Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

NewsBreak Column: Gift Giving During A Tough Economy – Christmas Light November 30, 2008

The following was published in San Clemente Presbyterian’s NEWSBREAK magazine. Editors are welcome to use it as a FREE REPRINT, simply by adding my byline. Thank you and Merry Christmas!


While making our lists and checking them twice, my husband and I dubbed our holiday gift-giving plan, “Christmas Light.” Not the kind of light that decks the front lawn, or twinkles from atop a Douglas fir—or even the Light of the world. Our “light” is a synonym for “fat-free”, back-to-basics, no frills. Remembering Christmases past with abundant gifts under the tree, I feel a little like the prodigal son, returning humbly, yet hopeful.


Whoever I ask about their all-time favorite Christmas gift, without fail, I’m told a story about a small but thoughtful gesture which left a lasting impression. No one has ever mentioned a material item that did not hold powerful emotional significance. When the wise men brought frankincense. gold and myrrh for Baby Jesus, what resonated with Mary was not their value, but what they represented—gifts suitable for a King.


Christmas itself represents the lasting impression of a small, but meaningful gesture: The humble birth of a baby to a young woman faithful to God. We continue to celebrate that birth around the world because of the Life it represents.


Two Christmases ago, after months of frustration and disagreement over what to name our unborn child, my husband presented a card addressed to my belly. In it, he shared his desire to call our baby Noah, a Biblical name I had always loved, but my unbelieving husband had not. His gracious acceptance has left a lasting mark on our family. Two years before that, his gift to me was his mother’s wedding ring and a proposal. This is a man who knows how to give good gifts!


This year, I’m going to approach gift-giving the same way. In order to do this, I must thoughtfully consider what is fundamentally important to the receiver, embrace the workings of their heart. Rather than standing in line for the latest whatever, I will stand for something greater.


I’ll give gifts that represent something greater; not only will the thought be what counts, it will matter most.


#15 Fun Things To Do With Your Family This Weekend November 21, 2008

Build A Family Photo House!

This adorable three-dimensional house makes a perfect photo memory display, and is a great way to reuse items from the recycling bin! Younger

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

children can create simpler designs, enjoying the process of cutting and pasting. Older kids will appreciate more intricate details when decorating their house. 

For tweens, have them create a swanky hang-out with pics of all their BFFs. Instructions courtesy

 What you’ll need:

  • Recycle a toaster pastry box, cereal box, or or one of similar shape and size
  • Construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Pennies, pebbles or modeling clay
  • Tape
  • Photographs of all family members (get permission from your parents first)
  • Fine-tip permanent markers
  • Tiny flowers, birds, or other decor as desired. (Make them from construction paper!)

How to make it:

  1. The top of the box (with flaps intact) will be the top of the house. Decide what color you would like your house to be and cover the outside with construction paper. Leave three extra inches of construction paper at the top all the way around (where the flaps are – see figure 1).
  2. Cut slits in the construction paper at the top corners, so that the paper can fold like the flaps can. Glue the construction paper to the flaps.
  3. Trim the pictures into rectangular windows, or you may decide to cut carefully around the person’s picture (sort of like a paper doll) and glue that to a rectangular piece of white paper to make a window.
  4. Decorate the house, placing the windows and a door. You might want to include your family name, a message and the year.
  5. Put pennies, pebbles or the modeling clay in the bottom of the box to give the project some weight and keep it from falling over.
  6. Fold corners of the big flaps of the top of the box inward to make an upside down “v”. Fold the corners inward, but leave them sitting like tabs, so that you can glue the roof to them. Fold the small flaps down inside the box.
  7. Decide what color you would like your roof to be and cut the construction paper to cover it. Glue it on and then add any details you would like to your house, i.e., window boxes, shutters, flowers, ivy or anything else you like! 

Make Home-made Old Fashioned Gingerbread Men!

Making gingerbread men (and women) is a blast, plain and simple. Toddlers can get in the action by breaking eggs and mixing ingredients, and everyone enjoys rolling the dough, and making shapes. The scent of fresh-baked gingerbread will draw the masses from blocks around.

Dressing your ginger-people for success is a snap: Choose healthy snacks such as raisins, dried cranberries and pepitas, or go Old School with gum drop buttons and licorice whip smiles. Click here for the recipe!

Future Environmentalists Club

Did you know that Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 use large amounts of electricity and can each consume as much energy as TWO new refrigerators?!  

According to a new report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), you can cut your electric bill by as much as $100 a year simply by turning it off your Xbox 360 or Sony Play Station 3 when you are finished playing.

Playstation 3 uses five times the power of a stand-alone Sony Blu-ray player to play the same movie. This is a particularly dramatic difference considering these two products are made by the same company. Changes need to be made.

The NRDC is urging manufacturers to make future systems more energy efficient, to help save consumers money, for our clean energy future, and reduce global warming pollution.

  • Looking at the “big three” video game consoles – Sony Playstation 3, Microsoft XBox360 and Nintendo’s Wii – the report measured the amount of power they use when they are active, idle and turned off. It found these systems use nearly the same amount of power when you are playing them as they do when you leave them on and walk away.
  • On average, the report found that Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 use large amounts of electricity –150 Watts and 119 Watts respectively. These two systems can each consume more than 1,000 kilowatt-hours per year if left on all the time. The Nintendo Wii, however, uses significantly less power when on (at <20 Watts) and actually uses slightly less power than the previous generation of their console.

NRDC is working with the leading video game hardware and software designers to help make these improvements. In particular, NRDC is working to make sure users will be able to automatically save their settings and place in the game before they shut down the systems. 

For a full copy of the report, and ideas for saving energy in your home, click here.

“By raising our children with a strong sense of respect and reverence for Earth, we help ensure that there will be adults to step into ecological leadership positions.”–Helen Coronato, author of  Eco-Friendly Families, 

*Submit your family’s fun weekend activities—The best ones will be featured here!
Looking for more weekend ideas? Click here for Fun Things To Do archived entries


Kids in the Kitchen: Let’s Make Gingerbread Men November 17, 2008

gingerbread1My neighbor’s children are entering the tween years, sprinting beyond babyhood and leaving behind them a trail of books, toys and stuffed animals. We were recently the recipients of several lovely items, including a stack of books. You never know what story will resonate with your child. Sometimes it’s a caterpillar who eats everything in sight until he makes a cocoon around himself and bursts forth as a butterfly, and other times, it’s a simplistic reader featuring Lightning McQueen. For whatever reason, my son Joseph fell in love with the timeless Gingerbread Man story, and asked to listen to it night and day for weeks. It was inevitable. We must make gingerbread.

We invited his cousins over, and the children mixed, rolled, floured and cut dozens upon dozens of gingerbread men and women. We decorated some, and left others as unadorned canvases. This recipe makes 3 dozen–enough to enjoy AND contribute to a school party or bake sale. 

5 to 5 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 cup unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a large bowl; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar, and egg on medium until smooth. Add the molasses and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture 1 cup at a time, blending until smooth. The dough should gather into a semifirm mass. (If it’s not firm, add another ¼ to ½ cup flour, but not enough to make it crumbly.)

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half. Flatten into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 1 week. Preheat oven to 350° F. On a floured surface, roll each disk to 1/8 inch thick. (1/8 inch makes a crisp snap cookie, 1/4 inch gives it a soft center with crispy edges.)

Use gingerbread-man cutters to make shapes. Transfer them to a large, parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake until firm to the touch, about 12 minutes. Cool slightly before transferring to a rack. Decorate, if desired. Yield: Makes approximately 3 dozen medium gingerbread men (and women).



Carbon Monoxide Dangers Increase as Temperatures Drop November 14, 2008

Filed under: health,motherhood — rjlacko @ 9:53 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

When we moved into our house almost two years ago, the home inspector warned us to place a carbon monoxide alarm in every bedroom–especially our son’s room and the nursery awaiting our second child. 

Carbon monoxide gas is lethal, and unlike smoke, it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. And, while smoke from a fire on the other side of the house is likely to be detected by a fire alarm, giving alert to evacuate, a small continuous leak of carbon monoxide can cause permanent damage to the brain and other parts of the nervous system. 

The onset of cold weather greatly increases the chances for exposure to poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) gas as consumers increase their use of appliances such as space heaters and portable generators, warns the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC).  Every year, hundreds of deaths and many thousands of illnesses result from exposure to CO.

Among the numerous potential sources of CO are furnaces, water heaters, stoves, ovens, space heaters, wood and gas fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, portable generators and automobile engines.

The warning signs specific to carbon monoxide are also common to the flu and food poisoning. Symptoms include:

  • aches
  • dizziness
  • headache and/or confusion

“All fuel-powered engines produce CO gas,” explains Edward Krenzelok, PharmD, director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center.  “Although such devices are safe if used correctly, a malfunction or improper ventilation can make these common household appliances deadly.”  

AAPCC suggest taking some simple steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Hire a professional to inspect and adjust all of combustion appliances and especially the furnace before every heating season.
  • Hire a professional to inspect your chimney, fireplace, wood stoves, and flues before every heating season.
  • Repair chimneys and flues as needed.
  • Do not use charcoal grills indoors for cooking or heating.
  • Do not use your oven for heating your home.
  • Do not leave your car’s engine running in an enclosed or attached garage, even if the door is open.
  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm outside of every sleeping area in your home.

Poison control centers around the country are prepared to respond with information and treatment advice about CO poisoning. To reach a local poison center call 1-800-222-1222. More information about CO poisoning may be found on the AAPCC’s Website.


Finding Happiness in Friendship November 13, 2008

Filed under: health,motherhood — rjlacko @ 3:10 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I keep returning to Gretchen Rubin’s enormously engaging website, While browsing I came across Rubin’s list of eight principles of psychology that have helped her build and strengthen her friendships as a means of becoming a happier person. As Rubin writes, “Ancient philosophers and modern scientists agree: the most essential key to happiness is strong relationships with other people.” 

There are many kind of relationships that contribute to our happiness; aside from our families and children, one of the most important is our friendships. As a mother, my time is limited. Considering that I can’t remember the last time I had an uninterrupted conversation with another adult, let alone given my girlfriends the undivided attention they deserve, I’d better sharpen my friendship maintenance skills to ensure that the few moments we do get to be together are quality moments. Here are Rubin’s suggestions:

1. Triadic closure. In a phenomenon called “triadic closure,” people tend to befriend the friends of their friends – and this is very satisfying. Friendships thrive on inter-connection, and it’s both energizing and comforting to feel that you’re building not just friendships, but a social network. I now make much more of an effort to help my friends become friends with each other, and to befriend friends’ friends. (Total non sequitur: “befriend friends’ friends” is quite a phrase! Bad writing, but I couldn’t resist.)

2. Emotional contagion. “Emotional contagion” is a strong psychological effect in which we “catch” the happy, sad, or angry moods of others. Someone in a happy, energetic mood will help boost the moods of others, and obviously, this creates a very pleasant atmosphere. Unfortunately, negative moods are more contagious than positive moods; if I’m crabby, I can trigger a wave of crabbiness in my friends. I’m trying to do a better job of living up to my duty to be happy.

3. The mere exposure effect. Familiarity breeds affection. The “mere exposure effect” describes the fact that repeated exposure makes people like music, faces–even nonsense syllables–better. Because of the “exposure principle,” the more often a person sees another person, the more intelligent and attractive that person will be ranked. So I try to put myself in situations where I’m going to see a lot of the same people over and over.

4. Fundamental attribution error. The fundamental attribution error is a psychological phenomenon in which we tend to view other people’s actions as reflections of their characters, and to overlook the power of the situation to influence their action. In other words, we over-emphasize the role that personality plays in shaping others’ behavior, and under-emphasize the role of outside forces. I assume that the guy in the drugstore is an inconsiderate jerk because he rushed ahead of me to get to the counter, when in fact, he’s very considerate, and he’s rushing to get home with the medicine for his sick girlfriend.

5. Warmth. Attraction is reciprocal; we tend to like people more when we think they like us. So if I’m friendly and openly pleased to see someone person, that person is more likely to feel friendly toward me. Instead of playing it cool, I try to show a lot of warmth.

6. Smiling. As obvious as it seems, studies do show that we’re perceived as more friendly when we smile more (it also helps to have an expressive face, to nod, to lean forward, to have a warm tone). The sheer amount of time smiling makes a very big difference on perceived friendliness.

7. Subliminal touching. Studies show that subliminal touching–that is, touching a person so unobtrusively that it’s not noticed–dramatically increases that person’s sense of well-being and positive feelings toward the toucher. And vice versa. This fleeting touching might be something like touching a person’s back as you walk through a door, or touching his or her arm for emphasis.

8. Situation evocation. In situation evocation, we spark a response from people that reinforces a tendency we already have. For example, if I act irritable all the time, the people around me are probably going to treat me with less patience and helpfulness, which will, in turn, stoke my irritability. If I can manage to joke around, I’ll evoke a situation in which the people around me were more likely to joke around, too. In other words, I make my own weather.

As with many aspects of happiness, people often assume that friendship should flow easily and naturally, and that trying to “work” on it is forced and inauthentic. But in the bustle of everyday life, it’s easy to forget to take time for our real priorities. Since I’ve started trying to keep my friendship resolutions, including. “Cut people slack,” “Show up,” “Make three friends,” “Bring people together,” “Remember birthdays,” “No gossip,” and “Say hello”, I’ve found that my friendships have expanded and deepened. It’s worth the effort.


#14 Fun Things To Do With Your Family This Weekend November 7, 2008

Reinvent Your Boardgames for Little Ones

Now that our oldest is 3, games like Memory, Candy Land and Hi Ho Cherry-O have become part of the entertainment rotation. Games are a great way for children to practice problem-solving and social skills, and refine motor skills–and patience! The nice people at Fat Brain Toys recently sent us Bendomino, a game for players ages 5 and up. Like most preschoolers, my son pays no heed to such arbitrary guides, and was very eager to learn how to play. BendominoWe bent the rules of Bendomino by making a pile everyone could pick from and just started with a random piece, matching colors and numbers of dots in each direction, making sure not to let our “snake” or “train tracks” curl into itself. Number, color and spatial recognition, anyone?

This weekend, unearth the games you buried in the back of the closet after baby was born, and see what learning tools you might uncover.

  • Safety first: Pieces small enough to fit through a toilet paper roll pose a choking hazard to children under two.
  • The sky is the limit! Re-purpose Monopoly money as a learning tool for larger numbers and arithmetic.  
  • Playing cards can become number flash cards, or practice matching numbers, hearts, spades, etc.
  • Roll the dice and count the dots. Name the colors on the game board. Organize game pieces by color, size, animal, vegetable or mineral.
  • Let your child take the lead! There is no “right” way to play with toddlers and preschoolers, let your imaginations wander. You may just invent a new family game!

Put a Spin on Brussels Sprouts  

What now? I’m presenting Brussels sprouts as a family-friendly dinner option?!
Dating back to the 13th century, children have been choking Brussels sprouts down for centuries, so let’s keep the party rolling. Did you know that Brussels sprouts are among the superfood family that includes cabbage, collard greens, broccoli and kale? Sprouts are also rich in sinigrin, which is proven to stop precancerous cells in their tracks before they develop into full-blown tumours!

This recipe plays dress-up with Brussels sprouts, veiling them in bacon and fresh Parmesan cheese. Try them prepared this way, ooh and ahh over them, and they just might make it past your child’s lips, too. Click here for the full recipe.
(Visit my other blog, for more great kid-friendly recipes!

Future Environmentalists Club

Recycle Your Empty Cereal or Detergent Boxes! Turn them into attractive holders for your books and artwork withthis handy craft. We rolled out a long piece of banner paper, and Noah (age 18 months) and Joseph (age 3) painted it with blue, green, red and white fingerpaints, using both hands and feet! It was messy, but fun!

What you’ll need:

  • Large cereal or detergent boxes
  • Scissors
  • Scotch tape or craft glue
  • Artwork, leftover gift wrap, leftover wallpaper

How to make it:

  1. Have a parent cut off the top of cereal box. Halfway across top of box, cut at a 45 degree angle down to front of your magazine holder, cut straight across then back up other side at the same angle.
  2. Wrap box in artwork or leftover giftwrap or wallpaper. Secure with glue or tape. 
  3. Decorate with stickers or markers, if you like!


  • Any kind of decorating technique can be used. (Decoupage, fabric used in the room, etc.)
  • Try to decorate the front of the boxes so when lined up they all coordinate with each other.
  • Use heavier detergent boxes so the boxes will be sturdier.

“By raising our children with a strong sense of respect and reverence for Earth, we help ensure that there will be adults to step into ecological leadership positions.”–Helen Coronato, author of  Eco-Friendly Families, 

*Submit your family’s fun weekend activities—The best ones will be featured here!
Looking for more weekend ideas? Click here for Fun Things To Do archived entries


Your Child’s Cold – How Parents Can Help November 3, 2008

With Winter right around the corner, many children have already developed coughs and runny noses. As parents, how can we help? A year ago, the FDA announced that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should no longer be used for infants and toddlers under 2 years of age due to an alarming number of harmful and even fatal reactions from these meds. “Most of these reactions are due to misuse of the products,” pediatrician Dr. Bob Sears explains. “Parents often mix several cold and cough meds together and don’t realize they are overlapping the same ingredients. Or they are simply guessing how much they should give their baby when the label doesn’t specify an infant dose. However, some severe and fatal reactions have even occurred with seemingly proper dosing.” 

Just last month, in response to the FDA’s ongoing investigation about the medications’ efficacy, manufacturers voluntarily decided to change their labeling and advice for children, stating that cough and cold meds are no longer safe or advisable for children under age four.

According to Dr. Sears, pediatricians support recalling the medicines for children under 6, and the Food and Drug Administration is studying their effectiveness for children under 12. Unfortunately, it may take them a year or more to make a final decision and order changes.

Keep your kids healthy through the cold and flu season – naturally!

Here are Dr. Sears’ simple recommendations for easing the discomfort of cold symptoms:

  • Run a hot steam vaporizer
  • Flush stuffy noses with saline
  • Prop kids slightly upright to sleep better
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Eat chicken soup or other hot broths
  • Eat healthy; include fruits and vegetables in daily diet
  • Use honey for scratchy or sore throats (only for kids 1 year and older)
Proven all-natural cough and cold medications that really work

Sinupret For Kids is a natural product that Dr. Sears has found to be very effective at supporting the sinus, respiratory, and immune systems. It is not a drug, but a plant-based remedy that has been used in Europe for decades and is now available in the U.S. The active ingredients are an all-natural combination of 5 plants that have been studied extensively and have a long track record of safety in Europe and around the world. Sinupret promotes healthy drainage in the upper respiratory tract, improves airflow in the nose and supports healthy mucous clearance from the nose and sinuses.

Hylands Cough Syrup With Honey – 4 Oz Hyland’s has been offering relief to families with its homeopathic remedies since 1903. We gave this product a try because we already swore by Hyland’s teething tablets! Hyland’s Cough Syrup with Honey addresses barking, croupy, moist and dry coughs and runny noses quickly, and without side effects. It is sugar-free and tastes pretty good (for a cough medicine). Lisa, a New York mom, says, “My 5-year-old daughter was having a lot of coughing fits due to post nasal drip, especially at night. This stuff works immediately. This would calm her right down.”

Remember, honey shouldn’t be given to children the age of 1 without first consulting a physician. (Do not use this product for persistent or chronic cough such as occurs with asthma, or if cough is accompanied with excess mucous, unless directed by a licensed health care professional.)

ZoLi Nasal Aspirator This little gadget is new to the market, from a company overwhelmingly committed to “growing a greener future” for our little ones. Clinically tested to be safe for babies from birth (0+), the gentle, steady suction of ZoLi’s battery-operated Breathe nasal aspirator clears up baby’s stuffy nose, more effectively and quickly than a standard suction bulb. Its transparent reservoir provides visibility into the amount of congestion cleared.

Gemina, a mother of a toddler and a preschooler, says it’s faster, more efficient and not as messy as traditional suction, and she liked the selection of included soft, flexible silicone tips in a variety of sizes. The see-through reservoir provided a sense of getting the job done, but cleaning it out was another matter. As parents, we clean a lot of unpleasant messes, don’t we?

Wellness Kit for Kids, Herbs For Kids brand This great new kit is a gem of a find. Whenever I run into runny noses at the park with the kids, I always recommend it. In one handy little box are three homeopathic formulas which help support and protect your baby or child all year long.

Sweet Echinacea for immune support is perfect for the first signs of a virus, or when you’re about to take your child on a flight to see Grandma; The Cherry Bark Blend is for respiratory support, and can clear up a cough in no time, helping everyone to get some rest at night; And Nettles & Eyebright is for allergy season relief—it clears up a runny nose faster than an OTC antihistamine, but without side effects! Each kit also contains free stickers and a free “Parent’s Guide to Healthy Kids”. Get this and stay healthy. 

Nature’s Way Umcka Cold Care Grape Flavor  Suitable for children and adults ages 6 and up, this amazing all-natural product from Germany shortens duration of throat, sinus and bronchial irritations. Clinically-tested, non-drowsy, and 99% alcohol-free, Umcka shortens the duration and reduces the severity of throat, sinus and bronchial irritations, providing effective relief of upper respiratory tract irritations. Originating from the traditional African Zulu medicine for coughs and respiratory ailments, it is made from Pelargonium sidoides, a species of geranium unique to South Africa.

My husband and I use this for our own coughs and colds. Michele, the mother of triplets and a fourth child (all under age 4!) says, “This stuff has been clinically tested and absolutely conclusively in double-blind, placebo-controlled tests has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of bacterial and viral infections. It’s now one of the most used supplements in Germany, with a 700 percent increase in sales. It’s even been shown to work on antibiotic resistant ear infections, bronchitis, and can even prevent pneumonia…It’s all about the Umcka. I wonder if they sell it by the gallon?”

For more helpful hints for managing your child’s coughs and colds, check out Winter Wellness – Coping With The Common Cold