With the vernal equinox behind us the days will grow longer and the nights shorter. Nature is in balance for that brief moment, and then we move on. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could achieve that kind of balance in our lives, even for one day in the year? One of my favorite ways to reconnect and rejuvenate is through gardening. I am a terrible gardener but that’s not the point. The point is to get dirty, smell the soil and be humbled and amazed when a seed actually becomes a flower. Sharing with others this incredible magic through picture books is one of the joys of spring Children’s classes. Or just take a walk through the Enchanted Garden and restore your soul.
“There once was a city without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind.” Peter Brown’s tale of urban renewal and the persistent of nature (both plant and human) begins with this sobering statement. Our hero, Liam, discovers a small patch of weeds, and through trial and error, he nurtures a garden that grows and grows. As the garden greens, the colors brighten until the sky is blue and Liam is surrounded by flowers. Other gardeners take on the challenge and the city itself becomes more colorful. An inspirational tale inspired by the Manhattan High Line project.
We are fortunate in Howard County to have green space within the reach of all our citizens. Perhaps we should all take more advantage of these for our health, both physical and mental.
Kadir Nelson is one of my favorite illustrators and he knocks it out of the park with If You Plant a Seed. “If you plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed,” then that is what you will grow. Rabbit and Mouse work together and have a beautiful harvest. When the birds come begging to share in the feast Rabbit and Mouse plant a different seed, selfishness, and – “it will grow, and grow, and grow … into a heap of trouble.” After a food fight where most of the harvest is destroyed, Mouse offers one of the last pieces to the birds. In return the birds bring Mouse and Rabbit all kinds of wonderful seeds showing that “the fruits of kindness … are very, very sweet.” Gorgeous oil paintings are a hallmark of Nelson’s books, making this a book to return to again and again to enjoy his artistry.
Share this book with those who are still working on that notion of sharing- or bunnies!
Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner is a paean to the natural world and all of the creatures who contribute to the success (and sometimes failure) of spring planting. The often unseen life all around the garden, such as a praying mantis that eats mosquitoes, pill bugs that chew through leaves, honeybees that pollinate flowers, and a garter snake that hunts grasshoppers, are lovingly depicted by illustrator Christopher Silas Nelson. This is a full year in the garden as a young girl and her grandmother plan, plant, tend, and harvest. A lovely, quiet book for sharing right now when for many of us it is a little early to begin planting, but never too early for planning.
Hopefully, the snow is behind us. Let us enjoy as the poet says when the “world is mud-Luscious” and “puddle-wonderful” and it’s spring!
The 17th century English political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, wrote: “life is nasty, brutish and short.” He was witnessing the collapse of the then existing political and social order—a bloody civil war was being waged between those who supported the erstwhile British Monarchy, and those who wanted to abolish it. Hobbes was deeply pained by the resulting carnage and atrocities committed by both sides, and he saw the ‘natural order’ of things collapsing under his very eyes. Living and working conditions were brutal. This was a time of great social upheaval in England, resulting in ‘nasty’ physical and mental illnesses, leading to short-life spans and great misery. People behaved “brutishly” towards each other. There was, at that time, a marked decline in what we now call “civility.” The consequences were disastrous for the nation.
Today, we live in far better times, which Hobbes could not even have dreamed about. Life expectancies have improved dramatically. The average lifespan in the United States recently reached the low 80’s. A majority of the population now enjoys good physical and mental health. Standards of living have steadily improved throughout the past century. Most of us live in relative peace, and continue to enjoy the blessings of civilized life.
Although we do not yet have a perfect world, we can strive to improve our quality of life by cultivating civility towards each other. Civility can permeate all aspects of our relationships—at home, at school, at work, as well as in all our market and non-market transactions. If there is such a thing as “Utopia,” then practicing civility may take us there. This will not be an easy ride by any means, but it can be done, if we put our minds and energies into it.
What exactly is “civility?” How does it differ from concepts such as morality, religion, or ethics? How does civility promote mental health and well-being? Why should a society care about civility? To explore this topic, let us briefly discuss three related concepts: religion, morality, and ethics.
Different religious beliefs can often collide with each other, leading to uncivil behavior. Driven by religious fervor or dogma, adherents to a particular religion can tear apart the delicate social fabric that exists in a multiracial or multi-ethnic nation. This can obviously lead to physical and mental illness.
Another widely used term: morality, in most cases, is “culture-specific.” It is also a product of historical circumstances, geography, and religious traditions. What is considered immoral in one society may be an accepted common practice in another. A traveler moving from one country (which adheres to a particular moral code) to another, will find that their inhabitants subscribe to a different moral code of conduct. Interpretations of moral conduct have no universal validity. They are riddled with vagueness.
Ethical conduct and principles have much more commonality with “civility.” However, one can be civil, without being ethical, and vice versa. Ethics deals with certain modes of behavior or actions/decisions we choose to make in everyday life– what is considered as “right” or “wrong” in our national consciousness.
Fortunately, the concept of civility has great universal appeal, without invoking religion, morality, or ethics. Civility can (and should) be central to everyday human interaction. It promotes healthy human relationships, which in turn contributes to our sense of overall life satisfaction and happiness. The result is “a healthy body and a healthy mind.” Whether one is deeply religious or not; moral or immoral (as determined by context), and ethical or unethical, one can choose to be “civil.” Consequently, adherence to common principles of civility promotes overall mental health and well being, without our having to put labels such as “right” or “wrong.” We need not associate or confuse civility with other things.
How can civility promote a good Quality of Life? What should we do? This theme will be explored in the next installment of this topic.
The slow melting of all our snow has inspired me to get out of my winter hibernation and get active and moving once again. My favorite type of exercise is very simple: taking walks around my neighborhood. When the weather is nice, my husband and I try to take a walk once every day. We get to meet some of our neighbors (and more importantly, their pets), see how others have landscaped to get ideas for our own yard, and get some light exercise in to boot. I can really tell the difference in my mood on days when I have walked, and it’s the easiest, most simple exercise possible.
All walking helps to meet the goal of getting a little more active, but obviously it can be performed with more of a goal in mind. Fitness walking can be done both outside or in the privacy of your own home – as proven by Leslie Sansone’s series of Walk at Home DVDs.
On the other hand, there’s always hiking. It doesn’t have to be structured, hours long, big name hikes like the Appalachian Trail, either, although that’s certainly a worthy trip! There’s a plethora of local options close to Howard County, with the Patuxent Research Refuge and Patapsco Valley State Park nearby. But for locals looking for other fun hikes, there are numerous guidebooks for the region, including 50 Hikes in Maryland: Walks, hikes, & backpacks from the Allegheny Plateau to the Atlantic Ocean. Sometimes I want to get a little more urban, and luckily for me there are guides for that too, like Walking Baltimore: An insider’s guide to 33 historic neighborhoods, waterfront districts, and hidden treasures in charm city, which can take you on a bunch of different tours of the city. With all these places to choose from, I’m sure to get my walking in this spring!
Frances’ Rules for Eating in Color
1. Eat color often.
2. Don’t be monochrome.
3. Go beyond your comfort zone.
4. Make a date with your kitchen.
5. Move it.
The advice in this cookbook isn’t anything new: eat lots of colorful fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and herbs. Don’t be afraid of trying new foods. Learn to cook and flavor using spices and herbs instead of bottled preservative packed concoctions. And finally, get at least 30 minutes of exercise three times a week – at a minimum. It’s simple, reasonable, and achievable.
Frances does a great job setting you up for success with these easy to recreate recipes categorized by color. Below, you will find the categories and their respective foods along with my favorite recipes from the book.
| strawberries | pomegranates | watermelon | radicchio | beets | tomatoes | radishes | rhubarb | cranberries | apples | cherries | raspberries |
Roasted grape tomatoes p. 31
This couldn’t be any simpler. Take a pint of grape or cherry tomatoes, cut them in half, and toss in a light dressing made with fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Pop them in a 400°F preheated oven on a cookie sheet (covered in foil or parchment paper) and roast for at least 20 minutes, or until the tomatoes are wrinkled and bit collapsed. Take them out to rest and serve. I recently used this recipe in a pasta salad I brought to work. I took these roasted tomatoes and tossed them with cooked whole grain pasta, fresh torn basil, and fresh le petite mozzarella balls. You could also use a little bit of white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil to dress the whole dish with, but I’ll leave that up to you.
| mangoes | oranges | apricots | cantaloupe | butternut squash | sweet potatoes | peaches | pumpkins|
Pickled vegetables are divine! Many cultures across the globe enjoy pickled and fermented vegetables while simultaneously touting their usefulness in aiding with digestion and the like. This recipe asks that you boil vegetables in a large stockpot filled with a brine solution made up of vinegar, agave nectar, one bay leaf, celery seeds, and fennel seeds. After a few minutes at a rolling boil, take your pot off the heat and allow the vegetables and brine to cool together. Simply strain the mixture, removing the seeds and bay leaf, collecting the liquid in a separate container. Then, put the vegetables into sterilized mason jars, covering them to the brim with your cooled brine. These pickled veggies will last up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
| star fruit | figs | lemons | bell peppers |
Golden Beets with Parsely Pesto & Fregola p. 91
I am really looking forward to making this particular recipe for a couple reasons: #1 Golden Beets sound amazing, and #2 I’m excited to try fregola. I love Israeli couscous and fregola promises to be a robust cousin in flavor and shape. Apparently, the downside to the preparation of this dish, is time. Golden beets “take an annoyingly long time to roast, but the results are worthwhile.” I will have to report back to you on how this one goes.
| asparagus | mustard greens | fennel | kale | watercress | brussels sprouts | broccoli | avocados | spinach | herbs | sugar snap peas | zucchini | edamame | cucumbers | arugula | lime |
Avocado smoothie p. 104
There’s a hole-in-the-wall restaurant off Rolling Road in Catonsville, MD where I get my absolute favorite sweet treat- the avocado smoothie with large, black boba (tapioca) pearls. The thing is, that avocado smoothie is about a gazillion calories and packed with a ton of extra sugar. Frances’ recipe, however, is only 155 calories and still satisfies my sweet tooth. The smoothie has ripe avocado, banana, low-fat vanilla yogurt, coconut water, agave nectar, ice cubes, and cinnamon. I’m personally on the fence with cinnamon, so I left it out and it still tasted great. If you love cinnamon, go on with your bad self and drop a 1/4 teaspoon in there and sprinkle more on top. Once all the ingredients are blended together and you take your first sip, you will wonder why you haven’t had an avocado smoothie before. Also, you can make this recipe vegan by substituting the yogurt with cultured nut milks.
[BLUES, INDIGOS, VIOLETS]
| blueberries | eggplant | blue potatoes (potatoes) | red onions (onions) | red cabbage (cabbage) | plums | grapes |
So, I love baked potatoes and the Twice Baked Blues (p. 160) are no exception. The only difference? A little healthier and a lot more color. Easiest way to explain this one is imagine any twice baked potato recipe and in lieu of the fattening stuff like sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon you substitute with plain greek yogurt, goganzola or feta, and scallions respectively. At 105 calories for 2 halves, you can’t beat that. The other recipe I’m dying to try for myself is the Caramelized Red Onion & Fig Pizza (p. 173). I’ve never made whole wheat pizza dough and I’ve never had figs on pizza. It sounds interesting and I’ll have to get back to you on this one. I will say, you need to see the picture of this beautiful pie. It’s gorgeous. Can a pizza be gorgeous? Yes.
[BLACKS & TANS]
| oats | chia | hemp | barley | black rice | black beans | mushrooms | freekeh | flaxseed | olives | quinoa | sesame | coconut | chocolate |
Nutty Chocolate bark p. 209
Back to my sweet tooth with this one. I’ve made plenty of various chocolate barks in my culinary lifetime, but never believing it was a healthy endeavor. And precisely, this is a treat. A real treat. Not something you’d eat everyday, lest you ruin the rest of your colorful diet. This bark is comprised of Scharffen Berger semisweet baking chocolate, pistachios, hazelnuts, chopped dried cherries, flaked unsweetened coconut, and sea salt. OK. It’s not “healthy.” But it’s so delicious! The recipe makes 12 servings with 9.5 ounces of chocolate. So, your piece will definitely be small… as it should be, since it’s a treat and all.
I thoroughly enjoyed Eating in Color and hope you will too!
Ever since Business Innovator/Corporate Director/Author (that’s a lot of slashes) Nilofer Merchant declared “sitting has become the smoking of our generation” in a TED talk, there’s been even more focus drawn to the inactivity that has become an accepted part of practically every adult working person’s daily life. This is not a new concern; there are plenty of known risk factors attached to a sedentary lifestyle including increased risk for heart disease and high blood pressure, obesity, and depression. More and more we’re discovering that being inactive is bad enough, but sitting is particularly pernicious. Check out this helpful info from The Washington Post on the dangers of sitting, especially with poor posture (something I need to work on). For more info on the dangers of sitting, you may also want to check out Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What you Can Do About It by James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D. and JustStand.org.
At the library, I do sit a lot, but, thankfully, moving around (shelving, shelf-reading, helping customers find what they’re looking for, etc.) is also a regular part of my job. My hubby, computer geek extraordinaire, gets less of a break from sitting during his day. And recently, he has developed some back problems. So he decided to do something about it, he decided to take a stand, if you will.
For the last month, he has been using a stand-up desk at work and home. Standing may not seem like an exercise per se, but it is one of the easiest ways to combat “sitting disease” (what some people are now calling the ill effects of a sedentary lifestyle). Additionally, JustStand.org indicates that standing does help improve posture; increase energy, blood flow, and metabolism; and it even helps tone muscles and burn calories.
And my hubby didn’t break the bank on an expensive stand-up desk. He borrowed a DIY method from this handy posting. So far my husband’s verdict on his stand-up experiment: “I can’t go back to sitting all day. The desk has really helped.”
As I mentioned, I do get opportunities to move throughout the day, but I know I could benefit from a little more standing and moving. Of course I can’t set up a stand-up desk in my office area (I share my desk with another), nor can I set up one at the Research Desk (that would just be plain weird). But I think I’m going to check out some of our DVDs on exercises you can do while sitting and maybe learn a little more about Physiology and Fitness.
February is Valentines and American Heart month. It’s all about the heart, and these picture books are just the ticket to keep you heart-healthy and heart warmed.
This humorous fiction/nonfiction blend introduces us to Henry’s heart. Using speech-bubbles, text boxes,and charts (ala Scaredy Squirrel) we learn how this important muscle pumps oxygen and blood around his body. When Henry’s mother says Henry Malcolm Webber go play outside in the fresh air, we learn the importance of keeping the heart healthy through exercise. A tip from Henry – “If your mom uses your whole, entire name in a sentence, then you should listen to her and do what shes says, or you might get in big trouble”. Henry and his Dad go for a walk and suddenly his heart starts beating faster and faster. He sees the love of his young life, a puppy. “Broken-hearted” when his father says no to adopting it, Henry slides into a slump. No exercise, no appetite, no racing heart. Eyes and heart know something is wrong. Mom takes him to the doctor, who has a chat with the boy. A prescription is given, but Henry notices that Mom drives right past the pharmacy. Instead, his dad arrives with a puppy. And at bedtime, two hearts beat as one.
A 2013-2014 Black Eyed Susan Picture book nominee, this clever picture book is just the ticket for explaining how the mind and body work together for heart-healthy living and loving.
Whoa! Here I come! I am the Hug Machine!” cries this book’s ebullient young narrator as he dramatically crests a hill on the first spread. No shrinking violet, the boy explains in a series of spot illustrations why he is the “best at hugging” everyone and everything. Even hug requests from a spiky porcupine and a ginormous whale don’t faze the resourceful tyke. After refueling with pizza (his preferred food) to “keep the hugging energy high,” the Hug Machine traverses the neighborhood spreading his special brand of magic. Campbell’s watercolors exude warmth, emotion, and humor, from the expressions of several surprised recipients of the Hug Machine’s hugs to his own serenely closed eyes during each hug, which make it clear that he’s giving each hug his all. After a day full of hugging, the Hug Machine discovers it’s just as nice to be hugged as it is to give hugs. It’s a non-sappy, warm-hearted ending to a book that feels just like a big ol’ hug.
One of the pleasures of being a Children’s Instructor here at HCLS are spontaneous hugs from exuberant participants in a children’s class. Make a point of hugging your friends and family. It’s good for your heart and there is some evidence it keeps you healthy also!
“All the jungle’s got the beat, but Gerald the giraffe has four left feet.” Giles Andreae’s bouncy read-aloud is an ode to self-expression and having heart. When he is laughed off the floor the annual dance, Gerald sadly walks his lonely path home. A wise cricket admonishes him to listen to the music in nature, and dance to his own special beat. Gerald begins to dance, and soon everyone applauds his new found talent. When asked how it did it, he replied “We all can dance,” he said,”when we find music that we love.” Guy Parker-Rees’ brilliant full page watercolor spreads and comic illustrations invite the reader to this feast of self-expression.
One of my go-to children’s class books, this heartwarming tale encourages us all to “dance like there’s nobody watching. You’ve got to come from the heart if you want it to work.” Hug someone.