Tag Archives: health


two adults and four children hiking a sandy trail surrounded by grassy hillsWhen I was a teenager I would make New Year’s resolutions every year. I quickly realized that I didn’t ever follow through on any of them. Resolutions are different than goals, I too recognized. It seems that when we make a resolution it is about stopping something bad, like smoking. A goal is more about achievement of something good.

One of my unwritten goals – I guess this means I should write it down – is to exercise 3 times per week. It is not an unrealistic goal and I don’t have strings attached to it such as “lose 10 pounds” which makes the goal either less intimidating or not as important. I guess it depends on how you look at it.

Recently I attended a Chat, Chew & Chocolate event and connected with a few women. At a table of 4 we went around and stated a goal that we would like help with achieving in the next few months. I told everyone that I wanted to exercise more so that I had more energy. Quickly a few gals said they would be interested in hiking. We all exchanged cards and went on our way.

With the emails in hand, I wrote an invitation for a hike. The gals are in. I am excited to have some girls to hike with. Hiking with children just isn’t the same, especially when I end up caring one on the way back because she is too tired to walk. Actually, I think she just wants to be carried.

When my husband asked me what we had going on this weekend I told him I am going on a hike on Sunday. I think he almost choked on his toothbrush because it is a rare occasion when I am so secure about “me” time. He chuckled and asked, “With who?” I have to admit, it is rare for me to go hiking alone and most of my close friends don’t hike. I explained that I met some gals and we all wanted to go hiking so we planned a date. I think he was happy for me and proud of me for making that time.

When I told the gals I wanted more exercise, it was a statement but also a true goal of mine. I thought I would have more time to exercise when my kids started kindergarten, but I seem to fill the time up with other activities. When a group was willing to join me, well, that made the idea of hiking a lot more exciting. Now, if the weather would just cool off a little here in Arizona, it will be a perfect day hanging out with new friends.

by Kelly Damron

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Photo graciously provided by respres, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Routine, Routine, How I Love Thee.

baby in footie pajamas sleeping on a red carpetWhen my daughter was a baby, she suffered from Acid Reflux Disease.  She would scream for roughly 7-9 hours each day.  It was maddening.  I was a disaster.  As a new mom that knew nothing, I couldn’t believe this was what I had signed up for.  I was purely in survival mode.  For sixteen-weeks she ate when she wanted, slept (or not slept) when (and where and how) she wanted and basically ruled our lives like the tiniest little dictator.

When I had to return to work after four-months, she started daycare at an amazing center with a curriculum in place even for infants.  As ridiculous as it sounds, the curriculum included things like baby sign language, tummy time, baby yoga and teaching Spanish along side English when they learned new words.  I continue to be impressed with this center and the expanding knowledge of my now not-even-two-year-old.

When she started there, they explained to me that they’d feed her every three hours and that in the beginning she could nap whenever, but they’d attempt to put her on a two nap a day schedule; one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  I told them that she prefers to sleep on her belly – and they shook their heads.  That was against policy.  She’d have to learn to sleep on her back, swaddled.

“HA!”  I thought, “GOOD LUCK!  That kid will NEVER sleep on her back and she DETESTS that swaddle with the firey hate of one thousand suns.”

I also told them that I have to rock her to sleep and that she’d only ever fall asleep in my arms.  Again I was met with pitiful glances and shaking heads.  I was assured she’d fall asleep and stay asleep on her own.  On her back.  In a swaddle.


I left there freaking out about the disaster baby I’d be picking up later.  One that hadn’t napped all day.  As if my life as a working mother wasn’t already difficult enough, I was going to wind up picking up a monster at 6pm.

Within two weeks, my kid was a different kid.  I had started to emerge from the newborn haze.  We were really doing it!  She was eating every three hours.  She was falling asleep in the swaddle and staying asleep for good, 3-4 hours clips.  I was completely blown away.  That schedule was the best thing to ever happen to us.

Over the course of her short little life, she’s moved up a couple of classrooms and the schedule has changed.  At home we change right along with it.  I follow their lead.  They’ve led the move from crib to cot, from two naps to one, from snacks I sent to snacks they provide.

On the weekends or any days she does not attend the center, we keep her schedule exactly the same.  She eats at the same times; including snacks.  She naps at the same time.  Weather permitting, we play outside at the same times.  Our evening schedule is the same each night; dinner at 6, playtime from 6:30-7:30, bath at 7:45, in bed by 8:15.

The routine works.  She loves it.  We love it.  We’re all more sane because of it.  We do deviate from time to time and we make it through, but not without some kind of exhausted stress typically resulting in a meltdown.  Just tonight, we met friends for dinner and naturally, right around 8:15, my Toddler stands up in her chair, looks at me and says, “My wanna go home!  Go night-night!”

My response?

“Check please!”

I mean, really.  Who am I to argue?

Do your kids thrive on routine?  Are you a scheduled family or does a less rigid lifestyle fit you better?

by Pocklock

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Photo graciously provided by Nicolas Hoizey, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Safety In The Sun Means Much More Fun!

sun shining bright on a railroad crossingLast weekend, a five month-old baby in the seaside town where I live was rushed to hospital in an ambulance with burns over 40% of his body. He was dehydrated, and according to doctors, may be at a higher risk of kidney failure. He will be in pain for some time. Like me, you will probably think that it was a barbecue accident, but no: the baby was on the beach with his family, and he was napping in the sun. He was sunburned. You can just imagine the gasps of horror in the neighbourhood!

Most of us know that we should cover up when we’re in the sun. But are we really careful enough with our kids, whose sensitive skin is much more at risk? Most toddlers HATE having sunblock applied, and squirm and wriggle so that it is nearly impossible to get it on them properly. The whole operation can be so tedious that it’s easy to do a halfway job, and then regret it later. Sometimes, like last weekend, it’s pretty sunny but the breeze blows cool and we just don’t feel hot enough to remember to reapply sunblock.

Or we might think that after months of being covered up like slugs for the winter, we NEED some colour and a little pink in our family’s cheeks. Sunshine and Fresh Air, we think. Experts recommend applying sunblock 30 minutes before sun exposure, because it takes at least ten minutes to soak in and become effective. Before you leave home is the best time! It’s easy to get out into the great outdoors, and spend a few minutes unpacking and a few minutes getting comfy, and then start to look for the sunblock… by which time the kids have been in the sun, unprotected, for fifteen minutes. And THEN you have to catch them! And yes, a child – even an adult – can burn in fifteen minutes on a hot day.

One bad sunburn in childhood or adolescence can more than double the risk of skin cancer in later life. And in the short term, unprotected exposure to the sun can cause pain, blistering, dehydration and heat stroke. Sunburn can take all the fun out of your day out.

So we must be vigilant in our crusade against those harmful rays.

It is good to get into the habit of applying sunblock at a certain time of day: When my family is on a beachy holiday, sunblock-time is built into our morning routine: Breakfast, Sunblock. The kids take it for granted, and line up with minor moaning about the sun not even being UP yet. (Why oh why do they have to get up so early, so hungrily, and so loudly, on holiday mornings?)

Another routine that really works, especially for younger kids, is an early lunch and an after-lunch indoor or shade activity. This is great for so many reasons: Kids are generally hungry earlier when playing on the beach (and getting up too early), and they are generally exhausted by midday. Serving lunch in the shade or indoors at eleven prevents overtired-and-hungry meltdowns (you know the ones), and then you can keep the kids in playing after lunch, during the hottest hours of the day (eleven to three). They may even nap! You can use this opportunity to fill them with fluids, like water or juice. Then, reapply sunblock before heading back into the sunshine, rejuvenated!

You may have noticed that I’m using a tactic here which little kids love anyway: Routine. Develop sun habits that are healthy, and later on you may notice that your older kids keep them, reading in the shade after lunch or watching a DVD.

If you’re just heading to the beach for the day, you could try another sunblock tactic: Sunscreen-and-a-Treat! Ice lollies while sunblock is re-applied? A favourite drink? Chips and dip? A good tactic for older kids, because you’re not yelling “Come and let me reapply your sunblock!” you’re yelling “Ice lollies!” … see, you can’t lose. Get everyone to drink some juice or water, too. They are bound to feel thirsty, and it is important to stay hydrated.

Ideally, sunblock should be reapplied every two hours when you’re in the sun, so if everyone’s on the beach for the whole day, regular sunblock-and-hydration breaks are a must.

I know that hats are good for blocking the sun, but don’t think that you can skimp on the sunblock if your child is wearing a hat. The sun’s rays reflect off of sand and water, and sneak in under the brim of any hat… and a hat can (and probably will) be removed. So can a T-Shirt. My kids think I’m weird, but I tend to apply sunblock and then a T-Shirt, and that means that if they take their T-Shirt off, I don’t have to panic.

Some types of sunblock can get into kids’ eyes and they sting. Ow! I can see why anyone would squirm and complain about this. For faces, it’s best to use a clear stick designed especially for the face. It doesn’t rub off easily, and never runs into eyes. I like to use a factor 50 if I can get it (although there are claims that factor 50 isn’t THAT much more effective than factor 30 block). For the rest of the body, any sunblock with an SPF of 30 or higher is fine. If kids are swimming or sweating, waterproof block is essential.

Use liberally! Skimping will make sunblock less effective. Experts estimate that most parents use half the recommended amount of sunscreen. Creams are much better than sprays for this reason, the gunkier the better. If you prefer to use a spray-on sunscreen, at least use a good thick cream for the first application, and rub it in well.

Remember to apply sunscreen to all of those easily-forgotten bits: The ears, which can stick out and catch the sun terribly! The feet, calves, knees. The arms, all the way down to the fingers. The parting in their hair. The back of the neck. The tummy. And remember that sunblock is non-negotiable. I have seen parents get into lengthy whining matches with their kids, and agree to put the sunblock on ‘In a while’. Are they mad? If your child would rather not wear a seatbelt, would you give them their way?

And do remember to set a good example. Apply sunblock to yourself! Get a truly gorgeous hat! Expound upon the virtues of sunblock, its anti-ageing effects, its ability to keep you comfortable after a day out. An extreme tan is no longer cool, anyway. Especially not on your children.

by Nan Sheppard

Photo graciously provided by .: sandman, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Reading Food Labels

closeup of a strawberryWhen my son was a little over one year old, we discovered he had a peanut allergy. He ate a piece of chocolate over at my mother’s house, and immediately broke out in a head to toe rash. Over the course of that year, we found out he was allergic to several foods (milk, strawberries, peanuts, oranges). It was then that I started to read the labels on my food in earnest.

I’ve gotten pretty good at getting to know what to look for and being able to pick out foods that are safe and foods to avoid. He’s also excellent at watching what he eats in any new situation and always brings foods he’s been offered over to me so I can read the labels.

My family has a harder time. My son is the first person who’s had food allergies on my side of the family. Reading labels for anything other than calorie count isn’t something we’ve ever done before. Unfortunately, the labels aren’t always about quantifying the contents of the food, but sometimes about hiding behind loopholes. The “processed in a plant that handles peanuts” label tripped up my mother this past weekend as she bought Easter candy for the grandkids.

Mom thought she’d bought chocolate that my son could eat. She read the ingredients and saw no peanuts. I read the same label and saw the dreaded “processing” footnote (written in tiny itallics font) and had to turn down the candy. Everyone was sad. My son bounced back quickly. This isn’t the first time he couldn’t eat what his cousins could because of his allergies, and he’s more than willing to sacrifice the sweets if they are going to make him feel sick (or worse).

But this whole loophole labeling really angers me. As a parent, I am counting on the label to tell me that there are or are not peanuts in something. To say that it’s been processed in a place where peanut dust may or may not have drifted into the packaging isn’t helpful.

I expect the labels to tell me, in a measured way, what the makeup is of the food in the package. That information should be there for me and my family as we make choices in what we can and cannot eat. Avoiding lawsuits with nebulous language should have no place on my food labels.

Until the FDA has straightened things out, I will continue to err on the side of caution and avoid foods which have even the slightest chance of containing things my son is allergic to.

For those of you with children who have food allergies, here are some resources I found on the web:

Allergic Child
About.com: Food allergies
Peanut Allergy.com
How To Read Food Labels.

If any of you have your own food allergy experiences or advice, head on down below and share.

by Rocket Science Mom

Photo graciously provided by *Micky, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Mothering My Grandmother

a tea cup half filled with teaWhen we moved to the UK, one of the many reasons I chose this town as our home is that my grandmother lives here. Margo is ninety-three, (My gran is waaay too young to be called ‘Granny’ to her face. I wouldn’t dare) and I thought that it would be sensible if someone in the family lived near to her. The lady who visited us for months every year of my childhood in Trinidad; taught me to cook, sew and crochet; danced and sang with me… of course I want to be near her!

I just love this town, and when I found a flat just four blocks away from Margo and opposite the primary school I rejoiced. I thought that one day, my fiercely independent, sharp and healthy gran might need a hand. Not for a while, though! I had visions of us on shopping expeditions and throwing grand tea parties for a few years first.

Well, we did have a few months of fun. And then, Margo’s heart started to give out. Six weeks and three emergency room visits later, she needed looking after. She is much better now, and getting more oxygen to the old brain, but for a few months she could not manage day to day activities like cooking. Her short-term memory is still dreadful. I am grateful and happy to be here, but let me tell you: it’s a little like having a toddler! Here is a person who wants and deserves independence, can be as stubborn as a mule, and entertains me merrily in between.

Margo’s memory is going, going… Oh, she can remember the days of yore, all right, but five minutes ago? Not so much. I love to hear her stories of Before the War when she was young, and the time when she wore above-the-knee SHORTS to ride her bicycle to the next town. How her father despaired! Then I ask her how her neighbour is doing, who was visiting when I arrived, and she says that she doesn’t know: she hasn’t seen the neighbour in weeks, she says. Months! Margo wonders if she’s done something to offend her neighbour?

The memory loss might be funny at times, but it’s a little scary too. I have turned up on several mornings and found the electric oven on, the kitchen broiling. I check the pill box every day, and often the day’s pills are still there. Margo will swear that she never EVER forgets her pills, but if I don’t go every morning and check, she might forget them for days. I hand them to her without comment, and turn the conversation to something funny.

Writing lists is a good way for Margo to remember things. She will write a list, and get groceries collected by a lady with a car, and then phone me up to tell me what’s on the list. I go shopping, and find twin groceries in the fridge when I get to Margo’s flat. No problem for me: I just take them home. We can eventually use anything up, I can sneak things in as they are used up, and overstocking Margo’s fridge causes much stress.

Clutter, in fact, stresses Margo out. Anything that is large, messy, or unfamiliar is just too much to handle. It took me a while to realise that a full fridge is bad: too many things to think about! But enough food for just two days, and no more, is perfect. I am used to shopping in bulk for a family of five, so of course escorting Margo to the supermarket for one small bag of meat, potatoes and veg stresses ME out. I’ve found a solution though. I buy for a week and put the stuff into MY freezer, and then sneak salmon, lamb chops and things into Margo’s every day or so. Sometimes she notices, but mostly she just assumes that she bought it, and she eats it for lunch.

Stress is certainly the enemy. If Margo is upset or worried or angry, she immediately forgets everything and becomes infinitely more difficult to deal with. Saying to her, “Oh, what’s up? Why have you taken all of the pills out of their blister packs, aaaargh! Those are the wrong pills, Margo, and you have forgotten to take the blue ones…” begins a battle of wills that I cannot win, partly because I do not want to beat my beloved grandmother in a battle of any kind, and the discussion stresses Margo out so much that she forgets everything for a whole week. But I know what to do, because I have had toddlers: I cry, “OOOOH, look at that!” and when she looks, “What, what?” I swipe all of the pills; blue, white, beige, small, large, round, oval; into my handbag. When Margo looks back, she sees nothing on the kitchen counter but a teacup and teabag and immediately forgets about the pills. “Tea or coffee?” I ask sweetly.

When I get home, I empty the assorted pills with their open blister packs and the mess of boxes and bits of paper out on my own kitchen table and research them online. The blue ones and the beige ones are the same drug, so she’s been double-dosing. I take over all dosing, fill a weekly-supply container all neatly labelled, and keep the extra pills at my house, out of harm’s way. Usually, this system works, and Margo feels that she has some independence because the pills are there. Some of them.
Of course, cousins and aunts come to visit, thank goodness! Last weekend, I went to visit my sister, and my cousin came here to ‘babysit’ Margo. It is important to accept help, and keep the family up-to-date.

Margo’s hearing is going… but don’t dare tell her so! The other morning, a package came through the door with information about hearing aids, and Margo tossed it into the bin with such scorn that I just sighed. What with the short-term memory loss and the selective hearing, conversations become circular and repetitive. Sometimes, Margo needs to say something several times just to fix it in her own mind.

Margo loves to have some repetitive crafty task to do: Her tapestries are beautiful. And my sister sent me an article explaining that those repetitive tasks are really important for forgetful elderly people, and help the brain to process information. A task like that makes Margo feel useful too. She makes lovely things for us all, and we are grateful that we will always have something to remind us of her love and talent.

I call before I head up to Margo’s every morning. “Need anything at the corner shop?”

Sometimes there is no answer. Either the radio’s on and she can’t hear the phone, or she’s forgotten I’m coming and gone to the shop herself. Every time, I steel myself for what I will find when I get there. Margo lives alone, in a building meant for retired people. She’s the eldest inhabitant, and ought to have round-the-clock care, but the last time anyone suggested it she threw herself onto her bed and threw a proper toddler-style tantrum.

I don’t blame her. If someone told me I had to be babysat by some stranger nurse, I’d throw a tantrum too. So, for now, we carry on as though this will keep working. We don’t look ahead. When Margo first came out of hospital, she was very frail, and I cooked and tidied and stayed with her as much as possible. She is much better now and likes to take care of herself: I have to pretend I’m just visiting for a cup of tea at ten every morning, and help without appearing to. If an uncomfortable topic comes up, “WHY do I have to take all of these pills?” it is best not even to discuss it: The discussion will immediately be forgotten, but the cross old lady will remain. I use a time-honoured toddler tactic: “Hey, Pat has one of those little dogs, remember the ones Rosemary had? Weren’t they dreadful?” and ten minutes of merry gossip will ensue.

This is a dance, free and totally unchoreographed. If the old lady is happy and calm and thinks that everything is fine, she remembers to take her pills, and eat a healthy lunch, and sits happily with her tapestry, and chats about her old friends and her job and her grandchildren. The moment she gets worried, things start to go wrong. I get late night calls, “What day is the doctor’s appointment? Is it tomorrow? I need broccoli! How are YOU?” I have to soothe and calm, and make her feel that everything is all right, because if Margo thinks that everything is all right… why then, everything will be all right. For now, anyway. We will see what happens next, when we get there.

by Nan Sheppard

Photo graciously provided by dragonflysky, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved