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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ideas for Leprechaun Traps

Looking for ideas for Leprechaun traps?

It's almost St. Patrick's Day in the United States and lots of kids and parents will be searching for ideas for Leprechaun Traps. I'm not claiming we're experts or anything, but we've been to Ireland more than once. And we know a fair bit about little people who like to cause mischief. So here are three entertaining ideas for leprechaun traps offered up by three adorably half-Irish kids.

Idea 1 makes use of the leprechaun's powerful attraction to shoes.

Idea 2 is based on trapping a leprechaun using modern technology.

Idea 3 is so earnest it's impossible to resist.

Happy St. Patrick's Day and good luck catching a leprechaun!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Does Alternative Medicine Work? (or Set my Qi Free!)

I'm all for trying new things. I feel like there's something to be learned from many, many experiences.   But what about alternative medicine?

I'm in training for the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run and so far I'm on track for a great race. But even more important to me than my finish time is raising money for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. People I love very much have received wonderful care from these hospitals, so I ask you to help me raise money to ensure all children get the care they need. Give a miracle.

Recently my left hip, IT band and quad have started giving me some grief, and the achy pain extended into my lower back. I'd like to blame my children for this but I've had IT band troubles since high school. Luckily my leg didn't hurt when I ran or rode my bike but it hurt a lot when I laid on my left side in bed, and it often hurt when I was sitting at my desk.

I considered my options.

I could visit my sports medicine doc. He's a cool dude. He knows better than to tell me "stop running." He would happily give me a referral physical therapy and remind me not to run on cambered roads and that I need to build up strength in my gluteus and hips.

Since I knew what the sports med doc would offer, I decided to try something new for this pain. I went way out there. I scheduled an appointment for two different kinds of alternative medicine.

Alternative Medicine #1

I scheduled my first appointment was for a reflexology session at a nearby gym then I crossed my fingers. (Trusting luck seemed about as reasonable as my other decisions.)

I told my husband about these appointments and he quite reasonably asked what reflexology was. I had to admit honestly that I had no real idea. I looked it up online and clicked on the Wikipedia entry where I read:
The Reflexology Association of Canada defines reflexology as:
"A natural healing art based on the principle that there are reflexes in the feet, hands and ears and their referral areas within zone related areas, which correspond to every part, gland and organ of the body. Through application of pressure on these reflexes without the use of tools, crèmes or lotions, the feet being the primary area of application, reflexology relieves tension, improves circulation and helps promote the natural function of the related areas of the body."[7]
So far it sounded like a massage, except without oil or lotion. Then I kept reading.
Reflexologists posit that the blockage of an energy field, invisible life force, or Qi, can prevent healing.[3] Another tenet of reflexology is the belief that practitioners can relieve stress and pain in other parts of the body through the manipulation of the feet. One claimed explanation is that the pressure received in the feet may send signals that 'balance' the nervous system or release chemicals such as endorphins that reduce stress and pain.[8]These hypotheses are rejected by the general medical community, who cite a lack of scientific evidence and the well-tested germ theory of disease.[4] 
Was my Qi blocked? I'm probably a little off balance when it comes to most things, but I believe whole-heartedly in the germ theory of disease so I didn't have high hopes that reflexology would help my hip and leg feel better. But I like to keep an open mind so I went to the appointment anyway. And guess what? She used lotion! Right away that made me doubt she was really a reflexologist. Was she a fake practitioner of a fake procedure?? Did the two fakes cancel each other out to make a real treatment? It was very confusing.

Overall the reflexology appointment was pretty relaxing but just as I expected, I didn't really feel different. What I wasn't expecting was the surprise addition of some Reiki therapy. At least, she said it was Reiki, but she may have just been tired of touching my feet.

After reflexology, I headed to my spin class. Probably not the best scheduling I've ever done. Spin went great and then I had to rush to my next unusual treatment appointment: myofascial release!

Alternative Medicine #2

I decided to try myofascial release on the recommendation of friend who visited them before. She really wished I could visit her favorite acupuncturist in Taiwan, but the Southside of Pittsburgh would have to do. As with reflexology, I knew nothing about myofascial release but did not look it up in advance. So there I was, heading into the wild unknown, not knowing if I would be drinking tea that would turn me blue or stretched on the rack or punched in the face. I bet being punched in the face would take my mind off my leg.

The myofascial release appointment was painful. Very, very painful. A rather casually dressed fellow pressed his bony fingers and elbows and forearms into all the really painful parts of my legs and hips. There were signs all over his office reminding me to "breathe" which I tried to do in between yelps and complaints.  I believe he was trying to activate my trigger points but I did not really listen because I was so mad him and his bony arms.

As I lay there, it dawned on me that it was called "alternative medicine" because as he dug into the muscles in my legs and back they alternately burned and ached. And I also remembered that there is a link between the words "fascia" and fascists. And fascists like pain.

After the treatment he had me run through some familiar stretches. Fine, fine, I know all about stretching. But I couldn't wait to get back to my van and look up myofascial release. Good old Wikipedia.
This alternative medicine therapy aims to relax contracted muscles, improve blood and lymphatic circulation, and stimulate the stretch reflex in muscles.[1]
I like it when my blood and lymphatic fluid circulated. So far so good. Then I read:
In 2011, the UK Advertising Standards Authority ruled that there was inadequate scientific evidence that myofascial release was effective for any condition.[11] 
The Advertising Standards Authority ruled this? What about doctors? Medical journals? And now who do I believe? Advertisers? Or myofascial therapists?

I really would like to know if you use alternative medicine and if you find it effective. I'm trying to keep an open mind, but maybe I'm not alternative enough. Maybe I've gone mainstream!

I've had two myofasical treatments now and I can't tell that it's doing anything. Is this just a modern version of bloodletting? Is "activating trigger points" as effective as "balancing the humors?" Is my Qi still blocked? How do I set it free?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Best To Do List Apps

I've been on the hunt for the best to do list apps lately. I have always kept lists, usually jotted down on whatever piece of paper was handy. I've also used my Inbox as a to do list, a habit that made it especially hard to keep my goal of always keeping less than 50 emails in my Inbox.

My iPhone comes with a Notes app and a Reminder app, but they both lacked certain functions that I wanted, like the ability to schedule tasks for recurring days and the ability to break tasks into different steps. 

I gave Wunderlist a try first. It had decent reviews but I have to say I didn't dive in very deep and uncover every single feature. I think the main reason is that right off the bat, it didn't feel like a perfect fit for me. There was just some intuitive aspect it lacked. It has an Inbox and the ability to view things due Today by the Week. But I think I wanted a daily to-do list sort of like a calendar. I didn't find it easy to create that daily to do list.

But I wanted to create lists of things due every day, like taking my fish oil and reading a chapter of a book. Either Wunderlist didn't offer that feature or it was too hard for me to find. I created lists named by date, but then I found I couldn't reorganize the lists. I did like knowing how much I had completed in a day, but that's more of a time-tracking goal than a to do list goal. I noticed that on some days, usually weekdays, I was getting 12-14 tasks completed daily, including cooking meals and other unexpected tasks like delivering forgotten lunch boxes.

I used Wunderlist for maybe ten days before I realized it just wasn't offering what I wanted.

I created an account on Habit RPG. I learned about Habit after putting a request out on Twitter for some to do list apps that offered rewards and positive feedback for TCB  (Taking Care of Business). But Habit either didn't offer an app or I couldn't find it, and I really wanted something I could access from my phone while I was on the go. I wasn't that eager to update my character with little trinkets and I wasn't looking to cash in gold that I earned for completing tasks. Then my Habit character died. So this didn't work out so well. 

I downloaded Checklist but never got around to opening it. 

I also downloaded Errands and so far I'm really enjoying it. 

As I tried to pinpoint why I like Errands so much more than Wunderlist, I think it's the fact that tasks are easily scheduled for days, and moved from one day to the next.  I didn't want topic-based lists, I wanted day-based lists.

And Errands is easy to use. Creating tasks is simple. Scheduling tasks is simple. Moving tasks to a new day is simple. Creating checklists, or mini-steps as a part of a larger task is simple. And I like that the app displays a number badge indicating how many more tasks I need to complete that day. I love checking them off and seeing that number count down.

Unlike Wunderllist, Errands doesn't display completed tasks from previous days very easily. But the Logbook does store my completed tasks if I want to go back and view them. I can see the tasks that are due today and scan what's due tomorrow.

Errands works well for me right now. But I'd love to hear if you have a to do list app you love. Unless you're still keeping your lists on paper… then here are some tips from Hightail about using Post-It notes

Monday, February 16, 2015

Helicopter Mom

I work very hard not to be a helicopter mom and try to let my kids take reasonable risks and learn from their mistakes. I'm not letting my kids cross the highway Frogger-style but I do try to let them learn some lessons the hard way and sometimes they do get hurt.

Despite my cavalier attitude toward danger, there is one thing I can't resist protecting my children from. Bad candy.

We travel a lot and often stop in convenient stores. We've been in convenient stores all over the US and Europe. And there is bad candy in every single store. It's not just that I hate wasting my money on that crap, I just want to save them from all the awful candy I've eaten throughout the years.

My oldest wanted to try Mallow Cups. UGH. No way.

The middle one wanted Fruit Stripe gum and Necco wafers. VERBOTEN.

The little guy loves Tic Tacs and Mentos, which are fine, but he also claims he doesn't like chocolate. Is he nuts?

I'm just not willing to let them suffer from the same mistakes I made as a kid! Judge me if you must. But some food experiments just aren't worth it. Trust me.

I've started listening to The Sporkful podcast hosted by Dan Pashman. In a recent episode he cautioned against giving people advice on how to cook their Thanksgiving turkeys or live their lives.

He had an episode before Thanksgiving where a food science expert recommended spatchcocking a turkey for best results. Now Dan is very particular about how he cooks and eats foods. His goal is always ultimate taste. He took a risk and ordered a spatchcocked turkey from the turkey farm, then panicked and regretted it. But it was too late, the backbone was out of the turkey. Dan went ahead and cooked the spatchcocked turkey and his whole family loved it, so the risk paid off.

I say good for you, Dan. I truly believe that we need to take risks and try new things when it comes to food and cooking. But that wonderful podcast hasn't changed my opinion at all on crappy candy. Sorry kids, but I said no Tootsie Rolls and I mean it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Kids' Day at Legume in Pittsburgh

In November 2014, my oldest son and I headed out to a Kids Day event at Legume Bistro in Pittsburgh. Ticket prices benefitted the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, an organization our family supports in a variety of ways.

My oldest tends to be less picky about foods than the other two boys, but that doesn't mean he will eat anything. But he also enjoys the act of cooking. In fact, his favorite breakfast that he prefers to cook himself is a basic scramble of kale, tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic and olive oil. This kid loves his veg!

The staff hosting Legume welcomed us warmly and we indulged in warm apple cider, tasty muffins and fresh gooseberries, also known as ground cherries. After a cup or two of cider we were ready to dive into the cooking demonstrations. The first stop was homemade pasta, something we do at our house. We have made pasta by hand several times at home but Legume took it to a new level by getting the kids involved in making the longest pasta noodle in Pittsburgh!

The noodle stretched a good forty feet before breaking. The kids and adults were delighted by the process and I also learned how to use my pasta roller to make thinner dough for my pasta. And since it was November, I couldn't resist embarrassing my little cooking partner by fooling around a little.

The next cooking adventure was a bit more of a challenge for my son. We headed down to the basement to learn about homemade sausage production. This wasn't my first foray into live butchering. I learned a lot at a Hog Butchering hosted by Cure in 2012. But it proved to be a little too upsetting for my nine year old and we headed back upstairs to explore the restaurant until the sausage-making was done.

The next event was a little easier for him. We had a chance to meet Hannah, the young woman who represented Pennsylvania at the White House Let's Move! recipe contest. She prepared her recipe, fish tacos, for us to enjoy and shared her memories of her visit to the White House.

 Lunch was a delight for both of us and my son had no problem eating the sausage even though he didn't want to see it being made. But his real favorite food item was the haruki turnips! He had two helpings and asked me to find some at the store. Like I said, he loves his veg.

After this healthy lunch, it was time to work for our dessert. We headed back to the basement to make some absolutely decadent ice cream.

We needed all of our muscles to shake that sweet, sweet vanilla cream into ice cold ice cream. I had to help a little bit when someone's arms were tired but eventually our ice cream was ready. 

The toppings offered my Legume were diverse and delicious and I let my son pick the ones he wanted for both of us. Very generously he included two chocolate chip cookies for us.

As we shared the sundae, I learned just how adventurous my son is when it comes to trying new things. I took a big bite of the sundae he created and announced, "Yum! A cherry!"

"That was a cherry?" said my ten year old. "I thought they were olives!"

We had a great laugh and I told him how proud I was of him for trying what he thought was olives on ice cream. The dessert chef was impressed, too, and gave us some samples of basil ice cream which was surprisingly excellent.

We had great food and shared some excellent family time. Thanks again to the staff at Legume for hosting an amazing Kids' Day!

Monday, February 2, 2015

What is wrong with my eyes?

Not my best look.
I'm actually pretty embarrassed to post this photo. It's not the worst thing on the internet. And really it just looks like my eyes are a "little inflamed." It felt a lot worse. You can't see my raw skin behind my ears or the skin I've scratched off my temples until it bled. But this photo represents how I looked for almost a year. And maybe sharing this story will help someone else figure out they have seborrheic dermatitis.

In early 2014, I started having some trouble with the skin behind my ears. It was dry and peeling and itchy. I thought maybe my new wireless headphones were irritating it, so I put Aquaphor back there every day.

But it didn't go away.

Then the problem started to spread to my temples. And then my face. I remember making a video for a website and putting ointment on some dry, irritated skin under my eyes before and after running outdoors in the cold.

And then one morning, I woke up with seriously inflamed eyes. I could see, there was nothing wrong with my vision, but the skin around my eyes was so puffy and inflamed it hurt to keep my eyes open.

I went to see an allergist and got tested for environmental allergies. My doctor started me on allergy shots and prescribed an antihistamine.

But the problem didn't go away. It died down and then flared up. I was on the other side of the state in May 2014 at a writing conference and realized I had forgotten my steroid cream (Desonide) and had to get an emergency refill at a Target.

I went to see a dermatologist prescribed Retin-A, Clindamycin, and a new cleanser (CeraVe). I tried those for awhile but the problem only went away for a short time and then flared back up.

I went to see my eye doctor and told me I had dry eye from LASIK and she told me to restart Restastis. I started using Refresh drops in my eyes every few hours.

But the problem flared back up.

In June I got tested for skin allergies and learned I was allergic to black dye in foam, like in my wetsuit and swim goggles padding, as well as rosin, like what my son uses on his violin. So I got new swim goggles and synthetic rosin.

I started asking everyone I knew who had any inkling of medical training if they had ideas. I stopped swimming. I took out my earrings. I got an air filter. I changed detergents and bed sheets. I kept a food diary. I changed cleansers again. I tried a variety of lotions. I tweeted. I got new headphones and new sunglasses and avoided black rubber. I got a second new pair of swim goggles. I read labels and tossed all of my cosmetics and started wearing my hair off of my face. I avoided eggs, then dairy, then chia seeds. Then I ate them again. I stopped drinking gin, then started again. I changed shampoos. I changed detergents AGAIN. I stopped using dryer sheets. I got new towels. I read the ingredients in the chlorine at my local pool. And what kind of glue was in the wood floors in my bedroom.

I did everything I could think of to fix my poor swollen eyes.

I cancelled work appointments on days when I looked really bad.

My primary care doctor sighed and told me sometimes we never know what causes allergies.

My dermatologist finally decided it was just a bad flare up of eczema. I've had eczema forever. It made sense that this was related to eczema. She told me there wasn't much she could do for me besides make sure I had my standard eczema lotion, Elidel, and prescribed a new one called Fluocinolone acetonide.

I stopped taking my antihistamine in late December because I worried it was drying my skin and eyes out too much.

One day in January 2015, I was reading up on rosacea (which I've also had forever) and saw the phrase "seborrheic dermatitis." I remembered a friend of mine, who is a doctor, mentioned seborrheic dermatitis to me in May 2014. The treatments for "seb derm" included the lotions I already had and an over the counter shampoo that is made from coal tar.

On January 8, 2015, I grabbed a bottle of Neutrogena T/Gel from Target and used it in my very next shower. The scent was unusual. The appearance was unique. The effect was pretty wonderful. My scalp and temples itched much less. My eyes calmed down. My ears didn't itch and burn and bleed! I started applying the rosacea and eczema ointments a little more regularly. I also started taking fish oil supplements, also over the counter.

Since I started this new approach, things have been so different. So much better! People who know what I've been dealing with keep telling me how 'normal' my eyes look. And they do! They feel good, too.

On February 8, 2015, it will be one month since I've had an eye flare-up. My temples still feel a little dry, but my ears feel amazing. My eyebrows sometimes itch and flake a little, but that's nothing compared to what I have experienced. Sometimes my lips feel super chapped, but I have a great lip balm that helps.

I think I'm going to be dealing with "seb derm" the rest of my life. As far as I know, there is no cure, just like there is no cure for eczema or rosacea. But I think I have some good tools now and I'm going to continue to learn about my options. If you have seb derm or know someone who has it, please let me know! I want to learn what has worked for others and do what I can to keep it from limiting my life the way it did last year!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cooking With Kids

Do you want your kids to try more foods? Then get them into the kitchen and let them have some fun helping you experiment with new recipes. We have a lot of fun looking on Pinterest and Facebook at usual and unusual recipes throughout the year. I don't wait for special occasions to try things, because that adds too much stress to the process. Sometimes when I have a few minutes free I'll grab an iPad and a kid and drag them into the kitchen to help me. Yes, they chop with real knives and cook on the real stove. I'm there supervising and they are learning kitchen safety and self-confidence! Here are some of the more and less successful kitchen experiments we've tried.

Pumpkin soup in a pumpking was fun to make, but burned and didn't taste as great for the boys as it smelled. But it was nice to remind them pumpkins are food, not just decorations. 

Pomegranates were a huge hit here for their teeny tiny tanginess. Also we had visited the city of Grenada in Spain this summer, so it tied in nicely to cultural lessons and family memories. 

Serving new foods in tiny bowls can make it lots more fun. 

A pumpkin pie made from scratch was also a fun experiment, and a good lesson in handling mistakes. We had one of the ingredients wrong the first time around. 

Peeling potatoes isn't a chore for a kid who's never tried it before. Also, he isn't a fan of eating the peel, so this gave him some control over preparing the food the way he prefers, which meant he ate more of it! 

Mashing by hand isn't something you can do everyday, but he loved creating this simple dish for the entire family. 

Some recipes are really visually exciting. This lovely tomato, mozzarella, and basil wreath is made of my son's favorite foods and was a chance for him to contribute to the family Christmas party. 

Don't forget to record the new foods your child makes, tries, loves, hates, invents or discovers!