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