5216891238_228367e57b_zI love Halloween! I love dressing up, handing out candy to neighborhood kids, and attending as many costume parties as I can. I’ve already worn three different costumes this year, and I still have one more chance to be something else this weekend! Most of all, I love Halloween because of the candy. It’s not just the candy, it’s the way we share and indulge in all that sugary goodness. I know it’s bad to eat 30 mini Twix bars or 25 bite sized Snickers bars in one sitting- I mean, it’s not like I downed a bag of sour gummy worms or maybe about 45 squares of Starburst fruit chews…

Well, I actually didn’t this year, I only ate an entire bag of mini Kit-Kats and a bag of mini Twix bars over a 5 day period sometime in September. I know, I got the bug early this time around, but I can’t say the same for years past. This year, my Halloween candy intake allowance is going to be small, maybe one or two chocolate treats versus an entire bag.

Too much candy is bad for you. There! I said it.

eat this not thatI spent the last two days reading every Eat This, Not That! book that Howard County Library System (HCLS) owns and I learned a few things:

(1) America is fatter than ever.

(2) Labels lie, but nutrition facts don’t.

(3) A couple Twix candy bars have the fat content equivalency of 12 strips of bacon. I’m surprisingly both intrigued and disgusted by that. Also, I feel like there’s probably a Pinterest pinned recipe or something on Reddit about bacon-wrapped-Twix hors d’oeuvres. (Update: I did find something “Twinkie” not “Twix” related and I think my arteries just clogged)

(4) Food products that use beloved characters, movies, etc. to market to children usually have terrible nutritional content.

(5) Eating healthy isn’t always cheaper, but it’s worth it.

(6) Just because something is “low-fat” or “low/zero-sugar” doesn’t mean you can eat more of it.

(7) Knowing is ⅓ the battle. Practicing good food swaps is ⅓. Exercising is (at least) the last ⅓.

(8) These books aren’t an excuse to eat whatever you want. These are practical guides to navigating your daily food choices in not-so-ideal situations. It’s imperative to read these titles cover-to-cover to benefit from the information therein.

(9) What constitutes as “food” these days is kinda scary.

(10) Candy is a terrific!

And when3000245257_9d3416db69_b I say “terrific” I mean massively intense, terror-inducing “terrific.” After reading through the statistics and comparative nutritional facts, I ran the gamut of emotions. I felt validated and then, duped. The pendulum swung from “I already knew that!” and “That’s so obvious!” to “How can we fix ourselves if we’re so deep in it?”

Candy cravings seem to intensify the moment you say you can’t have it or it’s just a “once in a while treat.” Also, candy is so cheap and accessible- and it makes us feel good. The pleasure centers in our brain get over-excited and the cravings for more “feel good” edibles takes over like an addict’s yearning for an abused substance. With just hours before welcoming kids onto my patio and giving them handfuls of sugar & fat laden bombs also known as Kit-Kat and Snickers bars the guilt settles in…

Has the annual Halloween candy haul turned into a slow, painful death-march of candy-drenched-diabesity? No. Truly, we are responsible for what we eat and put into our bodies. Having a few bite sized candy bars isn’t going to kill you, but if you can’t pass up the candy, or find yourself sneaking around for that taboo junk food- there’s a problem and it needs to be addressed. Recall our friend, Sugar Addict Anonymous.

All I want to impart with you is this: Halloween candy may be something you and your children struggle with over the next week or so. Be strong. Be prepared. Make good real food choices, and don’t be so hard on yourself if (when) you mess up.

Zinczenko’s books basically say three things:

(1) Be aware of and eat healthy foods when you’re truly hungry.
(2) Treat yourself once in a while, not once an hour, and not after every meal.
(3) Change is challenging and may feel time consuming, but it’s not impossible. Making one or a few healthier exchanges each day will help you trade up to that healthy, balanced diet you know you need.

Happy Halloween and good luck! I know I’ll need it!

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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troubleAren’t necessarily about the undead, hip vampires, or psychotic galpals.

Sometimes what makes them scary is just that they’re too graphic – even for that precocious adolescent reader.

Parents who take the time to peruse what’s between some of those Skittle-colored book jackets may need to be a little more diligent about what’s out there in Young Adult land.

Take Non Pratt’s nonstarter, Trouble.

Sexually explicit; (with one scene reading like a ‘how to’ manual), Trouble explores the amoral rompings of Hannah; a British fifteen-year-old.

Without brains or a shred of virtue for that matter, Hannah has unprotected sex with so many lackluster guys, (including her stepbrother), that she isn’t sure who gets her pregnant.

Still she rallies on in her teeny skirt and badly applied eye makeup.

A dismal, and as I’ve said, scary read indeed.

Yet, according to a recent New York Times article, teen readers are hunting for titles like Trouble, Slammed, Easy, and Losing It because they all provide “significantly more sex . . .”

Scarier still is what author Abbi Glines believes such books deliver — like “good narrative . . . and emotional intensity . . .”

I say, “Hmmm…” to that.

Most parents (even if they’re not comfortable with it) understand that sexual content in literature is as old as time. Coming of age novels almost always promise that one’s sexuality – as a rite of passage – will be a big part of the fictional journey.

The criteria is that it mirrors real life and the myriad feelings that come with intimacy — like Rainbow Rowell’s haunting Eleanor and Park or Una LaMarche’s, sometimes sensual, Like No Other.

like no othereleanor and park

So, it might just be more worthwhile for older teens to stretch their legs and wander over to adult fiction. There they’ll discover what the cold, hard consequences are when clueless characters like Hannah grow up.

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


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“Wherever I go – in stores, on the street, in restaurants, in people’s homes – I see repetitious scenes of whining, and tantrums, and – even more unsettling – an increased number of kids who look sullen, unrelated, and unhappy.” – Robert Shaw, M.D.

At a recent gala store opening the freebies were flowing — at least till mid-morning when one nine-year-old’s favorite treat ran out.
Several of us customers watched as the sales rep offered the young customer a substitute.
She took the rep to task — loudly.
“That’s not fair!” she stamped her foot. “Everyone else got the one I want! I deserve to get one too!”
The embarrassed parent intervened with an appeasement bordering on pleading: If the child would just be quiet, she’d take her somewhere else and buy her the unavailable item.
The late child psychiatrist, Robert Shaw, would have called this gift – this opportunity – “a teachable moment” – one in which an active parent might seize the day and demonstrate “an ethical response” to such unacceptable petulance.

But that didn’t happen.

the epidemicIn The Epidemic, Shaw dogmatically reasons why:
Today’s indulgent parents are either absurdly permissive or “checked-out” to their children’s emotional needs. They provide all the bells and whistles of excessive living, but scrimp on the moral input.
Case in point: today’s mutation of self-esteem. Where it was once a normal, healthy by-product of emotional development, according to Shaw, it isn’t any longer. Parents in large part, can thank themselves: “Lavishing excessive praise” on their kids, lobbying teachers “for sugar-coated assessments, even lowering expectations,” have all helped foster the current crop of little “self-worshippers.”

And who are the parents Shaw targets? Certainly not “The Have Nots.” “Primarily,” he stresses, “[it’s] a problem in middle- and upper-class families … comfortable families, where there’s plenty of money but simply not enough parental time…” Shaw also gets on that all-powerful electronic babysitter – television. American preschoolers (he says) spend up to fifty-four hours a week in front of one, absorbing TV’s endless communication of both the simplistic and insidious. Messages like “It’s okay to use weapons to deal with conflict. It’s okay to swear, bully, have sex, drink alcohol, and disrespect the adults in your life” have all contributed to the dearth of empathy and compassion in our children.

Indeed, he goes on: “Kids today demonstrate such a startling lack of character traits that many schools resort to a regularly scheduled moral curriculum.”
Disquieting when you think about the lifeline teachers already provide to both student and parent. Disquieting when you think about the “dissatisfaction of American teachers today. For the record, more than 200,000 will choose to leave their profession this year.1

The Epidemic is a stinging, grim, and discomfiting diatribe. Parents will resent and buck everything Shaw criticizes. But in the end, we all have to take it on the chin.

Every critical moment of your child’s life deserves you in it.

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.

1(Would Greater Independence for Teachers Result in Higher Student Performance? PBS Newshour, August 18, 2014)


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groundbreaking food gardensI hope you have gotten some great produce from your garden this summer. Our garden is beginning to wind down, as yours probably is unless you have made great plans for a fall garden. This is actually a good time to begin thinking about next year’s garden! Now, when your “failures” (no, scratch that) “disappointments” are decomposing in the compost heap, is a good time to record what you would do differently. Do you really want your bean plants that close together? Your carrots that far apart? And what a disappointment that new variety of tomato was! Now, the good variety—let’s save some seeds!

It apparently is a good time to introduce new books on vegetable gardening as well. Here are some shiny new additions to Howard County Library System‘s shelves.

timber guideTimber Press has published several guides to gardening with advice specific to the climates of various parts of the U.S.–the Pacific Northwest, the Mountain States, the Northeast, and, luckily for us, the Southeast. The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast (2013) is by Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I was happy to see her association with a seed exchange group since the gardener at my house is looking for advice on saving seeds from the best of our tomatoes. I really like the organization of this book. After a brief introduction to our climate, we have Gardening 101, and a section on garden planning. Following these are chapters for each month, covering “To do this Month,” what to “Plan, Prepare, and Maintain,” what to “Sow and Plant,” and “Fresh Harvest.” Each month is closed with a “Skill Set” project like staking or drip irrigation or starting a compost heap. The final 50 pages are an alphabetical guide to “Edibles A to Z.” There are some gems of advice in here—I want it for my home bookshelf!

Jean-Martin Fortier, in his The Market Gardener: a Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming (2014), demonstrates how a “micro-farm” of only one and a half acres can produce enough to feed 200 families in their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), in Canada, no less! In their 10 years at the business Fortier and his wife have developed some clever techniques and devised special equipment, shared here in clear line drawings. His chapters on pests, starting seeds, fertilizing, and more are enhanced with sidebars giving tips and advice. In spite of the author’s Canadian home-base—cooler by far than our climate—very little of his advice would not be useful in Maryland!

Do you like to browse through magazines to see how other peoples houses look inside? Do you like to see how beautiful their gardens look and long to replicate their successes? Take a look at Niki Jabbour’s Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden (2014). The gardens vary from “Wildlife Friendly” to “Critter Control,” from “Eggs and Everything,” built around a chicken coop, to the “Edible Campus” planted between buildings at McGill University. You won’t find gorgeous photos here, but colored sketches that I find more instructive. There is truly something for every gardener in these 250 pages.

year-round vegetable gardnerNiki Jabbour’s previous book, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener (2011), is a similarly useful guide, especially for the gardener who does not want a break from planting and harvesting. She promises to show “how to grow your own food 365 days a year no matter where you live.”

Josie Jeffery’s new book, The Mix & Match Guide to Companion Planting, promised great things— “an easy organic way to deter pests, prevent disease, improve flavor, and increase yields in your vegetable garden,” but was a mild disappointment to me. I really liked the short introductory chapters, but got lost trying to use the colored dots to mix and match the strips (three to a page) that represent the central crops, aboveground companions, and belowground companions. Maybe with a little more study I could appreciate it more, but it seemed like too much work. Still it’s a useful directory of plants—and pretty to look at!

Maybe these garden planning books will help you decide to become a year-round gardener—or just a better summer gardener! Good luck!

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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pumpkinThe crisp cool temperatures, the gradual appearance of colored hues in the vegetation, and the leaves falling one by one in their choreographed descent, are all signs that autumn is officially upon us.  In addition, there are your traditional celebratory markers of the season’s arrival, such as hayrides, Halloween stuff everywhere, and (of course) pumpkins galore! There are plenty pumpkin patches ready to be explored, pumpkins being sold for carving and decorating, pumpkin drinks, pumpkin deserts, and pumpkin dishes.  Coincidentally, pumpkins begin to ripen in September, which makes them readily available through fall and winter.  And though, we primarily associate pumpkins with Fall and Halloween, we should also begin associating them with healthy eating (if we don’t already).

nutritional healingPumpkins aren’t simply great as porch decorations, or for adding seasonal flavor to your beverage of choice.  Pumpkins are vegetables rich in antioxidants and vitamins (particularly vitamin A), and low in calories.  On October 5, 2014, the Huffington Post published an article titled 8 Impressive Health Benefits of Pumpkin, which notably mentioned some of the many healthy reasons we should all be incorporating more pumpkin into our diet.  The health benefits listed in the article include keeping eyesight sharp, aiding in weight lost, promoting heart health with pumpkin seeds, reducing cancer risk, protecting the skin, boosting one’s mood, post-workout recovery, and boosting the immune system.  Each of these benefits may come as no surprise due to the high level of antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E found in pumpkins.

According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute website, antioxidants are “chemicals that block the activity of other chemicals known as free radicals.  Free radicals are highly reactive and have the potential to cause damage to cells, including damage that may lead to cancer.”  While the body does naturally produce internal antioxidants known as endogenous antioxidants, it also relies on external antioxidants known as dietary antioxidants found in the foods we eat.

functional foodieBalch’s Prescription for Nutritional Healing touts the importance of vitamin A; as one of the types of dietary antioxidants, which promotes eye health, enhances immunity, maintains and repairs epithelial tissue, and protects against colds and infections, guards against heart disease and stroke, and lowers cholesterol levels.  And in Nix’s The Functional Foodie we learn that some of the many antioxidant carotenoids found in pumpkins include beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A), beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin.  Balch further explains that carotenoids, a class of phytochemicals, are fat-soluble pigments found in yellow, red, green, and orange vegetable and fruits; they have the ability to act as anticancer agents, decrease the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, and inhibit heart disease.  One of the most commonly known carotenoids, beta-carotene, can be converted into vitamin A, and is therefore one of the main sources of dietary vitamin A.

Pumpkins are being sold in many places this time of year, and are plentiful in locally grown pumpkin patches right here in Howard County, such as Clark’s Elioak Farm in Ellicott City, and Gorman Farm.  So whether you make it to a patch or your grocery store, get yourself a pumpkin and start reaping the health benefits that pumpkins have in store.

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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Published by First Second in 2013, Lucy Knisley’s graphic novel Relish is full of tips, tricks, and little tidbits about food, while still managing to tell an interesting and relatable story about her life.relish

In this memoir of her life growing up surrounded by and enjoying food, Knisley describes seminal memories she attaches to different cuisine. Many of her stories are funny, some are poignant, and some are a little sad – but all of them involve eating, selling, and living alongside food and cooking. Each chapter is followed by a recipe – all of which sound delicious and are broken down enough that even I could cook them. There’s a lot of variety in the included recipes, extending from huevos rancheros to sushi to the best chocolate chip cookies. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Knisley’s bright, colorful, and clear style that’s simply entertaining to look at and read through. It’s fully colored, very bright, and eye catching. The cartoony figures fit in perfectly and the food is only a little simplified and very easy to understand. I wouldn’t expect drawings of food to be as enticing as photos in a fancy cookbook, but Knisley does an excellent job taking advantage of the medium.

In chapter 8, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the cheese”, Knisley explains how her mother worked at the cheese counter of a gourmet food shop in New York City. Knisley eventually followed in her mother’s footsteps, working at the cheese counter of a gourmet store in Chicago after graduating from art school. The chapter closes with “A second-generation cheerful cheesemonger’s Cheese Cheat Sheet”, which veritably explodes with as many cheese facts as can be fit into a two page spread. This page also contains my favorite fact from this book – one that made my lactose intolerant husband very happy – “Aging cheeses breaks down lactose, so most aged cheeses can be eaten by lactose intolerants!” I think he now thanks Lucy Knisley quietly every time he enjoys a delicious slice of extra sharp cheddar.

Relish is all at once a memoir, a graphic novel, and a cookbook, and it does a nice job at all three. Knisley has a very pleasing style of both writing and drawing, making her work very accessible and enjoyable. Plus, her stories are just fun to read and her experiences and feelings are very relatable, even if you didn’t grow up surrounded by gourmet food.

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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