Abigail is a sweet girl who hates going to her swimming lessons because all the other children shout, “Abigail is a whale!” when she dives into the pool. She’s obese, but she’s making every effort to do well. Her teacher notices how down she is after one Wednesday afternoon and gives her the advice that changes her life, “You are what you think.”

Abigail makes this her mantra and imagines herself as everything from “gigantic” to “hedgehog” to help her overcome her troubles. Her confidence builds and she is able to channel her positive thinking into various ways to conquer her myriad fears and obstacles. In the end, she is not only able to garner the respect of her peers, but stands up to a bully by owning her size and thinking about being a “super whale.”

Let’s be clear: shaming and bullying children who are obese or overweight is wrong. I don’t care if it’s another child or even an adult making comments on a child’s weight; concern trolling and backhanded compliments are unwarranted, destructive, and downright mean. If you care about a child’s health, you’d better be willing to be a safe, loving, and supportive champion of that child like Abigail’s teacher. Anything short of being positively encouraging is unacceptable in my book. Help, don’t hurt, kids into healthy lifestyles. Period.

Childhood obesity has been called an epidemic and families are warned and advised to do whatever is possible to raise healthy kids. The efforts between local and federal government to do something about childhood obesity is well-intentioned and is absolutely needed. The way in which we approach this epidemic is just as essential as offering appropriate help, guidance, and education. Thankfully, Howard County is dedicated to reducing the rates of childhood obesity and even has a Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit for Howard County Maryland Healthcare Providers. This is an effort we all need to make together, not apart, or from the sidelines.

We all need to think like Abigail. If we think we are capable of curbing childhood obesity and we take the appropriate measures, we will.

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

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We’ve all heard of someone getting a concussion. Typically, it’s just an unfortunate event that doesn’t take terribly long to recover from. However, this isn’t always the case. I didn’t know how life changing a concussion could be until I experienced it myself at the end of August 2016.

I randomly fainted one day. Knocked unconscious for about 10-15 seconds; it felt like several minutes when I came to. I had no idea what had happened. I went to urgent care where I was told that I had experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or a concussion. I returned a couple days later to check up on the injury. When I realized I couldn’t really read the forms I had to sign, I knew this wasn’t going to be a quick recovery.

After being essentially bed ridden for 3 weeks, I slowly started to introduce myself to the world again. I would go on very short walks at night, in order to be kind to my light sensitivity. I could walk about halfway around the smaller loop of the neighborhood before feeling dizzy and completely drained. Now, I can do several laps around the larger loop with ease and confidence.

Time alone can’t heal a concussion. Your brain and body has to heal and sometimes, re-learn how to act like it used to. For instance, I had never experienced with car sickness while riding in the car. After my concussion, I couldn’t open my eyes while riding in a car without feeling sick and like my head was going to explode. And focusing on anything, much less performing research online or browsing the Internet, was practically impossible. So, I started physical therapy as soon as I was able. Physical therapy has helped me with my balance and relieving that lingering sensation of constant pressure in my head.

Starting in December 2106, I was able to drive to and from work (20mins) a couple of days a week. Half-way through January 2017, I was worked my way up to driving to work daily and running short errands like shopping at the grocery store around the corner. Now, I can even drive at night and run errands to places a little further away (and even more than one errand in a day if I’m feeling adventurous). I can focus enough to read picture books and graphic novels (looking forward to being able to read a novel soon), as well as research online and browse the Internet comfortably. I can sit through and enjoy watching movies and binge watch some of my favorite TV shows. Physical therapy and rest have been essential to my healing.

My experience has shown me some things that I didn’t expect about having a concussion (aside form the ambiguous healing time frame), like feeling alienated or anti-social. I have had trouble connecting to people in the same way, including friends and family. Some days I wonder if I will ever feel “normal” again. I still have a bit of a way to go in my healing process, but I become more and more confident as each month passes. I think of that first month and how I convinced myself that I would never heal and see how far I’ve come- and it feels great!

Concussions are a serious matter regardless of the severity. Whether you find yourself in a clumsy moment, a freak accident, faint for unknown reasons, or attain a major sports injury– always go to a medical facility. Concussions can happen at any age and require proper care and attention.

I am lucky to have met an amazing concussion specialist and physical therapist who genuinely care about my well being. In addition, I’m lucky to have the support of my loved ones as this journey has been one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced. This was a very random and unexpected occurrence. I am thankful every single day that this injury wasn’t any worse. I am thankful to be here to share my experience with all of you.

Laci Radford is a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at Miller Branch. 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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Last April, something strange and unexpected happened to me. I noticed that my left ear felt clogged up, as if water was trapped in my ear canal, which was entirely possible from bathing or swimming. I went around for a week or two shaking my head wildly left and right, tugging on my ear lobe and repeatedly Googling terms such as “my ear feels clogged up” and “how to remove water trapped in your ear.” All to no avail. After a few more weeks of waiting for this mysterious symptom to resolve, I made an appointment with an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist (AKA an otolaryngologist, but try saying that three times with your mouth full!), who, after a thorough examination, referred me for a hearing test with an audiologist.

At this point I was a little confused but not at all concerned. It did seem weird that even after having impacted ear wax removed at the ENT’s office, the strange muffled sensation in my ear persisted. The hearing test, my first as an adult, revealed that I have a moderately-severe high frequency loss in my left ear, as well as mild loss in the right ear. Further testing revealed my hearing loss was permanent, unexplained, and that I would need hearing aids for both ears! Trust me when I tell you, I was in complete shock.

I was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). What does this mean? Well, there are three main types of hearing loss: SNHL, conductive, or mixed. SNHL is the most common type of hearing loss. It’s caused by damage to the inner ear or to the nerve pathway from the inner ear to the brain. When SSNL occurs over the course of just a day or two, it is known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss. Some possible causes of SNHL include genetics, aging, head trauma, exposure to loud music, or even certain ototoxic medications that have a deleterious effect on hearing. The truth is, though, like in my case, often a cause can not be determined.

Conductive hearing loss involves the middle or outer ear, and can be caused by things such as colds, allergies, ear infections, Eustachian tube dysfunction, impacted ear wax, or the presence of a foreign body, to name a few. In contrast to SNHL, conductive loss is more frequently treatable and reversible. A mixed hearing loss involves having both sensorineural and conductive loss at the same time.

As soon as I found out that I had partial but irreversible hearing loss that is likely to only get worse over time, I wanted to make sure that I was doing everything in my power to mitigate the communication difficulties that accompany hearing loss. I wasted no time in getting fitted for high quality hearing aids. Hearing aids have come a long way from the “ear trumpets” of days gone by. The latest hearing aids are state of the art, programmable, and designed to be comfortable and unobtrusive. An audiologist works with the patient over time to tweak the settings for optimal effectiveness.

In addition to wearing hearing aids, I am planning on taking a speech/lip reading class, as this skill can be important to help fill in the blanks when in noisy environments such as restaurants. I have only just started to explore assistive listening technologies such as hearing loops and captioning in public venues, as well as personal listening devices. Finally, I have found many organizations online that offer advocacy, education, and support for those affected by hearing loss and related conditions. Having hearing loss is a highly individual experience, but it can be isolating, so it is wonderful to connect with others who understand what it is like and who can offer advice and support.

Sadly, a stigma still surrounds hearing loss in our society. This is part of the reason I wanted to share my personal experience. Stigma makes people feel ashamed and so they keep information to themselves that may actually benefit others also experiencing the same problem. Silence perpetuates stigma, stereotypes, and misinformation. I have decided that even though I may sometimes feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, it is in my best interest to advocate for myself and to be honest about my hearing loss.

My personal advice to anyone experiencing a change in your hearing is to see your doctor ASAP. Even if you think you just have a cold or a clogged up ear, do not delay seeking treatment because some types of sudden hearing loss may be reversible if treated immediately. However, even if you have been avoiding getting treatment for a long-standing problem, please stop burying your head in the sand – there is help! I recently read a statistic that the average hard of hearing person waits seven years before seeking treatment for their hearing loss. People will suffer in silence because of fear or shame rather than admit to a problem that can be effectively treated and managed, leading to an enhanced quality of life.

Depending upon severity and individual circumstances, the effects of hearing loss upon an individual can range from mildly inconvenient to completely life altering, but by addressing your particular situation head on, you can minimize further negative consequences and take control of your life.

There is life after hearing loss!

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

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Think of what you want to experience in your life. Build a life around healthy living to open up opportunities and possibilities. Instead of looking at weight loss as your purpose for exercise and eating healthy, shift your thought process to a lifetime of wellness. Moving your body matters, here’s why:

Do you feel sluggish? Do you feel fatigue late in the day?
Movement for as little at 20 minutes, three times a week can increase your energy level. This improves your focus and helps you get more done in a day. Even better news, movement can be anything you enjoy and at a moderate level. If you experience a busy, stressful week- high intensity exercise can often leave you feeling more exhausted. This shows that more is not always better. That is, exercise smarter, not necessarily harder in this case.



Are you one of those people who lays in bed at night and can’t fall asleep?

Or do you fall asleep for a few hours only to wake up and and stay up? Well, exercising for 10-20 minutes most days of the week improves your quality of sleep. Pay attention to those days you exercise and see how your sleep patterns change. Since sleep impacts several things, monitor your energy level and mood the next day as well. Speaking of mood, we know that exercise improves our mood and even helps with depression. While exercise is the last thing you feel like doing when you’re sad or tired, it could be the best thing for you. Exercise releases chemicals and endorphins that impact your brain causing an improvement in mood. Again, the good news here, any physical activity such as gardening, walking, bike riding, and even dancing helps.

Does your back feel stiff in the morning?
Do your knees creak going up and down stairs? Do you find it increasingly difficult to get up off the floor? Appropriate movement can help you feel better. All this movement in turn helps develop stronger muscle and bone resulting in a decrease in aches and pains. Remember your heart counts as a muscle so it gets stronger too! Imagine the positive impact on blood pressure and heart disease.

Be active. Move! Strive to be the healthiest version of yourself possible; one step at a time and one day at a time. You’re worth every minute!

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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The Essence of Lace: Benefits of Handmade Gifts

pure-soapmaking-693912The winter holiday season is joyful for many reasons. You get to spend time with friends and family, decorations are all around, the crisp air and blankets of snow bring a stillness like no other season, uplifting music swirls through the air, and the power of giving is in full force- just to name a few.

This holiday season, I decided I wanted to hand make as many gifts as possible and spend less money. I found myself getting too caught up in the consumerism aspect of the holidays and didn’t like what I was feeling. I love giving and making people smile, but that doesn’t have to be the result of frivolously spending money.

Handmade gifts are cost efficient and add a special touch to the gift-giving season. They are thoughtful and fun to create. Many times the fun comes in learning a new skill or technique with a handmade gift. You can make something useful and unique. Consider this: do you ever have the problem of not being able to find exactly what you’re looking for? Make it! There’s an endless sea of resources available to assist you in even the most daunting do-it-yourself projects. Try Howard County Library System’s new Hobbies & Crafts Reference Center.

beeswax-alchemy-592956I’ve been wanting to make more of my own everyday products instead of buying them. I started an expansive essential oils collection and did a lot of research on the many ways they can be utilized. These oils can be used in everything from body care products to household cleaning products- truly a great investment.

I decided to make soap and hand scrub for gifts this season considering both of these necessities can be great for absolutely anyone. I was able to experiment with scents and other natural elements to make each product specially designed for each individual based on their needs and preferences. For example, using real lavender to soothe skin, bits of oatmeal for exfoliation, and ground coffee for a kick of caffeine.

The hand scrub is such an easy process that you can make it right in your kitchen with items you most likely already have. A little bit of brown sugar, coconut oil, and vitamin E oil makes for a delicious smelling and nourishing treat for your hands. Add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil for more benefits and yummy smells. Winter weather can dry out your skin and cause cracking which makes simple tasks more difficult. With a small tub of hand scrub, you can remedy the issue while on-the-go.

idiots-guide-making-soap-248383The soaps that I decided to make are lemon cupcake, basil clementine, lavender chamomile, and sandalwood sage. After a test batch of each, I tweaked the recipe and got exactly what I wanted. Using essential oils allows for you to make the smell as subtle or as strong as you’d like. Different soap bases add even more benefits. I used goat’s milk, honey, shea butter, oatmeal, cocoa butter, aloe vera, and hemp oil. All bases are a simple melt and pour recipe (full of moisturizing properties) that you can customize to your liking.

the-chew-citrus-scrub-528399Another great aspect of handmade gifts is that I got to experience the process with a close friend. It was a fun way to deter from our normal hangout routine while being productive, learning a new skill, and spending quality time together. We got to test the product and do something we had been talking about for a long time. Even better, we made gifts for over 50 people at a great cost. Handmade gifts are something that I’ve always appreciated. The time and love that go into such creations just can’t be beat. This holiday season, consider making some, or all, of your gifts and learn a new skill in the process. Now get out there and start brainstorming!

Laci Radford is a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at Miller Branch. 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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How to Relieve Your Holiday Stress

This is an emotional time of year for many of us. We can feel happy, sad, and stressed at the same time. Right now, I am happy that my kids will soon be home from college, but I am stressed that I won’t be able to clear the clutter off the dining room table in time for Thanksgiving dinner. I am also sad that this is the first Thanksgiving that my oldest son will not be home, because he recently moved across country. There is so much to do in a finite amount of time- cleaning, decorating, cooking, baking, and let’s not forget shopping. Are you one of those people that are near the front of the line waiting for the stores to open after you have finished your Thanksgiving dinner? If you are, I’ll admit I am a bit envious. I am usually the one endlessly circling waiting for you to leave, so I can have your parking space.

Managing your stress level is important throughout the year, but even more so around holidays. The best thing to do, which can seem impossible at this time of the year, is to work on preventing stress before it happens in the first place. Stress can lead to (or exacerbate) existing health problems. You can read about the causes of stress, its effect on the body, and how to effectively manage stress here.

It’s also important to recognize your stress triggers. I am embarrassed to admit that I canceled Christmas in our house one year, because I let my stress get the best of me. Some of the things you can do to relieve stress over the holidays are to set realistic and achievable goals, plan ahead, delegate, stick to your routine, get plenty of sleep, and don’t overindulge in food or drink.

One of the most effective ways I have found to reduce my stress is to take time for myself. The year I canceled Christmas I think what I really needed was a time out. So now I schedule time, just for me, around the holidays to do something I enjoy. What do you enjoy doing? Plan time in your week to do it. It can be as simple as taking a walk in your neighborhood or sticking to your fitness or yoga routine, meditating, listening to music, reading a book or watching a movie, or doing something more indulgent like getting a massage or a new haircut. It’s also the perfect time of year to support Howard County General Hospital and walk, drive or jog through the Symphony of Lights. Symphony of Lights is also a great place to send your family, relatives or guests if you need a few minutes alone (hint,hint)! Think about what you enjoy doing and do it! Everything will still get done and you will be happier. You can find more tips for enjoying the holidays here.

I hope everyone finds a little more peace and joy this holiday season. Happy holidays!

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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