The Giving of Thanks


I love seeing friends on Facebook posting their daily gratitudes.  Whether they post for 30 or 100 days, what a great way to embrace (or make) little moments and focus on the good things in life, every day.  My husband takes our family along a similar journey every evening before mealtime and even though the exercise produces some of the same gratitudes night after night (“legos,” “tacos,” and “Sophia, my doll”) it gets us thinking about how there is a gift within each day.

I need this exercise because I am a worrier.  I do “sweat the small stuff.”  For some twisted reason, I think it’s productive to turn the handle on the worry mill and ruminate, ruminate, ruminate.  Admittedly, it’s one of my worst faults and a terrible waste of energy.  Have you ever seen those gift shop-style wooden signs that proclaim, “It really IS the small stuff”?  That statement, I am convinced, is why I worry.

But on the other hand, there’s some pretty awesome “small stuff.”  Not, of course, the ruminations over whether my son will forget his violin on the bus (again) but the cuddles on the couch with my kids, the jogs through the Ponderosa p[ines with friends, and good “reads” in front of the fireplace.  Those times are simply amazing, made so by what underlies these simple moments and what often gets taken for granted.  So today, my exercise in gratitude is to consider those very things:

I’m thankful for a solid floor, a roof and four walls in a safe neighborhood.

I’m thankful to gaze upon, every day, a beautiful natural world.

I’m thankful for our small refrigerator, even though I curse it.  At least we have a way to keep food fresh.  And the ability to restock when we need to.

I’m thankful for literacy.  That we have books and enjoy reading them together as a family.

I’m thankful for health.  That of my kids, their grandparents and my husband.

I’m thankful for my three kids.  There was a time my husband and I didn’t think we would have even one.  But three?  It still blows my mind.

I’m thankful for simply being.  It’s not always fun or stress-free but I remember as a kid marveling that I was actually alive.  I would wonder, “Why me, why did I get to be born?”  It wasn’t until recently I recalled having those thoughts, actually putting into consideration that life is truly a gift.

And one I am oh-so very thankful for.



To Ski or Not to Ski (Silly Question?)

The modern day "Pink Ladies" are ready to tear it up! (My daughter and me)

The modern day “Pink Ladies” are ready to shred it! (My daughter and me)

There’s snow up in the mountains, the annual ski swap is the “happening” hot spot and ski school is booked (don’t tell my kids…for some unknown reason they want to ski with Dad and Mom).  Everyone in our southwestern Colorado town is counting down the days until the official start of (downhill) ski season.  That is, unless you are one of those hard core individuals who enjoys the relatively insane sport of backcountry skiing, then you have been schussing for a few weeks now.

My son was unhappy with me yesterday for telling him we couldn’t go skiing after school.  Never mind a) he doesn’t yet have skis and boots as he outgrew last season’s, and b) the ski resort doesn’t open for another several days.  But I love his enthusiasm.  And my daughter’s…but her excitement is drawn not just from the fun of tearing though the half pipe but also from the fact she has a brand new, bright coral ski jacket to wear.

As for me, I approach ski season with relative trepidation, although less so than I did last year.  My first foray into the downhill sport came just three years ago, when I was 41, and let’s just say it’s been a bit of a hard sell.  Last season, however, with a better-fitting pair of ski boots, I met my goal of skiing down a blue, or intermediate-level, run.  Then I did several.  “Zinfandel” is my favorite, as this is what I want (need) when I get to the bottom of the mountain.  To say I am a proficient skier is going too far, but I can handle the expected.  I cannot handle moguls, but let’s not talk about that.

However, in honor of the opening of ski season, here is a repost of To Ski or Not to Ski, is That REALLY the Question? from January 29, 2014.  

When my family moved to Colorado a year ago, we were frequently asked: “Do you ski?” Being new in town I could hardly state my feelings on the subject so instead gave the hard, cold facts: “My kids and I are taking lessons.” My husband learned as a teenager and has several of the premiere ski resorts in Colorado under his belt so he already fit into the fold of our ski-adoring community. But the kids and I didn’t even know what “binders” were. Needless to say, we had a long way to go.

Oh, yes, I mentioned “feelings,” didn’t I? Um…well. Let’s put it this way: I do not feel the need for speed. And barreling down a slippery slope attached to two long, tractionless slabs of…ski-material-stuff… sounds like a bad idea. Terrible, even. Thus, this midwestern girl (read: someone who thinks her driveway is a steep grade) wouldn’t have even though to become a ski bunny had she not landed in the mecca of skiing bunnies, bums and everyone in between. And all of them ski the double-black-diamond death runs at that.

Now, I firmly believe in second chances. But that means there’s been a first chance somewhere out there. Plus skiing is culture, a way of life, in the Rockies. Yet another avenue to appreciate the astounding beauty around us. A way to make new friends and get involved in our new community. Why be an idiot and reject something most everyone loves? Especially without giving it a shot. But on the other hand, why be an idiot and break a hip?

I consulted with the wonderful young woman who cuts my hair, also a midwestern gal. She had similar fears about skiing when she moved to Colorado. But she learned to do it and love it. And then she broke her leg and lived to share her experience. Then dared to ski again. In Telluride. That got my attention. Telluride is wicked-awesome any time of year. But skiing there? That would be a story to write home about. So I thought maybe I should give this downhill thing a go.

The kids and I signed up for ski lessons at a resort not far from where we live. My daughter was completing turns by the end of morning. Me? The only “turns” in my day were the turns different areas of the ski slope had in meeting my rear end. And I was DONE. So DONE. I hadn’t learned a thing. Despite my instructor shouting pointers such as “You’re doing it wrong!!!” in the direction of my twisted array of limbs, poles and skis, I wasn’t interested in hitting the slopes again.

But here’s the thing. Well, two things. I believe in second chances. And I also wanted to set a good example for my kids. While I waxed negative to my husband about everything ski-related from my idiot ski instructor to the uncomfortable ski boots, I spoke nothing of the sort to my kids. I wanted them to also believe in second opportunities and understand that failure is a part of learning and practice breeds improvement. I waxed positive to them and wondered privately how I would motivate myself to take on more of what I had suffered that morning. I had so many bumps and bruises I felt like I had played four quarters of gridiron football.

The next week, the kids and I took a family lesson. From Cody. Sweet ski-dude Cody. Cody treated me just like one of the kids. I guess my fear and nervousness was palpable not only to me but to him as well. He gave me extra reassurance and also spoke a language I could relate to: “Pizza” and “French Fries.” Which got me thinking about the amazing marriage of pizza crust and macaroni and cheese concocted by the ski village pub. THAT was worth tumbling down an icy hill for. In short, Cody had my number.

He also had my six-year-old daughter’s attention. She was still at the age where seeing her flirt was quite amusing. Her mischievous smile as Cody caught her and kept her from skiing out-of-control kept me entertained and enjoying our instruction on the slopes. I even learned to turn, tentatively. Toes up the way you want to go. And simultaneously, toes down the way you don’t. Cody made sense. Probably because he took the Elmo approach to teaching and my first instructor took the way of Bobby Knight. My advice? Chose your ski instructor based on your mental age (mine must be age six) and find one that teaches to that age group in physical years. Miracles will occur.

We all had fun. My son and I got tangled up and giggled our way through the sorting out of limbs. We “Three Stooged” our way off the ski lift. The kids screamed, “Pizza, Mom, Pizza!” to my back as they watched me skid down the bunny hill. (In ski-speak that means “Slow down” not “We’re hungry!”.) We were learning how to schuss down a mountain. “Schuss,” of course, being an overstatement at that point but the four of us realized our potential. And yet again, I saw that second chances have a real payoff. And my kids saw what a fun, family activity skiing could become.

Now second second chances are not my forte. The payoff there has been nil (as in the sampling of marmalade and Vegemite…separately, not at the same time) so I approach those opportunities with trepidation. Sometimes I need a little nudge. When ski season rolled around this past fall, my family and I went to the local ski swap offering deeply-discounted used equipment for purchase so a family of five (like ours) can avoid spending the equivalent of a Disney vacation on new stuff. I laughed to myself when my husband sent me to pick out a pair of skis for myself. I had worn skis exactly three times and was no where near qualified to choose a pair, that being glaringly evident when a young couple I passed by were looking for skis with “sex appeal.”

Fortunately a volunteer got me outfitted in a flash with a cute set…gold and bronze and maroon. The odd “sex appeal” comment on my brain I had thought about asking him for something that wouldn’t make my butt look too big, but decided a guy tossing out terms like “camber” “sidecut” and “twin-tip” wouldn’t be amused. I was now outfitted for the upcoming ski season, and very cheaply at that. Easy on the wallet is good for a rookie who probably would be falling more than schussing.

And a few weeks later….

“It’s just like riding a bike!!!” said the lift operator as my husband and I hopped on for the first ski run of our first full ski season in Colorado. I was timidly excited, if that makes any sense. I ended on a high note last year so I hoped he was right.

He wasn’t.

I fell.

I cried, I was so sore.

The next week I returned to the Bunny Hill (not the mountain, which I now know was a stupid move on my part, while not accustomed to my own equipment).

I took it slow.

Then I sped up, making turns, digging my outer ski into the powder.

Soon I was whizzing to the bottom of the hill and coming to a stop right in front of the lift, not a hundred feet away. This was important to me: I never thought I could be one of those skiers who could do that.

I was making headway. Or more accurately, “legway.”

More importantly? My kids are now skiing. Taking intermediate runs down the mountain. And loving it. I’m so happy I kept my mouth shut on my skiing frustrations because now they are hooked. And I am getting there. For a midwestern girl who is ingrained with the dread of winter, I am now hoping for fresh powder… a HUGE shift in mindset. But I’ll be honest, slippery slopes scare the heck out of me: fluffy snow (pow-wow as I understand it’s called) is a newbie’s friend. I think I’ll start believing in those second-second chances. That’s bigger than any ski mountain around.

So. “To ski or not to ski?” As a billboard in our town would state: “Silly question!” And I think that response is spot-on. The real question? “To give second chances or not to give second chances?” Well, you know how I feel…

We may be smiling, but this ski lift is scary: it bounces and it scoops riders up and spits them out at the top. I'm hanging on for dear life.

We may be smiling, but this particular ski lift is scary: it bounces and it scoops riders up and spits them out at the top. I’m hanging on for dear life.

Depression in Kids


A few days after the death of comedian Robin Williams I happened to view the classic  Woody Allen movie, Annie Hall.  A good art film but the scene that struck me most happened only two minutes in.  This introduction had Woody Allen’s character, Alvy Singer, offering a soliloquy which ends with his stating that “I’m not a depressive character…I was a reasonably happy kid, I guess.”  Cut to young Alvy, with his impatient mother, in the doctor’s office.  He is depressed, says his mother, and she complains he won’t do anything; he won’t do his homework.  Alvy explains to his doctor, “What’s the point?”  And he asks this because he read the universe is expanding, and eventually it will expand to the point it breaks apart and that will be the end of the world.  Mom finds this ridiculous, and bellows:

“What has the universe got to do with it? You’re here in Brooklyn (where they live)…Brooklyn is not expanding!!!”

The doctor offers shallow reassurances and laughs, effectively blowing off young Alvy and validating his mother.

Given the timing, this scene struck a particular chord.  Robin Williams had being coping with depression for some time prior and up to the time of his suicide (recently his widow stated in a interview that he was also suffering from Lewy Body dementia).  What if at some point, whether as an adult or even as a child (like Alvy), his feelings had been blown off?

It’s likely true, as only in the last twenty years has childhood depression has been taken seriously, many years past young Alvy’s and young Robin Williams’ time.  Statistics have shown that not only does clinical depression occur in children, it can occur in as many as 3 percent.  And the risk only grows for teens:  up to 1 in 8.   For boys, depression is more common at age 10 or younger; girls are more at risk during the teen years.

Emotional ups and downs are a part of childhood, and certainly result from the hormonal and physical changes of adolescence.  So we parents need to be alert for signs that can indicate the possibility of more serious problems, such as childhood/teen depression.

  1.  The hallmark of depression (in children and adults alike) includes three symptoms, sadness, feeling hopeless and mood changes.  Some more specific examples that can pertain to children include:

♦getting into trouble at school

♦a new pattern of dreading school and not wanting to go

♦new/increased complaints of physical illness

♦observations that your child “is not acting like herself.”

♦any behavioral changes that interfere with your child’s school or extracurricular performance, home life or interest in hobbies lists common symptoms of depression:

~a feeling of being down in the dumps or really sad for no reason

~a lack of energy, feeling unable to do the simplest task

~an inability to enjoy the things that used to bring pleasure

~a lack od desire to be with friends or family members

~feelings of irritability (especially common in kids and teens), anger, or anxiety

~an inability to concentrate

~a marked weight gain or loss (or failure to gain weight as expected), and too little or too much interest in eating

~a significant change in sleep habits, such as trouble falling asleep or getting up

~feelings of guilt or worthlessness

~aches and pains even thought nothing is physically wrong

~a lack of caring about what happens in the future

~frequent thoughts about death and suicide

Keep in mind that some children may continue to function well in some situations and not in others.  For example, a child may have a normal social and physical ability at soccer practice but may have difficulty functioning in the school lunchroom.  Also, symptoms may be fleeting, with one being replaced by another.

2)  Significant life changes, particularly those occurring at home can trigger what is commonly known as situational depression.  A death of a loved one, a divorce or a parental illness can cause a child to become depressed.

3)  Family health history.  A family history of depression puts a child at risk for developing depression himself.  And it can cause the first episode of depression to occur at an earlier age than in children who do not have a family history of depression.

So when to seek help?  If any of the above symptoms last for two weeks or longer, take your child to see his pediatrician, who can do a thorough history and examination to determine if there are physical reasons for your child’s feelings and behavior.  His doctor may explore risk factors such as stressors and family history, as well as ask a battery of questions that relate to diagnosing depression.  If your pediatrician suspects your child is depressed, a visit to a mental health specialist may be arranged.  This may be a psychologist, psychiatrist or a clinical social worker.

If your child is diagnosed with depression, the good news is there are effective treatments to help your child.  Psychotherapy (talk) therapy is the backbone of treatment and can include several strategies.  Play therapy is is a common approach for younger children, and is a way to help children articulate their feelings.  Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) evaluates how a child’s thoughts impact her behavior and helps alter thoughts to produce positive behavior.  CBT is effective in treating depression and also the anxiety that can come with it,  Family talk sessions and sessions with a peers (group therapy) may also be beneficial.

Medications can help as well, but have been subject to scrutiny in recent years.   Prozac, a common antidepressant medication, is approved for children as young as age 8.  However, there has been serious concern over the safety of this medication, and other medications in the SSRI family, for use in children with depression.  There are concerns that these antidepressants can increase the risk of suicide attempts.  As a result, any SSRI medication use in children must be carefully considered and monitored, especially during the first month of treatment.  Most children experience few side effects from taking Prozac and similar antidepressants and it’s not known why certain children are most susceptible to increased anxiety, depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts when taking these medications.**

It’s difficult to even think about, but it is important for parents, teachers and others close to a child diagnosed with depression to be on the alert for the signs of attempted suicide.  Any of these behaviors warrant immediate attention from a child’s mental health provider:

Many depressive symptoms (changes in eating, sleeping, activities)
Social isolation, including isolation from the family
Talk of suicide, hopelessness, or helplessness
Increased acting-out of undesirable behaviors (sexual/behavioral)
Increased risk-taking behaviors
Frequent accidents
Substance abuse
Focus on morbid and negative themes

Talk about death and dying
Increased crying or reduced emotional expression
Giving away possessions

It’s not uncommon for parents to feel guilty about a child’s depression or feel in denial as depression, unfortunately, still holds a social stigma.  But it is important to know that parents can and must play a role in helping their child now.  The hard news is that depression can recur as a child gets older, but the good news is that treatments are effective.  And there are several things parents themselves can do to support their child’s recovery:

♥Teachers and school counselors should be in the loop.  Give consent for mental health professionals to send updates to those persons.

♥Provide a healthy diet, as this can help with moods.

♥As well as good food, helping a child to remain or get active can release endorphins in the body that can also help with mood and outlook.

♥Stick to the advised treatment plan and appointment schedule.  If a child’s depressive symptoms seem to worsen, seek help right away.

♥Be supportive and loving, never say things like, “Oh, you’ll get over it…”  Take a child’s feelings and behaviors seriously.  Know that these children hurt and need to be reassured their feelings are valid.

[**the FDA reviewed the cases of 2,200 children taking SSRI’s for depression and found no completed suicide attempts.  However, 4% of these children did have thoughts of suicide and some also attempted to take their lives.  This is twice the number of children who took a sugar pill, or placebo, in place of an SSRI.]


Extracurricular Activities: How Many is Too Many?

When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?

~Omid Safi, in his essay “The Disease of Being Busy” for

My husband and I limit our kids to two extracurricular activities per child at any given time.  This is fewer than that recommended by experts who diss kids’ crammed schedules  (three or fewer, they say).   So our lives shouldn’t be too hectic, right?

In theory, yes.

Then there’s Monday afternoon.  Early release day, so the kids and I should have some time to just hang out together.  But enter the after school schedule:

1:30:  School’s out

1:45 to 2:45:  back to back violin lessons (two kids)

3:05:  Girls on the Run (one child)

4:00:  Acting (older son)

4:30:  Pick up daughter from GOTR

5:30:  Pick up son from the theatre.

I’m pretty much in the van the whole time, with at least one of my tired kids in the back seat, unhappy about being drug along (can’t blame them).  Here it is early release, all this “extra time” and we get home tired, hungry (dinner is, of course, late) and there’s still homework to do.

What are we doing?

Socrates is credited with saying, Beware the barreness of a busy life.  How did he know??  Many enriching activities, all ones my kids say they enjoy, yet we get a serious case of the crabbies on these supposedly fulfilling afternoons of busy.  Granted, not every afternoon is like this, but when we start the week at a frantic pace, it starts us off on the wrong foot.  Tired.  Behind on the homework schedule.  In desperate need of some time to unwind.

Basic math has eluded me (lack of oxygen due to hours in a stuffy van?).  Because two activities times three kids does not equal happy and fulfilled.   It equals a very weighty six.  And sometimes seven if you throw in an extra, although temporary, super-cool activity.  (Moment of weakness?  Maybe.  But I stand solidly behind this once-in-a-school-career opportunity for my daughter.)

Busy has become the other “B” word in recent years, only to have contemporaries rail against this label.  We have had critics (including child health professionals) of parents who fill their kids’ time with a crushing number of activities; these are the parents with helicopter tendencies, we are told, who push their kids for the sake of themselves.  Those defending their children’s busy schedules shake their heads at parents whose “old-fashioned” ideas leave their kids idle in a world bursting with opportunities their parents never had.  Today, we have those (also health professionals) who laud “enriching” (not extracurricular) activities as not only necessary for kids’ self esteem, classroom performance and social relationships, but as many as three at time is considered ok.

What are we parents to do with this information?

Enter yet another B word, but one with a much more positive connotation:  balance.  Balance between busy and idle, and the scale by which this is measured is as unique to each child as with anything else.  Michael Thompson, clinical psychologist and author of The Pressured Child says:

“As a general principle, there is a line between a highly enriched, interesting, growth-promoting childhood and an overscheduled childhood,” he said. “And nobody knows where that line is.”

Likely because, there is no concrete rule-of-thumb.  Not even within a family unit.  Some children thrive on being busy.  But there are kids who need more unstructure, time to quietly create or read or simply reset after the constant stimulation of a school setting.  A child’s threshold for scheduled activities depends on the child.  The line Dr. Thompson speaks of is certainly on a spectrum.  And no matter where that line is, experts and parents on both sides of the busy-is-harmful debate agree that children need free time.

Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, child and adolescent psychiatrist, champions this idea.  The author of The Overscheduled Child emphasizes…wait for it… balance.  Time for kids to just be.  To get messy and navigate boredom, play with friends and spend time with family, not performing for family.  Dr. Thompson emphasizes the importance of the basics:  activities are great, but kids need a full night’s sleep and time to complete homework, too.  And what about parents who advocate lots of extra activities for their children?  They still agree their kids need spontaneity to make the daily schedule work.  Serious and silly.  Work and play.


So how can we maintain a healthy level of fulfilling activity without going overboard on all the cool opportunities out there?  The place to start, not surprisingly:  our kids.  The simplest and best advice I received in my Physician Assistant training was talk to your patients, observe them, and they’ll tell you everything you need to know.  It’s the same with our kids; we parents just need to be attuned.  Kids will tell us unfailingly if they are busy and happy or overwhelmed and over scheduled:

Observe your child’s demeanor going to and coming home from an activity, says Dr. Thompson.  Is she happy, bubbling over with information?  Or is she quiet and complaining Do we have to??  If either behavior is consistent, that’s the simplest and best insight into how our child feels about a given enrichment.  If she’s unhappy, consider dropping the activity.

•Observe the physical signs.  Is your child lethargic or sleeping poorly?  Has he started having frequent headaches or stomachaches?  These symptoms can be signs of many things (and warrant a doctor’s evaluation), including but not limited to, depression and feeling overwhelmed with too much to do.

•With unscheduled time, you hear “I’m bored” repeatedly.  A packed timetable can cause a child to have trouble occupying herself if left to her own devices.  Curing boredom independently is a skill many over scheduled kids struggle with.

•Grades are suffering.  Are kids too exhausted after a packed day?  Is there no time to complete homework in a realistic time frame (i.e., by bedtime)?  Most parents agree that activities need to be pared down if school becomes a second priority.

•Family meals are nonexistent.  Meals together is a prime example of the good, solid family time that Dr. Rosenfeld applauds.  Kids need to be with their parents and after a day apart, mealtime offers interaction without the distractions of work, school and activities.  Eating supper in a whirlwind of shifts eliminates one surefire way of being a family.  If the family dining table is collecting dust, it’s time to reevaluate the family schedule.

•Just ask.  Behavior is great insight into how a child feels about an activity but not necessarily the only measure, as I found out.  My daughter started having meltdowns each time she faced practicing her violin. Curious, yet assuming I knew the answer (unhappy=ditch the activity), I asked her how she felt about playing the violin.  Surprisingly, she said she liked it.  When I probed further, she told me she couldn’t concentrate on her music with the constant commotion in the room.  Which makes perfect sense.  But it was not on my radar as her brother can effectively tune out all else when he rehearses.  So she and I made some changes.  Instead of practicing in our open, high traffic dining area, we practice behind a closed door elsewhere in the house.  And we always practice when her brothers are at cub scouts and the house is quiet.  Gone is the struggle over practice time.  And gone are the groans when her brother, meaning well, offers his help.  Here I thought my daughter wanted to quit violin, but all I needed to do was ask and found out otherwise.

Being busy is good for kids.  They need to explore new ideas, skills and group dynamics.  It’s all a part of self-discovery and learning about the world.  But the temptation (for kids and parents alike) to try a multitude of options can easily tip the scale toward the downward spiral of a packed schedule and never-ending activity.  Finding balance can take some experimentation.  Like my family’s Monday afternoons.  Four activities in one day is crazy; we won’t do it again.  Live and learn.

A recent "free-play" project: my kids built a house for their stuffed animals and dolls.

On a recent “idle” day my kids built a house for their stuffed animals and dolls using “everyday” items from around our home.

The Thing About Box Tops for Education


It’s reflexive.  I see that little rectangle of cardboard on a box and automatically rip it off.  I stick the little chips in a Ziploc-brand plastic bag (one of the participating products, I might add), and hand them over to one of my kids to take to school.  I think very little about the process, which has somehow been ingrained in my psyche.  I’m like a rat in a Skinner box.

But Psyche woke up.  A few days ago, a call went out on our school’s Facebook page to turn in our Box Tops for Education (or, as the logo reads, Box TopFor Education).  I was surprised, given my own subconscious efforts,  to see the extended thread this announcement unfurled; it seemed over the (box) top.  The rules for submitting, for one.  The ideas to get kids to bring in more Box Tops so our school can exceed the amount of money received the year before, all through the submission of appropriately trimmed and bagged, non-expired cardboard dimes.  It seems to me the folks at BTFE were dictating these rules (who can actually read those teensy expirations dates??) just to see how many hoops school volunteers would jump through to raise money.  Then I realized my own new-found obsessiveness; all of a sudden I was by putting way more thought into this (box) topic than anyone on Facebook did.  With this perseveration, though, I came to a conclusion.  Yes, I thoughtlessly rip off those colorful little logos but

Box Top$ for Education is the real rip-off. Continue reading

Life Lessons, By Temple Grandin

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Recently our local college had the privilege of hosting a lecture by noted author and scientist Temple Grandin and we were fortunate enough to be in attendance.  This remarkable woman, diagnosed with autism as a child, has overcome the obstacles of her diagnosis to earn a degree in psychology and a PhD in animal science and pen several books.  To hear her speak (which she didn’t learn to do until the age of four), is to experience how nurturing and support and sheer will can help a person overcome odds and accomplish amazing things.

Temple Grandin speaks quickly and one needs to be pretty attentive to keep up.  She also covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time, offering up insights regarding autism, describing her work, and tossing in a blunt opinion here and there (like “why are we funding sports and at the same time cutting band!?”).  About a third of the way into her talk, it occurred to me that while she was offering her path to success as one that could help others with the same diagnosis, her lessons can apply to us all.  And also extrapolate to how we as parents can raise successful children.  A few of Temple Grandin’s points: Continue reading

The Influenza Vaccine: Setting the Records Straight

(This post was originally published January 22, 2014, and has been updated for the 2015-2016 influenza season.)

The bad news: cold and flu season is upon us. The good news: we can put up our dukes against it. The season is a hot topic amongst moms and I recall one particular day that was no exception. Discussion of who was ill and for how long infected a session at my yoga studio and the talk led to that of who got the flu vaccine, who did not, and the defense of their decisions. Back when I was a practicing physician assistant the misinformation about the flu vaccine was something I often addressed with my patients and the same rumor mill about getting a “jab” was alive and well over the yoga mats of Durango, Colorado. So bothered I was by the flu mythology that during savasana I couldn’t stop thinking about writing this blog post! Not good. I can’t have “final rest” interrupted…I get grouchy, like haven’t-had-my-morning-coffee grouchy.

So first, let’s clear the air regarding “flu” terminology. When we discuss the “flu” we most often think of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. But influenza, while nicknamed the “flu” is completely different. Influenza (at which the flu vaccine is directed) is a respiratory illness that produces many symptoms similar to those of the common cold*** but these infections are caused by different types of viruses. Confused? Find yourself in good company… many people are. Which is likely why people are frustrated that they “got the flu vaccine and still got sick.” Simply put, coming down with a common cold or a stomach bug (neither of which is covered by any vaccine) does not mean the influenza vaccine was ineffective. “Flu” nomenclature is unnecessarily confusing, and the flu vaccine gets an unnecessarily bad rap. It’s an unfortunate lose-lose situation. (Just of note: I will use “influenza” and “flu” interchangeably in the rest of this post, for simplicity’s sake.)

But are you guaranteed immunity from influenza if you get the vaccine? And if not, why get the vaccine in the first place? Both are valid questions. And both have answers. Every year there are three (or four) strains of influenza virus in the formulation of the vaccine. These strains are chosen based on what flu viruses are expected to be prominent during the upcoming flu season. The system by which this decision is made is not perfect, as we all know: experts become the victims of hindsight when deemed to have “picked wrong.” Unfortunately no one, not even those at the top of the infectious disease field, can see accurately, year after year, into the future. But to address the question “Why get the vaccine in the first place if there is chance I’ll still get influenza?” the answer is: still get the shot (or the intranasal version if you meet the criteria). Why? Getting the vaccine still revs up the immune system. So if by chance you are exposed to influenza and fall ill, your symptoms may not be as severe as they would if you were not immunized at all. Given that about 200,000 people are hospitalized for influenza yearly and the disease can be fatal to even the healthiest of individuals, why take a chance?

I could include many more FACTS about influenza in this post, but I decided to focus on addressing some of the more common misinformation. For more questions and details about influenza itself or the vaccine, the CDC website ( is excellent. Click on “Flu Basics” and you will find a wealth of easy-to-peruse information.

***[You may be wondering why the word “facts” above is in caps. Nope, not a typo. Our local newspaper featured an article, “Is it a cold or the flu? How to tell” (printed in the Durango Herald, Monday, January 20, 2014, and written by Michelle Healy of USA Today). This article featured some great nuggets of information. The best in my opinion is the acronym FACTS, to help sort out whether symptoms are related to the common cold or influenza: Fever, Aches, Chills, Tiredness and Sudden onset (of symptoms) suggest the flu. However, this is a guideline and if you have any concerns at all, see your family’s physician.]


When a Loved One Dies: How We Can Help Our Kids


I was in second grade when my grandfather died unexpectedly.  It was a horribly difficult time made even harder by the fact that he died a day after my family returned from the funeral of another family member.  As a child I recall feeling confused, sad and so scared I couldn’t even go into the living room to see my grieving grandmother.

The death of a loved one is difficult to explain to children, especially as we adults are trying to process our own loss, sadness and grief.  Funerals are emotional and perplexing.  I didn’t go to my grandfather’s.  Because a few days earlier, I blacked out during the open-casket funeral for my great-aunt.  Not that my parents didn’t prepare me .  They explained the best they could what would happen, what I would see that day (“She will look like she’s sleeping.”).  Despite their best efforts, I was simply overcome.

None of us is prepared to accept loss.  Whether we have been through it or not.  Unfortunately, we will all experience it at one time or another.  As heartbreaking as it is to think about, our children will as well.  Perhaps even as children.  How can we help them through it, given we are also hurting? Continue reading

Should I Let My Child Quit?

Channelling Johnny Cash. But he'd rather be acting.

Channelling Johnny Cash. But he’d rather be acting.

There is a well-known story about Olympic champion Gabrielle Douglas and the turning point in her gymnastics career.  She was living with a host family in Iowa so she could work with Liang Chow, the coach who trained Shawn Johnson.  But being terribly homesick for her family and life in Virginia, she told her mother she wanted to quit gymnastics.  Upon hearing this Gabby’s mom read her the riot act and, as we all know, the rest is history.

I began learning the trumpet at age nine.  Shortly thereafter I got braces and could hardly play a note.  My instructor brought me to tears so I told my mom I wanted to quit.  And if she hadn’t requested a different teacher for me, I wouldn’t have become a renowned classical trumpet player with a record deal.  (Ok, I never became NEARLY that good but did go on to play through high school and into college.  And I can play a wicked rendition of Frosty the Snowman at Christmastime…)

Many of us have been there.  For those of us parents who haven’t, we likely will.  When one of our kids wants to quit an activity, we automatically think about what he could miss out on by ending the experience.  Whether it be greatness (Gabrielle Douglas) or simple enjoyment and appreciation (me) or something in between, we reflexively say:

No way.  You need to give it a chance. Continue reading

Kids Do Listen, Sometimes Years Later


I don’t remember what I made, but I do remember the process.  Or at least, I remember what I disliked about it.  The measuring, the tailor’s tacks, the ironing of narrow seams.  In short, my mom tried to teach me how to sew and I really, really, didn’t want to learn.

I was the teenage daughter of an exquisite seamstress:  she made her own wedding dress.  She helped sew bridesmaid’s dresses for her sister.  She painstakingly pieced together, with her two equally talented sisters, a quilt for their parents.  My mom grew up sewing.  And thought I should, too. Continue reading