergen.
Fatty acid supplements added to your pet’s diet may be helpful.
Sprays and shampoos containing oatmeal and aloe may be soothing to your pet’s irritated skin.

Remember, the FamilyWize card gives great discounts, even on pet medication. As long as you have a prescription from a vet, you can fill it at any participating pharmacy and receive a discount on your pet’s medication.


In the case of airborne and allergens, while they usually can’t be completely avoided, exposure can and should be limited. Thoroughly wiping your dog’s paws with a cool towel each time he/she comes in from outside, combined with weekly baths will greatly help to remove allergen residue and minimize exposure to tree, grass or weed allergens. Dust allergy is very common for humans and pets alike. Being diligent about cleaning inside the home and laundering your pet’s bedding can help ease an allergic reaction.

In the case of food allergies, symptoms may include:


Itchy skin
Breathing difficulties
Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea or vomiting

Treating food allergies:


Your vet can test to determine specific food allergy
Or, you can try an elimination diet where suspected foods can be removed from the diet. If symptoms subside, continue to feed your pet a diet free of the irritating food.  However, it can be difficult to determine a food allergy by elimination alone in a pet with several food allergies.

Treating allergies in pets requires time, persistence and patience. Vets recommend that pets in good overall health, with a well-balanced diet and proper exercise, are better able to tackle allergies than those overweight with a poor diet. Allergy symptoms should never be ignored; left untreated, they can lead to secondary bacterial or yeast infections.

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Friday, August 23, 2013

Staycation: Have Fun, Close to Home

Vacation. It's a time to relax, rejuvenate and take a break from the demands of daily life. Some individuals choose to learn new skills, discover different interests and spend quality time with loved ones, according to behavioral health experts www.advantagebehavioral.org. Yet, for many families, summer vacation plans that involve travel might adversely affect the family budget or many not be feasible for a variety of other reasons. A staycation, taking time off for R&R while staying at home, can prove to be a practical, fulfilling answer.

Girl looking at water

How to plan your vacation:


  • Planning a summer vacation and the anticipation that lead up to it are an important part of the fun of time off. It's important to do the same with your staycation.
  • Staying within the family budget, allow each family member to choose at least one activity or outing to participate in.
  • Stick with the plan. Just because you're home doesn't mean you can deviate from the summer vacation ideas.


Staycation ideas:


  • Do something different: For instance, try bowling if your family has never gone before. Summer fairs and festivals offer interesting food options and activities for the entire family, too. Backyard camping is simple, easy and can be great fun for kids of all ages. For additional ideas, check out www.living.msn.com
  • Learn something new: Local craft stores and art studios offer a variety of summer programs. Family members can engage in pottery making, fine art classes or cake decorating for a nominal fee.
  • Get cultured: Local museums and theaters offer a variety of summer programs to enjoy, often at discounted rates.
  • Get wet: If the family budget allows, splurge on a local water park for the day. Or, turn your backyard into a mini water park to enjoy the entire summer. Water slides, sprinklers and water pistols offer great entertainment for hours on end.


Helpful hints for your staycation:


  • Treat the time as you would a vacation away from home. Abstain from checking email or work voicemail and avoid engaging in housecleaning and laundry. Really focus on breaking out of your normal routine at home.
  • Unless it's part of your vacation idea, don't plan house projects or any other task that equates to work or reminds you that you're home.
  • Take pictures just as you would on a vacation away from home. Documenting memories is an important part of getting the most out of your staycation. 


Benefits of a staycation:


Aside from helping to stay within the family budget by eliminating hotel and transportation costs, there are other benefits to a staycation. For instance:

  1. Sleeping better in your own bed
  2. Eliminating the stress of preparing for vacation
  3. Finally getting to explore the local sights often overlooked
  4. Saving money on vacation costs might allow splurging on more expensive restaurants or activities than normal
  5. Enjoying your own home and its amenities-- a pool, a great collection of movies, beautiful landscaping
With a little planning and input from your entire family, this year you can turn your holiday at home into your best vacation idea yet.

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Life's a Peach, but Is It Ripe?

August is Peach month! So to honor this month celebrating the deliciously tart & tangy peach, let’s take a look at how to pick and enjoy seasonal fruits.

Grocery stores are currently stocked up on melons, peaches, tangerines, and plums. Apples have taken a backseat to the brightly colored finds of deep summer. So how do you pick the best peach? How about a good melon?

There are a few things to consider. How quickly do you anticipate eating your fruit? Do you need it to keep for a few days? Are you going to be eating them throughout the week? You may want to choose a few ripe fruits for the next couple of days, and a couple of fruits that need to ripen for later in the week.

When choosing a fruit, use these tips to choose a fruit that is ripe:

Take the fruit in your hand and gently palpate the skin.  

Fruit
Ripe – eat today
Almost Ripe – eat in 2-3 days
Need to ripen – eat in 3-5 days
Peach & Tangerine
When you press the skin, it gives in easily without tearing
Feels firm, but yields a bit
Hard to semi-hard
Melons
Smells fruity; feels heavier than it looks, as though filled with water
Smells faintly fruity; a bit heavy
No scent; feels solid and dry
Pineapple
Can be a bit green, with a strong pineapple smell
Also can be a bit a bit green, with faint aroma
Very green, no scent
Plums
When you press the skin, it gives in easily without tearing
Feels firm, but yields a bit
Hard to semi-hard
Strawberries
Bright red, smell fruity, soft to touch without being mushy
Medium to bright red, light smell
Soft red shade, no scent, firm to touch
Raspberries
Bright color, smell fruity, soft to touch without being mushy
Medium to bright color, light smell
Lighter color, little scent, firm to touch
Avocado (remove the stem bud and look beneath it)
Bright yellow under the stem bud; soft in hand, but not mush (if mushy, check stem bud – discard if dark or moldy underneath)
Bright yellow under the stem bud; firm in hand, with very little yield when pressed
Bright yellow or green under stem bud; hard in hand, like a rock
Plantains (when using for a dessert/sweet application)
Blackened skin, strong banana scent
Starting to blacken; light scent
Yellow skin, similar to banana in color; no scent
Tomato
When you press the skin, it gives in easily without tearing
Feels firm, but yields a bit
Hard to semi-hard

A few basics for the novice shopper in the fresh foods aisle. 
  • Most foods are going to be best when they smell as you expect. Melons should smell like melons. Lettuce should smell like lettuce. So don’t be afraid to use your sniffer! 
  • If you see black spots or discoloration, for most foods (with the exception of plantains!) that’s not a good sign. Foods like lychees, berries, and mushrooms can easily grow mold as they are moist. So beware, as while you can pick the moldy parts off and still use them, they won’t last long.
  • If a food feels mushy, that’s typically a sign to skip it and find a fresher one. And if the food smells fermented, it’s most likely overripe.
  • Few fresh foods will last more than a week. If you are buying organic, expect that your fruit and vegetables will last only a few days at the most. Many foods can be frozen, and fruits are no exception. If you fear that your fruits will not get eaten fast enough, rinse and dry them thoroughly. Then pack them into a freezer safe bag or container, put a date on the lid, and pop them in the freezer. They can be used either as a refreshing frozen treat, or added to recipes like ice cream or cakes. Typically, fruits turn to mush when you defrost them, so I wouldn’t plan on eating them defrosted.

Bowl of peaches


Lastly, I leave you with one of my favorite ways to enjoy a ripe peach that is just about ready to be a bit too ripe: slice into bite-size pieces, plop them in a bowl, and pour over top some full-fat coconut milk, or heavy cream. I sweeten my coconut milk or heavy cream with a few drops of vanilla stevia. It’s delicious and very satisfying, not to mention, healthy!

I’d love to hear more tips on how to make the most out of seasonal fruits and vegetables, so let us know down below if there’s some tried and true rules you use for your own shopping.

Contributing Writer

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Honey Heresy–How Honey Producers Are Ripping You Off

Other than the clarity or purity of the honey, is there any real difference between the main brand honeys you find in major grocery or pharmacy stores and the “unfiltered” style of honey that you might buy at a farmer’s market?  Apparently, lots. 

As you might guess, one difference is the spoon-for-spoon health value.  But new research has revealed some murky politics going on in honey imports that not only threatens the finances of U.S. beekeepers but may also endanger your health.  August 17 is National Honey Bee Day – the right time to learn more about this problem and to increase your knowledge on the different kinds of honey.


Is all honey alike?


There are differences you should be aware of when choosing honey.  Here are the main types of honey and what you should know about each.

Whole comb honey
Whole-comb honey and raw, unfiltered honey
Whole-comb honey and raw honey are about as close as you can get to buying honey in its natural state. 
  • Whole-comb honey is not just the honey but also the honeycomb from the bee hive which it came.  If you want your honey completely unprocessed, buy it this way. 
  • Raw, unfiltered honey is the kind of honey you often find at a local farmer’s market or possibly in a heath food store. It’s out of the comb and into a jar, but is still raw (not heated or treated).
Many of the benefits of buying honey in the comb are the same as the benefits of buying raw honey.  With either:
  • Being raw, these kinds of honey still contain live nutrients and the maximum amount of vitamins in their most natural state.
  • Expect a healthy dose of potassium, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc.
  • Heal a wound with raw honey.  Honey can kill microbes and dry up a wound.
Any downsides or risks with raw honey or honeycomb? A couple, yes. 
  • First, if you and your children are used to the purified style of honey, such as those you find in a plastic honeybee-shaped squeeze bottle, it may take some mental adjusting to buying honey that has been unfiltered, as it will appear cloudy and often with specs in it. 
  • If you can get past the cloudiness, the other downside of raw honey is the possibility of Clostridium botulinum spores.  The risks are minute, but substantial enough for infants under 12 months that the CDC recommends against giving them raw honey (in fact, infants under 12 months should avoid all foods containing honey).  Once a child’s digestive tract has matured beyond the first 12 months, their systems are able to prevent botulism spores from growing.
Raw unfiltered honeyIf you buy either form of raw honey, in the comb or in a jar, you can benefit even more by buying it from a local beekeeper.  Raw honey contains pollens from your area that, when introduced to your system gradually through honey consumption, can help you build up protective tolerances against plant allergens.
Filtered honey
Filtered honey is a bit more refined than raw honey, as it has been heated beyond the point where it can be called raw.  The heating is done to enable filtering of small particles or impurities.  The vitamin content and healthy pollens remain essentially intact.  Being filtered, this honey is more pure and a bit cleaner.
The main downside to filtered honey is that, because of the heating process, filtered honey will no longer contain any live  nutrients.
Pure honey or liquid honey
Pure honey is by far the predominant kind of honey sold in the U.S..  If you get a honey packet at a restaurant, or buy honey in a plastic bee-shaped container, odds are that you’re consuming pure honey.  Advantages:
  • Pure honey is usually a lighter color and flavor.
  • Pure honey is more crystallization-resistant than raw honey or filtered honey.
  • Pure honey stores longer than other kinds of honey.
  • Because pure honey has been heated to high temperatures, it is the type of honey least likely to contain any microorganisms.
While all that purity sounds like a good thing, it often is the result of ultra-filtering.  If honey is ultra-filtered, then what you’re getting is not real honey, as defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  According to FDA standards, honey must contain pollen to be considered honey.  But any bee product that has been ultra-filtered will no longer contain pollen. 

Pure liquid honey

One problem with honey that has been ultra-filtered is that most of the nutrients have been cooked out. But the biggest problem is that, with the pollens removed from the honey, it is no longer possible to identify where the honey came from.  The source is important to know for two reasons:
  • China has a glut of honey and has been dumping its honey surplus on the world market, which results in severe undercutting of honey prices, effectively pricing American beekeepers out of the honey market.
  • The health standards for honey production in other countries – most notably China – are much less stringent.  Thus, any of these unregulated and untested pure honeys may contain harmful substances, such as antibiotics and heavy metals.
You can read up on the honey ultra-processing downsides and risks at NPR.org, Huffington Post, or FoodSafetyNews.com.
Spun honey
Spun honey, also known as crystallized honey, has had some of the honey’s moisture content removed, turning it from a liquid into creamy paste.  It is popular with those who like to spread honey on bread or toast.  It’s biggest disadvantage is that it is even more processed than pure honey, which means that the vitamin content is likely gone.


Celebrate National Honey Bee Day


If you like honey as much as most Americans, you can still make plans for the 2013 National Honey Day.  Spread the honey, yes, and even spread the word about National Honey Bee Day with a National Honey Bee Day Bumper Sticker.  Make the day fun for the whole family with this music video about honey bees
Have a honey of day!


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer



Friday, August 16, 2013

Honeybees–An Endangered Species?

August is a honey of a month, not only because it’s the last month of the summer break for most school kids – and its departing will be such sweet sorrow – but because August 17 is National Honey Bee Day.  We’re celebrating the bee in a big way with a week of articles and info on honey bees and the wonderful, healthful bee products we can add to our diets, such as honey, bee pollen, and royal jelly.  In this article, we focus on the plight of the honey bee – a hot topic due to the sharp decline in bee colonies in the last couple of years that has endangered the American and even worldwide food supply.

Bee on flower

Colony Collapse Disorder – What happened


Roughly seven years ago, the massive dying off of honeybee colonies sent alarm through the American beekeeper community as they reported huge declines in the number of bees.  Countrywide, the beekeepers were reporting losses were from 30 percent to as much as 90 percent.  While bee colony declines have occurred previously in US history, nothing of this scale had ever taken place before.

Government estimates show the decline of managed honey bee colonies as half today the number of colonies in the 1940s, even as the demand for honeybee products has increased over the years.


Why the honey bee colony decline spells disaster


Left unchecked, a honeybee colony collapse of this magnitude threatens the survival of many crops, those that rely on honeybee pollenization to bear fruit.  According to the Agricultural Research Service, USDA’s internal research agency, bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year. 

But the loss is not just economic; a third of the food in the American diet is made possible through honey bee pollination. Many foods that can only exist with the assistance of bee pollination, such as:
  • Almonds and other tree nuts
  • Berries
  • Most fruits
  • Most vegetables
The loss is even greater though because many forms of livestock are dependent on grazing or grain-feeding of grasses and similar plants that rely on the honeybee.  For example, cattle are often fed alfalfa, but alfalfa requires bee pollination.  When you consider the related connections such as these, estimates on the number of foods we eat that are influenced by honeybee pollenization are as high as 90 percent!

Swarm of bees


What is causing the decline in bee colonies


Scientists have not yet been able to identify conclusively a single cause of the honeybee colony decline. However, research is moving ever closer, and indicators are that the collapse of colonies appears to be the result of numerous factors – a perfect storm of environmental stresses. These include the presence of parasites, pathogens, pesticides, and fungicides in the honeybees’ environment. They add up to conditions of environmental stress that affect the habits of the honeybee, ultimately disrupting their social system and making their colonies more susceptible to disease.


What can be done to save honeybee colonies


There are many efforts underway to give honeybee colonies a better chance for survival and, hopefully, a chance to thrive.
  • Along with their regular crops, farmers are being encouraged to grow groundcover plants that are considered bee-friendly, such as buckwheat, mustard, and sweet clover.
  • Almond growers in particular are being advised to grow groundcover plants along canal banks and roadways. Almonds are highly dependent on the honeybee, and such groundcover planting keeps the honeybees active and healthy during those times when the almond crops have not yet begun to flower.
  • Research continues on many fronts, including several studies by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, to better identify causes and, if necessary, outlaw the use of those pesticides or fungicides in farming that appear to play a significant part in the honeybee colony decline.
Can you make a difference? Yes! You don't have to be a farmer to make the world a safer place for the honeybee; there are actions that you, the common consumer, can do to help to make National Honey Bee Day more meaningful for you and your family:
  • Avoid indiscriminate use of pesticides.
  • Particularly avoid using pesticides in the middle of the day, as that is when honey bees do most of their nectar-foraging.
  • Seed your property with foxglove, the Palm, red clover, and other plants that encourage bee pollenization.
  • Consider becoming a backyard beekeeper.

Bee keeper

For more information about honeybee decline and steps that you can take (and that are being taken) to reverse the decline, visit NAPPC, the website of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, or see the PBS page How You Can Help the Bees

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer