How many hours does your child spend in front of a screen? Factoring in smart phone, video game, computer, and television time, the average child today spends 7 hours with electronic media. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents to wait until a child is at least 2 before allowing any screen time. Older children and teens should be limited to 1-2 hours per day. The AAP recommends that every home have a “screen-free zone” where there are no electronic devices. Ideally, bedrooms and dining areas should have no computers, televisions or video game consoles.

growing up socialThe Johns Hopkins Medicine online library includes information on school-aged children’s developmental milestones as well as television guidelines. Children learn and enjoy so many new skills and activities as they grow. Watching television to the exclusion of playing, reading, doing crafts and spending time with friends narrows a child’s world. When they do watch television, children benefit from watching with their parents so they can discuss what they see. Selecting kid-appropriate shows allows parents to guide their children toward the highest quality programming. Most children spend 3 hours per day watching television. This is time that could instead be spent participating in sports, exploring nature, writing a poem, playing a new board game or discovering an amazing author.

Excess screen time has been associated with poor school performance, attention deficit disorder, and obesity in children. Increased exposure to social media platforms places children at higher risk of bullying, anxiety disorders, depression, suicidal ideation, and dangerous behavior. We are all so busy that it is already challenging to get enough sleep. Using electronic devices before bedtime, however, can make it more difficult for children to fall asleep and contributes to sleep disorders.

screen free activitiesAs parents, we can promote reading, creative play, and activities that use the imagination. We can model limited use of electronic devices with our own behavior. We should show true interest in our childrens’ school and free time plans and encourage open communication. Family activities such as hiking, card games, art projects, and making music are great ways to spend time together. The HCLS collection includes many books about travelling with kids. For some local adventure, check out Fun with the Family in Maryland: Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with the Kids and Day Trips in Delmarva. HCLS has so many wonderful books filled with ideas for family entertainment. Take a look at Project Kid:  100 Ingenius Crafts for Family Fun, 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids:  The Very Best and Easiest Playtime Activities from FunAtHomeWithKids.com, and Unbored:  The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun. All include imaginative play and craft ideas for all ages. Enjoy some time being a screen-free family.

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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living well online

We need new vocabulary. We require more extensive terminology for social media friends and electronic interactions. My kids do not know a world where social media friends did not exist, but still, they seem to know that there is a difference between a Facebook friend and a friend who knows your heart. Depending on your personality and social comfort zones, however, it might not be so easy to know the difference. My kids enjoy interacting with people in person, talking with them, hanging out with them, so they know that an internet-based relationship is not the same. On some level, they know that an Instagram follower you see pictures of or posts from almost every day is a different relationship from someone you only see once a year but with whom you’ve shared a summer at camp or a year in high school precalculus. Your classmate moved away and you’ve kept in touch with her ever since. You don’t hear from her every day on your smart phone, but you feel close to her anyway. In the most basic terms, children with human interpersonal relationships know not to confuse quantity with quality. Still, the blur of daily digital bombardment can confuse one’s emotions. A Snapchat community may feel more real than your favorite school group. A stranger’s Snapchat story may be more engaging than the cafeteria conversations you shared with classmates.

For me, who has spent the greater percentage of her life to date without social media friends, the concepts demand further definition. Is Jimmy Fallon my friend because I follow his daily tweets from The Tonight Show? Of course he isn’t, but I have access to his ideas 24/7 as long as I have an internet connection. On the other hand, my human friends may be out of town or at work or offline (perish the thought). I find myself wondering, do I know that fact or have that opinion because I exchanged ideas with another person or because I had a frequent electronic interaction with a particular point of view? Did I hash out a social argument or did I just absorb it, become saturated with it, through posts on Facebook by people I don’t even know, people who have their privacy settings set to “public” or “friends of friends.” Friends, facts, opinions vs. eFriends, eFacts, ePinions.

safe social networkingA reason for new words is to provide us with a common language. Each individual’s use of terminology helps us understand whether that person has a healthy understanding of social media interactions. A person who cannot clearly distinguish between a social media friend and a human interaction friend might not use the terms correctly or precisely. This would help us recognize, for example, if a child was having an online relationship with someone they had never met, someone whom they really didn’t know. It would be a clue that your widowed father wasn’t getting out much and had become isolated in an online world where he no longer shared human laughter and had become quite lonely. Alternatively, it would be a way to talk about relationships with a highly introverted coworker who seeks help developing vital personal interactions and bridging a gap to emotional fulfillment.

As we evolve as an eSpecies, the percentage of time we spend in electronic versus human interaction will change. These interactions affect our personalities, our relationships, our cultures, our societies. Let’s grow our language to encompass these different worlds and empower us to differentiate between them.

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

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

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

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

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

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Okay, so last month, I confessed my juice reboot failure, but it wasn’t for pity or even to vent my frustration (well, maybe a little venting). It was to share how I’ve learned from my mistakes and turned those lemons into lemonade (or a healthful lemon juice blend).

First off, let me say how much easier it is to incorporate juices into your diet when the weather is warmer–it’s often refreshing to grab a juice or smoothie instead of a big meal on these warmer days. Secondly, when the hubby and I were going for the full, 3-day reboot, we were a little overwhelmed (and hungry). We are currently trying to incorporate just one juice or smoothie into our day. We may try a reboot again just for the “clean slate” effect, but one a day seems much more do-able for us. I should note that though we may choose a juice or smoothie for breakfast or lunch, we are not doing this as part of some fad weight-loss/meal replacement plan. We simply want to incorporate more fruits and veggies into our diet, and a juice or smoothie makes that easier to do.

Speaking of easy, here’s the biggest win we’ve taken from our juice fail: keep it simple. For the juice reboot, we purchased a nice juicer, since we figured the soluble fiber from the juice might be a little easier on my sad digestive tract than the insoluble fiber you get from smoothies made in blenders (and we didn’t want to have to purchase a crazy-expensive Cadillac of a blender). We are still using the juicer, especially for harder fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, and pears. But making juicing and smoothies more part of our natural routine has meant looking for quicker and easier ways to do it. We were pleased to discover that our very ordinary blender could handle the job (within reason).

We also took advice from our friend Cristina, who has some family trying out juicing and smoothies. She said that they started with other people’s recipes, but eventually started changing them up a bit and trying things that worked better for them. For example, when the hubby and I started making smoothies instead of just juicing, we used the very popular 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse as a blueprint. We were a little bummed that some recipes called for sugar substitutes, since we don’t really like things overly sweet and were more interested in just adding some healthier foods to our diet instead of just losing weight. We started tweaking the recipes a bit and came up with a very basic formula for the world’s laziest smoothie, as demonstrated in the video below.

Finally, as I mentioned last month, the original juice reboot called for us to go vegan a few days leading up to the juicing and a few days after. We were going to use it as a jumping off point for the VB6 diet, and did to a certain point. Now that we are having juice or smoothies once a day, we find it is a lot easier to stick to only vegan (or at least vegetarian) fare before 6 p.m. most days. Do we falter some days? Absolutely. But our new simplified and laid-back approach to juicing and smoothies takes a lot of the pressure off and helps us to keep the momentum needed to maintain the healthier eating habits we are trying to acquire.

  • It's amazing how good a well-seasoned avocado can taste!
  • Salad and vegetable broth--sigh--very vegan and satisfying, if not altogether mouth-watering.
  • Steamed broccoli, brown rice, and tofu, made delicious with a little help from their good friends Sriracha and soy sauce.
  • Avocado also makes a great vegan topping for a whole-grain bagel.
  • The little blender that could!
  • Hey, does my blueberry smoothie resemble planet Earth? Maybe just a little?
  • Yummy vegan chili (with a dollop of cheating sour cream).
  • Vegan tacos? Yep, and tasty.


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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Ever heard of no ‘poo? It’s really not what you think.

No ‘poo advocates ditching store-bought shampoo and conditioner for ethical, environmental, economic, and health reasons and replacing it with baking soda and apple cider vinegar.

I had severe dandruff that none of the store-bought shampoos cured.  Head and Shoulders made the dandruff and the itching worse. Neutrogena’s T/Gel worked a while, then it stopped working and the itchiness came back. Selsun Blue helps with the itching but the scent is completely intolerable to me. I couldn’t even watch those dandruff shampoo commercials on TV where the person can’t wear black because of embarrassing dandruff. Desperation led me to no ‘poo two years ago and I lasted a whole three months.  In short, after going no ‘poo, I found that my hair was cleaner for a longer period of time and that my dandruff problem was cured (for the duration that I went no ‘poo).

So why should you try no ‘poo? No more harmful chemicals polluting our waterways. Looked at the ingredient list of shampoos and conditioners recently? I don’t know about you, but I certainly do not know what most of the ingredients are, let alone how to pronounce them. Take, for example, the ingredients in Pert Plus shampoo:   Water, Ammonium Laureth Sulfate, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Glycol Distearate, Cocamide MEA, Dimethicone, Cetyl Alcohol, Fragrance, Sodium Citrate, Polymethacrylamidopropyltrimonium Chloride, Sodium Benzoate, PEG-14M, Dihydrogenated Tallowamidoethyl Hydroxyethylmonium Methosulfate, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Chloride, Citric Acid, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Ammonium Xylenesulfonate, D&C Yellow No. 10, FD&C Blue No. 1. I probably should have paid better attention in chem class.

Going no ‘poo is also very animal friendly. I highly doubt baking soda and apple cider vinegar mix needs to be tested on animals. Companies that do not conduct animal testing proudly advertise that they do not conduct animal testing. For a list of companies that might conduct testing on animals, click on this PETA link. PETA has separate listings of cosmetics companies that do and do not conduct animal testing.

Another reason to try no ‘poo? Economic reasons. It is vastly cheaper to buy baking soda and apple cider vinegar than it is to purchase shampoo and conditioner, even if it’s a two-in-one shampoo. After the initial shock of switching to no ‘poo, your scalp will begin to secrete less oil, and as a result, you’ll wash your hair less frequently.  Fewer washings means that you’ll stretch your baking soda and apple cider vinegar supply much longer.

Initially, there may be no difference after switching. It took two weeks for me to notice that my hair was less oily, less itchy, and less flaky. My main problem with no ‘poo, however, was the inconvenience of it. There are no shampoo and conditioner-filled plastic bottles ready to go. With no ‘poo, you need to prepare your own baking soda and apple cider vinegar concoctions. It’s not complicated, but it is very inconvenient.

Here’s the recipe: For “shampoo,” mix together 1 tablespoon baking soda with 1 cup of warm water. For “conditioner,” mix together 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar with 1 cup of warm water. Warm water is very important because the one time I used regular room temperature water, it felt very cold once I dumped it onto my head.

Now for the inconvenient part. I keep my baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and measuring spoons/cups in the kitchen. I make the mix in the kitchen before I head to the shower and put it into two separate soda bottles. I use soda bottles because I have a lot of them (soda is my vice), and the smaller neck allows me greater control on how much I pour onto my head at once. I also mark with a permanent marker on the bottle itself how much water goes into the bottle so I need not constantly bring out the measuring cup. Finally, I keep handy a newspaper so I can funnel the baking soda directly into the soda bottle.

One more piece of advice: keep your mouth closed so the baking soda or apple cider vinegar mixtures don’t accidentally stream into your mouth. It’s all natural so it won’t kill you, but it might dampen your enthusiasm for going no ‘poo. The baking soda and apple cider vinegar mixes are not nearly as viscous as regular shampoo and conditioner, and hence, they do dribble all over your head no matter how careful you are.

Finally, does it work, you ask? I had my doubts about this, but I tried it anyway, reasoning I didn’t really have anything to lose and that I’ll be wiser for the experience.  The apple cider vinegar especially worried me as well as I did not want to smell vinegary. I even took precautions for my first attempt to make sure I didn’t have to interact with anyone immediately following my first no ‘poo experience. But to my surprise, my hair did not have even a whiff of vinegar tainting it (with a thorough rinsing of the hair, of course) and my hair was very soft after my first no ‘poo experience. Now, I still do no ‘poo once a week to keep my dandruff in check and use small amounts of shampoo and condition during the week because I cannot resist the sweet smell of shampoo.

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.

(Special repost from November 2012)


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Do No Harmdo no harm is a gift of a book bestowed upon us by Henry Marsh, an accomplished British neurosurgeon. These linked stories eloquently describe life as the person who holds others’ lives in his hands. With 35 years in practice, Mr. Marsh has insight into all aspects of providing medical care. (In the UK, surgeons are referred to as “Mr., ” so please allow me to refer to this renowned physician as Mr. Marsh.) He shares his accomplishments, fears, and failures. He boasts, gripes, mourns and vents.Mr. Marsh takes us inside the skull, behind the orbits, into the brain. We join him on a fascinating anatomic journey as he incises through to the meninges, the spine, and the pituitary gland. We are riveted by the urgency of his patients’ conditions such as brain tumors, aneurysms and trauma. We are pulled along hoping that all of his patients do well, but he leaves us with no illusions.  These are stories of life and death and the mistakes even the most experienced surgeons make.

Not only patient outcomes lie at the heart of Do No Harm. Mr. Marsh also describes the challenges he has faced as son, father, husband, medical colleague and customer of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). There is much dark humor in the aggravation he describes dealing with NHS management and computerized health records. Will there be beds for his patients? Will he be able to coax the NHS computer system to show him the patients’ brain scans? He admits to an arrogance that has mellowed over time, but we see that he continues to be an opinionated force wherever he goes. One of my favorite chapters is “Infarct,” where he confronts how medical care and bureaucracy impossibly conflict.

In Mr. Marsh’s beautiful descriptions of his days, as he cycles to work, evaluates patients, instructs new surgeons, and waits to enter the “operating theatre,” we appreciate his dedication. His powerful introspection illuminates how medicine is a “craft.” Enmeshed in the combination of art and science exists a huge human element with alternately confident and nervous providers striving to develop their skills to provide the best treatment for their patients. As in a lecture he has delivered internationally, “All My Worst Mistakes,” Mr. Marsh is willing to share his experiences so that others can grow from what he still hopes to learn.

Mr. Marsh never loses perspective on his fallibility as a surgeon no matter the fame he has achieved. As an example, he has worked extensively in Ukraine providing care to its medically underserved population. Documentaries have been made about him and his service. Still, he writes “of surgical ambition and of my failure” and reminds us that diagnosis and treatment plans are filled with “uncertainty” and that “patients become objects of fear as well as of sympathy.” As a reader, I am grateful for his honesty and generosity as a neurosurgeon and author.

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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