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

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

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

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

Nancy Targett is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She lives in Columbia and is the proud mom of three boys and a girl and a Siamese cat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Then pass it on.

Children, Ages 4-9

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

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


Middle Grades

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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jazminRainy weather should not stop us from getting our exercise. Remember being a child, and playing in the rain?

Jazmin is all set to lead the neighborhood parade. She flings the door open and encounters a big problem: the weather. Wind and thunder are followed by rain: “Slap! Rain poured down in buckets.” Thus begins Jazmin’s tale of disappointment and frustration as she waits for the storm to stop. ” Mounting frustration leads Jazmin to step outside and shake her fists at the rain and stomp her feet. But frustration gives way to fun as she kicks and chases the rain down the sidewalk: “I am Jazmin, the Rain Stomper!” Other youngsters come outside to watch; they urge her on, laughing and clapping. By the time Jazmin has finished, the sun has come out and the cheering children end up having their parade after all. “And so it was that Jazmin, the Rain Stomper outstomped the rain.” Large letters in white, black, or red and in different sizes emphasize the sounds and rhythm of the rain and thunder (“BOOM walla BOOM BOOM!”; “clink, clink WHOOSH!”).

who likes the rain yeeA delightful read-aloud that deals with making the best of a disappointing situation.

It’s time to put on your rain gear for a rainy-day romp! It’s time to put on a raincoat, grab an umbrella, and head outdoors. The worms like rain, and so do the fish and frogs. But what about the cat and dog? In this lyrical picture book, one spunky little girl discovers just who likes rain–and who doesn’t–as she explores the rainy-day habits of the world around her. The rhyming text (and often the illustrations) provides clues to her guessing game, so young listeners will easily guess the answers: “Who likes rain? / Not Papa’s old truck. / Who likes rain? / Quack, quack… / It’s a duck!”

Grab your umbrella (and shiny rain boots) and take a walk in the rain. You never know who you might see out there on the walking paths of Howard County!

rain ashmanA child and an adult look at rain from both sides. A grumpy elderly man resents the rain (“Dang puddle”); meanwhile, his young neighbor is overjoyed by it (“It’s raining frogs and pollywogs!”). The boy happily and energetically responds to the greetings of his neighbors as he hops like a frog into the puddles. The man snaps at everyone and harrumphs his way through the streets. An act of kindness and a bit of role playing lead to a change of heart, a happier outlook and a big splash. Text and illustrations are beautifully constructed and perfectly complementary. Ashman imparts the essence of the tale in just a few well-chosen phrases. Robinson’s renderings fill the city setting with crisp details. The boy and the man move briskly through the pages along with a cast of supporting characters and passersby, all of whom are depicted with expressive individuality. It’s all about attitude, isn’t it?

Shirley ONeill works for Howard County Library System as the Children’s and Teen Materials Specialist. She cannot believe she actually gets paid to do this job.

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As summer turns to fall, I feel the seasons changeover with achy twinges in my joints. Some people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), like myself, feel changes in the weather with their bodies. I can feel big storms, pressure changes, and shifts in humidity.

Frequently, the most challenging transition I encounter is when summer shifts to fall. I often feel my best during summertime. I experience less joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and have more energy overall. Unfortunately, as those warm summer days darken into chilly ones, my joints grow achier and harder to move.

Through the years, I’ve developed coping mechanisms to handle these seasonal changes. I don’t think I have a perfect routine, but I better understand what helps me to feel better and manage the changes in my physical condition.

      • Get more rest. Instead of getting angry at my body and denying the problem, I have to be gentler on myself and take time to get more rest. I try to go to sleep earlier, if possible, on week nights. And on weekends I may sleep in or take naps during the day. On especially bad days, I may scale back my schedule and replace activity with more resting.
      • Stay warm. When my joints become cold I have two problems. I feel worse, with more pain and stiffness. Plus, it takes a ridiculously long time for me to warm up and feel better. The best plan is to stay warm in the first place. I often dress warmer than most people—taking out the sweaters as early as September. And at night I have a heating blanket turned up on high. Taking proactive measures can help prevent bigger problems with my RA.
      • Keep up with gentle exercise. When my RA feels worse, it can be very difficult to motivate myself for exercise. It’s natural for my body to complain about moving when my joints ache and feel stiffer than molasses. But even on bad days if I do some gentle stretches and slow motions, then my bones loosen up and some of the pain dissipates. A little exercise can go a long way, which will hopefully help me feel better tomorrow as well.

Living with rheumatoid arthritis has its limitations, but I can still take care of myself with some gentleness. While I can’t necessarily fight the effects of winter, I can ease my body into it with a little self-care. Taking the time to observe how I feel and experiment with some techniques for combating the worst symptoms has helped me navigate the changing seasons.

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

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