The Best Graduation Gift is a GOOD PLAN

4 year college planLooking for the perfect high school graduation gift for that special kid? Money? Nah -- they'll just blow it in ways you probably don't want to know about. Luggage? Nah -- although it's a practical idea, they're probably going to get it from Aunt Sally.  Engraved pen? Nah -- they'll never use it.  So what do college-bound grads need? They need a FOUR-YEAR PLAN that they can use to navigate the confusing major and college graduation requirements!

Every college-bound student needs to completely understand what is required of them for their majors (and minors or double majors) and layout a plan to take all of the necessary prerequisites for each course. Then, they need to select courses that satisfy their graduation requirements while giving them exposure in their other areas of interest and skills that they'll need in their future careers. This can be really confusing!

Combining all of these courses within the constraints of the college can be quite a challenge because some courses are only offered once per year or even alternating years. For courses that are prerequisites to required courses, this can actually set you back a semester or even a full year!  YIKES! That means you'll be paying $12,000 to $60,000 more than you expected to pay for a bachelor's degree!

Besides the cost factor, when freshmen have laid out their four-year plans before they start college, they make better use of their college education. Because they'll know what's required and completely understand what cool programs they can join and specific professors they want to get to know, they can add these extracurricular activities to their four-year plan to make the plan a template for success.

Academic advisors in college are so inundated with students that they only help them consider courses for the upcoming term.  That doesn't give the student the comprehensive understanding that they need to make their college education work for them. So, offer to sit down with your grads and help them map out their four-year plans. That'll be a gift that will ensure that their college experience is more than beer pong!

Remember BPA? We're Still Consuming It...In Canned Food!

Delicious BPADid you know BPA is still in our canned food?

I think it's criminal that food manufacturers knowingly coat the insides of metal canned food cans with a synthetic estrogen in the epoxy (bisphenol A-based epoxy) that is linked to breast cancer, reproductive damage, developmental problems and heart disease. That's right! CRIMINAL. If you or I knowing put toxins in food containers that killed someone, we would go to prison. But not large food manufacturers!

So what can we do about it?

Simple! Only buy canned goods from companies that publicly pledge to stop using bisphenol A-based (BPA) epoxy to line their metal food cans. Below are two lists - the first contains (ha ha) a list of companies to support, and the second contains a list of brands to AVOID. Keep yourself and your loved ones safe by buying only the good brands.

Prominent Heart Surgeon Admits Mainstream Medicine's Mistake, Reveals True Cause of Heart Disease

Heart inflammationThank you Dr. Lundell for coming forward to tell Americans how they can reverse heart disease without drugs or surgery. While mainstream western medicine continues to prescribe statins to reduce cholesterol and low-fat diets, more Americans are dying from heart disease than ever before! Say what?

Western medicine has had heart disease all wrong, and finally doctors are beginning to understand that the INFLAMMATION caused by the low-fat diets and the over consumption of processed foods (sugars, flours, vegetable oils) IS THE PROBLEM. Yup!  That means that breads, rice, pasta, crackers -- and all of the delicious staples that we have been eating are overloading our blood vessels.  Lundell recommends eating WHOLE FOODS that your grandmother served and avoiding processed, manufactured foods that your mother turned to for quick meals.

Dr. Randy Baker recommended that I try a raw, vegan diet for 3 weeks to see if it would reduce inflammation in my body and help my diabetes (Dr. Cousen's There is a Cure for Diabetes!). That was quite a lifestyle change from eating gourmet, rich foods (my husband is quite the chef) to raw vegan. But, exactly 3 weeks later my blood glucose count went from 140 to 55!  My high blood pressure has also dropped, and I lost 10 lbs in 6 weeks, without trying. Dr. Lawrence Calderon suggested that I add seafood and lean meat for protein while keeping the inflammation down. I'm now eating meat and seafood (no dairy, grains, soy products, sugar) and fresh, steamed, and sauteed veggies, and I continue to be diabetes free!


Summer Reading Lists - Part 2: Middle School & High School

Reading is AwesomeAs promised in yesterday's post, below is a list of recommended summer reading for older kids.

What books would YOU like to see on this list?

Horrible Histories  (Deary) 
Quest for a Maid (Hendry) 
Count of Monte Cristo  (Dumas)  
Treasure Island (Stevenson)  
Hard Times (Dickens)  
Rifles for Waite (Keith)  
Catherine, Called Birdy (Cushman)  
Watership Down (Adams)  
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (O'Brien)

Pride and Prejudice (Austen)
Gone with the Wind (Mitchell)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Adams)
Small Gods (Pratchett)
Wuthering Heights (Bronte)
Time and Again  (Finney)
Angela's Ashes (McCourt)
Jane Eyre (Bronte)
Twelve Angry Men (Munyon)
Joy Luck Club (Tan)
Catch-22 (Heller)
Slaughterhouse-Five (Vonnegut) 

Summer Reading Lists - Part 1: Preschool & Elementary School

Reading is AwesomeReading for pleasure during the school year can be challenging when kids come home with hours of busy work (homework) and they're booked solid with extracurriculars (sports, musical  instruments, and clubs). It's tough to compete with teachers, and well, life! So during the summer, if you plan this out at the start of the summer, introduce the LOVE OF READING to your kids. Set up a family calendar where you list what they'll be reading each week.  Have the kids decide when they'll read (and finish!) each book. That way they won't reach the end of the summer with a stack full of books that haven't been opened!

Use this time to choose some classic books, the books that every kid SHOULD READ!  Like ROIs (return on investments), let's make sure they get the most bang for the buck with their reading.  Here's a list of books that I've compiled based on my kids' favorites and some authorities in the literary world. What books were your favorites?

The Giving Tree (Silverstein) 
How Much is a Million? (Schwartz) 
There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (Taback) 
Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak) 
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Viorst) 
Velveteen Rabbit (Williams)  
The Big Book for Peace (Dutton)

The Cricket in Times Square (Seden)  
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (Coerr)  
Where the Sidewalk Ends (Silverstein) 
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Dahl)  
Fables (Lobel)  
The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle (Lofting)  
Ralph S. Mouse (Cleary)  
Encyclopedia Brown (Sobol)  

Island of the Blue Dolphins (O'Dell) 
A Wrinkle in Time (L'Engle)  
Dear Mr. Henshaw (Cleary)  
Nancy Drew (Keene)  
Hardy Boys (Dixon)  
Boxcar Children (Warner)  
Harry Potter (Rowling) 
Secret Garden (Burnett)  
The Book of Three (Alexander)

3 Easy Things You Can Do RIGHT NOW to Prepare for a Natural Disaster

Disaster PreparednessWhether or not you believe that climate change is a scientific reality or a hoax, it's a good idea to have a DISASTER PLAN.  Weather -- and its aftermath -- has become our news, and earthquakes, hurricanes, and other disasters are happening with eerie frequency. Here are 3 tips to help mitigate confusion and loss before it happens.

First, you need a plan. OK, this probably isn't on your bucket list, but just set aside an hour to get it done. During an earthquake or hurricane (or other natural disasters), phone lines and power outages make communication near impossible. Victims are often separated from their family. When you need it most, your cell phone doesn't get service and eventually the batteries die out.  

Don't wait until it's too late! Set up a designated meeting place in case you can't meet or it's not safe to stay at your home or office.  Layout the path that everyone should take to ensure that you aren't crisscrossing the area and missing each other. And most importantly, leave a message at the designated meeting place with an update on everyone's condition and the new meeting place if someone is hurt and they can't stay there.

Second, prepare a disaster kit for your home and your car. (Click here for a PDF of one you can use right now!)  Store clothing for your family, enough water and food for 3 days, first aid supplies, medications, and toiletries in both locations.  For your home, use a metal trash can and seal it with duct tape. Keep it outside and away from the house. For your car, use a duffel bag and put it in your trunk. Replace the contents every year to make sure clothes still fit and food hasn't spoiled. I checked my earthquake kit a few years ago and found toddler clothes and diapers in the kit...both of my girls were in college at the time! Needless to say, update your kits often.

Third, record your belongings so they can be easily replaced after a disaster. Well, you might not be able to replace family heirlooms, photographs and mementos, but you'll be surprised by how difficult it is to create a list of ALL OF YOUR BELONGINGS after a disaster.  Replacement insurance will give you the opportunity to replace most of your things. Check your policies to see if there are deductions for depreciation and make sure your policy will give you full replacement coverage. You'll need to prove what you have so videotape or photograph all of your possessions. My daughters started videography businesses when they were in middle school so for me it was super easy.  They videotaped all of our possessions in a house for $50. You could do this yourself in less than an hour. Make digital copies of important photographs. Make photo copies of all of the credit cards, gift cards, and contents in your wallet so you can stop predators from using your cards and ruining your credit. Don't keep your backups at your home or office.  Keep them in a safe deposit box or with a family member who lives in a different state.  That way, you'll be able to have access to all of your records for the insurance and credit card companies.

The recovery process after a devastating disaster is long and painful, but if you have a communication plan, disaster kits, and back-ups, you'll get back on your feet that much faster

The Lost Art of Communication

Talk vs textAlmost every time I get a text message, I cringe. I never seem to get enough information from the acronyms and abbreviations to respond in kind. A simple COMMA would really help me understand what they are trying to convey, and maybe just a few more adjectives or adverbs would give me a better feeling about their tone and sense of urgency. More often than not, I find myself wondering if the person texting me as happy, irritated, or simply bored. My long-winded texts are met with rolling eyes and exasperation. Whatever happened to good ol' communication skills?

Everywhere I turn, I see people in conflict. Whether it's in the workplace, with a family member, or in a social interchange, somebody is ALWAYS pissed off at someone. At first blush, it appears that the two parties simply disagree on the issue, but what I have come to learn with my near 6 decades of experiences is that this is NOT TRUE.  More often than not, the parties actually agree and have similar goals, but they get hung up on COMMUNICATING THEIR THOUGHTS to the other person.  Seriously, people don't know how to write -- or text!

Before we had the luxury of telephones, everyone had to pick up a pen and write their thoughts down on paper. This involved lots of writing between people of various socio-economic, religious, and gender groups. People thought carefully about what they wrote and the receiver often read the letters multiple times to fully appreciate its contents. Oh, the good ol' days! Does anyone appreciate getting a letter on stationery?

The advent of the telephone, and then the cell phone, reduced the need to write letters because there was no need to wait days or weeks to send something by post when you could verbalize your message in a matter of seconds. This revolutionized communication because dialogue sped up the delays caused by the post. BUT, all of this progress has now taken a turn leading more and more people to become reclusive and avoid face-to-face conversations and phone calls at all costs.

What I find really odd, is that today, in 2015, everyone is texting messages to each other.  Not only is letter writing obsolete, people have succumbed to texting brief messages instead of calling one another. Having to wait for someone's text response to communicate seems like it would be frustrating when you could call them directly to discuss the issue quickly. Even if you have to leave a message, the receiver will still hear your voice and get the gist of your message by your tone.  Not using the phone or having a face-to-face conversation, but entering a hand-pecked message using a tiny keyboard and a couple of fingers or thumbs seems like it is a step backwards in our tech-savvy world.

Trying to decipher a person's tone or mood when they text 4-5 words is difficult.  Try interpreting this text message: "Running late C U later". Is this person blowing you off?  Or is he going to find you and catch up with you? How can you tell if the person is being flippant or apologetic?  Using emoticons can help set the tone when the words used misses the mark.  Worst case, the receiver takes away the opposite meaning and is upset with you. Best case, they're mildly annoyed with you because you're not giving them enough information about the issue at hand. They're second guessing you because your cryptic writing left them hanging.

Can we bring back complete sentences with well-thought out ideas? 

Texts Are NOT Meaningful Communication

TextingI don't mean to "throw shade" on text messaging -- well, actually, I do. Maybe everyone's lives really are so busy that we don't have time to enjoy one another anymore. But, I wonder if the act of sending texts is just another cop-out. Do we send text messages so we don't have to actually TALK or be SOCIAL? Is it safer to send a short quip and duck out of the line of fire by using our smartphones?

That would be a YES...

I find that people I used to talk to on the phone or drop by to visit are difficult to get a hold of. They don't answer calls personally but return phone calls with truncated text messages. At first, I thought they had a problem with me, but after talking with them (actually cornering them about this) they confessed that they have been anti-social and have shut out the world. We're encouraging a world of antisocial behavior. With text messaging, one could actually cut off all real communication and nobody would be the wiser. Texting allows you to present any persona you want -- you don't have to reveal the real you!

The bottom line:

What was created to improve communication by developing a "shorthand" language/spelling has actually (for many people) created seclusion and withdrawal from social activities. People even text each other when they're in the same room! When they're out socializing in the real world, their faces are buried in their phones as they send text messages to their other friends telling them about the "great time" they're having when they really aren't engaging in anything but putting out a facade about their social life. Letting other people WHO AREN'T ACTUALLY THERE know what you're up to becomes more important than what you're ACTUALLY up to.

And who's teaching English grammar, writing mechanics, and spelling to our youth? When they write things like "OK IDK FWIW IMHO RTFM ROTFLMAO JK ILY TTFN" instead of "Okay, I don't know, for what it's worth, in my humble opinion, read the effing manual! Rolling on the floor laughing my a** off. Just kidding. I love you. Ta ta for now.", I'm not sure how these kids are going to make it through college! 

So please, let's put away the smartphones and enjoy the people/world around us. After all, life is short and nothing makes me happier than to talk with good friends and let our conversations interconnect us in new ways.

Read This BEFORE Buying Sunscreen This Summer!

SummerI've been so confused about sunscreen lately that I've just avoided dealing with it all together. I know that you can DIE from skin cancer and DIE from toxic chemicals used in sunscreens.

Recenly my doctor suggested that I get at least 10 minutes of sunshine WITHOUT SUNSCREEN to ensure that I get enough Vitamin D each day or take a supplement during overcast days and winter months.

Is your head spinning? Mine is!  I had a hard time wrapping my head around all of these concerns so I did a little research and found EWG's 2015 Guide to Sunscreens (Environmental Working Group; a nonprofit).  I like the way they list the manufacturer and product names to avoid as well as the ones to buy.  Easy Peasy!

So there are better ways to apply sunscreen than others (like don't use the spray ons!). There are chemicals that are carcinogenic. And the new alert is for sunscreens that have Vitamin A. I know this may sound counterintuitive because Vitamin A is supposed to be good for skin with its antioxidant properties (it's in so many cosmetics and lotions!) but using it while in the sun can cause damage to DNA and speed growth of cancerous tumors! Yikes! Who knew?


AquaponicsImagine a fish tank filled with fish and media beds filled with garden veggies connected together in a full-cycle system. This is called AQUAPONICS. The fish produce waste and microbes and worms convert the waste (ammonia) to fertilizer (nitrites to nitrates) for the plants. Then, the plants filter the water (cleaning it) that is returned to the fish tank. It's a closed-loop system that uses no chemicals. What a concept! This takes "natural" and "organics" to a new level! There are absolutely NO CHEMICALS used. No pesticides. No antibiotics.  No soil; just rocks. Besides, chemicals and artificial additives would kill the fish and the plants!

I saw my first aquaponics system while I was on vacation in Disneyworld. They had a giant tanks filled with tilapia and TOMATO TREES! Yes, tomato trees that grow year round. I was especially intrigued by the prospect of raising fish because I had been reading about how farm-raised fish live in filthy, unhealthy conditions and what consuming THEIR unhealthy bodies does to our bodies. I have always been a big fan of eating organic, non-GMO veggies. Putting these two systems together just made perfect sense to me.

I took an aquaponics class and learned how to build the system.  Then I hired an aquaponics teacher to build the tanks for me. We got 5 food-grade 55-gallon plastic containers: Two for the fish, one for the filter system, and two (that we cut lengthwise) to create 4 half media beds for the plants. We connected each tank with one-inch PVC pipes and added a water filter and pump. We tested the system for about 2 months until we got the alkalinity balanced. Then we introduced feeder fish to get the poop water started.

Each month, we added more fish to increase the fish waste produced. Finally, about 5 months later, we bought catfish and Blue Gill to raise. We had several mishaps with fish getting sucked into the filter system - ProTip: install a screen to prevent the fish from flowing from tank to tank!  We planted cucumbers, kale, beets, celery, basil, onions, and broccoli. Although it took several months for the plants to get acclimated in a hydroponic system (no soil), all of our plants are thriving now.  Creating this mini eco system has been quite an adventure. Watch out for celery; the celery root system grows so fast that they can clog up your tanks!