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Read This Before You Donate to a Holiday Food Drive

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Both of my daughters’ schools have held holiday food drives lately, and it makes my children and me feel good to walk through the aisles of the supermarket and pick out canned goods for families who need them. (Our go-to donations: big jars of peanut butter, 4-packs of tuna, canned soup and chili.) I also appreciate the opportunity to remind my children that there are kids right in our own town who may not have enough to eat.

But I’ve learned recently that I could be selecting much more nutritious picks. I fully admit that I didn’t equate “food bank” with “healthy food.” And I had no idea that the organization SuperFood Drive exists. Its goal: to transform every food drive into an opportunity to collect healthy, nourishing food for those in need, helping reduce the rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and more–all of which are too high among the impoverished families who often rely on food banks. I cringed when I read on SuperFood Drive’s site: “It is unjust to ‘help’ people in need with provisions that promote disease instead of prevent it.”

The site has plenty of important resources, including how to host a healthy food drive. It also offers ways to donate healthy food online. What I found most helpful is the list of healthy foods I should shop for from now on. This is what’ll be in my cart for the next food drive:

  • Steel-cut or rolled oats (low in calories, high in fiber and protein)
  • Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds (packed with protein and fiber)
  • Black beans (a low-fat source of protein)
  • Low-sodium canned tomatoes (more beneficial than fresh!)
  • Canned pumpkin (it’s high in fiber and bursting with nutrients)

Check out a complete list here.

Photo: Food donations box isolated on white background via Shutterstock.

The Hungry Home
The Hungry Home
The Hungry Home

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An OT-Approved Gift Guide for All Kids

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

If your child works with an occupational therapist (OT)–or even if he doesn’t–you’re practically guaranteed to find at least one perfect gift for him on this holiday gift guide curated by my sister Meghan, an OT in New York City and mom of a 4-year-old little girl. She originally started this list in the form of an email, as a service to the parents of the children she works with (who range in age from 2 to 12 and have minor fine-motor/manipulation delays, developmental delays, Down syndrome, autism, sensory processing disorder, and ADD/ADHD). She includes toys, games, crafts, and apps, and takes great care to explain exactly what skills it builds, which children will benefit most, and tips to get the most from it. “My goal is to find products that will be fun for the kids, that parents won’t mind spending money on, and will encourage both cognitive and creative development,” Meghan says. Her first list was such a hit, she now works on it nearly year-round, and unveils it right around Thanksgiving on her blog, MAC & Toys. This year’s collection is bigger than ever, so I asked her to pick her absolute favorites of all the picks making their debut on her list. Here they are:

1.  Discovery Putty

This has been a huge hit with the kids I work with. They love digging through this magical putty and finding treats or animals. I like to have the kids pretend to be explorers and talk about what they’re finding. Even better: Kids who may need to work on making their hands stronger can do just that while playing with it.

2.  Seedling’s Art Kits

I love doing crafts with my own child and the children I work with. This New Zealand-based company began seven years ago with the simple goal of creating products that would encourage hours of creative and imaginative play for kids of all ages.  Each kit (and there are so many wonderful ones to choose from) comes with all the supplies needed to make your own SuperHero Cape, Snow Globe, Bird House, or many other magical things.  For those busy parents who may not be so crafty, this is the perfect thing to make you feel like Martha Stewart!

3.  Boogie Board

Remember Etch-A-Sketch and Magna Doodle boards? Those toys still bring hours of entertainment to kids. A couple of years ago, my daughter received a Boogie Board as a gift and we’ve been playing with it since.  I brought one to my office to use with the kids and it’s been really popular. Whether it be for practicing writing letters or numbers, drawing pictures, or making lists, this lightweight and easily portable writing tablet allows for hours of creative fun and it’s great for long car/plane rides, waiting at the doctor’s office, or to just chill out on the couch with. And it’s perfect for all ages.

4.  Squigz

These suction cup construction toys are super fun, and motivating for kids of any age. Whether you decide to get the starter or deluxe set, these toys will not only be relaxing but provide some sensory (auditory and tactile) stimulation that will keep your kids entertained for hours. It encourages creativity, fine-motor skills, and social interaction. They are incredibly versatile and can be used on walls, bathtubs, windows, table and desktops. Be sure to check out Squigz Benders and pipSquigz.

5.  Osmo Tangrams

In my practice, I have embraced the use of the iPad into sessions, since it’s often motivating for some of my older and more challenging kids. One of my new favorite iPad accessories is the Osmo Game System, especially the Tangrams set. What I love most is that my kids who really struggle with visual perceptual and visual motor activities–and often avoid things like puzzles–have found this particular Tangram set to be more fun and less like work. Arrange the tangible puzzle pieces into matching on-screen shapes to unlock more puzzles. Kids can play individually or against a friend. Watch your child’s self-esteem and confidence grow after she successfully completes each puzzle.

6.  Kinetic Sand

At this time of year, when we’re cold and dealing with snow, what’s better than feeling like you’re playing at the beach? WABA Fun has created this amazing moldable sand that kids can mold into objects, flatten with a rolling pin, cut into shapes with cookie cutters, and hide objects in. There are lots of imitators out there, but be sure to splurge and get the real stuff since it will last longer (WABA guarantees it will never dry out) and has nothing in it that may cause allergic reactions.

So those are Meghan’s favorites this year–but there are dozens more where that came from, so be sure to check out her complete list. Happy Holidays!


Photo via Shutterstock.

Not-so Frosty the Snowman
Not-so Frosty the Snowman
Not-so Frosty the Snowman

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3 Kids, 6 Lessons, and 8 Months to Live: A Lung Cancer Story

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and to help shed light on this disease and its prevalence among nonsmokers, we present this guest post from Tori Tomalia, a mom who was diagnosed with the disease last year. Despite her dire prognosis, her treatment is working. In fact, just yesterday she had a clear scan, which means she can “breathe (relatively) easy” for the next three months. Tori tells her story beautifully, and we thank her for sharing it with us.

By Tori Tomalia

“Make memories for your children.”

These words from the social worker haunt me even more than when the doctor said, with a catch in his voice, that the cancer had spread to my spine, my hip, my ribs, and my liver.

I was a pretty typical busy mom, working, going to grad school, parenting our 4-year-old son and infant twin daughters, trying to make time for my husband, and attempting to take care of the house (mostly failing on that last one).

Also, I had a nasty cough. It had dragged on for months, with one chest cold leading into another all throughout the winter. And I was exhausted, but really, what mom of three little ones isn’t? As spring came, I seemed to have a sudden recurrence of my childhood asthma. But half a dozen inhalers and medications were not putting a dent in my breathing problems.

Finally, in May of 2013 my doctor sent me to have a chest CT scan to see if there was something more going on. There was. A giant tumor had wrapped itself all around my left lung, partially collapsing it, thus causing the breathing problems. Further testing showed that the cancer had spread throughout my body, making the cancer stage IV, terminal, with a median survival of eight months.

Mom, are ghosts real?

No… but some people think spirits are real.


I missed my son’s end-of-preschool presentation because I was having a CT scan of my brain to see if the cancer had spread there, too (thankfully, it hadn’t). Looking around the backyard I realized there was a chair next to each piece of play equipment, because over the past few months it had become more and more difficult for me to stand and play with my kids. I could no longer carry my little girls because I could barely breathe enough to walk. When had I stopped climbing up the stairs to tuck my son in at night?

Yeah… Some people believe … that if someone you love very much dies, that person’s spirit can come back and visit. You won’t be able to see or touch, but you may sense this loved one.

But is that real?

…some people think so….

Our daughters were barely 2 years old. I had the cold comfort that at least they were too young to remember ever having a mom. That would make losing me easier, right? My throat tightens whenever they sing Daniel Tiger’s “Grownup Come Back.” Not always, I think, no matter how desperately they want to. When I came home from the hospital after an overnight stay, my daughter looked at me with such giant eyes, held my face in her hands and repeated over and over, “Oh Mommy! Oh Mommy! Oh Mommy!” Even at only two years old, she knew something was very wrong.


I was walking down a road no one ever wants to tread, and learning things I never expected to understand about cancer. Here are 6 things that metastatic lung cancer has taught me; 6 lessons I learned the hard way.

1. Non smokers get lung cancer.

Prior to my diagnosis, I thought it was impossible for a nonsmoker to get lung cancer. All the well-meaning anti-smoking campaigns teach us that “smoking causes lung cancer.” Smoking is certainly not good for your health, but I, like many others, took this to mean that non-smokers are immune. Sadly, this is not true, and the one demographic where lung cancer rates is on the rise is in young, female non-smokers. In fact, lung cancer is the most deadly cancer, and kills almost twice as many women as breast cancer.

2. I had almost all the warning signs of lung cancer.

Since lung cancer was nowhere on my radar, I never realized that I was a textbook example of someone with lung cancer.

Persistent cough? Check

Shortness of breath? Check

Wheezing? Check

Chronic fatigue? Huge check

Pain in the chest, shoulder, or back? Check (I thought I must have pulled a muscle, turns out it was a bone metastasis)

Recurrent lung problems such as bronchitis or pneumonia? Check

Weight loss? Check

The only one of the big symptoms I didn’t have was coughing up blood.

3. Trust yourself and be your own advocate.

If something doesn’t seem right with your body, speak up. Every young person I know with lung cancer was originally misdiagnosed with asthma or a chest infection. Keep pushing and asking questions if you sense something wrong, and keep talking until someone listens to you.

4. You can live with stage IV cancer.

I began chemotherapy in July, and within a few weeks my breathing was noticeably improving. I remember picking up my daughter and walking across the yard without even thinking about what I was doing, then grinning from ear to ear when I realized what a giant leap this was for me. The chemo was working! Yes, there were plenty of unpleasant side effects, but I was able to play with my kids again.

Prior to my horrible diagnosis, I had no idea that some people have been able to make stage IV cancer into more of a chronic disease, rather than an immediate death sentence. It means constant treatment, frequent doctor visits, and endless juggling of side effects, but it also means more days on this earth.

5. Research saves lives.

As the shock of my diagnosis started to wear off, I dug into the newest cancer research and started learning about personalized medicine. They are now able to analyze the tumor’s DNA and determine what went wrong to cause the cancer. I pushed my doctor for more testing of my tumor, on the hopeful hunch that this could lead to a better outcome for me. I hit the jackpot and we found the mutation, and there was a targeted medicine that I could take to control my cancer. A year later, I have no active cancer left. I know that this is only temporary and that cancer has a way of evolving to evade this treatment. When that happens, I will pursue other treatments, clinical trials, anything I can find.

It is amazing to think that if I had been diagnosed a few years earlier, I would be dead now. The advances in research are saving my life. Sadly, lung cancer is terribly underfunded, primarily because of the stigma surrounding this disease. I am counting on research to keep advancing and to help me stay ahead of the cancer. If you know someone with lung cancer, please help stop the stigma. Don’t ask, “Did you smoke?”

6. The most important thing in life is the people you love.

I’ve been given the gift of more time. More time to help my babies turn into children, maybe enough time to help them grow into young men and women. More time to spend loving my husband and learning from his amazing ability to roll with the punches and cope with anything life throws at him. I’ve been given the chance to enjoy another summer, another day playing in the leaf pile, another first snowfall. More time to make memories for my children. I give thanks for the moments I get to spend surrounded by the ones I love. In the end, that’s all that really matters.

Tori Tomalia blogs about her lung cancer journey here

Photo courtesy of Edda Photography.


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Help Kids With Learning and Attention Issues (and Their Parents) Feel Understood

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

If your child has ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia (similar to dyslexia, but with math), dysgraphia (which affects writing), dyspraxia (affecting motor skills), or other kinds of learning and attention issues, you don’t need me to tell you how frustrating, scary, sad, and isolating it can be for your child–and for you. Once kids get to school, these issues become even more pronounced and disruptive. And they can have a dramatic impact on their social life, because their self-esteem takes such a big hit. Even some teachers, despite wanting to help their students, don’t always grasp the complexities of learning and attention issues.

What’s missing from the picture is understanding, say experts from all over the country, who have banded together to create a new resource called Understood. Managed by The National Center for Learning Disabilities, has 14 partners, including our friends at the Child Mind Institute, Common Sense Media, and Parents Education Network. This means there’s a wealth of knowledge that went into this site, which aims to create a community of families affected by learning and attention issues and, equally important, help others realize what it feels like to have such an issue.

(You’ll notice I keep saying “learning and attention issues.” Not problems, or disabilities, or disorders. This is intentional. The Understood team, in particular the renowned ADD/ADHD expert Ned Hallowell, M.D., wants to move away from that language, which focuses on what’s missing or wrong.)

The site offers more tools than I can adequately describe. But one uniquely helpful feature is called “Through a Child’s Eyes.” You select an issue (reading, writing, attention, math, organization) and watch a video of a child explain in his or her own words what it’s like to live with it. From there, you experience a simulated version of that issue, so you get a clearer sense of what it truly feels like to deal with it. For instance, to better appreciate attention issues, you play a sort of matching game that requires you to listen closely to the teacher’s instructions (“Put the monkey card on the picture of the rhino”), which become increasingly harder to hear as more background noise and other distractions take center stage. Immediately you get it: This is what it’s like for a child to try and focus when her brain won’t filter anything out. It’s an incredibly eye-opening tool not only for parents and educators, but I’m guessing for children who don’t have these issues, too. One of my children has a friend with dyslexia; I want her to do the simulation for reading issues so she can finally understand what it’s like for him to try and make sense of words.

There are 8.5 million students in the United States who are getting services without a formal diagnosis, says Mark Griffin, one of Understood’s experts and a former headmaster (for 34 years!) at one of the country’s top schools for children who have learning and attention issues. The parents of these kids are among the ones the organization wants to reach. Can you imagine what will be accomplished once those children are finally… understood?

Image: Portrait of despairing adolescent boy in school classroom via Shutterstock.

Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder
Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder
Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder

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#CheckYourself for Breast Health

Monday, October 27th, 2014

As we near the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’ve got an important message about a new campaign from our friends at the Avon Foundation. This post is written by Marc Hurlbert, Ph.D., executive director of the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade.

You’re constantly checking things: your baby’s diapers and bottle temperature; your school-age kid’s lunch box and report cards; your own checking account balance, emails, and social media accounts. But you also need to take time to #CheckYourself for breast health, since 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.

#CheckYourself is a new breast health education tool created by the Avon Foundation and launched in partnership with Paula Abdul, who created a really cool dance video to remind you to #CheckYourself. Adbul’s sister is a breast-cancer survivor and featured in the video; the sisters have a particularly moving moment at the end (the photo above captures it). The #CheckYourself program aims to cut through the confusion related to screening strategies and encourages women to take control of their own breast health with three simple steps:  1.) Know Your Risks. 2.) Know Your Body. 3.) Talk To Your Doctor.

Talk to your doctor about your risk of breast cancer, and remember that only 15 percent of cases run in families. Ask your doctor at what age you should start mammography screening and how often to get screened.  #CheckYourself provides you with resources and support if you are one of the 1.6 million women each year that need a breast biopsy, or one of the 250,000 women or men diagnosed with breast cancer. (That’s right; men can get breast cancer too, though it’s rare.)

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women, with nearly 1.7 million new cases globally this year—and 232,670 new cases in the United States alone. Since 1992, the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade has been working tirelessly to help prevent, treat, and ultimately eradicate this disease. We will continue to generate awareness and fuel important research to save more lives—such as our recent Racial Disparity in Breast Cancer Mortality Study, which found a black:white disparity in breast cancer mortality in 29 U.S. cities, or our partnership with the Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) Alliance, which just released a landmark report that finds MBC research is underfunded and identifies opportunities to close gaps for people living with metastatic breast cancer.

Many women ask if they should still do monthly breast self-exams (BSE). BSE are certainly one way to check yourself each month, starting in your 20s; some women feel comfortable with them because they involve a step-by-step approach to examining the way your breasts look and feel at regular intervals (such as monthly, after your period). Other women are more comfortable simply feeling their breasts in a less systematic approach, such as while showering or getting dressed or doing an occasional thorough exam. Sometimes women are so concerned about “doing it right” that they stress over the technique.

The American Cancer Society now recommends monthly breast self-exams as optional. Studies have not shown routine BSE to be more effective than finding a breast lump by chance. It’s important to know what is normal for your breasts. The goal—with or without BSE—is to report any breast changes to a doctor or nurse right away.

Women of any age can get breast cancer, even young women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. The majority of breast cancer cases occur in women between 50 and 64 years—but 25% of cases occur in women younger than 50.  As a parent with a busy life, just remember that in addition to all the things you must check on in your life, take time to #CheckYourself.

Photo courtesy of the Avon Foundation.


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