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Phasing Out Flossing?

As a journalist, I get lots of press releases that pop into my inbox. This week I was inundated with folks reacting to and pitching stories about an Associated Press investigation about flossing. Seems the AP story says there is “little proof” that flossing is beneficial. This blows my mind!

One of the reasons I went ahead and got Invisalign braces is the fact that I would get huge chunks of food caught in between my back teeth. It was so annoying. It was also affecting the health of my gums. I flossed all the time, but my gums would still occasionally get irritated. Now that I have the aligners I floss even more frequently since food stuck between teeth plus aligners equals pain. So do I agree with the new no-floss recommendations? Heck no!

I read an excellent story on Slate about the flossing debacle. I highly recommend it because it looks at the whole idea of medical studies and how most are sponsored by the product or company that is being investigated. Even that author, who decided that maybe she would ditch flossing, ended her story with a question from her husband: “What about the food between your teeth?”

And that’s the rub. If you stop flossing you stop removing the little pieces of vegetables, meat and fruit that get caught in your teeth. Not to mention seeds, popcorn kernels and ground up carbs. Forget the health of your gums for a moment. When you leave that stuff alone it ferments and rots, making your breath smell awful. That said, I intend to keep flossing. How about you?


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Review: Dr. Eureka

Those pesky balls are tough to control!

Those pesky balls are tough to control!

The folks over at Blue Orange Games — the manufacturer of our other favorite game, Doodle Quest — sent me Dr. Eureka a few months back. Although we’ve played it many times over the summer, this is the first chance I’m getting to review it. In three words: We loved it!

The game is designed for kids and adults ages 8 and up, but we’ve played it with kids as young as six. (The six-year-old actually did better than some of the adults!) The company describes the game like this: “Players pass colorful molecules between test tubes to match the pattern on a challenge card, building both cognitive processing and dexterity skills. Play it alone or at a party with friends, Dr. Eureka is your best bet for some crazy molecule juggling fun!”

What does that mean? Everyone gets three little plastic tubes and six colored balls — two of each color. The game also comes with 54 cards that show different variations of the little balls sitting in the test tubes. For instance, it might have no balls in one, four in another and two in the last tube. When a card is flipped over, everyone has to work as quickly and carefully as possible to duplicate what’s on that card without touching the balls or letting them drop.Do either and you’re out of the game! The first person to match the pattern on the card wins.

What I love about this game is that it makes you think. You’ve got to think about how you can best move the balls from tube to tube in the fewest number of steps. Do you pour four of them into one tube and manipulate the other two? Do you try and work from the bottom? The whole process might sound easy, but moving those balls from tube to tube is much more challenging than you’d think! Your fine motor skills definitely get a workout. “The tubes are so narrow,” was something one of the adults actually said out loud!

We’ve played it about four or five times and have not gotten to the end of the 54-card deck, but I do wonder if there are any additional permutations (and add-on packs) that we can buy. In the meantime, it’s definitely one of those games that everyone can get behind. Good clean summer fun — just make sure you play in an area that doesn’t have a lot of furniture. Those little balls tend to roll far if you drop them.


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And the Award Goes to…

The dust-gatherers now gathering dust in my office.

The dust-gatherers now gathering dust in my office.

My kids are 12 and 8. They have been playing sports since they were little. They aren’t superstars. And yet we have more than 20 trophies sitting in our home. Trophies that take up room, gather dust and are pretty much meaningless.

We’ve got trophies for kindergarten CYO basketball, our beach club’s swim team, the National PTA Reflections contest, a first grade soccer tournament and cheerleading. Last month the girls and I cleaned their rooms. All those trophies ended up sitting in the hallway of our upstairs. The girls didn’t want them cluttering up their shelves. Mommy, they said, we don’t need them. No kidding, I thought. No kidding.

I have been against giving out trophies since we got the first shiny plastic and stone monstrosity complete with a little soccer ball. (That one was for participating in a local peewee soccer program that didn’t even have games!) My biggest complaint has always been that trophies should be for real accomplishments. Big wins. Amazing feats of prowess — academic or athletic. You don’t need a trophy to commemorate ten weeks of kindergarten sports skills classes!

I’m not the only one who feels this way. For instance, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison created a firestorm last year when he posted on Instagram about taking away trophies his little ones got. The photo was accompanied by this post: “I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues”

I totally agree and wish others did, but alas, I am in the minority. For example, a few years ago I ran our elementary school’s Reflections program and I championed phasing out the trophies. We could give out ribbons and medals, I said. It would be cheaper, I said! It didn’t fly. The trophies were ordered, and I silently cursed the fact that I would have another four of them in my house. (My kids tend to do well at those types of contests.)

But I digress, as usual. When my kids handed over their shiny loot I took to the Internet to find out if I could recycle them. Yes, I discovered, there are companies that will recycle trophies, but I couldn’t find any close by. Today I posted on Facebook and a friend sent me a link about a place WAY out east that takes them and refurbishes them for charities. It’s about an hour away from my home, but it may be worth the trip just to get them out of my sight. In the meantime, I know I am blessed that my kids are able to be involved with sports and contests to earn trophies at all. There are many children who don’t have the same opportunities. Does that earn me a medal?

What’s your take on trophies? I’d like to know.

My children are milk white just like their mother. The kind of milk white that burns and never tans — ever. It’s sort of sad, really, especially since I am half Italian on my mother’s side. She is not milk white. She gets so dark in the summer that, way back when, someone asked her if she was our babysitter as she pushed me and my sister on the local park swings.

Anyway, we have always been vigilant about slathering our kids with sunscreen. They wear 30 SPF cream — whatever scores the best on the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Sunscreens. This year, however, my older daughter has been balking about having us sunscreen her, especially in public. Yesterday was Fourth of July. My family spent an entire day at our local beach club. We were out the door at 8:45 a.m. to ride in the parade and didn’t get home until after 11. We attempted to sunscreen her multiple times. She insisted she could handle it herself. I even texted her sunscreen reminders several times throughout the day. (I had to leave the party between 11 and 4 to help my mother with something.) She did a pretty good job except for one place — the small of her back. By the time we got home she was beet red and crying. She got a major sunburn.

What is sunburn? It’s a biological response to getting too much ultraviolet light. Basically, the skin’s RNA is damaged so it creates an inflammatory response. The more damage you have, the more lobster-like you become. We treated my poor girl with aloe vera gel, which is clinically proven to help skin — and teeth and gums — start healing. I also told her to up her water consumption since the body needs lots of hydration when it’s burned. Finally, we discussed the advice of experts about when and how much sunscreen you need. From a recent press release about consumer confusion around sunscreen:

“We recommend you buy a sunscreen lotion labeled ‘broad spectrum protection’ — which helps to protect against both types of UV rays — with an SPF of 30 or higher that is also water resistant. SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of the UVB radiation. But, you need to reapply it every two hours, using about a shot glass full of lotion over your exposed skin, for the best results,” explains Dr. Roopal Kundu, an associate professor in dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a dermatologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

My big girl plans on staying out of the sun this week. We’ve also come to an agreement about sunscreen. She has to let us apply the first thick layer and, if she’s not going to let us reapply it to her back and shoulders — she’s going to wear a swim shirt. She’s not thrilled about this, but I’m not thrilled that she’s increased her risk of getting skin cancer over her lifetime, according to the Skin Cancer Association. It’s a tough lesson to learn at any age.

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You Will Find Your People

This week Big Girl started taking finals. She goes in for two hours and comes home. Yesterday, she was home by 10:30. I had planned to work in the morning and take off midday to do something fun with her. We decided to go for a walk in the preserve.

Lazily chatting and ambling along, over time Big Girl shared some stories that made me very upset. Girls — who I know — who teased her. A boy came over to her on a dare and asked her for half her sandwich as his friends stood by laughing. I was so angry and hurt for her.

My first mamma bear instinct was to spew hateful comments about those kids, but after thinking about it a moment, I took a deep breath and gave her better advice. “Those are not your people. One day you will find your people — if you haven’t already.”

I explained that everyone has their “people,” those who are like them in spirit and thought. It usually takes some time to find your people, but when you do it’s amazing. Not all of the people you call your friends will be your people. Family can be your people. Friends. Teachers. Some may be much older than you. Some may be younger. Some may be female; some may be male. You may have one or many, but they are out there and you will find them. Your people.

I used examples from my own life. You could be “friends” with someone, for instance, but know all along that they are not your people and never will be. You can think certain friends are your people, but find out some day that they are not. However, when you do find your people, you need to treasure them. Those are the ones who will carry you through, fight for you and love you — in thick and thin.

Those girls who were being mean, I said, don’t matter. Ignore them. Forget them. Feel sorry for them. They haven’t found their people, either. If they had they wouldn’t be making fun of kids. They wouldn’t have to feed their egos by hurting others. They wouldn’t be so angry and closed off. They wouldn’t act the way they do. And then I put my arm around her and told her to look around and enjoy. She told me then that they didn’t bother her, those girls, and we started talking about something else.

My big girl has met a lot of new people this year, her first in middle school. She also has many friends from elementary school. I wonder if any of them are her people. I hope they are. Have you met your people yet?

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Afraid of Open Windows

I could go so many ways with this blog; There are so many definitions of an open window. For instance, I could use it for a metaphor for my life except…in this case I am actually talking about my own daughter who is afraid of open windows. Glass and wood windows. Those things on every apartment, building or house.

How did I find this out? It has been gloriously nice in New York. It’s not too hot during the day and still cool at night. Perfect sleeping weather, actually. For instance, last night it went down to 59 degrees. Two weeks ago we discussed turning on the central air, but my point of view was, why so soon? It’s not hot enough yet, I said. Besides, I remembered all those nights I spent sleeping with the windows open — listening to the rustle of leaves and sound of crickets and wanted my kids to have the same experience. After debating the topic for a few minutes we decided to delay the AC, at least for a little while. My little one did not like this plan, though.

The first night the windows were open she got extremely agitated, begging me to close and lock her windows. She was afraid, she said, that someone would come in. It was too scary, she said. Watching the curtains moving upset her. Besides, it was SO dark outside. “Please, Mama! Please close the window!”

I tried to reason with her. No one could get in, I told her. We would hear if someone tried. Besides, the dog would literally kill anyone who tried to enter the house. Then I tried appealing to her comfort. The cool air felt so good. Keeping the windows closed meant the heat from the day would stay inside and make sleeping difficult. But none of these logical arguements appeased her. The windows had to be closed, she said. She was so upset so I shut and locked them, shaking my head the entire time.

It’s my fault, of course. I have always been so nutty when it comes to locking doors and windows and putting our alarm on. I even wedge a piece of wood in our sliding glass door when we’re not using it. Everything in the house is set up to thwart a would-be intruder. I know my extreme security focus is a reaction from childhood.

While the windows being open at night didn’t scare me, the fact that we had to put a chair against the back door at night — and my mom slept with a bat under the bed — made an impression. So did the time someone looked in our window! Our doberman chased whoever it was off pretty quickly, but it was scary. And then there was the time when, soon after my husband and I moved into our first house, someone removed the screen in the bathroom and pushed open the window as we lay sleeping only 20 feet away. We woke to our dog barking incessantly. We couldn’t figure out where she was. We found her outside. She had leaped out the window after the person, and chased him or her out of our yard. It was an experience that still makes me shudder.

Still, yes people do crazy things and security is important, but I wonder if — in my quest to keep my kids safe — I have made them feel inherently unsafe. I wonder if my caution has created more fear than there should be.

Right now I am sitting in my office with my window wide open. There’s a soft breeze blowing in. I opened all the windows in the bedrooms, too. And yet the front door is locked, and the wood is in the sliding glass door. Very soon it will become too hot in New York for my air conditioning-raised kids and husband to contemplate sleeping with the windows open, so the decision will be made for us. In the meantime, do I keep trying to sleep with the windows open? I hate to say it, but probably not. It’s just too traumatic for my daughter. Sigh.

Do you sleep with the windows open? Do you worry about it if you do? I’d like to know.

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Letting Go of the Shoes

When my first child was born I was so delighted when the midwife announced I had a little girl. All along I had secretly wished for a girl, even though I wasn’t sure I was actually capable of raising one. I was so afraid I would pass along my idiosyncrasies and issues. (I digress, as we’ve discussed this here before.) But from the moment I held her in my arms I was thrilled to be the mother of a girl. Once we were home, I played with her and sang to her and read to her. We rocked in the rocking chair and took long walks. We went to baby classes. I watched her sleep. We chatted constantly, and I whispered to her all the things I wanted her to know about the world. We had so much fun together. Clothing — something I never cared much about for myself — became part of our fun. I even staged little personal fashion shows where I would dress her in different outfits and take photos.

Right from the start many of the outfits were from Gymboree, a clothing store that sells cute matching outfits complete with bows, socks and shoes. I was a little addicted, to be honest. I purchased all the new lines as they came out and, when I got smart, bought things when they were 75 percent off. Sometimes, I even went on eBay to buy missing accessories and shoes if I couldn’t find them in the stores or outlet. As a result, my little girl had dozens of shoes, headbands and bows. Dozens.

This weekend my little one had her first communion. I went up into the attic to get the white, pristine shoes her sister wore at her first communion. (They were too big, but that’s not really relevant to this story.) While I was up in the attic I came across a box of little shoes I forgot I had. Many of them were the tiny Gymboree shoes that went with all those pretty outfits, long given away to friends, family or charities. I brought  the box downstairs and put it aside. Today, I spent time looking through them. Not obsessively. Just spending enough time to take a brief walk down the cliched memory lane.

Those shoes reminded me of holding my little red-haired baby. So squishy and chubby and sweet. They reminded me of all the fun we had. They reminded me of how proud I have always been to be her mother. Of her first words and first hugs. Of looking at her and having my heart ache because it was filled with so much love. They also reminded me how quickly time is passing. I walked into her bedroom, looking around at the mix of grownup debris and little girl toys. I thought about the young woman she is becoming. She is an excellent student. She draws. She plays piano and French horn well enough to play in the All County concert. She’s funny. She’s creative. She sews. Yes, she has some of my idiosyncrasies and issues. She’s anxious and worries about things. She’s very sensitive. She takes a while to warm up. And in that moment I realized how much I still enjoy being her mother, even when we drive each other crazy. And that I was wrong to fear being a mother of a girl.

As I sit here with rubber bands, tying the shoes together so I can drop them off to the charity thrift shop, I hope the next mother who holds them in her hands has as much fun with her tiny daughter as I did with mine. I hope she realizes how quickly it passes and enjoys every moment. It’s what being a parent is all about.

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For a Reason or a Season

A few weeks ago I went to a past life regression event with some old Gymboree friends. It was an interesting night. As a Catholic, I am not supposed to believe in anything mystical or other life-ly. We die and go to Heaven. That’s that. It’s what I teach my religion students and my kids. But as a curious human, though, I’m not so sure what I believe. Why do we have instant connections with some and instant dislike of others? Why do we tend to run into people randomly again and again in our lives? Are they ghosts or spirits we have run into over and over again in past lives? Lots of people would say yes, this is the case.

Sometimes, I wonder myself, especially when crazy coincidences and weird random meetings happen. For instance, about two months ago I went to a middle school event in my town. I was feeling very down and sad. Also, dizzy. I needed a break, so I went to the bathroom. When I came back I caught the eye of the woman sitting directly behind me. She hadn’t been there before. Her smile grew wide as she recognized me. It was Jodi, a good friend I know from the time before I had kids.

We met when I was in my 20s. She and I carried our first kids at the same time. Our daughters were born only weeks apart. Soon after, I taught mommy-and-me yoga at her wellness studio. (An important milestone for me since it ushered in a golden age in my life — what I call the Gymboree years.) The friendship lasted until she closed her studio, moved away and lost touch. I ran into her again when I was pregnant with my second. I was searching for the HypnoBirthing educator I used the first go-around. When I dialed the phone number I found on the web my friend, Jodi answered the phone. How random! How weird! She rented a room to the educator, she told me. At the time, we marveled at how fate had brought us back together again, but we never ended up meeting up. Life was just too busy. She was pregnant again, too and lived pretty far away. And yet almost a dozen years later here she was sitting behind me again.

We started chatting and it turns out she lives on the same street as one of my close friends. More than 30 miles away! She was only at the event to support another friend. It’s such a small world, we agreed. And then I wondered: Why did we meet up again? What am I supposed to learn from her — or her from me? The universe thinks we have unfinished business, I assumed, so we exchanged phone numbers and promised to get together soon.

And that kind of thing happens to me a lot. People come in and out of my life for a season or a reason. Some may stick around longer than others, but they all have something in common. Those who make a difference or change me usually provoke something that others don’t– a feeling, a connection. I feel like we were meant to meet. They almost instantly feel like a member of my family. They are more than just friends or acquaintances. They are soulmates. This is probably why, when they leave my orbit, my heart breaks a little bit. And why I wonder if we were connected in another life or time, because how else can you explain such coincidences and feelings?

Getting back to the regression: That night I — along with about 20 other people — followed the directions given by the woman, who was a self-identified multigenerational witch. It was strange but during the regression I got a vision of myself living in Paris wearing wooden shoes and lots of rings and jewelry. I was wealthy and had two children — a boy and a girl. Later, as I sat there chatting with my friends in a tea room I wondered out loud if it was the power of suggestion coupled with the fact that I had just listened to quite a bit of historical fiction. Do I believe I lived before in France? I’m not sure, but it was a fun night with friends nonetheless.

And that brings me full circle. What’s your take on mysticism and regression? I’d like to know.

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Bracing Myself — Again

I wore braces when I was a teenager. After having four teeth pulled and enduring three years of monthly tightening, annoying rubber bands and wires that cut into my cheeks and lips, they were removed. I had beautiful, straight teeth. I didn’t wear my retainer, though, so my teeth slowly moved out of their newly minted alignment.

Since my top teeth still looked pretty good, it wasn’t a big deal to me, though. But then recently, I started biting my bottom lip with my incisor, which sticks out a bit past the rest. Then I started having issues with two back teeth, which moved apart and required quite a bit of flossing. QUITE a bit. It was time to do something. When my husband’s new dental insurance included adult orthodontic benefits, I took it as a sign. I would go back to the orthodontist.

This time, however, wires weren’t in my future. I opted for Invisalign, a series of aligner trays that can be removed — perfect for adults! The process of getting my aligners was a complex one. First, I was scanned with a special scanner, which took images of every one of my 24 teeth — front, back and top. Then, I had 360-degree x-rays taken as well as digital photos of my mouth, smile and jaw. All in all it was about two hours of holding my mouth open. Six weeks later, my dentist was holding 23 aligner trays that were created especially for me. I picked the first three up six days ago. So far, so good.

What’s it like? Wearing Invisalign feels like wearing a bra on your teeth. A really tight sports bra. That’s the only way to describe it. All tucked in and held rigidly. Otherwise, I don’t know they are there. You can’t really see them, but I do talk a little funny. I lisp a bit and sound a little garbled when I have them in. The first few days also brought a little soreness as well as some cuts and scrapes on my tongue and cheeks. I also got a little cut on my gum line. I used dental wax to fix those issues, though, so I’m feeling a bit better now.

So far, I have been able to wear my aligners 22 to 23 hours a day, taking them out to eat and brush my teeth. I also take them out at work when I do interviews and moderate webinars. Otherwise, they’re in there working their magic. The dentist says I have between 230 and 322 days in them, depending on how compliant I am. The more you wear them, the quicker the treatment goes. Since I’m really pushing for seven months rather than 11, I try to wear them as much as possible. No matter what, though, I am looking forward to having straighter teeth some time soon. And this time, when I am done I promise I’ll wear my retainer!

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My paperboard hoard that will soon be going to my town's official recycling location.

My paperboard hoard that will soon be going to my town’s official recycling location.

My town has a decent recycling program. We put glass, paper, aluminum and plastic into our bins. There’s one thing that’s missing, though. Two, actually — cardboard and paperboard, the stuff they use to make food boxes. Until recently I took my recycling to the max by saving all the boxes and packaging I could, and dropping it off in a neighboring town, which recycles both. I did it once night had fallen. The recycle bins were at the curb, but I still prayed no one saw me and questioned what I was doing. Yes, I know how crazy that sounds, but it just seemed like a sin to throw out boxes when I could drop them in a recycling bin less than a mile away. (An interesting fact from RecycleAcrossAmerica.com: Recycling cardboard only takes 75% of the energy needed to make new cardboard.)

This weekend we got a newsletter from my town that will basically change my recycling life. It is starting a cardboard and paperboard recycling program! There will be three drop-off locations that will be open on Saturday mornings. Whoohoo!

I posted on Facebook and two other really nice moms shared the information. One of them posted to her own timeline that now she can stop being a hoarder, too. (Seems she also saved her cardboard and paperboard, except she didn’t have to hide it. She took her stuff to a commercial recycling place about ten miles from her house.) The other mom, realizing that most people don’t have the time to go to the drop-off location, suggested that we create a collection point in our neighborhood. This, she said, would encourage more people to recycle. I was so excited that two moms care about the same things I do. It was a revelation. I have felt like a recycling weirdo for a while now.

Case in point: A few years ago someone asked me why I bothered. One person couldn’t make a real difference, she said. At the time I simply ignored the message. I disagreed. This weekend’s Facebook experiences shows me that yes, one voice coupled with others does make a difference in the end. In fact, I have a feeling that if this program goes well they will expand the program to our curbside recycling — at least I hope they will. And the best part for me? No more clandestine, late night drop offs. I can recycle publicly now! How exciting!

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