every dog has a giftAny pet owner knows that spending time with their pets can be a big source of stress relief. Cuddling my cats – and of course I have cats, I’m a librarian! – always makes me feel better, no matter what the problem. It’s not just their calming presence when they sit nearby and let me pet them, I’ve heard that a cat’s purr hits a frequency that can aid in healing. Their furry company is comforting, whether the healing bit is true or not, and I’m glad to say I’m not the only person that holds that opinion.

When it comes to man’s best friend, the ever-loving dog, it’s not surprising that there are a plethora of books to choose from concerning how dogs have helped people. There’s You Had Me At Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness, Love At First Bark: How Saving an Animal Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself, Every Dog Has a Gift: True Stories of Dogs Who Bring Hope and Healing Into Our Lives, A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home: Lessons In The Good Life From an Unlikely Teacher, and The Possibility Dogs: What a Handful of Unadoptables Taught Me About Service, Hope, and Healing. Plus loads more! Dog people just can’t help writing about the awesomeness of their furry friends. Of course I jest! Despite being a cat person now, I grew up with a great big dog who was a vital companion for me through my high school years, so I get it. Those lovable, loyal, attentive creatures give their everything, and seem to often bring out the best in their owners (as evidenced by all those titles I mentioned). Dogs in particular can perform animal therapy by visiting patients in a hospital or by being a friendly, nonjudgmental audience for struggling readers as in HCLS’s A+ signature initiative Dogs Educating & Assisting Readers (DEAR).

saved rescued animalsDon’t worry, I didn’t forget about cats. Although not as popular a topic as dogs, there is still Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat about a cat providing comfort and companionship to patients of a hospice when their time is about to come to an end, Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life With a Blind Wonder Cat, and A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life. While most of the pets and animals written about are the most common, cats and dogs, there are still stories like Saving Simon: How a Rescue Donkey Taught Me the Meaning of Compassion or Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They Transform which includes many dogs, some cats, horses, birds, turtles, and even a rescued deer.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m gonna go hug my cat and tell her she’s done a good job.

Jessica Seipel is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She has worked for the Howard County Library System, in various positions, since 2003. When not at work, she spends her time reading science fiction and comics, visiting local breweries, watching horror movies, and playing video games.

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Before deep brain stimulation, Howard County resident Andrea Freeman suffered from Parkinson’s disease. “I could barely walk…trips to the mall with my daughters were filled with worry that I wouldn’t get back to the car. I was totally hopeless.” Now she’s back to hiking and biking again, completing a 20-mile ride this past spring.

Deep brain stimulation gives Howard County resident new life after Parkinson’s diagnosis

In 2005, at age 34, Andrea Freeman, a longtime Howard County resident, found herself off-balance –literally. An avid hiker, she began tripping and falling frequently. She went from feeling energetic and active with her family to a state of utter exhaustion. Her most strange symptom was a slight shake in her little finger.

“For four years I sought answers and was tested for fibromyalgia and Lyme disease among other conditions and diseases,” recalls Andrea. “But the doctors couldn’t determine what was causing these strange symptoms in someone so young.”

Throughout those four years, Andrea continued to deteriorate. Andrea remembers “shaking a lot and dragging my right leg. My right arm and hand were rigid and stuck, and I started having a blank look on my face. “

In 2009, she started seeing Howard County General Hospital neurologist Joseph Savitt, M.D. who finally gave Andrea the answer she was looking for—a diagnosis: Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Savitt started Andrea on a regimen of medications. “Many of the medicines had side effects that you take different medicines to counteract,” says Andrea. “I would get dyskinesia (twisting of my limbs) but at least I wasn’t shaking. Holding a job was no longer possible.”

By 2014, Andrea found herself withdrawn and overwhelmed by her symptoms. “I couldn’t take any more medicine—it made me tired, and I was already chronically exhausted but I couldn’t sleep,” she remembers. “I could barely walk—my leg would twist—and I would fall a lot. I would go for a walk in the woods and panic I wouldn’t get out. Trips to the mall with my daughters were filled with worry that I wouldn’t get back to the car. I was totally hopeless. I had reached the point that nothing else could be done for me except deep brain stimulation.”

Andrea began the process of being evaluated and was approved as a candidate for the surgery.

According to The Johns Hopkins Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) Center, DBS is an FDA-approved neurosurgical procedure where electrodes are implanted in the brain to send mild electrical signals to the area that controls movement. These electrodes are connected to a stimulator (implantable pulse generator) that is implanted under the collar bone, similar to a pace maker.

“In November of 2014, my brain was turned back on,” says Andrea. “I am so grateful that I have my life back. I can cook, rollover in bed and smile again. I can put my feet on the ground, get out of bed and dress myself. The rigidity released immediately in my arm. It was like a switch was turned on. I am still building back my muscle, but this winter I did a six-mile hike up a mountain in Western Maryland. In the spring, I completed a 20-mile bike ride—it was hard and I went slowly—but I did it.

“You just can’t imagine the things that I couldn’t do that were simple tasks and the ability to be able to do those again—I can’t put into words. Not being able to work was the worst feeling. I was literally wasting away mentally, emotionally and physically. Now I am back at work full-time and have a purpose again. I start every day with complete gratitude.”

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Scalendar_2015_blogaturday, July 25, 2:00 p.m. I’m Going to Be a Big Brother or Sister at Central Branch. Prepare for the arrival of a baby in this class for new siblings. Enjoy stories, activities, and bring a favorite doll or stuffed animal to practice holding your baby. Resources for parents, too. Families; 30 – 45 min. Ticket required. In partnership with Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Well & Wise event. Limited space; tickets available at Children’s Desk 15 minutes before class.

Monday, July 27, 7:00 p.m. Ask A Master Gardener at Miller Branch. Discuss gardening questions. University of Maryland Extension – Howard County Master Gardeners.

Wednesday, Aug. 5. $40. Dietary Counseling appointments. Meet with a registererd dietician one-on-one. Discuss goals, concerns, weight loss, healthier bones, blood pressure, cholesteral and diet health. Held in the Howard County General Hospital Wellness Center.

Thursday, Aug. 6, 5:30-9 p.m. $55. Adult, Child and Infant CPR/AED will teach you the skills needed to clear an airway obstruction, perform CPR and how to use an AED. At the successful completion of this course, you will earn a two-year American Heart Association completion card. The class is in the Howard County General Hospital Wellness Center.

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There are myriad classes and activities for the young on everything you can imagine. It is easy to find a children’s soccer, tumbling, ballet, art, gaming, or music class, and the list goes on. It is much more difficult for adults to explore an interest or talent. If you are still in the workplace, there are opportunities for training and social interaction, but those opportunities may not always tap your creative potential.

Now is the time to liberate your creativity even if you think you’re not one of those people. Engaging in arts and crafts and other creative projects can have a positive impact on your health. Dr. Gene Cohen was a pioneer and one of the world’s experts in gerontology. In studies of aging people and in Dr. Cohen’s own work, four aspects of creativity stood out: Creative activity strengthens our morale later in life, contributes to physical health as we age, enriches relationships, and is our greatest legacy. You can read more about Dr. Cohen’s work here.

Creative potential is there and alive in all of us. Your creativity is only limited by your own imagination. You can paint, draw, sing, write or do whatever sparks your interest. It does not matter if your project comes out less than perfect. Enjoy it, be creative and have fun. Collaborative creativity allows you to share your ideas and experience in a social setting.

Howard County Library System (HCLS) offers a variety of classes to spark your creativity potential, including Pins and Needles, Crafty Readers, Writer’s Group, and Hands-On, Off Camera Flash Photography workshop. No prior artistic experience is required. One of the classes offered by the library at the Miller Branch on the second Monday of every month is Calming Crafts. Lynn, one of the class’s instructors, said one of the reasons she started the class was because “doing simple crafts can help keep you in “the moment” and some your worries dissipate.” Ann, the other instructor, is the library’s Enchanted Garden Coordinator, so when weather permits, the class is held in the garden. Past projects have included finger knitting, pinch pots, leaf rubbings, card making, and rock painting. During the last two weeks in July some of the class projects will be on display at Miller Branch.

Whatever your age, circumstances, talents or skills, it is never too late to try something new. American folk artist, Grandma Moses, did not launch her painting career until she was 78! Playwright George Bernard Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925, at the age of sixty-nine. Shaw was still working on a comedy when he died at the age of ninety-four! What will you do?

Nancy Targett is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She lives in Columbia and is the proud mom of three boys and a girl and a Siamese cat.

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It’s summertime which means cookout season is in full swing! Whether you are hosting or attending a cookout, it is always difficult to stick to your diet or a healthy eating plan with all the delicious temptations surrounding you. Just keep in mind there are a variety of alternatives to add a healthier menu to your cookout which go beyond the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers!

Healthy tips for your next cookout:


  • Ditch the Chips – Substitute potato chips and French onion dip for raw veggies accompanied by hummus, salsa or guacamole. These snacks are not only better for you, they taste great and keep you full! Still crave that crunch? Try kale chips or a pickle! [© Jenifoto406 | Dreamstime.com]
  • Grill Outside the Box – Trade your regular ground beef burger for a lean meat such as chicken, sirloin, fish, pork or skinless turkey breast. Other popular, tasty options are salmon (or any fish!), black bean, portobello or veggie burgers. Don’t limit yourself to meat. Pineapple, peaches and vegetables are great grillers, too! Or fill a skewer with mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, squash and tomatoes. [© stockcreations | Dreamstime.com]
  • Talking Turkey (Dogs) – Switch your regular frank for a turkey dog to get that great hot dog flavor at a fraction of the calories and fat. If you are on a reduced sodium diet, read the label. [© Trudywilkerson | Dreamstime.com]
  • Calorie Counting – Using 100 percent whole grain sandwich thins is an easy way to cut down the calories. Go even lighter by ditching the bun altogether or prepare meat that doesn't require a bun. You can also say no to mayo in your salads by using a lighter alternative such as Greek yogurt or vinegar. [© Cardiae | Dreamstime.com]
  • Be Fruitful – Dessert doesn’t have to be a sugary sweet. Replace cookies and cakes with a naturally sweet fruit or fruit salad. [© Photodeti | Dreamstime.com]
  • Sweet Drinks – Trade your sugary beverages for water and add flavor by infusing with lemons, fresh strawberries or other fruit, mint, ginger or cucumbers! Low sugar lemonade or teas are also great options. [© Evgenyb | Dreamstime.com]

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Friday, July 17, 10:00 a.m. Infectious Disease Academy at Savage Branch. Learn about infectious diseases, how they are spread, and how disease detectives work to find and stop their spread using medical technology and nanotechnology. Participate in mock disease outbreaks around the globe to learn to identify and handle some of the most dangerous diseases, select the right medical or nanotechnology methods, and develop a communication pack to let others know. Register for all ten sessions. Registration required. Ages 11-18. Register online or by calling 410-313-0760.

Friday, July 17, 2:00 p.m. Carver Science at Savage Branch. Join us in exploring the life and accomplishments of George Washington Carver, a celebrated botanist, agronomist, chemist, biochemical engineer, and inventor. Re-explore and test his experiments. Register for all five sessions. Registration required. Ages 11-18. Register online or by calling 410-313-0760.

Saturday, July 18, 2:00 p.m. Crocodile Encounters at Savage Branch. Meet the Author: Dr. Brady BarrFollow along with National Geographic explorer Dr. Brady Barr as he recounts his adventures, such as coming face to face with 13 crocodiles! ReadCrocodile Encounters to discover what happens when you put a 600-lb crocodile on an airplane in a flimsy wooden crate. Meet a real crocodile! Supervised contact with a crocodile or alligator may occur. Books available for purchase and signing. Families; 30 – 60 min. Register online or by calling 410-313-0760.

Monday, July 20, 3:30 pm – 5:30 pm. Blood Pressure Screening at Glenwood Branch. Free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring offered by Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Well & Wise event.

Monday, July 20, 5:30-7 p.m. Free. Weight Loss through Bariatric Surgery presentation about surgical weight loss options available through the Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery. Hear program requirements and how to navigate the insurance approval process. Call 410-550-5669 or visit us online. Held in Howard County General Hospital’s Wellness Center.

Monday, July 20, 7:00 p.m. Compost Demonstrations at Miller Branch. Master Gardeners discuss and demonstrate composting on a drop-in basis. Free bins provided for Howard County residents. 7 – 8:30 pm. University of Maryland Extension – Howard County Master Gardeners.

Tuesday, July 21, 5:30-9 p.m. $55. Adult, Child and Infant CPR/AED will teach you the skills needed to clear an airway obstruction, perform CPR and how to use an AED. At the successful completion of this course, you will earn a two-year American Heart Association completion card. Located in the Howard County General Hospital Wellness Center.

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leaflets three let it beWhen I was ten years old, I got two unforgettable cases of poison ivy. A nature girl, I spent spare time out of doors, digging in the dirt, and climbing trees and fences. In the spring of that year, I was digging a hole (purpose, unknown) and found some pesky roots in the way. In pulling up the poison ivy roots, I released urushiol oil all over my hands and next day, my hands were covered with huge weeping blisters. I missed a week of school, as the medication of choice at that time was calamine lotion, which was totally ineffective. That winter, I left a Christmas party to hike and climbed a vine-covered fence. In climbing the fence, I again exposed my hands to urushiol, and missed another week of school with the misery and pain of poison ivy. Because at least 75% of people react to poison ivy, you might know what I’m talking about.

I took these experiences as a personal affront, and swore a vendetta on this innocent plant. Its urushiol oil covering conserves moisture in hot Maryland summers, and is not a defensive measure. Its green leaves are commonly enjoyed by wildlife such as deer and bears, and birds relish the seeds in the fall. In fact, birds which consume the seeds are responsible for the sudden appearance of the plant in your back yard.

Because the plant flourishes where light is prolific in the forest edges, not in the shade, more poison ivy grows in Maryland in 2015 than before the European colonists cleared the trees. And we may be seeing more of it in the future. A Marine Biological Laboratory study found that the plant is highly sensitive to greater carbon dioxide levels. With climate change bringing rising CO2 levels, poison ivy will enjoy an ideal growing environment.

poison oak poison ivyDepending on the severity of the rash and the location on your body, a case of poison ivy rash can make people a little itchy or endanger their health. Calamine cream may help minor rashes. Medical help should be sought for heavy rashes, swelling (especially on the face and genitals), or breathing problems. Strong medications and even hospitalization may be necessary.

Prevention always beats treatment. Learn (and teach your kids) what how to avoid skin contact with urushiol-covered plants. The American Academy of Dermatology’s website includes excellent photographs of poison ivy, oak, and sumac, all of which produce urushiol.

Wear clothes with long sleeves & long pants when you spend time in the woods or in the garden, removing and washing the clothes after use. After suspected exposure (gardening, walks in the woods), immediately wash a soap or cream such as Tecnu or Zanfel to remove the urushiol. If your pet has run through poison ivy, she won’t get a rash- but she can bring the rash to you, so wash her, too.

Jean has been working at Howard County Library System’s Central Branch for nearly nine years. She walks in the Benjamin Banneker Park whenever she gets a chance.

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