February is American Heart Month. President Obama stated in his proclamation, “Every person can take steps to reduce the risk factors associated with heart disease in themselves and in those they care about –whether as parents, caretakers, or friends—by encouraging healthy eating, physical activity, and by discouraging the use of tobacco.”

go freshOne of the ways to keep your heart healthy is to eat well. Howard County Library System has an extensive collection of cookbooks to help you get started. Go Fresh: A Heart-Healthy Cookbook with Shopping and Storage Tips is one of the cookbooks in a series by the American Heart Association. What I liked best about this cookbook is that most of the ingredients cited I have on hand in my kitchen or I know I can find easily in the grocery store. This cookbook includes in an appendix a list of the approximate equivalents in weight and volume for the most common vegetables and fruits. Also included in the appendices, are vegetable cooking times and a food storage guide. I learned it is best to store fresh herbs, such as parsley, dill, and cilantro, in the refrigerator in a juice glass half-filled with water and, covered loosely with plastic. Now let’s get to the recipes, which by the way, include desserts! My boys liked the Peppered Sirloin with Steakhouse Onions (p.167) and I liked the Ancho Chicken and Black Bean Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing (p.96). We are going to try the Buffalo Chicken with Slaw (p.147) next. I think I can even convince them to try one of the vegetarian entrées, especially if we can have Soft-Serve Blueberry-Cinnamon Ice Cream (p. 297) for dessert! Visit the library to find more cookbooks from the American Heart Association, including titles on slow cooking, reducing sodium, and reducing bad fats.

secrets of healthy cookingI also recommend Barbara Seelig-Brown’s Secrets of Healthy Cooking: A Guide to Simplifying the Art of Heart Healthy and Diabetic Cooking published by the American Diabetes Association. This cookbook is great for the new cook because it includes sections on building a pantry for healthy cooking, an essential equipment list, a kitchen glossary, how to read a recipe, and the must-know basic wine pairing. I found the fish know-how section very helpful. I am not a fan of seafood, so I liked the tip “…if you don’t like fish, then disguising it with strong flavors is for you.” There are colorful pictures throughout the book that illustrate step-by-step how to, for example, cook in parchment, steam shrimp, peal and chop garlic, cut a mango, cook with wine, make pizza/calzone dough, or a phyllo pie crust. My favorite recipes were the salad pizza (p. 28) and the crunchy quinoa stuffed zucchini (p. 99). The next time my kids are all home I might just feel brave enough to try the lemon garlic shrimp on a cucumber flower (p. 82). What I liked about this cookbook is that it is perfect for both the beginner cook and the experienced cook.

Healthy eating and cooking can make a difference in improving your cardiovascular health. Some of the foods that are heart-healthy include fish high in omega-3s, such as salmon and tuna, healthy nuts such as almonds or walnuts, berries, such as blueberries and strawberries, dark beans, such as kidney or black beans, and red, yellow, and orange veggies. You can find more information on heart healthy foods at  Johns Hopkins Medicine. This month when you’re shopping for your valentine, remember that your loved ones need you to take care of the most important heart of all, your own. After looking at these cookbooks in your local library, you might just be inspired to cook a healthy-heart meal instead of making that reservation.

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.

read more

Like ham and eggs or sunshine and summer, with winter comes snow and shoveling the white stuff. Snow shoveling can be a good source of aerobic exercise, but it doesn’t come without risks. Improper shoveling can cause injuries to your back and shoulders. And the American Heart Association says the risk of heart attack can increase while shoveling since cold temperatures and physical labor make the heart work harder. This may be partially due to the sudden demands that snow shoveling puts on the heart, especially for those who live a fairly sedentary lifestyle.

Take note: if you are at risk for heart attack, you need to take special precautions. The National Safety Council and the National Institutes of Health recommend the following tips for safe snow shoveling:


  • snow shoveling tips
    [Credit: pavelgr/Thinkstock] Protect your heart if at risk for a heart attack: you recently had one and/or coronary stents, heart disease history, high blood pressure or cholesterol, smoker, sedentary lifestyle. Get your doctor’s permission beforehand. Take frequent breaks and pace yourself.
  • snow shoveling tips
    [© Robeo | Dreamstime.com] Call 911 if you have: chest tightness or pain, pain in your jaw or pain radiating down your arm. Experts recommend calling an ambulance versus driving to the hospital. Specially-trained emergency teams can assess your condition, stabilize you and activate a treatment team.
  • snow shoveling tips
    [© Dolgachov | Dreamstime.com] Avoid injury while shoveling. Don’t lift too much snow, use a smaller shovel or partially fill a larger one. Bend from the knees with a straight back and sit into the motion; avoid twisting movements. Listen to your body and stop if you feel pain.
  • snow shoveling tips
    [© Eurobanks | Dreamstime.com] Shovel snow when it’s fresh. It’s easier to move than when it’s wet and packed. Push the snow rather than always lifting.
  • snow shoveling tips
    [© Maszas| Dreamstime.com] Ears, nose, hands and feet need extra protection and are at risk for frostbite after as little as 10 minutes in sub-freezing temperatures. Dress in layers that can be removed as needed. Protect your face, since cold air makes working and breathing harder and adds strain on your body.
  • snow shoveling tips
    [© Ocusfocus| Dreamstime.com] Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is as serious in the winter as in the summer. Also, avoid eating before you shovel.
  • snow shoveling tips
    [© Scukrov | Dreamstime.com] Avoid caffeine and nicotine as they are stimulants that can increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict, putting extra stress on the heart. Too much caffeine, alcohol or sugary drinks can all cause dehydration.
  • snow shoveling tips
    [© Pojoslaw| Dreamstime.com] Warm up before you start by marching in place or walking for a few minutes. Stretch your arm and leg muscles after you’ve warmed up. Warm muscles are less likely to be injured.

read more

compassionate self disciplineRemember January 1st, the fresh new year spread out before you, brimming with heady promises and possibilities of a newer, sleeker, much improved version of yourself? You tried to convince yourself you’d stay on track. Deep down you knew that your faith in the efficacy of these lofty resolutions flew in the face of factual evidence from previous years when nary a resolution had been kept. Those past years’ resolutions were long forgotten, not even worthy of another Auld Lang Syne. No, you had not changed. Alas, you were and still are imperfect.

Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Isn’t this what we do every year when we jump on the resolutions bandwagon proclaiming that THIS will be the year the resolutions will finally stick and we will achieve perfection?

News Flash: There ain’t no perfect people, people!

Soon, January will be a distant memory. Was it really only a few weeks ago that you vowed to make a total life transformation by means of a numbered list called “My New Year’s Resolutions”? Yet, only last night you found yourself sprawled lazily on the couch, staring woefully into your pint of Half Baked FroYo, berating yourself for failing at yet another vague, perfunctory set of annual to-do’s, only days into what you are now certain will turn out be an annus horribilis. Well, join the club! Broken resolutions are cliché, but then again you knew that.

Don’t be so hard on yourself, please. If resolutions actually worked, we would not feel compelled to keep making the same ones over and over each year.

To be sure, I am not saying that setting goals is not a good thing, or that we should not strive to be the best and healthiest individuals that we can be. All of us who enjoy this blog know how very important good health is. As the old saying goes, good health truly is your wealth. Anyone who has navigated through a major health crisis can tell you just how true that adage really is.

joy in simpleWhat I am proposing is that instead of making big yearly pronouncements (inevitably forgotten faster than you can say Jack Robinson), let’s make it our goal to embrace small, daily acts of self-care that build upon each other to create a chain of healthy, long-lasting habits with real staying power.

You can make a fresh start every day of your life. I find this idea to be so freeing because mistakes happen. Back-tracking happens. Reverting to the old comfortable ways happens. Yet, every morning you can wake up to a fresh start with a clean slate. You can choose the healthy options that work for you, whether that looks like more servings of fruits and vegetables, more physical activity, or more time devoted to cultivating that certain joie de vivre. Thank goodness, there’s no need to wait until next year to start anew. You don’t even need to wait until morning to hit that reset button. Get going now!

By developing this mind set, you will learn to be more forgiving of yourself and you will learn to celebrate simple successes. Focus on the small scale, achievable, healthy lifestyle choices on a daily basis, and the big results will take care of themselves.

So, won’t you join me in making a no-more-New-Year’s-resolutions resolution?  You may just find 2016 turns out to be your annus mirabilis after all.

Andrea L. Dowling has been with HCLS since 2006, and is currently an Assistant Customer Service Supervisor at the HCLS East Columbia Branch. Andrea’s interests include genealogy, travel, reading banned books, and collecting vintage cook books.


read more

heartburn, GERD

[© Atholpady | Dreamstime.com] Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid or its contents flow back and irritate your esophagus lining. Over time, the inflammation can cause complications. Healthy lifestyle choices (like avoiding tight clothing and eating smaller meals) can make a big difference in your symptoms.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux disease is a chronic digestive disease that occurs when stomach acid or other stomach contents flow back into the esophagus irritating the lining. Over time, the inflammation can wear away the esophageal lining, causing complications such as bleeding, esophageal narrowing or Barrett’s esophagus (a precancerous condition).

What are common causes?
Causes include an abnormal weakness or relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter — a circular band of muscle around the bottom part of your esophagus that allows food and liquid to flow into your stomach — or structural problems, e.g., hiatal hernia, which weaken the mechanism that prevents acid reflux into the esophagus.

What are signs and symptoms?
Symptoms vary and include:

  • Burning in the chest, throat or upper abdomen (heartburn)
  • Acid reflux into the throat causing voice hoarseness, cough, throat irritation; and/or angina or chest pain

How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor may be able to diagnose GERD based on frequent heartburn and other symptoms. Other tests include pH testing, endoscopy and X-rays of the upper digestive tract.

What sort of lifestyle changes can help?
Maintain a healthy weight.
Excess pounds put pressure on your abdomen, pushing up your stomach and causing acid to back up into your esophagus. If you are at a healthy weight, maintain it. If you are overweight or obese, work to slowly lose weight.

Avoid tight-fitting clothing. This puts pressure on your abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter.

Avoid food and drink triggers. Everyone has specific triggers. Common triggers such as fatty or fried foods, tomato sauce, alcohol, chocolate, mint, garlic, onion and caffeine may make heartburn worse.

Eat smaller meals. Too much food in your stomach may put pressure on your esophageal sphincter and not allow it to close.

Don’t lie down after a meal. Wait at least three hours after eating before lying down or going to bed.

Elevate the head of your bed. If you regularly experience heartburn at night, put gravity to work for you. Place wood or cement blocks under the feet of your bed so that the head end is raised by six to nine inches. If it’s not possible to elevate your bed, you can insert a wedge between your mattress and box spring to elevate your body from the waist up. Wedges are available at drugstores and medical supply stores. Raising your head with additional pillows is not effective.

Don’t smoke. Smoking decreases the lower esophageal sphincter’s ability to function properly.


Common GI Procedures, What you Should Know: March 23, 2016, 7-8:30 p.m. Register now for this free seminar presented by Rudy Rai, M.D. Held in the Howard County General Hospital Wellness Center.

How is it treated?
Most people can manage GERD with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications that neutralize stomach acid. Antacids alone won’t heal an inflamed esophagus damaged by stomach acid. Overuse of some antacids can cause side effects, such as diarrhea or constipation.

Medications to reduce acid production, called H-2-receptor blockers, don’t act as quickly as antacids, but they provide longer relief and may decrease acid production from the stomach for up to 12 hours. Stronger versions of these medications are available in prescription form.

Proton pump inhibitors are stronger blockers of acid production than are H-2-receptor blockers and allow time for damaged esophageal tissue to heal.

If you don’t experience relief within a few weeks, you may need stronger medications, or even surgery, to reduce symptoms. New surgical options are offering promising results.

Are there any new treatments available in the management of GERD?
In situations where medications aren’t helpful or you wish to avoid long-term medication use, your doctor may recommend surgical options to relieve your symptoms.

Rudy Rai, M.D., is a gastroenterologist in Columbia. To schedule an appointment, call 410-290-6677.



read more

What must it feel like for a sixth-grade girl with a smile as big as the sun to be physically battered by classmates for wearing religious clothing to school? Or for teens to endure rock throwing, offensive touching, and abusive name-calling – all while teachers stand by condoning such attacks? In the aftermath of Paris and San Bernardino, some of the most emotionally scarred people in the U.S. are American Muslim kids and their parents.

You want a resolution you’ll stick with in the New Year?
Get out your library card and check out a book for your kids (and yourself) about what it’s really like to be Muslim and American right now.

Then pass it on.

Children, Ages 4-9

the librarian of basraThe Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter Alia is a spunky librarian in Basra, Iraq. When the “whispers of war grow louder,” Alia decides to rescue every book in her beloved library. After all, in the Qur’an, the first thing God said to Muhammad was ‘Read.'”

Mirrormirror, by Jeannie Baker, is a mixed media collage which uniquely depicts the commonality between two boys of different cultures. One in Australia and one in Morocco. Their mutual day unfolds from sunrise to moon up, and in few words young readers realize how much we all share with one another – no matter where we’re from.


Middle Grades

Ten Things I Hate About Meten things i hate about me by Randa Abdel-Fattah.
When Muslim-Australian, Jamilah bleaches her hair blond and sticks blue contact lenses in her eyes it’s for one thing only – to appear less ethnic. This is the very thing she would be mercilessly teased for at school. In fact, no one knows she is Lebanese until… Well, let’s just say this book is a satisfying and very funny look at why teens conform to the culture at large.

Guantanamo Boyguantanamo boy by Anna Perera is the story of an ordinary British teen, post 9/11. He’s picked on a little too much by his teacher, worried over by his mother, and indulged by his father. Typical. Right? Until the moment this second-generation fifteen-year, on a family visit to Pakistan is kidnapped, then arrested (without formal charging) as a terrorist and sent to the Guantanamo Bay Prison Camp. His Crime? He’s Muslim. A powerful and harrowing story every teen and their parents should read.


Finding Nouffinding noufthe language of baklava by Zoe Ferraris A stiletto and a lone camel are the only clues in the disappearance of a young Saudi heiress. It’s now up to a devout Bedouin tracker, and a lonely forensics expert, to unravel a cultural conundrum that Ferraris has woven into an exquisite mystery.

The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber captures the ache of Abu-Jaber captures the ache of displacement and the longing for a home far away in this tender memoir about her Jordanian father struggling to root in upstate New York with his American wife and children. Funny, warm, and all-embracing, Abu-Jaber shares with readers what her father taught her: that the taste of cumin, lamb, and pine nuts is a way for anyone of any culture who has immigrated to this country to “hold on to the shadow of memory.”

Aimee Zuccarini is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the East Columbia Branch. She facilitates several book discussions and writes the book reviews for The Maryland Women’s Journal.

read more

gluten-free diet

Celiac disease is a genetically predisposed autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine when gluten is consumed. Many people follow a gluten-free diet when they do not have celiac disease. For those with celiac disease, it is absolutely essential to eat a gluten-free diet. For everyone else who is avoiding gluten, you may be limiting your choices unnecessarily. [© Andresr | Dreamstime.com]

The Gluten-free Phenomenon

In the last few years, the phrase “gluten-free” has become a household term. Whether you are walking down a grocery store aisle or reading a menu at a restaurant, it is no longer uncommon to see these words. For those suffering from celiac disease, these new additions are a welcome sight.

What Is Gluten?
Gluten is the name used for the proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. It acts as glue in foods, helping them maintain their shape, and is found in many foods.

Celiac and Gluten Connection
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine when gluten is consumed. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging the small intestine. Tiny fingerlike protrusions, called villi, which line the small intestine and enable the absorption of nutrients from food into the bloodstream, are lost. Without these villi, malnutrition occurs, regardless of how much food a person consumes.”

Celiac disease can be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other bowel issues. Patients are diagnosed most often with a blood test, which is a noninvasive approach. However, the gold standard to diagnose celiac disease is through an endoscopy with biopsies of the small intestine. Before any testing for celiac disease, you should continue to include gluten in your diet to ensure accurate results. Many people follow a gluten-free diet when they do not have celiac disease. For those with celiac disease, it is absolutely essential to eat a gluten-free diet. For everyone else who is avoiding gluten, you may be limiting your choices unnecessarily.

Signs of celiac disease can include bloating, gas, indigestion and diarrhea. However, some patients could have constipation or no GI symptoms at all. If you are having digestion issues, you should see your primary care physician first. If there is no diagnosis and symptoms don’t resolve, then you should visit a gastroenterologist who specializes in conditions of the digestive tract.

Anyone can get celiac disease. In fact, about one percent of the population, or nearly three million people, likely have celiac disease and are unaware of it. Celiac disease is a genetically predisposed disorder. Once a family member is diagnosed, you should be aware that you are at a higher risk of having or developing the disease and may want to be tested. However, you can be a carrier of celiac disease and never show symptoms until later in life, if at all. Being a carrier of the gene means you may not have the disease, but may be prone to it. It does not mean you will definitely develop it. Additionally, people with autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, osteoporosis, abnormal liver function and/or disease, or anemia are at higher risk for celiac disease. If you have one of these autoimmune conditions, you should consider being tested for celiac disease if you have symptoms and are not improving.

Although there is no cure for the disease, there is a lot of research underway for treatment, including prescription drug studies. Currently, the only treatment that is known to ease the symptoms of celiac disease is to eliminate foods containing gluten from your diet.

So What Should I Eat?
The Celiac Foundation’s website or the National Foundation of Celiac Awareness website have a lot of good information on diet options. The most important consideration when choosing your food is to be mindful of reading labels as many unsuspecting foods, and even some medications, contain gluten.

When Am I Going to Feel Better?
If you have celiac disease and start reducing your gluten intake, you should feel better within a couple of weeks. In some cases it takes up to a month before you notice a difference and start feeling better. Often this occurs because you have unknowingly consumed gluten.

Mahmood Solaiman, M.D., is a gastroenterologist with Gastro Associates in Elkridge. Appointments: 410-590-8920.


read more

this year i willIt’s that time of year, again. Most of the holiday celebrations are wrapping up and the New Year is just a couple days away. Many people reflect during this time and make promises to “be better” in the coming year. Here’s one piece of advice for you as you mull over your possible resolutions: be realistic.

If you’re 50 lbs. overweight and want to lose those L-B’s, make a plan that you can execute. If you want to stop eating out so much and cook more at home, make a plan that fits your lifestyle. If you want to work on your relationships, take steps that you can actually accomplish. Basically, don’t make promises to yourself and others that you simply cannot keep.

So, here are some suggestions gathered from myriad books, articles, and personal experiences that could help as you draft your own resolutions for the New Year.

Do your research. Read up on your topic of interest. Visit your local library, take a look at their recommendations or look at the best-sellers. You could check out prominent, credible authors’ works or (dare I say it?) briefly search online. The latter of these is best done with high scrutiny, or best yet, with your favorite library staff. Gathering information is always the best thing you can do when you’re not sure where to start.

Consult Expert(s)
If you’re looking to improve your health in any way, visit your primary care physician. Get a physical. Visit a nutritionist. See an endocrinologist, a dermatologist, or a psychiatrist. Whatever your health needs are, take steps to find the specialist who can help you. Remember, finding an expert is like giving an interview. It can take time to find the right expert for your needs. Advocate for yourself and don’t settle for anything less than what’s best for you.

Write it down!
Literally! Write down your goals. Be as specific as you possibly can. Instead of writing down, “Lose weight.” Consider writing, “I will exercise for 30 minutes, three days a week. I will eat a healthy breakfast every morning. I will check in with my doctor to monitor my progress.” Post them where you can see them daily or keep them in a journal. Be committed to that promise to be better and do better in the coming year. Words are incredibly powerful and when written (and read) can provide the inspiration you need to change. It’s real now. Make it happen!

Get Support
There are few things in life you can do alone. Big goals require big support. Little goals require big support. Make sure someone outside of yourself holds you accountable. Tell your family, listen to your experts, and find others who’re on the same journey. It’s proven that those who have meaningful support as they tackle their goals are significantly more successful than those who hide under the table and go at it alone. Every single one of Mark Hyman’s books goes over this; read his works!

Measure Progress, Adjust to the Real World
How do you know you’ve been successful? Well, when you wrote your specific goals down, you should be able to say whether or not to were able to achieve those goals. If you can’t identify whether or not your were successful, it’s time to rewrite your goals in a way that it is measurable. How you measure your progress can also be another discussion with your expert. Remember, it takes 21-29 days to form a habit. Make sure you’re forming good habits. Evaluate your goals and adjust if necessary.

Finally, be kind to yourself. You’re not going to get everything right all of the time. You’re going to mess up. You will fall short. Accept it and learn from it. When you’re realistic with your resolutions you will find success. Success requires work- hard work and a lot of help, but you can do it.

What are some of your resolutions for the New Year? Do you have any advice for resolution makers?

read more