April is also Alcohol Awareness Month, and has been designated as such by the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) since April of 1987. For over 28 years, this organization, which was founded in 1944, has been tirelessly fighting to support, educate, and help individuals, and their loved ones overcome the negative effects of substance abuse. Widespread awareness on responsible alcohol consumption, as well as the consequences of irresponsible use and the triggers/motives that lead to abuse, are ways in which individuals can empower themselves with beneficial knowledge on how to avoid becoming a victim of alcoholism.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionaryalcoholism has been defined as “a chronic progressive potentially fatal psychological and nutritional disorder associated with excessive and usually compulsive drinking of ethanol and characterized by frequent intoxication leading to dependence on or addiction to the substance, impairment of the ability to work and socialize, destructive behaviors (as drunken driving), tissue damage (as cirrhosis of the liver), and severe withdrawal symptoms upon detoxification.”

The pervasiveness and widespread use of alcohol in our society creates a Pandora’s Box effect, in which the presence of certain factors in an individual may easily lead them from a point of control to one of no return. It seems that alcohol’s persistent popularity is due in part to cultural and social ties that are taught, learned, and reinforced through social media, and common traditions/celebrations. A few examples of settings where alcohol is not only readily available, but also strongly encouraged, are: college and university campuses around the country; sporting events and tail-gating gatherings; momentous life-defining celebrations, such as weddings; parties of all sorts aka the “we just want to party” party; the legendary post-work happy-hour; weekday/weekend restaurant, bar, lounge, club outings; coming home after a long day at work and helping oneself to a “cold one” or a glass of wine. Alcohol consumption in the aforementioned settings demonstrates just a handful of socially “acceptable” places where the ingrained social cues to partake in the act of drinking come into place.

According to the World Health Organization, harmful use of alcohol causes 2.5 million deaths worldwide each year. Therefore, abuse of the ole “giggle water” (early 20th century reference to an intoxicating beverage; alcohol) is truly no laughing matter, and one’s use should be approached with caution and respect. It is easy to lose sight of the detrimental effects it can wreak on the mind, the body, and the spirit when consumed to excess. From a historical standpoint, drinking, in all its multifaceted and two-faced glory, has been a liquid witness to some of the greatest joys and the most heart-wrenching tribulations for many people around the world; we drink it to feel happy, we drink it when we are mad, and we drink it if we are sad. Through these behaviors we reaffirm the power and position of alcohol in our society and culture. And it’s through straightforward and realistic education regarding alcohol use that young people can learn to mature into responsible consumers of alcohol (if they so choose). Boring lectures about alcohol that likens it to the big bad wolf of Little Red Riding Hood fame may not be received with enough serious attention; however, a live Q & A with someone that has experienced and survived the devastating effects of alcoholism may prove rather eye-opening.

 There are currently many resources and services within Howard County that are available to those who feel they may be struggling with their ability to manage or control their use of alcohol. The Howard County Department of Health provides substance abuse and addiction services; Howard County General Hospital often provides classes and ongoing support groups regarding substance and/or alcohol abuse; Alcoholics Anonymous (Al-anon/Alano) meetings are held at the Serenity Center, and other locationsHoward County Mental Health Authority provides an extensive list of individual and group addiction counseling/therapy locations. Exploring each of the many resources available can be helpful, in order to discover what works for one’s personal goals towards recovery.

Let us take the time this month to reflect on our own personal relationship with alcohol, or reach out to someone in our lives who may be struggling with alcohol abuse right now. While there are many helpful resources for individuals, there are also plenty of resources available for their friends and family, i.e. Smart Recovery for family friends and Al Anon Family Groups.

Alcohol can be enjoyed with control and moderation. However, when drinking takes a dark turn, and abuse and addiction surfaces, seek the help you need. Just remember, you’re never alone.

When Jinelee De Souza isn’t channeling her inner super-heroine at Howard County Library System as an Instructor & Research Specialist, she’s doing so at the gym, during impromptu photoshoots with her bff, and everywhere in between.


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In April 2001, the National Minority Health Month Foundation inaugurated National Minority Health Month. The goal is to raise awareness about the health disparities that affect racial and ethnic minorities and to strengthen the capacity of local, state, and federal organizations to reduce those disparities. Prevention, early detection, and control of disease complications are important keys to advancing health equity. This year the theme focuses on prevention: Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity. Chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, to name a few, are among the most common and more importantly preventable of all health problems in the United States.

This April you can take action for a healthy heart. Heart disease and stroke are a leading cause of death for all racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Some of the things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease are eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, limit alcohol use, and do not smoke.  Take a moment to read the CDC fact sheet on heart disease, which includes information on signs and symptoms, risk factors and prevention. Howard County offers wellness activities, workshops, walks, nutrition education, health screenings, and more through Get Active Howard County. You can also find many books on heart disease at one of the Howard County Library System (HCLS) branches.

Some minority populations including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and American Indians are at a higher risk of developing diabetes and related complications. This April is the perfect time to develop strategies including diet and lifestyle changes to prevent the onset of diabetes.  Visit the Johns Hopkins Diabetes Center for more information on the disease, diabetes education, including classes, and nutrition, including education and counseling.  If you or a loved one is living with diabetes, HCLS has an extensive collection of materials to help navigate your meal planning, exercise, and diabetes education.

A leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States is tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes causes devastating disease and premature death across all races and ethnicities, but smoking is more prevalent in some racial and ethnic minority groups. The US Surgeon General said, “Smoking cessation represents the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives.”

If you live or work in Howard County, there are free smoking cessation and tobacco treatment programs offered through the Health Department. Visit here or call 410-313-6265 for more information. Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine will be offering Smoke-Free Lungs seminars this summer.

Immunizations are a powerful way to prevent disease. In April you can ensure that your immunizations and your family’s immunizations are up to date. Immunizations not only help the recipients, they also help persons who come in contact with them.  Protecting children from vaccine-preventable diseases is an effective tool for advancing health equity.  You can see the vaccine requirements for children attending school in the state of Maryland here. Also, take a moment now and mark your calendar to remind yourself and every member of your family to get the flu vaccine this fall.

If the fact that you are under-or uninsured is preventing you from taking the steps to help manage or reduce your risk for chronic disease, please visit the Howard County Health Department or call 410-988-3737 for more information on health care programs and services that may be available to you and your family. Also, HCLS will host a class to help older adults and individuals with disabilities navigate the MAP & SHIP programs, presented by the Howard County Office on Aging’s Aging and Disability Resource Center in May.

This April, do yourself and your loved ones a favor by taking action for a healthy you. Educate yourself and ask your doctor about disease risks more common to your racial or ethnic background, and learn what you can do to prevent those conditions. Knowing your risks gives you power. Reducing those risks can lead to a healthier you and longer life.

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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You can’t tell if someone has high cholesterol by what they look like – a fact I can personally attest to as a person with high cholesterol. I don’t look like someone with high cholesterol, as I keep getting told. The problem is I don’t really know what it means to have “high cholesterol,” so I decided to do some research and figure it out.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that can be found in all parts of your body. It aids in the production of cell membranes, many hormones, and vitamin D. The cholesterol in your blood comes from two sources: the foods you eat and your liver. However, your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. Cholesterol and other fats are transported in your blood stream in the form of spherical particles called lipoproteins. The two most commonly known lipoproteins are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).Johns Hopkins Health Library

I started with Controlling Cholesterol for Dummies (Rinzler & Graf, 2008), which says that a high level of LDL particles (low-density lipoproteins, also referred to as “bad” cholesterol) correlates to a higher risk of heart disease or attack (p. 17). Lipoproteins are fat and protein particles that carry cholesterol into your arteries (LDL) or out of your body (HDL). The more cholesterol in your bloodstream, the higher the risk for buildup and possible heart attack. This can also happen in cranial arteries, blocking the flow of blood to your brain and potentially causing a stroke (p. 30).

However, Cholesterol Clarity: What the HDL is wrong with my numbers? (Moore & Westman, 2013) posits the idea that cholesterol isn’t the problem we’ve been taught. In fact, the real issue may be chronic inflammation as caused by smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, consuming trans fats and processed carbs, and stress (p. 38). Cholesterol can’t accumulate in your arteries on it’s own, they need to be inflamed first.

A good indicator of this inflammation is the C-reactive protein, a level which can be checked by your doctor (p. 39). Additionally, LDL cholesterol varies in size from large, fluffy, and harmless (Pattern A) to small, dense, and potentially dangerous (Pattern B) (p. 98).

How can you get your cholesterol levels and what should they be?

Cholesterol levels are usually obtained through a blood test at your primary care physician’s office. It’s important to know your LDL and HDL numbers as well as your total cholesterol measurement since a high level of HDLs is good for your body. A high total cholesterol number can be less serious if your HDLs are high, just as a low total cholesterol number can be bad if your HDLs are low. What amounts to a dangerous level? A total measurement above 240, HDL’s below 40, and LDLs above 160 (Rinzler). The size of LDL particles can also be tested through a particle size test that can be ordered by your doctor or by individuals online (Moore & Westman, 2013, p. 99-102).

How can you manage your cholesterol?

A few simple steps should help lower your bad cholesterol level: exercise, reduce fatty food consumption, lose a little weight, and reduce damaging behaviors like smoking and drinking. Exercising and avoiding fatty foods are two categories where almost every person can find some health benefit, regardless of cholesterol level. Some resources for heart healthy cooking are the American Heart Association’s Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook, The DASH Diet Action Plan, Quick & Easy Cookbook, and The Mediterranean Diet for Every Day.





We’re still learning what cholesterol does for our bodies and how we can live long and healthy lives. The most important thing is to be your own health advocate. There’s nothing wrong with getting a second opinion when it comes to your health and well-being. The best thing to do with any health concern is read all the information and consult your doctor, who’ll be best suited to help you with your questions.

Jessica Seipel is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She has worked for the Howard County Library System, in various positions, for a decade.


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For more years than I can remember certain seasons have been a struggle with congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes and the uncomfortable symptoms of allergies. Only recently did I brave a visit to an allergist and discover many reactions to a variety of common allergens: grass and tree pollen, molds, dust, and much more. Now I had an explanation for why I can be sniffly all year, but much worse in the spring and fall when certain allergens temporarily explode into activity.

I had been self-medicating with over the counter drugs, but the allergist has been very helpful in trying some stronger prescriptions and experimenting with a regiment to provide more relief. I’ve learned about medications, nasal sprays, and even eye drops (I don’t do eye drops – no, I really don’t, just ask my husband). Part of the process is just trying out medications to see what works for me.

Knowing what allergens spike reactions can be helpful, but they are nearly impossible for me to avoid. The doctor also shared information about cleaning and methods to minimize allergens indoors. Hopefully, managing my exposure at home will help me to feel better and get through the worst weeks of the year.

Another treatment I’m considering is supposed to have longer-term effects: allergy shots. They work to calm down the immune response to allergens that causes the uncomfortable symptoms like sneezing and congestion. The series starts more frequently and in time can be spaced out until the allergic reactions stop or are minimized.

One of the questions I’ve been pondering is if my allergies have a relationship to my rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Both are autoimmune-related diseases with RA attacking the joints and allergies attacking my sinuses (or so it seems). While my research hasn’t revealed a connection confirmed with research, I can’t help but wonder. It makes sense to me that my aggressive RA would be linked to strong allergies.

In the meantime, I visit my doctors and pursue treatment for each condition. Seeing the allergist has been very revealing for me to understand the discomfort of allergies and what I can do to feel better. I may never know why I have these allergies, or RA for that matter, but it’s good to be on a path to treat and hopefully better manage my health.

Kelly Mack lives in Washington, DC, and works for a marketing communications firm.


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A friend I’ve had since college and I always talked about how we were finally going to be “cool” when we were in our 40s. We have always been a bit geeky and weird and certainly a little on the fringes. In our 20s and 30s this didn’t win us any popularity contests (and, if truth be told, by the time we hit our mid-20s, we didn’t really care anymore). But we continued to joke that when we hit our 40s, we’d really have our acts together. We’d be fit, poised, and prized for our “unique sensibilities.”

Well, we’re there now, and we aren’t any of those things (well, we are prized by the people who love us). We’re not completely surprised by this lack of celebrity. We kind of knew forty-somethings weren’t where people usually looked to find trendsetters and rock stars. We are a little disappointed that we’re not in better shape, but really only have ourselves to blame for that. But the last thing we expected was to be almost invisible. Society doesn’t exactly seem to embrace women of our age, especially if we don’t look half as young as we actually are.

I know, I know, I’m sounding whiny and self-pitying (a far cry from poised and cool). But I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, mainly because I feel like I’m having to find greater balance between some of the most important and stressful things I’ve ever done in my life. Well, there’s not a lot I can do about some of the societal perils of my age, but I can probably do some things so I at least feel a bit better about myself physically and mentally. Some new help on that front may be available for me (and anyone else, 40 or not) from Dr. Pamela Peeke.

Dr. Peeke is an expert on nutrition, stress, fitness, and public health, but she mainly caught my attention with the book entitled Fight Fat After Forty: The Revolutionary Three-Pronged Approach that Will Break Your Stress-Fat Cycle and Make You Healthy, Fit, and Trim for Life. How could I not be drawn to that title? Now, Dr. Peek doesn’t just limit herself to the 40+ crowd of the world. She recently published The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery for Overeating and Food Addiction. She also has written Body-for-LIFE for Women: A Woman’s Plan for Physical and Mental Transformation; and Fit to Live: The 5-Point Plan to be Lean, Strong & Fearless for Life.







.And, if you’re still curious about what Dr. Peeke can teach us, she’s coming to HCLS. She’s visiting June 9, 7 p.m. at the Miller Branch. Registration for the event opens on May 2. I think with some of Dr. Peeke’s help, I may able to turn into that cool forty-something yet!

Joanne Sobieck-Lingg is glad to blog about her many, disparate interests (though expert in none, except maybe parenthetical asides). In past lives, she was a writer, proofreader, editor, project manager, teacher, and even co-coordinator of a certain health blog. She has been happily ensconced among the fiction and teen books at the Central Branch of HCLS since 2003.


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A lot of up to date medical information can be found using the Internet. Since one search in Google can yield thousands of results, how do you sort out which information to make use of?

“You should approach finding medical information on the Internet the same way you would approach buying a nonfiction book…do the authors come from reputable institutions? Do they have the proper credentials? Was it published recently?” says McMaster’s Flemming, who conducts seminars and workshops on Internet health issues. [1]

In general, health and medical information websites sponsored by the U.S. government, not-for-profit health or medical organizations, and university medical centers are the most reliable resources. [2]

If you do make use of a commercial site, look to see if it has a HONcode seal (pictured above).

Okay, what exactly is a HONcode? HON stands for “Health on the Net.”

The Health On the Net Foundation (HON) is a not-for-profit organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The purpose of the foundation is to advance the development and application of new information technologies, notably in the fields of health and medicine. [3]

Where does the “code” part come in? The HONcode is a checklist of eight principles Internet users should apply to any site posting medical information. Prime among them: information must be provided by qualified professionals, and it has to be designed to support, not replace, the relationship between doctor and patient. [1] Compliant sites are identified by the blue-and-red HONcode hyperlink seal displayed in a prominent location.

So, before you spend too much time on any site offering medical information, make sure to follow these guidelines:

Identify the sources: Read the “About Us” section on the website you visit and notice the dates of the information to make sure content is current.

Look at the HONcode: The Health On the Net Foundation requires that medical sites meet a certain level of authoritative and credibility standards. Approved sites display a HONcode seal acknowledging their certification.

Always call your doctor: Medical sites can be helpful and educational, but you’ll always want to refer to your child’s doctor for any medical diagnosis or treatment.

[1] McClelland S. Users beware. Maclean’s [serial online]. June 21, 1999;112(25):58. Available from: MasterFILE Premier, Ipswich, MA.
[2] Miller, J. (2013, Aug 18). Savvy senior: How to find the best medical information online. Capital. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1426394474?accountid=6126
[3] (2000, Feb 03). PR Newswire. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/447850252?accountid=6126

Teresa Rhoades worked at the Central Branch from 2004-2005. During the next two years, she moved out of state and completed a degree in Library & Information Studies. She is currently the Assistant Branch Manager for the East Columbia Branch. She spends much of her spare time being walked by her dog, an extremely energetic German Short-haired pointer.


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Linger, even for one chapter in this massive book, and you will soon find yourself caught up in psychiatrist and National Book Award winner, Andrew Solomon’s comprehensive (albeit eloquent) and tender tribute to the myriad parents of “horizontal” offspring — that is, dwarfs, transgenders, schizophrenics, prodigies, those who commit criminal acts, and more.

Solomon’s all-embracing assertion (as a homosexual, and therefore, a horizontal child himself) is that the parents of such children, along with the children themselves, deserve voice and a raison d’etre. Even the ones certain to be defined as bad parents are given voice: Is it hard or easy to love a child that society has deemed imperfect? Does bearing a child with supreme challenges take us to the edge of an awful precipice? Or does it make us, as one mother says, “Deeper for it?”

Sue Klebold, mother of one of the two teens who committed the Columbine massacre, divested her soul to Solomon when the question was asked if it would have been better had her son never been born.

“I believe,” she said, “it would not have been better for me.”

Far From The Tree is the Camino Trail of epic reads. Take the journey anyway — if not for the privilege to walk in the shoes of some of the most diverse parents and children you will ever meet.

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.


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IMAG0531The Veggie­-Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook by Randy Clemens has been (hands ­down) my favorite cookbook of 2013 and is still going strong in 2014. I have made about half a dozen recipes from the book and plan to make many more.

One of my personal favorites has been soondubu jjigae, loosely translated as “Korean Soft Tofu Stew with Kimchi.” Soondubu Jjigae is great for warming up during the last days of winter and also contains heaping amounts of kimchi, or pickled cabbage. If you’ve been turned off by the smell, you may want to reconsider. Health magazine listed kimchi in its top five World’s Healthiest Foods earlier this year citing its high levels of vitamins A, B, and C- as well as its digestive benefits. It’s low in calories and high in fiber too! So, if you’re trying to stay healthy, you may want to give the national food of South Korea another try.

Reserve this item at Howard County Library SystemThe Veggie­-Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook isn’t about kimchi however, it’s about sriracha. The Thai chili sauce has been getting a lot of press recently, mostly because of it’s delicious flavor and spicy kick, but there has been some research into its potential health benefits as well. Sriracha contains real chili peppers, well­-known to boost metabolism and serotonin levels, and garlic, a key ingredient in regulating cholesterol and blood pressure. The most familiar brand of sriracha sauce (the one with the rooster on it) is also gluten-­free and vegan. It’s even certified kosher.

So, if you haven’t tried either of these delicious foods, grab a copy of The Veggie­-Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook and make yourself a bowl of soondubu jjigae. If that’s not the comfort food you’re craving, try the Sriracha and Green Onion Biscuits with Country Mushroom Gravy. It’s pretty good too!

Aryn is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Miller Branch and has been with HCLS for over 3 years. She has many hobbies including, but not excluded to: exercising, vegetarian living, and eating cake. Perhaps cake is neither “well” nor “wise” but it’s certainly delicious!


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If you need help getting your family started on a healthier path, try Eat! Move! Play! Simple, direct, and manageable for any family!

I haven’t always been on the healthy path. There have been many years where I loved fast food! The convenience alone was worth the price I was paying. Then, I became a mom. Still, the convenience of fast food was a big factor. Then, I got divorced and started raising my daughter on my own. Still no change, and the convenience became an even bigger excuse. After a long day of work, a long drive home, and homework to do (yep, working full time and going to school), who wants to cook dinner at 6:30 at night?

Then, something changed. Finally. I started seeing myself and my habits through my daughter’s eyes. I saw how much she would expect me to stop at the drive-thru or to go get ice cream. It was then, that I saw my bad habits were creeping into her life. It had to stop. I became a part of Elf for Health, a group on Facebook, that gave daily challenges for four weeks. It wasn’t all health-driven, some of the challenges were to write positive things about yourself, call a loved one, etc. But it was the healthy challenges that started planting the seed within me. I began to understand that I needed to set better examples for my daughter. And frankly, I want to be around a long time for her- so, it was finally time to step it up.

Eating healthy and exercising are two great ways to lead by example. But there are other ways too, things we can do on a daily basis. I read an article by Steven C. Reuben for Johns Hopkins that hit the nail on the head. He said, “One of the most common teachable moments happens every time you drive your car with your kids inside” (p. 1). So true!! I am always careful when a driver cuts me off or rides my tail. If my daughter says something about a driver who cuts me off my response is this, “well, we don’t know what that person is going through, maybe they are just having a bad day or they aren’t feeling good.” (trying to keep it simple, she’s 4.)

A couple of weeks ago we were leaving Target and I saw a $10 bill on the ground next to my car. For that split second I thought, “Sweet! $10!” Then, I decided the universe was giving me a chance to teach her something, so I took that teachable moment. As I was writing a note she asked what I was doing. I explained to her that I thought the car next to mine dropped the money so I was writing a note and leaving it on their windshield. She asked, “Why?” I explained that we never know how bad that person needs that money, “it could be their lunch money.” She smiled and said that it was a nice thing to do. Teaching moment success!

Remember to pay attention, you never know when your children are watching you.

Monika is no stranger to the healthy-living community online. You may recognize her from Everything Mommy or Fitness Mama blogs. She has a 4 year old daughter, Ava, and works and goes to school full-time in Las Vegas.


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When I was a kid, I would look forward to my birthday because it was a time to celebrate with the people I truly enjoyed being around. Getting older has changed this a little bit. While I still look forward to spending time with those I hold dear to my heart, I experience a fear of getting older.

I’m in my mid-twenties now, and I’m questioning my successes up to this point. I wonder about my future. I realize it’s important to keep sight of your goals, and that making comparisons on where other people are in life isn’t the way to do it. I’m reminded that it’s crucial to follow your own path at your own pace.

It’s seems that a notable amount of people get caught up in making comparisons. Comparisons about where others are in life at the same age, what they accomplished last year versus the year before, and where a family member may have been at that same age. This process can be rather counter-productive. If you allow your energy to feed the thoughts of “Why are things different for me?”, then that energy is never going to be available for working on where you personally want to be. The way one person lives their life is going to be completely different from the next, and neither of those lifestyles mean that you are doing anything wrong.

I see friends of mine who genuinely think less of themselves because of the current job they have or their lack of a marriage license. I have had similar thoughts creep into my daily routine, but I’m aware that making these comparisons doesn’t equate to what happiness means to me. Perhaps, somewhere along the line, our perception of “the norm” (whatever that means) got the better of us.

Getting older can be a tricky concept to grasp. I find myself feeling anxious even though it’s an exciting experience. Things that were once daily activities or part of a routine are now memories, some more distant than others. Instead of feeling disconnected from these experiences, I make a point of noting the value of each memory and how it has shaped me as a person thus far.

I have decided that I am not going to let getting older feel like a bad thing. It’s just a new thing. Growing and adapting is all part of the human experience.

In the midst of growing older and discovering the reward of change, it is important to remember one thing; don’t abandon yourself.

Laci Radford is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the East Columbia Branch (while her home branch, in Savage, is being renovated). She is a music lover, writer, and an avid reader. She enjoys attending concerts, plays, and other forms of live entertainment. Her favorite activities include scoping out unique items at thrift stores, bonfires with friends, and having tie-dye parties. She is studying Psychology and plans to become a music and art therapist sooner rather than later.

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Are you in the mood for some more culinary travel? Last month I highlighted several wonderful cookbooks from the Mediterranean, Spain, Italy, France, Indonesia, and Ireland. I felt like I was mining in a vein rich in gold! There were so many great cookbooks from around the world in our Glenwood Branch that we mounted a display. The books have been flying off the shelves! I hope this means you will indulge me in a little more “eating around the world.”

We ended up in Ireland last month. Let’s start in The Scottish Kitchen (2004), by Christopher Trotter. I have a soft place in my heart for Scottish food even though I never got to know my Scottish grandmother’s cooking. Chef, and restaurateur, Trotter does a great job of bringing Scottish regional specialties to life as he profiles the traditions of “the eight culinary regions” of Scotland. Yes, you will learn how to make haggis, but you will also see some foreign influence in dishes like osso bucco Florentine.

Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food (2007) begins with “What’s cooking in the melting pot?”–a promising start! I asked a friend, fresh-returned from a visit to Israel, to comment on this one. She testifies that the Israeli breakfast, a holdover from kibbutz days, really does include “everything”–salads, fruits, fish, and all manner of eggs and cheese. The hummus recipes will produce the fluffy, smooth mainstay that she encountered on her visit. A new recipe for my friend was shakshuka, a pan of tomato sauce, usually fresh-made and well seasoned, with eggs cooked on top. You will need fresh bread to soak up the savory juices and a salad to round out the meal. As with the best cookbooks we get a taste of the culture as well as the food with excellent photographs of the people, the food and the farms and restaurants of Israel.

Japanese Farm Food (2012), by Nancy Singleton Hachisu, is a charming visit inside a real Japanese organic farm. A California girl, Nancy first came to understand real seasons while in Japan. When you live on a farm “you don’t choose the vegetables, they choose you.” You plan meals around what is ripe, not around recipes. She says “Walking among the rows [of vegetables] I would stroke them and feel their energy. Touching vegetables while they are living is something every cook should do. You have to accept them, not force your will on them.” I loved reading about the foods unfamiliar to me from someone so obviously in love with the foods and the lifestyle she has adopted. Great food writing aside, I also love the photography and layout. Nancy’s comments on a recipe are in red type while her occasional essays on foods are in white type on red pages—very striking. Read this as a recipe book or as a narrative on life as a “foreign bride” in Japan.

In contrast, Burma: Rivers of Flavor (2012) is written by Naomi DuGuid, a“photographer, writer, world traveler,” more in the style of a travelogue. We experience Burma a little more as outsiders, but it’s wonderful all the same. She describes a “market by candlelight”; vendors set up their wares lit by one or two candles and at dawn, snuff out the candles and move their displays off the streets to set up all over again in an open area. Duguid has spent over 20 years “exploring food as an aspect of culture” and has “co-authored six cookbooks that focus on home cooking—in the Indian Subcontinent, in the outlying areas of China and in the Mekong region.” She hopes the stories, recipes, and photographs will give readers an urge to go and meet the people of Burma for themselves.

And I hope that you will experiment with some of these healthful recipes from all over the world. Be an adventurous cook!

Barbara Cornell joined the Howard County Library System in 1993 as Assistant Branch Manager at the new Elkridge Branch. Since 2000 she has enjoyed a shorter commute to the Glenwood Branch.


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Many people assume that people with disabilities cannot be athletic. They probably never heard of the Paralympics, an international athletic competition for people with disabilities. The competitions follow the summer and winter Olympic Games in the same venues just a couple weeks after.

The current U.S. Winter Paralympics Team features 80 athletes competing in sports like: alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, sled hockey, snowboarding, and wheelchair curling. The team includes 32 returning Paralympians who have previously won an impressive total of 50 medals. Eighteen athletes are U.S. military veterans and active service members.

When I get frustrated with my exercises and feel like I’m getting nowhere, it helps to note the achievements of these disabled athletes. While I struggle with my rheumatoid arthritis and physical limitations, it helps to know others with disabilities have worked hard to succeed in their sport to proudly represent their country.

My earliest exposure to the Paralympics was a documentary film, called Murderball, about the U.S. wheelchair rugby team that competed in the 2004 games. The film told stories about the players’ experiences with disability and the importance of athletics to their well-being. I found the film personally inspiring as it dug into the athletes’ stories of disability and coping with their physical challenges. What resonated with me strongly were people with disabilities working to live their lives and pursue their dreams without yielding to exclusion or low expectations of the society around them.

While exercise has always been important for maintaining my health and mobility, I gained a newfound appreciation for athletics when I saw the film and learned more about the Paralympics. It helped me to understand that while I may live with a disability, I can still be an athletic person like able-bodied people. My exercise may look a little different or be adapted for my abilities, but it can be just as challenging (sometimes more so because I’m coping with joint damage and weakened muscles).

What the Paralympics tells me is that anyone can be an athlete, if they desire it. Adjustments can be made to account for physical challenges and needs, with tools to emphasize and accentuate our abilities.

If you have the chance check out some of the Paralympics games—they will be shown on television and also online—it is well worth it. I look forward to seeing some of the competition and daydreaming about new sports and adventures to try.

In the meantime, I’ll stick to my customized exercise routine, while also periodically challenging myself to try new things like the athletes I so admire.

Kelly Mack lives in Washington, DC, and works for a marketing communications firm.


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Whether you’re interested in autism already, know nothing about autism and want to understand it more fully, or just like reading about how a real family deals with life issues, you will enjoy Keiko Tobe’s series With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child. Volume one begins with a young woman, Sachiko Azuma, who feels very lucky: her adoring husband Masato has an excellent job, they live in a nice condo, and she just had her first child, Hikaru. Life seems perfect until Hikaru starts acting strangely. He hates being held, he cries all the time for no clear reason, and he won’t return affection. Sachiko’s husband is overworked and exhausted, and her mother-in-law blames Hikaru’s misbehavior on Sachiko for taking shortcuts in her parenting and failing to discipline. On the verge of resorting to abuse, Sachiko takes her child to a doctor who diagnoses Hikaru as autistic. She originally finds it hard to believe that her beautiful son has an incurable condition, but when Hikaru’s behavior disrupts a family funeral – it’s the last straw for Sachiko. She finally takes him to a Social Welfare Center that can offer her help, direction, and understanding.

The eight volumes of With the Light are large for a manga series, with each volume exceeding 500 pages, but they fly past. As the series continues, Hikaru ages through adolescence and Sachiko develops methods for Hikaru to control his behavior and learn along with the rest of his classmates. They face many trials – from daily prejudice to a teacher that doesn’t agree with the allowances necessary for Hikaru to stay in normal classes. It’s very realistic in its depiction of an often misunderstood neurodevelopmental disorder, even though it is a work of fiction and some liberties are taken to keep the story entertaining.

According to A Beginner’s Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorders by Paul Taylor, autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed through impairments in three areas of behavior: social interaction, communication, and activity/interests. Hikaru shows all these impairments as his story continues, from keeping to himself and missing non-verbal cues (social interaction) to barely speaking (communication), to repetitive behavior and obsession with order (activity/interests). As educational as it is enjoyable, Hikaru’s path through school illustrates some of the ways in which autistic students can learn alongside developmentally normal students with only small changes to the classroom. Taylor’s text covers many of the principles used in With the Light to help Hikaru learn and communicate, including the creation of structure and predictability, anticipating transitions, creating self-help options like a place for Hikaru to go when he’s feeling too stressed and needs to recover, and ensuring that all those involved in the classroom understand the disorder and what can be done to help.

It’s especially interesting to see how a non-American culture deals with the complexity of autism. Tobe includes many resources and even some essays on autism and raising autistic children, many from a distinctly Japanese point of view. Among other resources, the library can offer the aforementioned Beginner’s Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorders as an introduction, while the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism is made up of essays from “autistics, parents, and professionals” that provide a more personal touch. Temple Grandin, a doctor, professor, engineer, and autism activist has written numerous books on autism, including 2013’s The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum and her autobiography Thinking in Pictures, which was the subject of the movie Temple Grandin starring Claire Danes.

If you’re looking for more answers to your questions concerning autism or need support, the Howard County Autism Society is a good place to start. This organization has been serving our community for over twenty years and is a wellspring of information and resources for individuals and families living with autism spectrum disorders. 








Jessica Seipel is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She has worked for the Howard County Library System, in various positions, for a decade.


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10003368_10152327573357502_1040122621_n15188_10203659153064046_623180768_nYou may have recently received an AMBER Alert on your wireless device.
Today, in Dundalk, MD an 11 year old girl, Caitlyn M. Virts was abducted. Maryland law-enforcement issued an AMBER Alert in hopes that Caitlyn may be returned safely.

Do you know about the Emergency Alert System (EAS)? You’ve probably been annoyed by the strange beeps and buzzes that come over the radio, proclaiming to be a test, assuring that there are no problems, or you may have seen the scroll of information across your TV screen when there’s terrible weather underway. This system was put in place to allow the President of the United States to address the nation in an emergency situation as well as disseminate other emergency information (like weather alerts) to keep the public abreast of whatever the situation may be.

The AMBER Alert is an excellent example of cross-collaboration among separate interests -for the common good. The “common good” or “public interest” in this case is child safety. Law-enforcement, governmental agencies, broadcast, and wireless carriers band together and send out pertinent information via media outlets in the efforts to alert the public about a child who’s been abducted. When more eyes are watching, it’s more likely a suspect will be found.

If you want to learn more about the namesake of the AMBER Alert (Amber Hagerman), try the Dallas Morning News. In short, The AMBER Alert is a life-saving warning that may increase the recovery efforts of abducted children.

So, how did you get contacted? Well, thanks to this kind of collaboration, the FCC, FEMA, and private wireless carriers have been working together to create a way to reach as many “eyes” as possible using wireless carriers’ cell towers. Basically, a mass text message (one-directional / read-only) is sent to all cellphones within a region (the zone of emergency) sounding off with the alert. These Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are what you and I and a good chunk (if not all) of Maryland received today. You got that text because you were located in the “zone of emergency.”

There are only three kinds of messages you will receive (free of charge) via WEA:

  1. Alerts issued by the President
  2. Alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life
  3. AMBER Alerts

WEA complements EAS well and makes for a pretty well-informed public when it comes to emergency situations, local and national.

So, if the AMBER Alert surprised you, (like it did me) – GOOD. It did its job. You have been alerted to an emergency situation and your vigilance could help save a child’s life.

JP is the HCLS Editor & Blog Coordinator for Well & Wise. She is also a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She is a storyteller, wannabe triathlete, KPOP-addict, baker of cupcakes, cancer survivor, and liver transplant recipient.

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Your diet is an important tool in maintaining good health as well as a necessary element in promoting peak performance. Proper nutrition and hydration for runners can make or break a workout or race. The food you eat greatly affects how you feel, work, and think. A balanced diet for healthy runners should include these essentials: carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Be sure you communicate your health goals and consult your primary care physician or a licensed nutritionist or dietitian when making changes to your diet.

Here are some basic guidelines for a nutritious, healthy balance:

Carbohydrates are the best source of energy for athletes. They provide quick and long-lasting energy. Our bodies work more efficiently with carbs than they do with proteins or fats. Whole grain pasta, steamed or boiled rice, potatoes, fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grain breads are good carb sources.

Protein is used for some energy and to repair tissue damaged during training. Protein keeps you feeling full longer. Try to concentrate on protein sources that are low in fat and cholesterol such as lean meats, fish, dairy products (lower fat), poultry, whole grains, and beans.

A high fat diet can quickly pack on the pounds, so try to make sure that you stick to foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Foods such as nuts, oils, and cold-water fish provide essential fats called omega-3s, which are vital for good health.

Runners don’t get energy from vitamins, but they are still an important part of their diet. Getting vitamins from whole foods is preferable to supplementation.


  • Calcium: A calcium-rich diet is essential for runners to prevent osteoporosis and stress fractures. Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, calcium-fortified juices, dark leafy vegetables, beans, and eggs.
  • Iron: You need this nutrient to deliver oxygen to your cells. If you have an iron-poor diet, you’ll feel weak and fatigued, especially when you run. Good natural sources of iron include lean meats, leafy green vegetables, nuts, shrimp, and scallops.
  • Sodium and other electrolytes: Small amounts of sodium and other electrolytes are lost through sweat during exercise. Usually, electrolytes are replaced if you follow a balanced diet. But if you find yourself craving salty foods, it may be your body’s way of telling you to get more sodium. Try drinking a sports drink or eating some pretzels after exercise.

Here are some excellent resources which provide a comprehensive guidelines to nutrition for athletes:








Happy trails until we meet again!

Anna Louise Downing is a Customer Service Specialist at the Miller Branch. She is an avid reading and enjoys Disney, music and her passion of running. She has been a race ambassador for several local races, is a Sweat Pink Ambassador for promoting women’s health. Follow her journey towards being physically fit with running and healthy lifestyle here on Well & Wise.


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After first rain in months, mud is the best toy. August 28, 2006. Image by David K from Dallas, USA

Whenever my grandmother would catch me or one of my siblings, when we were a lot younger (and, later, one of her great grandchildren) doing something disgusting, say licking a windowsill for example (it wasn’t me!), she would always console the governing child minder by saying: “A pound of dirt a year. That’s what every child needs.” I never thought much about this until I had children of my own and would catch them doing something gross like eating cat food or sucking on fingers…not always their own.

Despite my kids’ profound “moments of ew,” things do seem a lot more antiseptic these days than when I was a kid. There are now “wipes” in supermarkets to clean off your cart. Hand sanitizer is available in most public places. There are loads of products on the market to help keep junior from ever having to come into contact with real-life shmutz, and antibiotics seem to be prescribed more often than I remember (hence my little c. diff dilemma a few months back).

My other friends who are parents and I have talked a lot about whether we are becoming a little too much of a rubber-glove society and what effects this may have on our children and their immune systems. For example, one book I came across in the library Why Dirt Is Good by Mary Ruebush, Ph.D. (see, you can find almost anything in the library) states: “One result of our societal trend toward germophobia, supercleanliness, and heavy antibiotic use is weakened individual immunity due to lack of dirt. …we’ve also created evolutionary selection for the production of new ‘superbugs’–pathogens that can’t be killed by the usual sanitation methods and that resist antibiotic drugs.”

I’m not suggesting that we should allow our children to actually wallow in filth (or ingest it). And I think everyone will agree that we have no wish to return to the days of the plague or 30-year life spans. Some levels of cleanliness and germ-free living are definitely beneficial to our health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says: “An essential part of preventing the spread of infection in the community and at home is proper hygiene.”

But then they add: “To date, studies have shown that there is no added health benefit for consumers (this does not include professionals in the healthcare setting) using soaps containing antibacterial ingredients compared with using plain soap….” And… “Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply. Repeated and improper uses of antibiotics are primary causes of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria.”

This is still a pretty controversial subject, and I’m not sure anyone has yet developed the perfect solution. As with all things, it would seem that truth lies somewhere in the middle. As for my grandma’s dirt theory, she did live a very healthy and active (as well as sage and sassy) 98 years, but I never witnessed her consuming any dirt.

Joanne Sobieck-Lingg is glad to blog about her many, disparate interests (though expert in none, except maybe parenthetical asides). In past lives, she was a writer, proofreader, editor, project manager, teacher, and even co-coordinator of a certain health blog. She has been happily ensconced among the fiction and teen books at the Central Branch of HCLS since 2003.



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In the fall of 1951, a warm, vivacious African-American mother of five succumbed to a rare cervical cancer — she was only thirty-one. Known affectionately as Hennie, Henrietta Lacks could dance like nobody’s business and her heart was as big as her home when it came to feeding and caring for her many relatives, but she was no-nonsense with her kids and carried a secret pain for the impaired child she was once forced to give away.

A violent storm was all that marked her passing. There was no obituary. Not even a headstone. Hennie’s shoes and clothes were whisked away—like she never existed—and the little ones, with no memory of their mother, were parceled out to bitter, cunning relatives.

Only their mother’s bible and a lock of her hair remained tangible proof that Hennie ever lived until decades later when the four Lacks siblings learned that their mother—astoundingly—lived on through the very unique cells that originally generated her cancer.

Without their mother’s knowledge, or family consent, Johns Hopkins Hospital (one of a handful at the time willing to treat black Americans) studied Hennie’s tumor and recognized something distinguishing about it.

For the very first time, human cells proved not only that they could be grown outside the human body, but also that Hennie’s “workhorse” cells were spontaneously replicable! Scientists were ecstatic. Here at last was a cell culture vital to the research of disease, chromosomal study and much more. Scientists gave them a name: “HeLa,” short for Henrietta Lacks.

Immortal and vastly profitable HeLa cells (at $167.00 a vial) would come to mean big business for all those involved – except the marginalized and medically uninsured Lacks family.

To write this gripping nonfiction, author Rebecca Skloot invested ten years in the lives of Hennie’s children to record vividly the myriad emotions they grappled with after learning the truth. None of those emotions was more exquisite and tender than that joyful moment in which Deborah and Zakariyya Lacks “meet” their mother for the very first time.

Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in exploring African American History in Howard County please register online or by calling 410.313.7800 for a special presentation by the Howard County Center of African American Culture at the Central Branch on March 4, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. Wylene Sims Burch, Founder and Director of the Howard County Center of African American Culture, considers the rich history of African-Americans in Howard County. O.H. Laster, Howard County resident and community volunteer, reviews the creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and how he worked toward its adoption. This is a “History Lives” event.

Aimee Zuccarini is a research assistant and instructor at the East Columbia Branch. She facilitates several book discussions and writes the book reviews for The Maryland Women’s Journal.


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Vegan French ToastWhat makes a good breakfast? For me, the omnivore, that would have to be anything with bacon or sausage. For my vegan husband, he has his pancakes, home fries, fruit, toast, and tofu scramble. Tofu scramble will be a post for another day. I even tried to make one using orange juice, and that, as you can imagine, was not tasty. Not at all.

Finding a vegan friendly breakfast is challenging. A quick search for vegan breakfasts turned up Sticky Finger Bakery in D.C. We were both familiar with Sticky Fingers because we had purchased their baked goods at local natural food markets. But when we visited the actual location in Columbia Heights, we were pleasantly surprised that they not only served vegan French toast, but that it was actually quite tasty. That got us wondering: how can we make vegan French toast at home without eggs or milk?

There are many excellent vegan cookbooks available today. Celebrities like Alicia Silverstone and Mayim Bialik have published their own vegan cookbooks. Even Betty Crocker has gotten into the game with Betty Goes Vegan: 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Family. There is an entire section devoted to breakfast, including a recipe very similar to what we prepared at home called La Petit French Toast.






I shared the following vegan French toast recipe with my husband, and it proved to be flavorful and filling when you add a side of fruit. The nutritional yeast is essential as it adds texture to the toast. Vegan French toast has become our breakfast of choice for weekend mornings. While my stubborn nature dictates that I prefer French toast made with eggs and milk, if vegan French toast tastes this good and does not come with all the added cholesterol, I can have the vegan version and still be satisfied and content with these!

Vegan French Toast adapted from an online publication
1 C silk (soymilk)
2 T flour
1 T nutritional yeast flakes
1 t sugar or sweetener of your choice
1 t vanilla
1/2 t low-sodium salt or salt-substitute
< 1/4 t nutmeg
4-6 slices of your favorite bread (whole wheat)

Leave your bread slices on the counter to air out while you prepare your bread wash and get out your griddle or fry pan. Combine your wet and dry ingredients in a shallow container like one of those glass baking dishes. Once the ingredients are fully integrated, dip your bread slices into the wash so they’re coated evenly on both sides. Place your slices on a med-high heated griddle or pan for a couple of minutes until golden brown, and flip so the uncooked side gets some browning time too. If you’re not interested in using a pan or griddle, put the bread slices on a clean cookie sheet in a preheated 400°F oven for a few minutes until slightly toasted and then, flip and bake until all sides are golden brown.

Mio Higashimoto is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the East Columbia Branch. She has a background in history and spends much of her spare time knitting, reading, hiking, and watching Star Trek reruns.  


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“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” I call to mind those resonant lines from the film The Help, in honor of International Boost Self-Esteem Month. I’ve just recently discovered that this month long observation existed, and I’m quite pleased to know that at least one month of the year (February) is set aside for something so important (in my opinion).

Self-esteem is something so integral to our overall mental and emotional well-being, and as such, should be nurtured and tended to often. How we feel about ourselves is a tenuous thing with the propensity of being influenced and affected by myriad factors. Just because our youthful days of impressionable naiveté are but a snug memory, doesn’t mean we cease to be exposed to stuff and people that can cause us to feel either a little bigger or a little smaller. Our boss, our loved ones, our friends, and even strangers can say or do something that seems to literally suck a little of our life force right out. Bit by bit, the toxic things that chip away at our spirit can stir up negative emotions that have wider implications on our health and happiness.

Like a plant reaching for and thriving in the sunlight, we should reach for those things and people that fill us with innate joy and happiness. The strength of the joy we build from within serves as the armor to defend us against the poison that aims to break us down. And mind you, sometimes that poison can come in the form of negative thoughts we ourselves create and believe. The point is that each of our lives is valuable and important, and we should never cease to be true to ourselves and those we care for. Our individuality, our differences, our very unique essence should be celebrated and reaffirmed by positive means. The children’s book, Incredible You! : 10 Ways to Let Your Greatness Shine Through, communicates this concept in such clear and simple ways. I urge you to grab a copy from your local Howard County Library System branch when you have a chance. It truly doesn’t take a peer-reviewed journal article or a doctoral thesis to state the case that we do harness the power of our thoughts, and the key to our happiness.

Feeling good about oneself, and having good self-esteem, is a foundation established in early youth. As we mature, we must nurture our spirit in our own unique way, by doing the things and being with those who encourage our greatness to shine. And if we’ve tried, and can’t seem to overcome the crippling thoughts, then we must seek out professional guidance. Life is too short to be plagued by low self-esteem.

So how do you feel about yourself today? What are the things you can do to nurture your self-esteem?

When Jinelee De Souza isn’t channeling her inner super-heroine at Howard County Library System as an Instructor & Research Specialist, she’s doing so at the gym, during impromptu photoshoots with her bff, and everywhere in between.


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What would our lives be like if we were wise to a new reality that prevented us from being well? In her remarkable debut novel, The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker introduces us to a world familiar to us yet changing forever. Seen through the eyes of Julia, an 11-year-old girl, the world as we know it is ending. Days and nights are lengthening as the earth experiences “slowing.” The predictable days and nights required to grow grains, fruits and vegetables are disappearing. The sleep-wake signals required for healthy circadian rhythm are gone.

Sleep disturbance, lack of healthy food and desolate landscapes become Julia’s world. Despite the dire circumstances, Julia’s community continues to function as normally as is possible. Julia herself endures the trials of middle school we all remember, even as the environment becomes unpredictable. Preteen awkwardness, first love and family conflict fill her ever-prolonged days. The book never feels like science fiction because the writing is so gentle, direct and realistic. The setting is the world we ourselves live in, except that the daily cycle of time is stretching.

“Later, I would come to think of those first days as the time when we learned as a species that we had worried over the wrong things: The hole in the ozone layer, the melting of the ice caps, West Nile and swine flue and killer bees. But I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different–unimagined, unprepared for, unknown.”

We readers and writers of this blog care about our health, what we eat, how we exercise. What if we were to learn we could never eat pineapple again, that the increased pull of gravity would change how we kick a soccer ball, that we’d have to go to sleep in the dark one day and in the light the next? Exploring these questions through Julia’s story brings into focus the wellness decisions we make each day. On my first trip to the grocery story after reading The Age of Miracles, I definitely appreciated that I could not only purchase a bag of grapes, but that I could choose between green and red, seedless and Concord.

The East Columbia Morning Books with Coffee book group will discuss the Age of Miracles on Monday, 2/24, at 10 am.

Cherise Tasker is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch and has a background in health information. Most evenings, Cherise can be found reading a book, attending a book club meeting, or coordinating a book group.


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As I write this it’s still deep winter here so we are not doing any shopping in the Farmers’ Markets. It’s a good season to hunker down and read recipes! Especially recipes from foreign lands – with lots of pictures! These were my criteria for choosing books to talk about this month. I wanted new books (less than a year old if possible), about cuisine from another culture, preferably with outstanding photography to take me away from the snow!

The Culinary Institute of America offers Mediterranean Cooking (2013) by Lynne Gigliotti. Her book includes the geographically and culturally diverse countries that border the Mediterranean. A short “history” of the region helps to explain regional differences and similarities as periods of free trade, war, and conquest have stirred the pot. The book is not arranged by region, but by type of food which lets us appreciate how each culture has adapted a dish to make it their own. Her section on grains, legumes, and pasta is especially rich in variety. The illustrations are exquisite—some showing the steps of preparation, but most showing the beautiful presentation of the final dish. I guarantee you will find some recipes here that you have never tried.

Now, on to Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Coastal Waters of Andalucia (2013) by Jeff Koehler. La Cocina Espanola appears to be fully as varied as the entire Mediterranean region. Koehler is clearly enchanted by his adopted country and introduces each recipe with comments and histories. His photographs do show some finished dishes, but even more charming are the pictures of the countryside and farmland and markets. This book is definitely a keeper.

Let’s move on to Italy with Jeff Michaud’s Eating Italy: a Chef’s Culinary Adventure (2013). I don’t know whether to call this a “love story with recipes” or a “cookbook with love story.” Michaud is a young chef with an impressive array of experiences already when he goes to Italy to experience more. He falls in love with Italy and with a lovely Italian girl. His “culinary adventure” is told chronologically so the recipes seem quite random. He includes some very adventurous meals with varietal meats not familiar to most Americans. “Eating Italy” is proof that a recipe book does not have to be useful to be enjoyed.

And now to France for Stéphane Reynaud’s French Feasts: 299 Traditional Recipes for Family Meals & Gatherings (2009). Plenty of illustrated recipes. You didn’t lose the table of contents—it’s on the flyleaves, front and back. The chapter beginnings are written on chalkboard and often are followed by a seemingly unrelated short piece on a French restaurateur. Interspersed are a few cartoon drawings. I was not very impressed but perhaps one needs a Gallic sense of humor to appreciate this book. In 480 pages you will probably find something you like.

Now for something completely different and new to Howard County Library System– Authentic Recipes from Indonesia (2006) by Heinz von Holzen and Lothar Arsana. Be sure to read the six pages of introduction to the food and people of Indonesia. You will learn about the “endless islands, endless variety, endless generosity” of the Indonesian people. This is a book that teaches how real Indonesians cook and eat. The photographs, as promised, are beautiful.

In honor of the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day, let’s go to Ireland. The Country Cooking of Ireland (2009) is written by Colman Andrews and photographed by Christopher Hirsheimer, both co-founders of Saveur Magazine. I liked the structure and organization of this book. Each chapter is preceded by a photo of the Irish countryside and introduced with a photo of the subject of the chapter, a few quotes and a page of text about the food to be covered. More food shots are interspersed, as are short pieces on Irish culture and history. It feels thoroughly researched, with a paragraph at the head of every recipe. In all a very pleasant experience.

Barbara Cornell joined the Howard County Library System in 1993 as Assistant Branch Manager at the new Elkridge Branch. Since 2000 she has enjoyed a shorter commute to the Glenwood Branch.


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Photo by Le Vent Le CriOne of the struggles of living with a chronic condition, in my case rheumatoid arthritis (RA), is that when I’m feeling bad physically it leaks into my attitude and feelings about my self-worth. When I have a lot of joint pain and stiffness, after an extreme day (or several) I start feeling badly about myself.

My husband notices that how I talk changes, I’m more negative and down on myself. I blame myself for ridiculous things, like rainy weather or traffic delays. Everything I observe becomes clouded in gray and gloom.

I really can’t explain what happens because my usual self is annoyingly upbeat and optimistic. Somehow the weight of my chronic pain tips the scale and permeates my mind, poisoning it against myself. On these days, having a supportive outside observer, like my husband, really helps because he gently reminds me that I’m getting down on myself. With his observations, I’m better able to see through the clouds and recognize that it’s not me talking, it’s the RA.

When I’m able to see the mental cloud for what it is, I’m better able to recognize the problem and combat it with some strategies I’ve developed for myself.

  • Positive self talk.
    When I’m aware of the negative self-talk, I work to turn it around by speaking positively instead. No self-insults or criticisms allowed! Instead, I remind myself to speak sweet nothings of positivity and compliments. “You may feel bad, but you’re coping well.” “Don’t listen to the gremlins, remember how far you have come, how hard you have worked.” It may seem silly, but after you say nice things to yourself you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.
  • Treats and rewards.
    On bad days, sometimes I need a treat just for getting through it. Maybe a little chocolate, maybe listening to some favorite music. Rewards for managing tough days are vital for picking up my spirits. Sometimes I promise myself the reward or treat at the beginning of the day, other times it may be an impromptu decision. The point is to remember to treat yourself well, especially on the most difficult days.
  • Taking a break.
    Sometimes I just need to cut myself a break. I’m not perfect—no one is. And I can’t control my disease and a lot of other things about life. Remembering to be gentle with myself is important because I am my harshest critic. So in these moments I have to take a breath, let it go, and give myself a break. Tomorrow is another day and I can hope for better.

On Valentine’s Day remember that you also need to treat yourself well, try a little self-kindness and gentleness. When the negativity gets started, it can make you feel worse and harm your health. Some mental grooming may help with coping on bad days.

Here are a few books to help get you started with simple ways to take care of yourself.








Kelly Mack lives in Washington, DC, and works for a marketing communications firm.



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I’m no relationship expert – in fact I feel a bit weird writing an article about relationships. My husband and I have been together for seven years and married for almost a year and a half. It’s no time at all when compared to the 30+ year marriages I hear about! However, we have a pretty healthy relationship and we’re aware of the ways in which we’ve improved in the past few years. I attribute most of our success to our ability to communicate and our mutual respect for each other. We’ve grown as people and as a couple since we’ve been together, and I thought I’d share what we’ve learned. Thanks to The Book of Love and Passionate Marriage for helping frame the following tips. 

  • Respect one another. You likely have different strengths (and weaknesses) and together you can both benefit from those strengths and aid each other in overcoming your weaknesses. You both bring something vital and equally important to the relationship, and both partners should recognize and appreciate that.

  • Communicate. Discuss your day, big and little annoyances, interesting things you’ve come across, as well as problems. My husband and I always try to keep each other involved in decisions and informed on how we’re feeling. This way, nothing is a huge surprise and we’ve been discussing any little issues long before they become big problems.

  • Be kind. It’s easier to be rude or mean to people who are close to you, but that’s no excuse to treat your partner poorly. When I’m stressed, I snap at those closest to me, and I’ve been trying hard to stop that inappropriate treatment and apologize for it whenever I realize I have done so. Relating to that…

  • Forgive. Don’t hold grudges. “Don’t go to bed angry” is common advice and that’s because it makes a lot of sense. It’s basically a reminder not to dwell on frustrations or fights. You’re in this together and once you’ve discussed an issue, try to come to a conclusion concerning it, even if it takes a few conversations. One thing we do either in the midst of an argument or before one can escalate is step back and figure out what it’s really about. We aren’t actually fighting because the floor didn’t get vacuumed, but because of some previous underlying issue or even an outside problem.

  • Hang out. Enjoy each other’s company often. That can be in the form of date nights out, nights in watching a movie, or just going to bed early at the same time so you can unwind alongside one another. You wouldn’t be together if you didn’t like each other!

  • Try new things together. Don’t let boredom or restlessness negatively affect your relationship.Try new things, even if it’s just a new restaurant. Stay involved in each other’s lives. If you think you aren’t spending enough time together, discuss a new activity you’d like to try together like a gym class or guitar lessons, or even just watch a new TV show together – we have a lot of those at the library!

  • Maintain your identity and work on yourself. Don’t rely on the other person to figure you out or fix all your issues. Keep working on yourself individually as well as together. Your partner is there to support you, not solve all your problems.

  • Celebrate and recognize the uniqueness of your relationship. Try not to let other people’s perceptions affect your relationship. You and your partner may not be a traditional couple, or you might do things your own way, and that’s fine. Do what works for you and keep doing it as long as it keeps working. You are individuals who work uniquely from other people, and you know yourselves best.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means and while there are no absolute guarantees or hard and fast tricks to keeping a relationship healthy, it’s clear the essential element is the two of you working together.

Please comment below and share your tips to keeping your relationship happy and healthy!

This post was crafted by Jessica Seipel and her illustrious hubby, John. Jessica is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She has worked for the Howard County Library System, in various positions, for a decade.

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I can’t help but remember that popular jingle from the “Chia Pet” commercial whenever I reach for Chia seeds in my pantry! Up until a couple of months ago, I’d been a flax seed lover, but recently, learned I could eat those seeds used to grow “hair” on the popular planters from the 80’s! When I learned of the health benefits of the Chia seed, I became more intrigued by them.

Chia seeds come from the plant Salvia Hispanica, native to Mexico and Guatemala. They’ve become popular due to their ease of use and superior nutritional value. Chia seeds are often called a “superfood” because of their many health benefits and micronutrients. (I like to think of “superfoods” as the superheroes of nutrition!)

The Chia seed is rich in omega-3 fatty acids,  which we can only obtain from diet, and are essential for the body to function normally. They are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Plus, they are an excellent source of calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium, not to mention protein as well.

I like using them daily because they can be eaten whole without having to grind them. And I love how versatile they are! They can be sprinkled over any dish, or  soaked to form a gelatinous texture to make puddings, for example. There are so many Chia seed recipes available now: from sauces and jams, to pizza crusts and baked goods.  The possibilities seem endless and the health benefits are amazing!  

Simple Chia Pudding

  • 1/3 cup white chia seeds

  • 1 1/2 cups milk

  • 2 tbsp maple syrup

  • 1/2 tsp vanilla


  1. Combine all the ingredients in a pint jar. Cover the jar with a lid and give it a vigorous shake.

  2. Chill for about an hour, then return to the jar and shake it up. Let chill for at least 4 hours and overnight is even better.

  3. Chia seeds will expand and turn into pudding the consistency of applesauce (it won’t get really thick).

  4. Serve cold with sliced fruit or toasted nuts on top.

Wendy Camassar is an Instruction and Research Specialist at the Central Branch of the Howard County Library System.  Prior to joining HCLS, she worked as a freelance makeup artist for several years.  She enjoys hiking with her family, exercising, reading, and organic foods and skin care products.


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Do you have an emerging reader who also thinks she knows what’s best for her – or is that just me? Well, if you do, and you’re trying to get some simple safety lessons through that adorable (and thick) skull of hers, I have a book for you.

You may want to hand your little reader/know-it-all Should Henry Wear a Helmet?: Staying Safe by Rebecca Rissman. Last month, my suggestions to cure a child of boredom put the onus on parents to do some of the homework, but this time it’s up to the kids to do the work. Ok, maybe parents will want to talk to the kids a little too.

Should Henry Wear a Helmet? is part of Capstone’s What Would You Do? Series designed to “guide readers through the decision-making process. Clear photographs present the scenario and possible outcomes, while simple text asks readers ‘What would you do?’ Brief explanations after each scenario spark conversation for a deeper discussion of the issue.”

Should Henry Wear a Helmet? gives young readers four scenarios to consider: 

1. Should Henry wear a helmet when biking?
2. Should Billy look both ways when crossing the street?
3. Should Bella wear her seat belt in the car?
4. Should Charlotte help her aunt with the cooking when her aunt has left the room?

These are important lessons written in simple and clear language. They serve a dual purpose, teaching basic safety lessons, but also helping the reader see that actions may have consequences they should consider before making decisions. I also feel that letting a child read these lessons on his/her own might more strongly enforce them since we all know that parents know nothing (at least in the minds of certain headstrong children).

Joanne Sobieck-Lingg is glad to blog about her many, disparate interests (though expert in none, except maybe parenthetical asides). In past lives, she was a writer, proofreader, editor, project manager, teacher, and even co-coordinator of a certain health blog. She has been happily ensconced among the fiction and teen books at the Central Branch of HCLS since 2003.




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How much does body image impact on the mental health of today’s adolescent girls?

More than you think. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the NYC Girls Project - by middle school, “body satisfaction” so “hits rock bottom” that “the self-esteem of those girls affected – nearly 70 percent – will not improve “until the age of 20.”

While dysmorphia is complicated by myriad cultural issues, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health offers well-researched ways of altering an adolescent’s perception of perfect. Here’s an excerpt from the published material (p. 13, pdf p. 28).

JHSPH adolescent media images

Another approach may involve simple exposure to great, dead-on young adult novels like Carolyn Mackler’s The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things.

Consider: junior-plus-sized Virginia Shreve is fifteen, smart-mouthed, and standing on the precipice of an emotional cliff. Should she take the plunge and mess around with a boy from school? A boy actually called Froggie? Or should she just go in the kitchen, call it a day, and eat another Twinkie?

Nothing seems right in Virginia’s life, but her insensitive parents (and truly rotten brother) are only half the problem. Her best friend has moved far away, and then, there’s that relentless queen bee at school. Not to mention, she may never ever be the size 2 of her mother’s dreams. And then, a harrowing event changes everything.

Sharply honest, young (and young-at-heart) readers will find themselves cheering for Virginia – all the way to her “a-ha” moment in a Saks Fifth Avenue dressing room, where self-esteem finally outweighs the scale.

Feel good about yourself, and read this book.

Aimee Zuccarini is a research assistant and instructor at the East Columbia Branch. She facilitates several book discussions and writes the book reviews for The Maryland Women’s Journal.


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tea_webSipping tea with a balcony view on a nice day is probably one of the best things in the world. Fortunately, it is also incredibly healthy. It’s filled with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and just enough caffeine to wake you up without leaving you jittery. Green tea, in particular, is touted to be the healthiest of the bunch as it changes the least between stalk and cup, thus retaining the most catechins. Oolong tea is a close second.

What in the world are catechins, you ask? Catechins are a type of antioxidant. They help reduce the amount of free radicals in the body and promote benefits such as clearer skin and possibly cancer prevention. Catechins are a particularly potent form of antioxidant and also give tea its bitter taste.

Tea can be complicated, along with the culture surrounding it. Here are my two of my favorite books which explore the history, varieties and health benefits of tea.

The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook: A Guide to Enjoying the World’s Best Teas is, well, a guide to enjoying the world’s best teas. The book is small and compact, which makes it easy to carry along with you to your local tea shop in order to turn you into a complete tea snob. With incredibly detailed descriptions on brewing and quality, it’s less for those interested in health benefits and more for those looking to do some serious studying, but it’s a great book nonetheless.

The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide acts almost as a textbook on all things tea-related. Here you will find the history, types, and even the human rights issues surrounding tea such as fair trade. There is also an entire chapter on the scientifically proven health benefits of tea in its various forms with definitions of things like “catechins” and those other things we hear are good for us but have no idea what they do.

Aryn is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Miller Branch and has been with HCLS for over 3 years. She has many hobbies including, but not excluded to: exercising, vegetarian living, and eating cake. Perhaps cake is neither “well” nor “wise” but it’s certainly delicious!


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I am excited to tell you about a service of Howard County Library System (HCLS) that you might not be aware of. It might surprise you that all electronic books are not the same! Yes, there are “e-books” you can buy from a vendor or borrow from the library and download to an e-reader or tablet or, even your phone. The other kind of e-book is one that you can link to from the HCLS catalog and read right on your computer screen. This kind of e-book is rapidly replacing the paper reference collection in many libraries. Such a book is always available online from any location and never has to be returned.

I decided to explore these resources for health and wellness information. I searched the HCLS catalog for “health,” but limited my search to “electronic resources.” The first result was “Science Reference Center.” I clicked the “Web Link” symbol and found a collection of categories I could choose, but also a search box where I entered “diet.”

One of the results intrigued me– Overfed and Undernourished NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY In Our Modern Diet. What followed was a 2013 article from Mother Earth News on

…the deficiency of nutrients in modern diet in the U.S. It is stated that many people get enough of some essential nutrients, including potassium, calcium and vitamin D though more than 3,700 calories of food are available daily for every person and more than a third of us are classified as overweight or obese in the nation. It is suggested to eat organic and more whole foods.

Science Reference Center is a database of scientific articles, but it also includes complete books.

Another way to find e-books owned by HCLS is to use the “How do I…” menu on the library’s home page and go to “Use online research tools.”

use online tools

I chose ABC-CLIO e-Book Collection and browsed their “Health & Wellness” category. I was intrigued by The Comprehensive Guide to Skin Care: From Acne to Wrinkles, What to Do (And Not Do) to Stay Healthy and Look Your Best by Rebecca B. Campen, M.D. Yes, the whole book is there to read!

abc clio

Another collection is the Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale offers many subject-specific encyclopedias as well as a Medical Encyclopedia. I chose Nutrition and Well-Being A to Z and found an article on Caffeine that seems very complete and informative.

A collection that is new to HCLS is the National Geographic Virtual Library. In addition to all the National Geographic magazines ever published and magazines and games for kids, there are many full-length books as well. I found Brain: The Complete Mind–How It Develops, How It Works, and How to Keep It Sharp by Restak and Sweeney very interesting.


When you have a question about wellness, remember that your library has many reliable research sources that are not on the shelves. You do not even have to leave your computer to read some of them. Check with the Research staff of Howard County Library system for more help.

Barbara Cornell joined the Howard County Library System in 1993 as Assistant Branch Manager at the new Elkridge Branch. Since 2000 she has enjoyed a shorter commute to the Glenwood Branch.

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I’ve recently discovered how wonderful and rewarding it is to have a bond with my younger sister and I want to share my experience. My sister and I have an age gap of 11 years. When she was born, I was used to being an only child. I didn’t really know how to act, let alone, be an older sister. As she was growing up and making friends, I was finishing high school and starting college. This lead her to experience as the “only child” as well. It’s only in the last couple of years, that our long awaited bond has finally fallen into place.

I’ve realized how incredibly important it is to have that genuine relationship with your sibling(s). It had always felt foreign to me; being a big sister- partially, because I tend to keep to myself at home and also because of a notable age difference. Over time, my sister and I began to talk more, and in doing so we were able to relate more. We discovered similar interests and points of view (shockingly). In addition, I’ve become aware of how to be there for her. I have learned a lot through our interactions (such as her awesome sense of humor – that she definitely got from me). I am beyond thankful to have her open up to me more as time passes. I am grateful to be able to provide that safe haven that I’ve always naturally offered to friends.

My sister is now in her first year of high school and the pressure from her peers to be a certain way or have certain possessions seems off-the-charts in comparison to when I was her age. Media is flooding the minds of today’s youth more than before, and I have declared it my job to help her find the beauty in herself and her surroundings. I want her to to be able to relate to me and the experiences I had at that age and ask questions. I want her to feel as if she’s not alone. Let’s face it, high school was/is tough. I’ve been extremely careful in offering my advice in way that enlightens her, instead of telling her what she ought to do. I want to encourage her to be herself no matter what and share my experiences so she can find peace in her own.

laci and aubriWe have developed a real and true bond that is growing every day. We make time for each other, watch our regular shows together, have inside jokes, and eat late night ice cream together. I even took her to a Justin Bieber concert this past summer for her birthday. (I had a lot of time to make up for, okay?)

I’m completely embracing my ability to offer insight into our family (and reassurance that yes, we are all a bit quirky and, yes, it’s alright), growing up, boys, friends, and other tough topics. Not only do I get to be an older sister, I get to be a new voice in her life.

Editor’s Note: Keep checking our Well & Wise Classes and Events Calendar for more sessions of I’m Going to be a Big Brother or Sister if your family is preparing for the arrival of a new little brother or sister. This class is made available at HCLS in partnership with Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Contact your nearest Howard County Library System Branch for more information. 

Laci Radford is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the East Columbia Branch (while her home branch, in Savage, is being renovated). She is a music lover, writer, and an avid reader. She enjoys attending concerts, plays, and other forms of live entertainment. Her favorite activities include scoping out unique items at thrift stores, bonfires with friends, and having tie-dye parties. She is studying Psychology and plans to become a music and art therapist sooner rather than later.


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Life is stressful. It’s a constant battle for most people to stay calm, collected, content, and relaxed. Adding mental illness to that concoction makes for an even more stressful situation. While I do not have a mental illness with which I need to cope, I do have a loved one with a mental illness that I must cope with. This person has bipolar disorder, and it is the cause of much worry, stress, and agonizing for me. Sometimes there are no issues, but as with any mental illness, bipolar disorder is unpredictable. Currently, this loved one is in the midst of a very manic episode, and it’s hard to act like everything is normal under the shadow of their sometimes scary mania.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of intense highs (mania) and intense lows (depression). A manic episode is a period of abnormally elevated, expansive, or irritable mood and increased energy. Some traits of mania may include: excessive talking or pressure to talk, an inflated self-esteem or sense of grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, increased distractibility, and involvement in high-risk activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g. unrestrained spending sprees or foolish business investments) (DSM-5, p. 124). My loved one shows all of these signs during their manic phases.

I don’t have any definitive answers. It is a struggle to keep in touch with this person during their manic episodes in a way that keeps my own mental health in check. What I can say is: if someone close to you is dealing with mental illness, you are not alone. Your loved one’s mental illness is not your fault, no matter what anybody says, just like I didn’t do anything to make my loved one bipolar. If you’re dealing with your own mental illness, you aren’t alone either. John’s Hopkins delivers a list of ongoing support groups here and there’s always the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which also has a Howard County chapter, or the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Additionally, Grassroots in Howard County offers 24 hour crisis intervention services.

HCLS has some helpful books that can aid caregivers, friends, family members, and other loved ones, including: When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness, The Family Intervention Guide to Mental Illness, When Someone You Love is Bipolar, Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder, and You Need Help!: A Step By Step Plan to Convince a Loved One to Get Counseling.

For more concrete advice, NAMI has created a fact sheet on coping tips for siblings and adult children of people with mental illness. Here are some selected points from that fact sheet:

  • Remember you cannot cure a mental disorder for someone you love and nobody is at fault for it’s development.

  • Unusual and uncharacteristic behavior is a symptom of the disorder. Don’t take it personally.

  • Prioritize your own self care. Exercise, good rest and nutrition, loving relationships, spiritual or religious support, support groups and hobbies are common avenues of self care.

  • You are not a paid professional caseworker. Your role is to be a sibling, child, relative, or friend, not a parent or caseworker.

  • It is important to establish boundaries and to set clear limits for you.

  • It is natural for you to experience a variety of emotions such as grief, guilt, fear, anger, sadness, hurt, confusion and more. You, not the person with the disorder, are responsible for your own feelings.

  • You are not alone. Sharing your thoughts and feelings in a support group can be helpful, enlightening, and reduce isolation and stress.

To my surprise (and happiness), my loved one made the recent decision to seek professional help and accept medication. I never thought it would happen, but I’m glad to now be able to say from personal experience that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. It will be an ongoing struggle to maintain the progress that has been made, but the fact that it was made in the first place, is a huge step forward. My job now, as it always has been, is to take care of myself and let them know I’m here to provide support when they need it.

The one piece of advice I wish I had taken sooner would be to seek more formal, professional support. My other family members and friends aren’t trained mental health professionals nor do they have experience dealing with someone like my mentally unsettled loved one – but there are people out there who do. I didn’t have to go it alone or spend sleepless nights worrying about what would happen next. Take my word for it, stressing out is no fun! The situation may have been out of my hands, but I had plenty of available options I didn’t take. One thing I did do is write this article, and I hope it can help someone else make educated choices in supporting a loved one dealing with mental illness.

Editor’s Note: It is always our recommendation at Well & Wise that you speak with a medical professional for any of your health needs. If you have a life-threatening emergency, please call 911.


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Happiness is all relative. Throughout my life I’ve received amazed comments from many people asking how I stay upbeat and positive while living with a chronic, painful disability. And I’ve got to admit, sometimes, it is hard work! But over the years I’ve realized that it’s just something I decided to do and stuck with it through ups and downs—that is, be happy.

We all know that money doesn’t equal happiness. Neither does health. When I was a child I spent a fair amount of time on a cot in the nurse’s office at school. Every day I had to visit the nurse to take medication, have physical therapy sessions, or because I was unwell. Being sick was my natural state, though I didn’t think of it as sick. Rheumatoid arthritis was my condition and so, as I grew, I learned what I needed to do to manage it.

Students would report to the nurses offices with illnesses or just because they wanted some individualized attention or an escape from class. Here I observed the lesson that complaining doesn’t always equate to those who are the most sick or in great pain. Because while I never complained about my daily joint pain, others could muster complaints with great creativity.

In a similar vein, I managed to stay happy despite my increasing pain and disability. By my teen years I needed a wheelchair because my arthritis limited my walking abilities. Yet I observed others who to me seemed healthy and otherwise well, but never seemed to be happy.

Many people struggle with depression and mood disorders, but sometimes I fear that the average person focuses on the negative aspects of their life versus the ones that make them happy. I think because a lot of every day is a struggle for me, I’ve chosen to focus on being happy and appreciating the little things that make life worthwhile. For me, happiness is a state of being and a practice.

I think it’s possible to work on being happy, to choose happiness. In fact, sometimes at our lowest or in our worst states of health we can finally realize how lucky we are.

So how to get happy in the New Year? Perhaps start by listing all the wonderful parts of your life. Thank yourself and the people that bring you happiness every day.

When you have a bad day, take a moment to recount the good parts and appreciate the positives. It can even be helpful to think about what you gained from that bad day. Is there a lesson you can take away?

Meditation can be helpful for calming and clearing the mind of stresses, which can also help cultivate a practice of happiness.

Here are a few books that can help with thinking about happiness and determining what that means for you:

I would also recommend, Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh.

For me, the decision to be happy came a long time ago. I did not have a choice about having Rheumatoid Arthritis or the aggressive progression of my disease. But I realized that I had a choice about how I approached life and responded to my personal situation. In that moment, I chose to be happy and to live as well as possible.

What does happiness mean to you and how can you embrace it in the new year?

Kelly Mack lives in Washington, DC, and works for a marketing communications firm.


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Happy Holidays! I hope you’ve survived. My brood and I have been having a good time, but we have run into some days where all the books, chores/activities, and games/toys in the world can’t seem to satisfy a kid’s insatiable need for occupation. In short, my kids claim, on occasion, “I’m booored; there is nothing to do.”

My normal response is to remind them that I was not put on this earth to entertain them and that there are thousands of things that they could be doing to help around the house (this often inspires them to miraculously find something fun to do). But I do recall the days when they were a bit less self-sufficient and I was not always full of ideas—the preschool years. Though my kids are past that stage, I still look for the new craft or activity for us to try on occasion. I can usually come up with an adventure or two, but crafts and art projects have always been a challenge for me. I am decidedly NOT crafty–or is it craftsy?

Recently, I came across the books Art Lab for Kids and the brand new Art Lab for Little Kids. Now these books probably would have been handier to have a few years ago, but I have been able to cull some fun ideas from them for my lot, and they certainly might be a good resource if you have some little ones at home who are climbing the walls during snow days and vacation days.

Both books feature 52 art projects set into weekly lessons. The books begin with an introduction on setting up a space for making art (though the Art Book for Little Kids provides a more comprehensive list of materials). The lessons can be singular or built upon into units, beginning with drawing; moving through painting and printmaking; and then ending with sculpture, collage, and mixed media. And each lesson relates back to the work and style of a real, contemporary artist. Art Lab for Little Kids is developed for the younger set (ages 4-6).

These books seem perfect for parents and teachers. The lessons are open-ended, so they can be used again and again with different results each time. And the colorful photos not only help to illustrate how the projects are done, but show how different people using the same lesson will yield different results. Most importantly, the lessons are fun and interesting (String and balloon printing! Torn-paper collages! Paper family quilts!–just to name a few of the fun activities) for children of all ages and experience levels (and even the adults guiding them through the exercises). So pick one or both books up, and maybe a dull, trapped-in-the-house day can become one filled with artistic creativity and discovery.

Joanne Sobieck-Lingg is glad to blog about her many, disparate interests (though expert in none, except maybe parenthetical asides). In past lives, she was a writer, proofreader, editor, project manager, teacher, and even co-coordinator of a certain health blog. She has been happily ensconced among the fiction and teen books at the Central Branch of HCLS since 2003.



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Running outside in winter? Are you crazy? Although cold weather and the holidays can really play havoc on your running regimen, winter is one of the best seasons to be a runner. The weather is cool, the path isn’t crowded, and the running outfits are adorable! It’s easier than you think. All you need are a few key strategies and a firm running goal, and you’ll be running in any kind of weather.

Set a Specific Goal
There is nothing more motivating than to train for a race or specific goal. Runner’s World has a number of titles to help you plan your first 5K, half marathon, or reach your desired number of miles every month. You’ll have instant motivation in knowing you have to train for the race or hit your target mileage. Reward yourself when you reach your goals, then set another one.

Run with a Buddy or Group
Make your workouts safe and social. You’ll have a built in motivational resource, a friend to chat with along the way, and it’s safer to run in numbers. Running with others (or pets) is a great way to beat the winter doldrums. If that’s not enough motivation, reward yourself with a fun race destination like Florida, California, or anywhere warm. Alexandra Heminsley’s book, Running Like a Girl, provides useful insight to the value of support when integrating running as a part of your life.

Having the right apparel makes all the difference in any athlete’s world. Layering is the key to avoiding over- or under-dressing. Consider wearing a layer that blocks the wind; pants, tights, and tops that wick the moisture away from your skin; and, for the coldest days, a mid-layer that fits more loosely (like fleece) that insulates and moves the moisture from your base layer away from your skin. Your winter running wardrobe should include a running jacket, hat or headband, gloves, tights, and a few long-sleeve shirts. Your body temperature increases as you run, so you don’t need many layers in most winter conditions.

Take Extra Time To Warm Up
Your body will warm up more slowly in cold weather, especially if you run in the morning. Take at least five minutes to walk briskly before you start to run. It may take 10 – 15 minutes of running before you are completely warmed up and in your running tempo. Take a hot shower to get your circulation going or put your clothes in the dryer for a few minutes and then, head out for your run. Runner’s World Complete Book of Women’s Running is packed with tips to make your run an injury-free and pleasurable journey.

Keep it Fun
Mix up your route, run through the neighborhood, or run a fun race such as The Ugly Sweater Run. There are tons of great wintertime running events that will get you outside and enjoying winter rather cursing it.

Happy Trails!

Anna Louise Downing is a Customer Service Specialist at the Miller Branch. She is an avid reading and enjoys Disney, music and her passion of running. She has been a race ambassador for several local races, is a Sweat Pink Ambassador for promoting women’s health. Follow her journey towards being physically fit with running and healthy lifestyle here on Well & Wise.


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We hear about “core training” so often in the fitness world, yet few people understand what this means. Sometimes people say it in reference to wanting to reduce their waist size, other times it’s used in conjunction with a sport. Most people equate the word “core” with the “abs”, but the core is more than creating a six pack and doing crunches.

Do you remember that song, “Dem Bones,” from childhood? The lyrics go something like, “ the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone, the hip bone’s connected to the back bone,” etc. Little did you know you were getting a simple anatomy lesson at such a young age. The hips, low back, and abdominal area connect the upper body to the lower body. All these bones connect and impact each other. The upper and lower bodies work in together during all movement. Pay attention to how you walk. As your right leg comes forward, your left arm swings forward and vice versa.

The core muscles of the trunk work to help us maintain posture, relieve some chronic pain, minimize risk of injury, and control movements. Core exercises generally work the muscles that stabilize the spine, pelvic area, and shoulders. In order to move efficiently, the muscles in these areas need to be able to work by themselves in isolation, but also learn to work together to transfer movement to the legs and arms. Think of these muscles running from the shoulder through the hip and into the legs as a chain where each link connects the other. If one link is missing or impaired, it affects how the rest of the chain moves. The arms and legs really don’t want to lift heavy things and move by themselves! They need the trunk muscles to help.

Most core exercises can be done with little to no equipment. To design your program, first consult your physician and consider meeting with a professional trainer. It’s important to take past injuries or accidents into consideration. Create a program that provides exercises specific to your activity, whether it is for sport or everyday life. To list all the exercises to train these muscles would make for a small novel. These two exercises tend to fit many peoples’ needs and help to reconnect the body.

To train the abdominal muscles more effectively, begin to work on a basic plank. The most basic form of the plank starts lying on the stomach then propping your body up on your elbows and toes or knees. The body should form a straight line from the head down to the feet or knees. Hold this position for a certain amount of time; start with 20 – 30 seconds.

Photo by Michelle Wright

To get the feeling for good form with the plank, use a broom handle and place it on your back. It should touch your body on the back of your head, between your shoulder blades and at your tail bone. This exercise takes some mental focus as you need to consciously focus on holding your abdominals in tight. Variations of the plank include holding on your hands instead of elbows, holding on your side, alternating lifting a leg or arm and hold for longer. Increase time and/or intensity as your body feels comfortable.

In order to work the hips and get those buns of steel, lie flat on your back with your knees bent at about 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. Lift up your toes so your heels stay in contact with the ground. With your toes up in the air, lift and lower your hips slowly by squeezing your butt cheeks. You should feel your butt tighten. Hold the position at the top for a few seconds to get the feel in the right muscle group. Play around with this one. Be sure you feel it in your butt and not the back of your thighs. Hold at the top for longer to get the right feeling.

Photo by Adrian Valenzuela

Once you feel comfortable with isolation movements, begin using multi-directional exercises such as lunges with rotation into your program. Progress the exercises as you build strength. Incorporate core training on a regular basis throughout your workout program. Continue to find the exercises specific to your body and your needs.

Lisa Martin founded the Girls on the Run program in Howard County in 2009. Lisa is AFAA & NSCA certified, has more than 15 years of personal training experience, and practices a multidimensional wellness approach at her studio, Salvere Health & Fitness. Lisa says that one of the best things about being in the health and fitness industry is watching people accomplish things they never thought possible.


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Photo by Alan Cleaver

I wish I could say I’ve lost an incredible amount of weight since my last declaration of change.

I really did try. I purchased healthy cookbooks, pulled my trainers out of the closet to go on hour long walks and cleared my kitchen of anything remotely destructive (i.e. Oreos, caramel chews and tapioca pudding cups). I’d written down my health goals on a bright yellow sheet of paper and posted it on my refrigerator door so that any time I had the urge to graze its contents, my eyes would have to read the following:

“LOSE WEIGHT OR LOSE YOUR LIFE.” Dramatic? Yes. Effective? Eh.

I started planning my meals out according to whatever SELF magazine had in its pages. Egg white omelet and wheat toast for breakfast. Salad with light dressing and lean protein for lunch. Grilled salmon and sautéed veggies with brown rice for dinner. Yes folks, I was well on my way to a fab new me.

It felt good to stock up my refrigerator with fresh produce and organic protein. I loved how pretty the bright green kale, bell peppers and deep orange carrots sat on my refrigerator shelf in an array of colors that said “J is now healthy” to all who opened the doors for a peek.

This was Sunday afternoon, of course.

On Tuesday afternoon and two deadlines later, I’d failed miserably at keeping up with my meal plan and by Thursday morning, I could barely remember what I’d stocked in my refrigerator. I’d ordered takeout every day that week and the candy bar wrappers in my desk drawer proved that I was doing something wrong.

By Saturday, I’d sworn off my new plan completely. If I was going to fail, I was going to fail big and it didn’t feel good when I polished off my Five Guys burger and fries.

I re-evaluated my previous week that following Sunday. It was a new week for me. I needed to try something that would work. No matter what magazines, books, or diet websites told me, no one knew me better than – me.

I have to wean myself off the junk food, not quit cold turkey to make this work. So for week 1 (my third or fourth) of my new plan, I decided to just replace one thing in my day with a healthier alternative and I chose breakfast. Whatever I ate for the rest of the day didn’t matter. Breakfast just had to be good for my health.

So this past Monday, instead of my usual detour to a famous bagel chain for a sugared-up toasted cinnamon bagel slathered in hazelnut cream cheese, I opted to make my own tasty breakfast at home. I woke up 20 minutes early to make scrambled eggs, topped with salsa, and with whole wheat toast. I included a side of freshly sliced fruit and enjoyed the benefits a full, homemade breakfast.

By lunch, I was so happy with my breakfast, I thought I’d keep up with lunch and chose steamed veggies and lean protein over the usual slice of pizza.

I still had an ice cream sandwich that night, but realized one small choice each day could positively impact my attitude towards eating, even if just for that day.

J is a single, young adult living and working in Central Maryland who loves wrinkly puppies, Ryan Gosling, and everything sweet. Her life appears happy and healthy, but she’s been keeping a secret: she’s a sugar addict. Witness her journey toward healthier living inside and out here on Well & Wise.


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Cold Feet


Photo by Irum Shahid.

I know winter is here when I start wearing my socks to bed. After that first night of being unpleasantly awakened feeling cold, I realize that going to bed barefoot will have to stop for a few months. Wearing socks has always helped me to fall asleep and stay asleep even when the temperature drops overnight.

Good circulation to the extremities keeps hands and feet warm. The body is designed to preserve heat preferentially in the internal organs. During cold exposure, peripheral blood vessels narrow in the fingers and toes as a protective mechanism. For this reason, hands and feet are the first body parts to feel the effects of a temperature drop as blood flow is redirected centrally. To keep hands and feet warm in the cold, maintain good blood flow by wearing warm gloves and socks.

Observing whether one’s temperature sensitivity has changed is important because several health conditions exacerbate the physiologic phenomenon of cold feet. Diabetes can cause neuropathy (nerve dysfunction) and vascular insufficiency, both of which decrease the body’s ability to respond effectively to changes in temperature. Hypothyroidism affects the body’s ability to regulate body temperature and can increase sensitivity to cooler temperatures. Peripheral vascular disease results in decreased and blocked blood flow, limiting the normal response to temperature changes. Raynaud disease results in blood vessel spasms, blocking blood flow to the extremities and increasing cold sensitivity. Raynaud is more prevalent in women and in residents of colder climates. Another cause of cold feet that is more prevalent in women is anemia. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia and results in decreased oxygen-carrying capacity in the blood and circulatory deficiencies.

Life changes may factor into increased temperature sensitivity. People with poor physical fitness have lower muscle mass and may be more sensitive to temperature changes. Muscles are well supplied with blood vessels and improve the body’s ability to respond to heat and cold. Aging results in decreased subcutaneous fat and thinning of the skin. Smoking negatively affects blood flow, resulting in relative temperature change intolerance. Alcoholism may result in neuropathy as may deficiencies in B-complex vitamins.

Don’t wait until you wake up with cold feet. Put those comfy socks on as soon as you get into bed. Warm feet may actually help facilitate sleep onset. A 1999 study showed a positive correlation between dilated blood vessels in the feet and quicker initiation of sleep.

Good night, sleep tight and grab those socks.

Cherise Tasker is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch and has a background in health information. Most evenings, Cherise can be found reading a book, attending a book club meeting, or coordinating a book group.


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It feels like Thanksgiving was just yesterday, but here we are getting ready for Christmas! I know that many of us grabbed a can of that jellied cranberry sauce and proceeded to plop it out onto a decorative plate and sliced it up to serve. Did you consider your cranberry duty done for the year. Hardly! Christmas (and the rest of winter really) is an excellent opportunity to play around with cranberries, not the homogenized gel that comes in a can. Cranberries and cranberry juice are commonly used for prevention and treatment of urinary tract infections (UTIs) according to one of HCLS’s medical databases Medline Plus (as well as all the old wives tales we’ve heard). Bring on that magical little berry!

The cranberry is exceptionally nutritious, and while no recipe may be as quick and easy as shaking a can out, cranberries are worth it. I know so many people who adore the jiggly canned stuff (myself included), but let’s take walk on the wild side and consider some other alternatives. Enter Cranberry Pecan Bread from Gluten-free & Vegan Bread (Jennifer Katzinger, 2012). This recipe is a simple way to integrate cranberries in your holiday spread. And speaking of spreads, if you do enjoy a good cheese, consider combining some cooked cranberries into some soft goat cheese and making a cheese ball! You’ll be amazed at how easy this bread is to bake and how impressed your guests will be. Cranberries and pecans pair well and will satisfy both the simple and sophisticated pallet alike.

Have you thought about the other flavor profiles that the cranberry can compliment? How about a recipe that offers a sweet and savory spin using cranberries? Whereas the bread recipe nods its head to the essence of the cranberry, you will feel the punch that this tart little berry packs in The Cape Cod Cookbook. Give it a try and and I’m sure you’ll find yourself enjoying the complexity of the easier-than-I-imagined recipe for cranberry salsa, which is the titled star recipe in this book.


If you’re looking for more ways to spice up your Christmas cranberries you should definitely check out The Veggie-lover’s Sriracha Cookbook by Randy Clemens. The recipe you’ll want to try is Maple-Sriracha Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Cranberry Wild Rice. The combination of cranberries with the Sriracha brussel sprouts is pretty mind-blowing. Talk about a dish best served with cranberries!

Other fun alternatives to the canned-cranberry-catastrophe? Try some dried cranberries in your salad, make a cranberry pear cobbler, spiced cranberry apple chutney, cranberry pistachio biscotti, white chocolate cranberry cookies, and cranberry oatmeal bars. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is!

In the words of Ina Garten, “Let’s get back to basics!” She happens to have a nice Cranberry Fruit Conserve recipe in her book, Barefoot Contessa Parties! (p. 225), but we’re going to use a sugar substitue and with fewer ingredients, Martha Stewart’s coulis wins. Here’s an easy recipe from The Martha Stewart Living Christmas Cookbook (p.323).

Cranberry Coulis (makes 1 cup)
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1/3 cup sugar *substitute with Splenda / Stevia
Zest of 1 orange

Combine cranberries, 3/4 cup water, sugar, and zest in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer until cranberries have burst, about 12 minutes. Pass through a sieve into a small bowl, and discard solids. Serve chilled.

Looks pretty easy, right? I challenge you to give it a try! No more shall we be slaves to the quivering mass of dark red cylindrical goodness that contains on average 21 grams of sugar per serving size! Oh, and that serving size is a meager quarter of a cup, so keep that in mind as well. Find these recipes and more at your local HCLS branch.

Sarah Cooke is a Teens’ Instructor & Research Specialist at HCLS Savage Branch. When she’s not working with her beloved teen customers on rap-battles and murals, she enjoys time with her rambunctious pre-schooler. He is currently teaching her the joys of finger-painting outside the lines, which could very well be a life lesson for all of us. This piece was co-authored by Jessica Protasio.


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I have a lovely big bag full of York apples I bought at the last Howard County Farmers’ Market at the Glenwood Branch Library. Now I have to decide what to do with them all! Time for a little research at the library.

An Apple a Day

Everyone knows how healthy apples are supposed to be. I suppose my family could each just eat one apple a day—these York apples are delicious! And there are proponents of raw foods (also called “living foods”) who would say that is the best way to benefit from an apple—just eat it out of my hand.

Ani Phyo, author of Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen: Easy, Delectable Living Foods Recipes (2007), is one of these proponents. She says “Organic foods in their most natural, uncooked state are packed full of taste, nutrients, and enzymes.” Ani’s enthusiasm is rather contagious and the book is sprinkled with photos of Ani enjoying her raw food.

Gene Stone, author of Forks over Knives: the Plant-Based Way to Health (2011), advises that we, “Eat plants, the more intact the better—minimally refined… The closer you can get to the plant as it exists in nature the better.” You can also find Forks over Knives: The Cookbook and Forks over Knives the DVD at the library.

I may not be ready for Mimi Kirk’s Live Raw: Raw Food Recipes for Good Health and Timeless Beauty (2011), but if you think you would like to adopt a raw/live food diet she will offer you much passionate encouragement.

Another author, dietitian Samantha Heller, in Get Smart: Samantha Heller’s Nutrition Prescription for Boosting Brain Power and Optimizing Health (2010), says, “Fruits and vegetables are really, really good for your brain.” However I eat them I’m sure my apples will be good for my health.

The Apple Recipes

As tasty as a raw apple can be I do love the fragrance of apples cooking in a sweet or savory dish. Cooked apples can be so warming, tempting and satisfying. I found a few great titles to share.

The Farmers’ Market Guide to Fruit: Selecting, Preparing & Cooking (2001) by Jenni Fleetwood, begins with apples. Fleetwood touches on the history of our love affair with apples, how to select and store them, and follows with four recipes including the all-important apple pie and a tempting applesauce sundae. The photos are lovely but are only of whole fruits, not of finished recipes.


Alice Waters, legendary chef and champion of local organic produce, wrote Chez Panisse Fruit (2002). Her segment on apples begins with reminiscences and goes on to encourage us to try more of the 7000 varieties of apple grown around the world. Her ten carefully chosen recipes include salads, an onion-and-apple marmalade for pork, a tart, a galette, and a sherbet.


And finally, a book devoted to the apple—Olwen Woodier’s Apple Cookbook (2002). The author begins with a short history of the popular varieties (which are listed in detail at the end of the book) and how they were developed, and goes on to apple breakfasts, drinks, salads and desserts. I really like the arrangement of one recipe to a page. However, in Fleetwood’s and Waters’ books, there are no illustrations of the recipes. This book is definitely spending a little time in my kitchen.

I would like to recommend a newer book—The Apple Lover’s Cookbook (2011) by Amy Traverso, but I will have to wait in line with other library customers to get a look at it!

A word about the raw food diets mentioned here—Howard County Library System strives to maintain a balance of information about all facets of health care but does not endorse any particular lifestyle. Talk with your healthcare provider before embarking on an eating plan.

Barbara Cornell joined the Howard County Library System in 1993 as Assistant Branch Manager at the new Elkridge Branch. Since 2000 she has enjoyed a shorter commute to the Glenwood Branch.


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December 16, 5:30-9:00 p.m. Adult, Child  & Infant CPR and AED. $55. Learn the skills needed to clear an airway obstruction, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). Earn a two-year American Heart Association completion card. Howard County General Hospital Wellness Center, 10710 Charter Drive, Columbia, MD.

  December 16, 10:15 a.m. & 11:15 a.m. Frosty Twist and Shout. Winter songs and movement for little ones at Elkridge Branch. Ages 0-5; 30 min. No registration required.

December 16, 10:15 a.m. & 11:30 a.m. Healthy Kids. Explore simple health concepts inspired by children’s literature at Miller Branch. Ages 3-5 with adult; 45 min. Limited space; tickets available at Children’s Desk 15-30 minutes before class.

December 16, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Blood Pressure Screening at the 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. No registration required.

December 16, 4:00 p.m. Epidemic: Infectious Diseases at Miller 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. Ages 11-18. HiTech is funded in part by a National Leadership Grant for Libraries from IMLS. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.

December 17, 10-11:30 a.m. Medicare 102: Why Medicare Isn’t Enough. Learn about Medicare Advantage/Health Plans (Part C) and Medicare Supplement Policies (Medigap). What should you consider when deciding which Medicare choices are right for you? Understand how plans vary, your costs, and when is the best time to enroll. Learn how to protect yourself and Medicare from healthcare fraud. Presented by the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), Howard County Office on Aging. Howard County General Hospital Wellness Center, 10710 Charter Drive, Columbia, MD.

December 18, 7:00-8:30 p.m. Breast Cancer Support Group. This group, facilitated by Mary Dowling, LCSW-C meets on the third Wednesday of each month. Free. Registration requestedClaudia Mayer Cancer Resource Center, 10710 Charter Drive, Columbia MD. Call 410-740-5858 for more information.




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Stress can severely affect my rheumatoid arthritis (RA). When I’m stressed, I feel more achy, tired, stiff and all around crummy. I don’t know the science behind what stress does to the body, but I do know that I feel it physically, mentally and emotionally. Another side effect of stress is that I am less capable of my daily coping with my condition. When I’m stressed I have fewer mental resources to take care of myself.

The holidays can be a stressful time between the demands of events, family visits, shopping, cooking and traveling. While I love this time of year and enjoy the festivities, I also need to be mindful of managing the stress and taking care of myself so that I can best enjoy the holidays.

I have a few coping mechanisms for preventing and managing stress during the holiday season:

Making Lists—While making lists is a habitual activity of mine, they are especially helpful this time of year. I have lists for gifts, holiday cards, and tasks to complete. Ticking things off the lists makes me feel better and relieves stress. Also, knowing what I have to do and prioritizing my activities helps me manage my time. Frankly, I may not get to everything, but I know what is most important and I can concentrate on those things.

Getting Plenty of Rest—I always struggle with getting enough rest! RA is an autoimmune disease, which saps strength and energy. Sometimes I get run down and sick, which is often connected to not resting enough. This is why I love naps, when I can grab them. Sleeping in on the weekends can also help. Taking it easy is a good habit because it makes me feel better and more energized for all the holiday fun.

Exercising—With all the responsibilities of the holidays it can be easy to let the regular exercise drop. However, I’ve learned that when I don’t exercise I feel worse and enjoy the holidays less. I need my regular stretches and strengthening exercises to help keep my joints happy and my energy up. If anything, I should try to exercise a little more, albeit gently, to counteract some of the stiffness that comes with winter.

Eating Carefully—Recently, I’ve begun tracking my eating and calories. There are many easy phone apps that can help. It has made me more aware of some of my good and bad eating habits. With all the sweets and treats that are abundantly available during the holidays, I need the reminder that every bite counts. While I continue to indulge, I do it more carefully and really think about whether the calories are worth the extra cookie. Another way to think about it is, how much extra exercise will I need to burn off the additional calories? Now, I am trying to plan ahead about what I eat, so that I can eat smarter while still enjoying myself.

Taking Time Out—This is perhaps the most important coping mechanism for me! I need quiet time! Sometimes all the shopping, parties, and activities just wear me out and I need some time in a quiet room, a little meditation, reading, or listening to music that I enjoy. De-stressing allows me to relax my mind, relinquish my worries, and have time alone. It’s perfectly fine to need a little time out to recharge before rejoining the holiday frenzy.

What kinds of de-stressing or stress prevention strategies do you have? How does stress affect you if not managed well?

Kelly Mack lives in Washington, DC, and works for a marketing communications firm.


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It’s okay to gain weight over the holidays, right? It’s the time of year when we all give ourselves permission to overeat and excuse some weight gain. Well, why sabotage all the good habits we spent months establishing? Luckily, there are lots of ways to enjoy spending time with family and friends and feel the joy of the holiday season without loosening our belts! Here at Well & Wise, we’ve already covered some ways to prevent holiday weight gain, but for many of us desserts are hard to pass up! I know I’ve often told people the fun “fact” that sugar causes your stomach to expand and so there’s always room for dessert. Here are some books and their recipes for delicious and light desserts you can indulge in without totally breaking your diet.

Just off the new shelf, we have Hungry Girl 200 Under 200 Just Desserts. This entry in the popular series of cookbooks brings recipes for cake-in-a-mug, cupcakes, cake pops, cheesecakes (and normal cakes), brownies, fudge, pies, softies, whoopie pies, ice cream treats, crunchers, dessert cones, cream fluff snacks, trifles, parfaits, creme brulees, fruity desserts, and finally, “desserts in disguise.” Whew! A lot of these recipes are surprisingly simple, and a separate listing in the back pages gives lists like 30 Minutes or Less, 5 Ingredients or Less, and Pumpkin Attack! Those of us trying to find something quick and low-calorie to take to a workplace holiday party can definitely find it in this book.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the TV show The Biggest Loser, but The Biggest Loser Dessert Cookbook may have me looking the other way. Many of the desserts in this book are downright impressive. Cookies, cakes, rum balls, pies, pumpkin ice cream, sorbet, even dessert pizza. Just think of how impressed everyone will be when you bring a Naked Apple Tart (120 calories, p. 44) or Strawberry Cloud Souffles (75 calories, p. 62) to the table! Not to mention, Pumped Up Pumpkin Pie Bites (94 calories, p. 172).

Last, we have some oldies, but still goodies: Healthy Homestyle Desserts brings cookies, pies, tarts, cakes, and more “with a fraction of the fat and calories” while and Perfect Light Desserts promises cakes, cookies, pies, and more made with real butter, sugar, flour, and eggs “under 30 calories per generous serving.” Now those are some taglines I can get behind. I can even promise you that nobody will scoff at the Very Berry Swirl Cheesecake (p. 162) from Healthy Homestyle Desserts. The secret to this cookbook is replacing high calorie and fat ingredients with lighter choices like using fat-free cream cheese, egg whites instead of whole eggs, and so on – it even provides a scorecard to show how many calories and grams of fat were reduced. Perfect Light Desserts on the other hand has a lot of recipes that are a bit outside the box of traditional American fare: Coconut Poppy Seed Coffee Cake (p. 84), Butterscotch Pie (p. 98), Coconut Tapioca with Lime and Mint-scented Pineapple (p. 141), Snow Eggs (meringue eggs with a custard sauce, p. 157), and Earl Grey Sherbert (p. 218) – and those are just the recipes I want to try.

I didn’t forget about those of you with specialized diets. No longer does vegan cousin Tallulah have to watch as everyone eats that delicious cake full of eggs and milk – as long as you make something from Chloe’s Vegan Desserts, which is a brand new cookbook full of vegan versions of everyday favorite desserts, from cookies to cake to pie. For raw diets we have Everyday Raw Desserts, low-carb fans can enjoy sweets from Everyday Low-Carb Desserts, and organic eaters can check out the dessert section in The Organic Family Cookbook, which boasts very unique organic desserts, many of them vegan to boot.

So, it looks like you can have your cake and eat it too! You’re sure to find the right recipe when you browse HCLS’ extensive collection of healthy and low-calorie cookbooks for your holiday fare.

Jessica Seipel is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She has worked for the Howard County Library System, in various positions, for a decade.


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Can you believe it’s already December? Now, that you’ve made it through Thanksgiving, what’s on your mind? Is your calendar packed with parties, gift giving, decorating, kids’ performances, and other assorted requisite holiday happenings? Well, this may be the perfect time to talk about “holiday mindfulness.” You may be thinking, My mind is already full holiday stuff! What else am I supposed to be mindful of? Good question. The answer is you. With all the stress and pressure to get things done this holiday season you may feel overwhelmed. Perhaps, your emotions are playing that dreadful tug of war game with your sanity. If you feel pulled in every direction and obligated to have a jolly good time in the midst of it, mindfulness may be the remedy you need to abate some of the craziness you may experience this month.

Mindfulness is one of the most intriguing and fascinating subjects I have ever researched. If you’ve never heard of this term before it’s simple; mindfulness is awareness. That’s it. Jon Kabat-Zinn created Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a meditative method which is used and taught nationwide for treating pain, illness, and stress. According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is cultivated by purposefully paying attention, being present in the moment, non-judgmentally.

Unfortunately, it’s so easy to be caught up in negative thought patterns that trigger unhealthy emotional reactions causing overloads of stress and anxiety. Through the systematic cultivation of mindfulness you can become more aware of reality, your thoughts and emotions, and the way you are in relationship to them. Mindfulness, instead of adding to the mess, gives us a chance to breathe in the present and see things in a new perspective.

We have been conditioned to try and solve our problems by doing more with our minds. Thinking about the past and the future does help us to plan and grow, but the only moment we have is the present. Part of the essence of mindfulness is to center ourselves in the present and use our innate inner capacity for awareness to better respond to situations moment by moment. Can you see how this may relate to the holiday season?

If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness and harnessing the power of being present you may enjoy the following books available through Howard County Library System. You can also try a meditation workshop at the Miller Branch or join a class at Howard County General Hospital.







So, the next time you feel overwhelmed with holiday stress, slow down and check-in with yourself. Get in touch with what is truly most important for your well-being. Disconnect from the hustle and bustle and connect with your emotions and health. Mindfulness may help you make more effective decisions, enjoy the richness that life has to offer, and be able to understand yourself in a (potentially) greater way. I hope you find that you are worth the time despite the haste that the holiday season brings. May your holidays be peaceful and bright!

Jason Pasquet is a Customer Service Specialist at HCLS. He takes an interest in psychology, business, and is an advocate and promoter of high-quality education for all.


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My last couple of posts have been a little on the heavy side. So, with the holiday season upon us, I decided to turn my attention in that direction. Some of you may be thinking: “How is that a happier direction? I am under so much stress, time pressure, financial strain, and an overabundance of family togetherness, I’m pulling out my hair. Arrrgggghhhhh!” Okay, maybe no one is actually thinking that, especially the “Arrrgggghhhhh!” part. But still, I know the holidays can be a bit stressful.

One particular stress that my husband and I encounter around this time of year is the transformation of our lovely, funny children into a pack (can you have a pack of two?) of ravenous “gimme” monsters. That is to say that sometimes they get a little too caught up in Santa and wish lists and shiny advertising. We’ve been able to combat this a bit by trying to emphasize the more spiritual aspects of the holidays. We like to remind them that traditions, letting the people in your life know that you love them, and just being together are the true gifts of the season (and DO NOT have to involve cash and prizes). We have also cut off a major source of the gimme’s, commercial-based television. But, apparently among the six and eight-year-old set, water-cooler (or playground) conversation topics often include what Legos are hot and how many My Little Pony ponies one owns.

My husband and I are not perfect and neither are our children, but we do okay in our efforts to keep the gimme’s at bay. Fortunately, there are some interesting books at HCLS to help, or at least provide some perspective. Juliet Schor’s Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture examines the materialism, commercialism, and consumerism of our society, especially as it is aimed at children. Schor also gives some ideas on how the battle these powerful (and calculated) influences.

There is also the sometimes chilling Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover Childhood by Susan E. Linn. And if your kids are older, you may want to check out (or better yet, have them check out) How Does Advertising Impact Teen Behavior.

There are also some excellent ideas in Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success by Madeline Levine (and Levine takes on way more than the gimme’s—definitely worth a look). And Rafe Esquith’s Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Kids in a Mixed-Up, Muddled-Up, Shook-Up World will make you want to do right by your children in every way—not only learning to fight off the gimme’s, but to grow into a person of uncompromising character (and we could use of few more, don’t you think?).

Or you may also want to relate to your kids on a level they’ll understand. Read something to them like Betty Bunny Wants Everything by Michael B. Kaplan, and they may just figure out that they have to learn to fight the gimme’s a bit on their own.

(P.S. Betty Bunny is featured on HCLS’s Choose Civility book list for children.)

Joanne Sobieck-Lingg is glad to blog about her many, disparate interests (though expert in none, except maybe parenthetical asides). In past lives, she was a writer, proofreader, editor, project manager, teacher, and even co-coordinator of a certain health blog. She has been happily ensconced among the fiction and teen books at the Central Branch of HCLS since 2003.


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Last year, I shared the thankful reflections of local cancer survivors, caregivers, and cancer awareness ambassadors. Their thanksgivings echoed the gratefulness of a community touched by disease and motivated to make a difference despite cancer diagnoses. Dr. Harpham’s book, Happiness in a Storm, argues that an attitude of gratitude when managing chronic illness fosters healthy survivorship. And as a young woman navigating my own journey with cancer, the simple exercise of giving thanks and nurturing hope has proven to be a useful tool for acknowledging my progress, visualizing future successes, and putting it all in perspective.

This year, I wanted to explore the thanksgivings of my HCLS colleagues and Facebook users (via a public post) as it related to general health and wellness. Participants were asked to complete a sentence beginning with “I’m thankful/grateful–.” Below are a number of the responses I received.

I’m thankful/grateful-

“that I’ve made yoga a regular part of my morning routine. It sets the stage for an awesome day!” -Gigi, 49, Woodbine

“for my family and friends that helped me reach my goal of becoming an Ironman. With family and friends supporting you, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.” -Bryan, almost 50, Columbia.

“I wake up (mostly) pain-free and without illness. Sometimes we take things for granted, but good health should not be one of them.” -Carmen, 39, Columbia

“for my friends who motivate me to go to the gym on a regular basis.” -Helen, Ellicott City

“for my two dogs who keep me company through several hours of walks a week, and make me laugh every single day.” -JB, 58, Columbia

“for motivational support from my friends in getting me active. I wouldn’t have joined the gym without their encouragement!” -Julie F., Ellicott City

“that I have wonderful friends and relatives to talk to when I need a release valve for stress or just a listening ear. I hope they feel I can help them out in the same way.” -AC, 55, Columbia

“for all the great friends I have made over the year. When I left my marriage, I also left what few “friends” I had. It is nice to have a amazing support system now.” -Larry, Elkridge

“for every day I get to spend with my family.” -Eileen, 38, Hobbits Glen

“for having been a LIVESTRONG Leader for two years to help spread the word on cancer advocacy and support.” -Bryan, 49, Columbia

“that oatmeal is wonderfully cheap, easy to make, healthy, and delicious as it is the high point of my every morning.” -Aryn, 26, HCLS Miller Branch

“to my dog for walking with me. I’m grateful to live in a county with so many people who love to read. I’m thankful for my daughter’s boundless positive energy. She disrupts my stress spiral every time.” -CT, 49, Columbia

“for the time I am able to take in the mornings to take a walk, enjoy the quiet, and listen to a book before I start my day.” -MH, 41, Ellicott City

“for Reiki. Learning and practicing has enriched my life and allowed me to help others. I’m thankful for walking my daughter to school. It’s great exercise for both of us and gives me a few quiet minutes on my walk back to meditate and center before the rest of the day.” -Jessica, 33, Savage

“for the group of women that became my “running buddies” when I began the walk/run program “Females in Training” with the HoCo Striders. They inspired and cajoled me to a place of wellness and peace.” -Mikie, Kings Contrivance

“for my body’s amazing capability to nourish my son.” -Allison, 30, Glenwood

“for the ability to run for those who can’t!” -Anna, 49, Ellicott City

“for my physical therapists whose leg-strengthening exercises have enabled me to finally move past the pain of knee surgery. I do my exercises every day, Denise!” -Jean, Central Branch

“for a husband who knows how important it is for me to be able to go to the gym, even though that means two more nights a week that he’s the cook!” -Julie, 41, Ellicott City

This simple project revealed more than I had anticipated. I realized what I had was more than a heartfelt compilation of healthy-reflections, I had a sample population of people indirectly sharing their attitudes and definitions of “health.” As I combed through their responses an overwhelming theme of “support” emerged. Could it be that our attitudes about health are influenced by the kind of support we receive?


If attitudes frame our beliefs, or, at least, filter the messages that we receive from friends, family, and society, we should pay close attention to the kinds of attitudes we’re perpetuating. Laurie Edwards writes about the significance of attitudes in her 2013 title, In the Kingdom of the Sick. Edwards notes that we’ve cultivated a caste system between the healthy and the sick. The sick are blamed for causing their illnesses and are considered to have weaker characters, whereas those deemed “healthy” have the power to shift the meaning of wellness and dictate the treatment of the sick by reinforcing these negative attitudes via social media. Edwards does take the time to explore possible solutions on a much larger scale (e.g. societal, medical industry) but I am more interested in what we can do now and simply.

Let’s change our attitudes. Instead of bullying people into being more healthy, let’s choose to empower those who’re working toward their health goals. The submissions above are a good example of what a positive attitude toward health can bring. People who’ve never really exercised before find themselves loving to run. Many find themselves making their way to the gym or practicing healthy coping skills to decompress because they have the support they need. The attitudes we hold and the attitudes others express impact our health.

I propose we broaden our idea of health to extend beyond the physical. Healthiness should also include mental and emotional well-being as well as safe and loving relationships. It’s essential that we recognize that wellness is not a destination, but a way of life. A healthy lifestyle covers every dimension of wellness and requires a great deal of support from family, friends, and medical professionals. Being healthy means more than taking care of our bodies, it means taking care of our person.

Finally, as we prepare for a day filled with food, football, volunteering, and Turkey-trots, I’d like to take a moment to give thanks for your readership. Thank you for being an integral part of the success of Howard County Well & Wise. Our writers and guest contributors do their best to share meaningful, relevant, and informative material with you. We’re also honored to have ranked #3 as Best Organization Blog in Baltimore Sun’s 2013 Mobbies. Your votes and continued support is invaluable and we are sincerely grateful. And whatever you choose to do today, may it keep you healthy, well, and wise.

Happy Thanksgiving from our families to yours.

JP is a wannabe triathlete who thrives with cancer, bakes cupcakes, loves KPOP, and spends her time coordinating posts for Well & Wise.


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Since my husband has gone vegan, it has been a challenge to prepare a vegan Thanksgiving meal to satisfy both sides of the meat divide. In the beginning days of my husband’s vegan lifestyle, we ordered an entire Thanksgiving meal from Roots Market in Clarksville. My sister’s Thanksgiving table was half vegan, half omnivore that year, with two versions of cornbread, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie (among other items). It was a lot of food for eight people. And while it was a cozy Thanksgiving gathering, there was a subtle line between my vegan husband and everyone else.

Thanksgiving should be about inclusion. That’s why this year we plan on making vegan sides of roasted garlic mashed potatoes and cornbread to share with everyone. Also, bringing these two sides should help with the burden my ambitious (and pregnant) sister has placed upon herself to prepare the Thanksgiving meal. If these dishes had previously failed to meet my sister’s standards for taste and quality, she would not have relinquished the responsibility for these dishes to us.

When it comes to a satisfying, no-fuss holiday entrée, I recommend the Hazelnut Cranberry Roast En Croute from the Field Roast Company. This is usually available in the freezer section of your local health market. Everyone at last year’s dinner table enjoyed the En Croute. In fact, when a colleague at work mentioned she was having a vegetarian guest for Thanksgiving dinner, I happily offered the En Croute suggestion unsolicited. It’s an easy-to-prepare foolproof meal.

Finally, the following are the recipes for cornbread and mashed potatoes from 500 Vegan Recipes and Vegan Cooking for Carnivores. Have a happy and healthy holiday!

Sweet Skillet Cornbread (serves 8)
You may use a 10” cast-iron skillet or a round, nonstick baking pan to bake this cornbread.

1 T nondairy butter
1 C all-purpose flour
¾ C cornmeal
3 T raw sugar
2 ½ t baking powder
Equivalent of 2 eggs (Ener-G)
1 C plain soy milk (or other nondairy milk)
¼ C canola oil (or other vegetable oil)
1 C yellow corn kernels

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Add the butter to oven-safe pan/skillet. Place in the oven to allow the butter to melt. Remove pan and swirl melted goodness around to coat the pan evenly..
  2. In a bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, mix Ener-G, milk, and oil.
  4. Add the wet solution to the dry ingredients and combine. Fold in the corn, but do not over-mix.
  5. Pour batter into baking pan/skillet and bake 20 – 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes (serves 8)
This recipe was originally Roasted Garlic & Chive Mashed Potatoes. I omitted the chives and replaced the cashew cream with soy milk & apple cider vinegar.

1 whole bulb garlic (8 large garlic cloves)
¼ t extra-virgin olive oil
4 large, organic russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
4-6 T  vegan butter, melted
⅓ cups soy milk
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
salt & pepper


  1. Roast the garlic. Preheat oven to 400F. Slice ¼ inch off the top of the garlic. Rub garlic with olive oil, wrap in foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake 30 – 35 minutes. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the cloves in a small bowl. Mash into a paste and set aside.
  2. Place potatoes in a saucepan, add one-teaspoon salt and cover with cold water. Bring potatoes to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cook until soft, about 15 – 20 minutes.
  3. Drain potatoes, place in oven-safe baking/serving dish and pop in the oven for 3-5 minutes.
  4. In a small bowl, combine soy milk with vinegar to create “buttermilk.”
  5. Remove potatoes from the oven.Working quickly, mash the potatoes and add the garlic, buttermilk, and butter to taste/desired consistency. Salt & Pepper to taste.

Mio Higashimoto is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the East Columbia Branch. She has a background in history and spends much of her spare time knitting, reading, hiking, and watching Star Trek reruns.


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Many thanks to Greatist for the use of their work on Well & Wise.  [http://www.flickr.com/photos/greatist/6400383213/lightbox/]

Many thanks to Greatist for the use of their work on Well & Wise. 

The holiday season is upon us and with that comes Thanksgiving dinner, holiday gatherings, and an abundance of sweets and extra helpings. It can be challenging to practice portion control during this festive time of year (understatement).

Our first contributor to those extra holiday pounds is Thanksgiving dinner. You stuff yourself until your stomach surrenders, waddling away from the dinner table only to go back for a second round later in the evening. And for some, the preparation for Thanksgiving tips-off the seasonal non-stop grazing of all the goodies that seem to be around. Following this indulgence is Christmas and many interspersed holiday gatherings brimming with assorted meats, cheeses, cakes, pies, cookies, eggnog, and other calorie-laden beverages. Then, there’s the self-dialogue. That conversation you have in your head justifying the extra piece of pie or the third helping of mashed potatoes and gravy, “It’s the holidays! They only come once a year! Enjoy yourself!” We’re all guilty of some holiday indulgence and those extra calories add up and can negatively impact your body.

According to a report published in The New England Journal of Medicine, a study from Tufts University wanted to see if the commonly touted assertion that “adults typically gain 5 or more pounds during the 6-week period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s” was true. What the study found was that those who were already overweight were likely to gain more weight over the holiday season versus those who were considered average weight. This may not seem like much, but this increase in weight is a significant find for adults who are already overweight and a reminder that we’re all susceptible to holiday weight gain.

Dr. Steven A. Schnur’s book, The Reality Diet, affirms our susceptibility further: “ the holidays can be stressful for people and one of the most common ways to deal with stress is to eat. And with all the holiday food lying around, it’s all too easy to indulge in this method of escape.” Dr. Schnur recommends finding other outlets for your seasonal stress in order to curb overeating at holiday parties or while cooking holiday meals. He suggests some simple exercises like sipping water, chewing gum, or deep breathing.

Another factor that may contribute to weight gain around the holidays is seasonal affective disorder (or SAD), which is a form of clinical depression brought on by winter’s shorter days. The founder and director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, Dr. Lawrence J. Cheskin, said in a previously published interview, that “there is a small percentage of the population who is predisposed to this condition [SAD] specifically during the winter months…people who show symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder may have trouble with overeating due to changes in mood and lower serotonin levels in the brain.” So how do you come up with a strategy during the holidays to manage your portions and minimize weight gain?

Here are some tips that may help prevent holiday weight gain:

  1. Exercise daily. Exercise releases those “feel good” chemicals, endorphins, and boosts serotonin levels. Also, exercise after a meal can help better regulate your blood-sugar levels, especially after a large meal. Take time for a walk or some running around with your friends or the kids an hour after your feast. You’ll feel better.
  2. Manage your holiday stress. The Blood Sugar Solution suggests “Anything stressful can trigger hormones that activate cravings. Adopt a daily relaxation routine and stick to this routine during the holidays.”
  3. Eat before a meet & greet. Get ahead of your cravings by eating something healthy and filling before you go to that holiday gathering. When you don’t eat before a party, you’re pretty much sabotaging yourself.
  4. Plan your meal(s) in your head before you arrive at dinner and swap out the junk for the good stuff once you see what’s available. If you don’t have enough options, portion-control will be your best friend. It’s also a good opportunity for you to bring a delicious healthy dish to the party too. When you finish your meal put your napkin on your plate to signal to yourself, “I’m done.”

The greatest bit of advice I can give you is this: have a plan. Sometimes you can’t avoid holiday stress, you don’t want to eat at home before the party or the big dinner, and you don’t have any time to exercise. These are all excuses. If you have a plan you can make time to walk with your loved ones, practice healthy coping activities to avoid stress-eating, and be prepared for what’s going to be on the dinner table. Make a plan and stick to it!

This is the season of food. Lots of it. Try to focus on the togetherness aspect of the holidays this year. Remember that food is fuel for your body. You wouldn’t put sugar in your gas tank, so don’t put junk in your body. Make the conscious decision to be well and stay healthy in your food choices this holiday season. The healthier choices you make today, the less weight you’ll gain and the more likely you’ll be around next year to celebrate with your friends and family.

Alex Hill is a Customer Service Specialist at the East Columbia Branch. She has worked for Howard County Library System in the Customer Service department for more than 5 years. Alex enjoys giving movie recommendations, talking to East Columbia’s teens and in her spare time, taking pictures. (Co-Authored by Jessica Protasio)


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1024px-Brussel_sprout_webI am not exaggerating when I say I haven’t seen or eaten a brussels sprout in more than twenty years. Unlike arugula, which I had never heard of before it became a trendy salad green in the ’90s, brussels sprouts exist in a dim memory from my childhood. A bitter, green, round, chewy vegetable, the brussels sprouts of my youth were soft in consistency and unappetizing in taste and appearance. Times have changed, and now it seems all the best food establishments have a tasty version of this mini cabbage.

In Howard County, the salad bar at the largest supermarket offers both chilled brussels sprout slaw and warm, roasted brussels sprouts. A local ale house offers grilled brussels sprouts with bacon, shallots and caramelized onions. Even in Greenville, South Carolina, where I visited this past summer, one of the most highly recommended gourmet restaurants offered “Crispy Brussels Sprouts” prepared with Serrano ham and shaved Manchego cheese in a sherry reduction. The lovely green orbs were served on a long, thin plate, lined up like the rarest of delicacies.

Certainly you protest that it’s not the vegetable itself but the creative cooking that makes the contemporary brussels sprout so appetizing. I have to disagree; when not overcooked and given the most minimal culinary respect, the brussels sprout is delicious. And healthy too. Who knew? A member of the cabbage family, the brussels sprout is a cruciferous vegetable. Other cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, collard greens, arugula and kale. These vegetables are abundant in carotenoids, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate and glucosinolates. Carotenoids and vitamin E are antioxidants, the substances that protect our cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals have been found to contribute to the development of heart disease and cancer. Vitamin C is used by the body to build the components of cartilage, bone, muscle and blood vessels. Vitamin K is essential in the blood clotting process. Folate helps prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus and may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Extensive information is available on glucosinolates, including their interaction with cancer cells and the impact of an individual’s genetic makeup, and further research is ongoing. Many studies have linked ingestion of cruciferous vegetables to a decreased risk of cancer. When foods containing glucosinolates are cooked and digested, they break down into indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a substance that has been shown to destroy the Cdc25A molecule found in elevated levels in Alzheimer disease and breast, prostate, liver, colon and stomach cancer. Of note, the sulfur component of glucosinolates accounts for these vegetables’ slightly bitter flavor and distinctive smell.

As vegetables go, brussels sprouts are also a good source of fiber and are relatively high in protein (4 grams per 1-cup serving respectively). Fiber is important to gastrointestinal health. Protein provides the building blocks for essential elements of the human body including, muscle, bone, skin, blood, hormones and enzymes. Foods high in protein and fiber also help us to feel full and not overeat.

For ideas on creating tempting treats featuring the brussels sprout, check out the wonderful cookbook collection at your favorite Howard County Library System branch. Barefoot Contessa Foolproof has a recipe for balsamic-roasted brussels sprouts. Meatless includes a recipe for brussels sprouts with grapes and walnuts. ChopChop provides kid-friendly instructions for oven roasted or pan-roasted brussels sprouts. Power Foods contains information about buying, storing and steaming brussels sprouts as well as recipes for salad and for roasting with pears and shallots.

I predict that Dame Edna, the stage performer who is such an astute observer of cultural mores, will soon be trilling “brrrruuussel sprowwt” instead of shrieking “ahrooguhla!”

Cherise Tasker is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch and has a background in health information. Most evenings, Cherise can be found reading a book, attending a book club meeting, or coordinating a book group.


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Yoga is a great, low-impact activity anyone can try despite joint-inflammation conditions.

As a child, I routinely had physical therapy sessions for stretching and exercising my joints. I remember these experiences as mostly painful. My joints were stubbornly resistant to moving and the therapists would push ineffectively on my unmovable parts. Then, I would be given a list of exercises to repeat at home.

Let’s just say I wasn’t always compliant on my exercise regimen when I was a child coping with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. I did, however, enjoy walking, running, playing, and swimming before I had too much joint damage. Because my family lived in the country, I had plenty of opportunity to do these activities.

As an adult, I’ve experimented with various forms of exercise. Recently, I had several months of physical therapy and found it quite helpful. This time the exercises focused on what I could do while also expanding my abilities by challenging me to work additional muscles, increasing my range of motion. I also took home-exercises and integrated them into different routines for me to complete throughout the week.

The best way to get me to exercise involves a few components:

  • Have a few routines with a variety of exercises. Variety gives me the chance to mix things up and not get bored by doing the same exact exercises every time.

  • Make exercise a habit. I’m more successful at carrying through my exercises knowing that it’s part of my daily routine. I expect to do a round in the morning, some during my breaks in work, and more in the evening.

  • Change it up. While I have a series of exercises I work through, I also really enjoy yoga and swimming. I’ll substitute in a swim or yoga session to challenge muscles that I may not regularly be reaching.

  • Incorporate practical activities. One of the greatest things my latest physical therapist said to me was that exercises to practice my ability at daily living activities were great for me because not only do I get stronger, I get better at doing things I want to do. For example, standing and walking. With my therapist’s support, these (and similar activities) are a part of my exercise routine and have increased my physical independence in daily life.

For me, exercise is about gaining (or maintaining) strength, keeping my joints active, and overall wellness. I’m not looking to become a marathon runner. I’m realistic about the severity of my rheumatoid arthritis and the level of activity my joints can handle. I choose exercises that fit my needs—not too stressful on the joints, yet challenging to the muscles, and entertaining enough for me to want to repeat. In a lot of ways, this is true for anyone.

One other important point to note is that everyone—and I mean absolutely everyone—can exercise. I spend most of my day in a wheelchair and have significant physical limitations. But even I have found exercises that help keep me as active as possible. Not only that, but I’ve seen people with more disabilities dance in their wheelchairs, wave their arms, or wriggle their fingers. Just start exercising where and when you can, and go from there.

Kelly Mack lives in Washington, DC, and works for a marketing communications firm.


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JSwellandwise_herbs_webSo, you’ve been thinking about growing some plants. Preferably functional plants – something you can eat and enjoy (with more than just with your eyes). But what if fruits and vegetables seem too difficult? If you’ve tried to grow plants before and had them all die on you, I feel your pain. I, too, was a serial plant killer. Luckily, I’ve redeemed myself with growing herbs. Herbs are the perfect starter plants! They are easy to grow inside or outside, in hot or cold climates, and they’re functional. Herbs can be used for a whole range of purposes. Many of us use herbs to add a bouquet of flavor to our favorite dishes, while others use herbs for homeopathy. Herbs have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, and today, we’re still discovering the benefits of these incredible plants (e.g. Johns Hopkins’ recent study on the benefits of tumeric). Herbs are amazing and you can bring them into your life with a little courage and know how.

My first herbs were grown from seed (daring, I know!), and were fun from the first day their little sprouts reached up toward the sun. The easiest and most useful herbs for me have been basil, sage, rosemary, and catnip. Starting them inside in little sprout pucks made it simple, and a small plastic greenhouse let them thrive until I could plant them outside into little pots. If you’re tight on money, a single long plastic pot works great for various herbs together. It has the added bonus of looking equally cute hanging on the side of an apartment balcony (where mine began life) or sitting on the railing of a deck (as pictured above).

Your Backyard Herb Garden, by Miranda Smith, is a useful guide for those interested in growing just herbs. Smith meticulously describes how to grow herbs and explains how to use them once they’re grown. You will find all kinds of new uses for your herbs in teas, as health and beauty products, and cleansing foods. This book is capped off with a directory detailing 52 different herbs and their intricacies. Similarly, Homegrown Herbs by Tammi Hartung, is a more modern guide to herb growing. The best parts of this book are the recipes which showcase the herbs used, both for eating and medicinal purposes – think insect repellent or aromatherapy.

Go ahead, give it a shot! You can get seeds from lots of different stores for only a couple of dollars and nothing beats growing something from nothing. If that’s not your cup of tea (which you can make from lots of herbs, too, like mint or lemon balm), try starting out with a small plant from the farmer’s market or any garden center. Best of all, you’ll know exactly where your herbs are coming from. Once you’ve tasted your first harvest of herbs, you’ll know you’ve taken another step toward living well. Give it a try and never look back. Gardening can be for you, too!

Jessica Seipel is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She has worked for the Howard County Library System, in various positions, for a decade.


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“We live in a very tense society. We are pulled apart… and we all need to learn how to pull ourselves together…. I think that at least part of the answer lies in solitude.”- Helen Hayes

A daunting task I seem to find myself faced with more often than should be allowed is simply finding time for “me.” When I’m not at one job, I’m at the other. When I’m not at either job, I’m trying to spend time with friends and family. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending my free time making dinner with my friends or visiting a museum. However, this constant activity and plan-making leaves little to no time for ME and I am a strong believer in solitude.

Taking time for yourself allows you to think without distractions. I often feel as if my thoughts are coming and going so rapidly that even a road runner couldn’t catch them. When I’m alone, I can give those thoughts their much deserved attention and write them down.

Being alone also allows me to practice guitar, create something, clean my room, read a book, watch a movie, or just relax. When I don’t make time for myself, there are consequences: I become overly tired, moody, and less motivated. I feel anxious, like I’ve forgotten something very important. And what I’ve forgotten is making time for myself.

The Mindfulness Solution has simple steps to help you make time for yourself and balance it all.

It’s especially important to tell those around you when you need time to yourself. When I feel pressured (or obligated) to spend my “me time” with other people, I remind them (and myself) that I need that time to myself in order to remain balanced, happy, and healthy. Solitude is important. The Mindfulness Solution provides insight and simple ways you can take time for yourself throughout your day to help you work through your problems or help you reconnect with how you’re doing daily. When I take time for those moments of solitude, I find that I’m able to work through problems that would otherwise keep me stuck. Being able to think deeply encourages creativity and problem solving.

Tying into my last post, alone time offers many opportunities for us to grow like facing fears of attending movies or eating out alone. These experiences can be quite rewarding and comforting. I’ve purposefully attended concerts, shmoozed at events, and dined alone only to discover how enjoyable it all was. I’m even more determined to make the time to do that more often.

Spending time alone provides you with an opportunity to relax, think and reflect, discover, and reconnect to yourself. Grounding yourself daily, taking time for solitude is essential to a healthy lifestyle. I invite everyone reading this to seek solitude. You deserve it!

Laci Radford is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the East Columbia Branch (while her home branch, in Savage, is being renovated). She is a music lover, writer, and an avid reader. She enjoys attending concerts, plays, and other forms of live entertainment. Her favorite activities include scoping out unique items at thrift stores, bonfires with friends, and having tie-dye parties. She is studying Psychology and plans to become a music and art therapist sooner rather than later.


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Clostridium difficile, ugly little bugger, from a stool sample obtained using a 0.1 µm filter. Image by Content Providers(s): CDC/ Lois S. Wiggs Photo Credit: Janice Carr Original uploader of this file was Marcus007 at de.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Clostridium difficile, ugly little bugger, from a stool sample obtained using a 0.1 µm filter. Image by Content Providers(s): CDC/ Lois S. Wiggs Photo Credit: Janice Carr Original uploader of this file was Marcus007 at de.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last month I struggled to share a bit about my mother’s death in an attempt to draw some attention to National Family Caregiver Month (November, right now). But little did I know that I would spend the greater part of October leaning heavily on the people around me, basically needing my own caregivers.

It all started when I went to the doctor with what I thought was strep throat. I was prescribed an antibiotic which seemed to help. Unfortunately,  as my throat started to get better, my stomach started to get worse. The doctor had warned me that antibiotics can be hard on the stomach, so I started taking a probiotic and eating lots of active-culture yogurt. My amazing hubby stepped in to take care of all the parenting duties as well as caring for my every need since I was fatigued beyond belief and suffering from terrible stomach pains and seemingly endless trips to the bathroom. (Thankfully, as they used to say, I married well—in this case I married into a wealth of kindness rather than a wealth of… well… wealth.)

Finally, after two weeks, various over-the-counter meds, multiple dietary changes, and a lot of whining, the hubby convinced me to go back to the doctor (who promptly sent me to the emergency room). I had blood drawn, was fed so that I could, eventually, provide a stool sample (sorry, TMI), and was put on an IV after being declared dehydrated with extremely low blood pressure (yay, me).

The tests indicated C. Diff (a.k.a. Clostridium Difficile, C. Difficile, or CDAD), which “is a bacterium that causes diarrhea and more serious intestinal conditions such as colitis.” Symptoms may include diarrhea (usually watery and often at least three bowel movements per day for two or more days), stomach pain and/or tenderness, fever, nausea, and loss of appetite. And to make matters more interesting, C. Diff is pernicious little bugger that is hard to kill off. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? For more info, check out this exciting FAQ sheet from the CDC.

Coincidentally, my mother had contracted C. Diff several years ago when she had been hospitalized for a long period of time. In fact, C. Diff typically had been associated with the elderly, particularly those undergoing prolonged hospitalization or living in nursing or other long-term care facilities. But, alas, it would appear the times and the bacteria they are a-changing.

The CDC states that C. Diff  “primarily affects persons >65 years. Risk factors include residence in hospitals and long-term care facilities and the use of antimicrobial medications. Incidence…has been increasing, and severe cases are becoming more common…[which] may be associated with the emergence of a more virulent strain of C. difficile bacteria. Death rates associated with C. difficile were reported to be increasing from 1999 to 2002 in the United States and from 2001 to 2005 in England and Wales.”

My emergency room doc said given my age and my lack of living/working in a long-term medical facility, he thinks the C. Diff may have been dormant in my system and was given a chance to flourish mainly due to the antibiotic I was taking, which killed off all the “good bacteria” in my stomach. So probiotics have now become part of my routine, as well as more soluble fiber (but that’s another topic), and antibiotics are now on my “wary list.”

I’d like to hear from anybody else about their C. Diff experiences. I’d also like to talk more about prevention and treatment. But for now, since I’m still pretty worn out and running a bit long, I’ll just leave you with the knowledge that I am being treated and recovering, but, according to my doc, I’ll have to be cautious of because reinfection is rather common (again, yay me).

Joanne Sobieck-Lingg is glad to blog about her many, disparate interests (though expert in none, except maybe parenthetical asides). In past lives, she was a writer, proofreader, editor, project manager, teacher, and even co-coordinator of a certain health blog. She has been happily ensconced among the fiction and teen books at the Central Branch of HCLS since 2003.


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Candy Corn

On Monday, the Howard County Police published a press release reminding Howard County residents to practice safe trick-or-treating and be assured of police presence in residential neighborhoods this Halloween.

Today promises to be an exciting holiday of fun with friends and neighbors handing out an assortment of Halloween treats. Here are the safety highlights found in the press release:

  1. Encourage children to trick-or-treat before dark. After dark, an adult chaperone should carry a flashlight and choose well-lighted streets.
  2. Wear costumes that are short, snug and flame retardant. Flowing sleeves, capes and skirts can cause children to trip and can catch fire if they brush against candle flames. Also be sure to wear light colors or reflective tape.
  3. Avoid masks that can obstruct vision. Use face paint instead or make sure mask eye holes are wide enough.
  4. Discourage the use of fake knives, guns and swords, as they may result in aggressive behavior. If these types of props are used, be sure they are made of flexible materials, such as foam or rubber.
  5. Stay in groups while trick-or-treating, and make sure young children always are accompanied by adults.
  6. Teach children that they should NEVER go into a stranger’s home or car.
  7. Eat dinner before trick-or-treating to prevent the urge to eat treats before they have been inspected by parents. Never eat treats that have been opened.
  8. Leave porch or other outside lights on to make clear that trick-or-treaters are welcome.

Being healthy means more than limiting your sweets intake this Halloween, it means being aware and taking note of your surroundings too. Have a happy, healthy Halloween, Howard County!

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hijikieditedSince my husband became a vegan, I’ve enjoyed creating appetizing vegan meals that we can both enjoy. It’s a fun to find recipes which please our palates (I still enjoy meat). In this installment of Diary of a Part-time Vegan, I present to you, the delicious dried seaweed, hijiki.

As a child, my mother never prepared hijiki as a vegan dish, but it can be made vegan without compromising taste (or texture). Ten years ago, I wanted to impress my husband by making him the dish my mother used to make. The only problem was that I never learned to make it! So, I called my mother and asked her for the “simple” steps to making hijiki: soak the hijiki in water; cook in a little bit of water with carrots and fishcake; add sugar, soy sauce, and salt to taste. (Well, what she said about the soy sauce was “make two revolutions,” meaning you add the soy sauce to the dish in two circular motions.)

Kansha offers a number of recipes using hijiki, kombu, and shiitake, as well as many other vegan and vegetarian side-dishes and entrées.

Unfortunately, I cooked the hijiki in oil, not water. My mom said water. I heard water. But I wrote oil and ended up accidentally deep frying the hijiki instead. One more thing, my pan was dark gray. The hijiki itself is black. Soy sauce also is black. So, I did the two revolutions thing with the soy sauce and thought that no soy sauce had come out. So, I did it again. Then, one more time before I realized the soy sauce was camouflaged by the hijiki and the pan; resulting in an oily and salty mess. Instead of a nice, refreshing dish of hijiki, my loving husband kindly ate the disastrous dish with a genuine-looking smile and insisted that it was tasty. I can assure you, it wasn’t. I’ve improved (a bit) since then.

Hijiki, kombu and shiitake can be purchased in dehydrated form at your local health food store or Asian market. Keep in mind that hijiki has been found to have high levels of inorganic arsenic. For this reason, I do not eat hijiki on a regular basis. Eden Foods, a seller of hijiki in the United States, has additional information on its website regarding inorganic arsenic in hijiki.

Hijiki with Vegetables


  • 3 Tablespoons hijiki
  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • Dried Kombu pieces, total about 4 inches by 2 inches (optional)
  • 1/2 large carrot
  • 1 cup edamame beans (if using shelled edamame beans, use about 1/4 cup)
  • Vegetable oil or sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup of reserved shiitake/kombu soaking water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons mirin
  • 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • Dash of salt (optional)


  1. Soak hijiki in a bowl of water for about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain.
  2. In a separate bowl, soak the shiitake mushrooms and the kombu in water for about 20 to 30 minutes. Reserve this soaking water.
  3. While waiting for the hijiki, shiitake and kombu to reconstitute, boil the edamame. Cut the carrots into matchsticks no more than an inch long.
  4. Once the shiitake has softened, discard the stems and slice into 1/4 inch pieces. When the kombu also has softened, cut into matchsticks no more than an inch long.
  5. Combine 1/2 cup of the shiitake/kombu soaking liquid with the sugar, mirin and soy sauce. If you do not have enough of the soaking liquid, make up the difference with water. If you have extra soaking liquid, you can save that in your refrigerator to use as shiitake/kombu stock. We use this to make our vegan miso soup.
  6. In a pan, heat the oil. Add the hijiki, carrots, shiitake and kombu. Stir fry over high heat for about a minute. Add the soaking liquid mixture and reduce the heat to medium high. Cook until the liquid is almost all absorbed or evaporated. Don’t forget to stir or the mixture will burn and stick to your pan.
  7. Turn off heat and remove the pan to cool. Add the edamame. Hijiki is best served slightly warm or at room temperature with a bowl of rice.

Cooked Hijiki One

Hijiki is quite versatile. Many times you’ll find hijiki prepared with Japanese fishcake (kamaboko or the deep-fried variety) or with crumbled or deep-fried tofu. I like the addition of edamame because it’s a good source of protein (especially for vegans) and the green color contrasts beautifully next to the hijiki. Whatever you choose to add, be sure to julienne your additions for cooking ease and flavorful bites.

Mio Higashimoto is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the East Columbia Branch. She has a background in history and spends much of her spare time knitting, reading, hiking, and watching Star Trek reruns.


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I was thrilled when our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share recently included Japanese eggplant, but my husband wasn’t so sure. His past experience with eggplant had included mainly breaded and fried slices which he described as “soggy and tasteless.” I went looking for a recipe that would be anything but and found just what I was looking for in True Food by Dr. Andrew Weil: “Stir-Fried Eggplant with Honey, Turmeric, and Soy.”

I’ve made it twice now, and my husband loved it both times. I followed the recipe pretty much exactly the first time, with great results. The second time I made it, I added a clove of minced garlic and half of a finely diced poblano, since we like things spicy. The original recipe calls for ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes which gives the dish just a hint of heat, but we liked the additional kick the poblano gave. Sweet red or green bell peppers would also be a good addition. The red pepper flakes can be left out if you prefer a milder dish. Trust me, it will still be delicious.

Stir-Fried Eggplant with Honey, Turmeric, and Soy

Ingredients (Makes 4 to 6 servings):

2 T low-sodium soy sauce

1 T honey

½ tsp red pepper flakes

¼ tsp turmeric

1 T expeller-pressed canola oil (I used olive oil both times)

4 C Japanese eggplant, sliced on the bias into ½ inch pieces, about 2 eggplants

1 ½ C thinly sliced onions

1 scallion, thinly sliced


  1. In a bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, honey, red peper flakes, turmeric, and 2 tablespoons water.
  2. Heat a wok or skillet over high heat. Add the oil. When hot, add the eggplant and onions. Let the vegetables sear for a moment, then stir-fry by tossing them with a wooden spatula for 3 to 5 minutes. Add one-half of the turmeric-soy mixtrue, then more if the mixture is too dry.
  3. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with the scallion, and serve.

Voila! A healthy, delicious dish for a wonderful fall evening. Bon appetit!

Michele Hunter started with the Howard County Library System in 1998 as a Children’s Instructor at the Savage Branch, then transferred to the Central Branch to work in Research. She returned to Savage as the Assistant Manager in 2004. Her hobbies are ballet, gardening, and needlework.


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For the love of cereal! (AmyLovesYah, Flickr 2013)

When this catchy advertising phrase popped into my mind, I had to blog so I could use the title. Was I eating Cocoa Puffs at the time? No, but I do enjoy a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, not to mention Cocoa Pebbles and Cocoa Krispies. As I began to channel my inner Tony the Tiger, I wondered, can raisin bran really compare with Frosted Flakes?

We are often reminded to eat breakfast. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has a web page for their students reminding them that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Breakfast recommendations include an item from each of these groups: 1) bread/grain, 2) milk /milk product and 3) fruit/vegetable. We are advised to select items that are low in fat and sugar.

Does cereal have a place in this healthy breakfast? Yes, cereal fits in the bread and grain group. Grains are low in fat and provide us with fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, Grains are classified as “whole” and “refined.” Whole grain is composed of an outer layer of bran, an interior of endosperm and a kernel of germ. Bran is rich in fiber. Endosperm contains carbohydrates. Germ is a source of vitamins, minerals and unsaturated fat. Grinding grain preserves all three components, resulting in the “whole” grain used to make dense and hearty baked goods. The milling process removes the bran and germ, creating the easily-digested “refined” grain that is used to bake breads and pastries that are light and fluffy. Refined grains have less than half the vitamin B, vitamin E, and mineral content of whole grains. Refined grains also have very little fiber.

The nutritional benefits of ingesting whole grains rather than refined grains are significant and include lower serum cholesterol and decreased risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Whole grains in the diet have been associated with lowered risk of diabetes because the fiber helps modulate blood sugar and insulin levels. Fiber is filling and helps stave off hunger and control calorie intake. A recent study even showed a lowered risk of high blood pressure in male physicians who ate whole grain cereals.

Nutrition Facts of Cocoa Puffs from GeneralMills.com

Food manufacturers promote their use of “enriched” grain. This term means that some of the nutrients lost to the milling process have been added back artificially, such as the B-complex vitamins and iron. These enriched refined grains are often “fortified” as well, meaning that vitamins and minerals that did not naturally occur in the grain have been added. These added nutrients may include vitamin D and calcium, to promote bone health. Neither the enrichment or fortification process restores the fiber, however.

When selecting a cereal, look at the list of ingredients. Unlike the front of the package that may have vague or misleading language, the ingredient list documents the actual contents of the product. The healthiest cereals will have whole grain listed as the first ingredient(s). The Department of Health and Human Services guidelines advise us to look for the first ingredient to be any of the following: whole wheat, brown rice, buckwheat, whole oats, oatmeal, bulgur, whole-grain barley, millet, sorghum, whole rye, quinoa, triticale (a wheat/rye hybrid), whole grain corn and wild rice.

This book will help you make healthier decisions at the grocery store, even in the cereal aisle.

Armed with the knowledge of which types of grain have more health benefits, we still have to choose between cereals. Here’s where both the ingredient list and the nutrition facts on the side of the box become important. After scanning the ingredients, check the nutrition facts and compare the amounts of dietary fiber and sugars between products. Cocoa Puffs lists whole-grain corn as its first ingredient, but sugar is the second ingredient. Cocoa Puffs has 1 gram of fiber, 12 grams of sugar and 110 calories per 3/4-cup serving. Frosted Flakes lists milled corn followed by sugar. Tony the Tiger’s favorite breakfast treat has less than 1 gram of fiber, 11 grams of sugar and 110 calories per 3/4-cup serving. Some brands of raisin bran list whole wheat as the first ingredient but also contain sugar as the second ingredient. Some raisin bran manufacturers add sugar to the raisins. Different raisin bran products have between 14 and 20 grams of sugar per 1-cup serving. Various raisin bran manufacturers use a lower percentage of whole grain in their flakes, creating cereals that range between and 5 and 11 grams of dietary fiber per 1-cup serving.

Likewise, the various brands of cereal contain between 210 and 350 calories per 1-cup serving. It’s interesting to note that although the raisin bran serving is larger than the other two cereals, the sugar content is comparable and the calorie count is higher. In terms of fiber, raisin bran is the clear health winner. If I choose a cup-sized serving of Cocoa Puffs, I will use fewer of my daily calories, about the same amount of sugar, but will need to get my fiber elsewhere. Because Cocoa Puffs will be less filling, I may end up eating more total calories for the day because I will be hungry sooner than if I had chosen raisin bran.

There are multiple cereal choices that have even more fiber than raisin bran with less sugar and about the same calories. They might not do the trick the next time I am cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, but they will be good options for a regular daily healthy breakfast. I will be sure to read the nutrition labels closely first.

Cherise Tasker is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch and has a background in health information. Most evenings, Cherise can be found reading a book, attending a book club meeting, or coordinating a book group.


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Oh, the joys of being a new parent! No one can truly prepare you for how your life will change once you’ve had a baby. Some days it’s just hard.

I feel this pressure to be “Super Mom.” I have to be able to do everything (at once) while also taking in “the joys of motherhood.” I need to care for my child, exercise, clean the kitchen, keep the house, do the laundry, and remember to pay attention to the other people in my life- like my husband. I question myself constantly about the essentials: should I use this time to shower, nap, or eat? I usually opt for the nap. My husband and I are in our thirties and we’re tired all the time. In fact, I’m more tired than I have ever been in my entire life!

I really didn’t know that having a baby and working full-time would be so challenging. It’s a lot of work and I have forfeited a lot of sleep in the process. What I’m learning though, is the importance of being compassionate with myself in the midst mommy-hood. If I don’t make time for self-care, I’m affecting my ability to be the best mom I can be.

I’ve put together some seemingly obvious (but easy to forget) suggestions of how to take care of yourself as a new mom. Basically, these are things to make sure you do, or are aware of, on a daily basis. Jennifer Wider’s awesome, practical book, The New Mom’s Survival Guide, which resonates with some of these tips. Wider also keeps a humorous tone when it comes to some of the topics that I’m not covering in this post (i.e. sex). I also recommend taking a look at Mojo Mom. Here are my self-care tips for new moms during those first weeks of maternity leave.

  • Sleep. Sleep when your baby sleeps. No. Really. Try to do this! Don’t feel guilty about housework. Your sanity is more important. Folding the laundry can wait.
  • Eat. As a new mom, I have the tendency to focus so much on feeding my baby that I forget to eat, or I end up eating junk food. It’s imperative to eat healthy, well-balanced meals regularly. By the way, if you want to visit someone who just had a baby, the nicest gift you can give is a meal. Whether it’s store-bought or home cooked, they will appreciate it.
  • Bathe. Take care of your hygiene every day. A quick shower or warm bath can rejuvenate you. Trust me, you’ll feel better even if you don’t get a chance to leave the house.
  • Exercise & Breathe. Get out of the house every day if you can. Have some time to yourself. Go for a walk, run an errand, go shopping. Give yourself some breathing room, enjoy a chance for some alone time. When your spouse is home from work or you have a friend who can watch your little one, switch off and take some time for yourself.
  • Socialize. Try not to isolate. Call family or friends every couple of days. Join a mom’s group. It’s easy to forget that there is a whole world out there when you’re focused on your baby.
  • Get Help. Postpartum depression is real. I have experienced it and it can happen to any new mother. If you notice changes in the way you’re feeling or have any symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor and get a referral if you need one. Know that you’re not alone. Let your family and friends know that you need help with everyday tasks too. You can call on your network of support simply by reaching out to your loved ones.
  • “Appreciate and enjoy your baby.” At my baby shower, a family member said to me, “I wish I had taken more time to hold my baby. I got so caught up in ‘she needs to take a nap, then, I need to feed her’ [I wish I had spent time] to hold her just for the sake of holding her.” I enjoy cuddling with my daughter and I have to remind myself that it’s okay to just be together like that.

This list is by no means exhaustive. Do you have any self-care suggestions for new moms? Please share your ideas in the comments below. I suppose part of motherhood is remembering to be kind and forgiving to yourself as a new parent. There are many joys in raising your first child, just as there are many challenges. It’s up to you to find that healthy balance and what works best for your family. I’m still figuring it out for myself!

Alex Hill is a Customer Service Specialist at the East Columbia Branch. She has worked for Howard County Library System in the Customer Service department for more than 5 years. Alex enjoys giving movie recommendations, talking to East Columbia’s teens and in her spare time, taking pictures.


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