Sanity-Saving Rainy Day Craft

Written by: on Sunday, June 18th, 2017
Craft for Kids

Try this cute educational project for young kids—to keep their minds occupied, without using the computers or iPads!

Summer vacation is around the corner, which—if you’re like me—inspires a bit of panic in parents everywhere. If you’re thinking of ways to occupy your kids (in my case, three of them!) during the long summer months ahead, try this rainy day craft from education.com. (My kids love it when I ring the doorbell and call myself “Miss V”, a summertime teacher whom their “mom” [aka me!] hired to come teach them for the summer. This craft will be on “Miss V’s” summertime to-do list.)

Phonics Eel

Learning the double “ee” is a big project. It’s pretty strange, if you think about it: double a “t” or an “l” and the sound doesn’t change … but doubling an “e” is a bit more difficult. I’ll be doing this with my kindergartener and my fourth grader; they can work together on this.

What You Need

  • 4-5 cardboard toilet paper tubes
  • Tempera glitter paint and paintbrush
  • 2 wiggly eyes
  • 2 cardboard egg cups, cut from an egg carton
  • 1 24″ strip of elastic, 1/2″ wide
  • Black sharpie pen
  • Small strip of red felt
  • Craft glue
  • Round stickers in a coordinating color (optional; available at office supply stores)

What You Do

  1. Start by painting the toilet paper tubes and egg cups with the glitter paint. If you want to go with a “realistic” look, you might try black, brown, or green paint, but feel free to branch out, perhaps even to hot pink, or purple, or both. While you’re at it, your child might even choose a name for this eel creature.
  2. While the toilet paper tubes are drying, cut a “tongue” from red felt, about ½” x 2” long. If the felt seems thin, go ahead and make two layers, and glue them securely onto the end of the elastic.
  3. Put a small hole in the bottom of each egg cup, large enough so that the elastic can fit through it.
  4. Once the tubes are dry, cut each one in half, leaving 8-10 tubes, each about 3” long. Explain that these are your “ee” tubes, and brainstorm these words with your child. Help him write a different “ee” word on each tube, making sure that one of the tubes, which will go in the front, says “eel.” (Hint: try green, keep, deep, seep, creep, feel, reel, heel, wheel, tree…) If you also want to add stickers, now is a good time, too.
  5. Now it’s time to string your eel together. Start by running the elastic through the bottom of one egg cup until it hits the edge of the red tongue, facing out. This will be the eel’s head; glue on two googly eyes to complete the effect.
  6. Then string the tubes, starting with the one that says “eel.” Go all the way to the end of the tubes, and then poke the elastic through the other egg cup. Keep it straight but not taut, and knot it off or staple it securely.
  7. Want to make the eel “slither”? Grab the tongue, pull the elastic to tighten the eel, and then let go…

Good luck! And Happy Summer!

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Recognizing the Humanity in Each of Us

Written by: on Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

No matter what Higher Power you recognize or what religion you celebrate (or not), we all share a common thread of humanity—why I love this video:

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A Prayer for our Children & for Our Country

Written by: on Sunday, November 6th, 2016

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-child-prayer-image4455925The U.S. election is driving us all crazy. Everyone is on edge. Everyone—no matter what their political affiliation—is anxious. But what’s even more disturbing: there’s an undercurrent of anger and hate rising to the surface of our American society that is pervading our hearts, our families, and our country.

As a mother of three young children, this anger and hate scares me. It’s keeping me up at night as I worry for my children and for our country. Churches are being burned. People are screaming insults at others who are different from them, in looks and in beliefs. Political signs are being stolen and being booby trapped. Children are yelling offensive words at other children who are different from them. Swastikas are showing up around the country with increased frequency.

A culture of hate is rearing its ugly head. This hate has been spewed throughout this election; it feeds on anger, spawns violence and disrespect, and breeds intolerance. It is in opposition to the very values upon which America was created, that “all men are created equal”.

Of course, racist, bigoted, misogynistic, violent tendencies have always simmered beneath the surface of society. But, during this election, it has become acceptable to speak and act like this. And this culture of hate is spreading as it gains acceptance—like a contagious virus—among more and more people.

The Scottish journalist/poet Charles Mackey famously concluded that “men…go mad in herds.” And no wonder. It’s easy to absorb the negativity when we’re among others who are angry and shouting, but at some point, we need to take a step back and reflect on what our own hearts are saying. We need to stop and understand what this hate and anger is doing to the very fabric of our society. And most important, we need to stop and understand what it is doing to our children.

Our children hear and our children see hateful words and actions—and they process it as being okay.

Bullying is on the rise in schools around the country. One mother shared with me that, while watching a soccer game, she overheard one child calling an opposing teammate a “stupid Muslim”. “You’re getting shipped back to Mexico” is what some kids shouted to a group of Latino children.

No matter how much we reassure children that this hate won’t affect them, this is what is keeping them up at night. My own Guatemalan nephew—an American citizen and middle schooler—worries that he’s not a true American and is going to get shipped back to Guatemala without his family.

We are a country built on immigrants. We are all descended from immigrants yet THIS. How quickly we forget.

Even the latest Starbucks coffee cup—a drawing of different people all connected with a single line to show that, as humans, we are all connected—is being angrily criticized as being “political brainwashing”.

Since when has humanity—and the realization that we are all humans, together, in this thing called life—become politics?

And call me naïve, but why does the very essence of who we are as humans—no matter what color our skin, what person we decide to marry, what language we speak, or what religion we worship—have to become embroiled in politics?

Our differences now define us more than our similarities.

It is time to take a moment to stop, step away from the mob mentality, put our political affiliation “badge” aside, and follow our conscience and our hearts. As I say to my young daughter: “Always do what feels good to you on your inside.”

Under the hate, anger, and violence, I do optimistically believe that we can all respect each other—again. But we must work hard at cultivating it. And we must have leaders that cultivate it.

Every night, I say a prayer with my daughter and my sons before bed: “May truth, honesty, integrity, morality, justice, and kindness prevail.” I say the same prayer for our children, for our country, and for this election. May we banish the culture of anger, violence, intolerance, and disrespect from our hearts—for us, for our children, and for this country: “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.

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A Common Sense Approach to Guns (from a Gun Owner)

Written by: on Friday, December 4th, 2015

I’m tired of hearing how there’s nothing that can be done about guns—that we have a right to “bear arms”. Well, one guy: a legal gun owner, at that, had some pretty common sense things to say about it. Take a look:

 

 

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No, Chipotle Doesn’t Make You Chubby

Written by: on Thursday, September 3rd, 2015
ChubbyChipotle

When you see a full-page ad attacking a business that’s been doing extremely well, become very suspicious.

So, I was catching up on the New York Post this morning—and was amazed to come across this full page ad basically bashing Chipotle. Hmm…I thought. Chipotle has been doing extremely well and businesses like McDonald’s have been doing poorly, shutting down restaurants around the country and laying off employees. “Could McDonald’s be behind this?” I thought. “Why else would anyone spend this kind of money to bash Chipotle in a way-too-obvious attempt to negate all the positive feedback Chipotle has been getting.” Or it might be Monsanto: king of the push for GMO’s that’s not doing too well either (Chipotle has vowed to go non-GMO). Some big money group is definitely behind a full-page ad, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars…if not more.

Turns out my suspicions are justified: This ChubbyChipotle ad is the work of a seemingly innocuous and “helpful” group called The Center for Consumer Freedom, a “nonprofit coalition which opposes activist interference with and legal restrictions on the sale of food and drink, etc…” (according to their website). The only problem: this group is one of many created by Washington, D.C. Public Relations (PR) executive and lawyer, Rick Berman, who heads up a PR group called Berman and Company.

No surprise as I dug deeper, Rick Berman is paid for by big money; while you would never get hold of his client list (most companies have their clients front and center on their websites; this guy supposedly firewalls his list so no one knows whom he represents). This is the same guy behind other websites opposing PETA, GreenPeace, unions, raising the minimum wage, and regulation of trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Click on this independent website to get a bit more background information on this guy (warning: it ain’t pretty).

Chipotle burrito

Burritos can be healthy for you—but don’t load them up with high-calorie cheese and sour cream.

First of all, when it comes to weight gain—eating too much of ANYTHING can make you fat. But choosing Chipotle for your meals definitely won’t make you chubby unless you’re eating 2 giant burritos, plus chips, plus a giant soda at every meal. Moderation is the key to healthy eating and keeping your weight stable. And beans, rice, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, and a variety of other healthy ingredients that make up Chipotle’s delicious menu are good for you. (Yes, I’m a Chipotle fan—as well as being an advocate for the truth when it comes to your health and wellbeing).

And when it comes to ads like this, dig deeper because there’s some spinmaster at work behind the ad, trying to make you believe something other than what your gut is telling you is right.

Bottom line: when it comes to your health, always, always trust your gut. If you believe, for example, that organic food is healthiest for your family—don’t listen to the cacophony of negatives against organic food saying that organics are no better than foods sprayed with pesticides. If you believe that genetically modified (GMO) foods aren’t good for your health, stick to your guns because there will be plenty of these ads—and even research studies paid for by these companies not telling the entire truth—based on spinning the truth to make you believe that companies like Monsanto are good and are actually there to feed the world and help prevent hunger. (Not)

Your gut is all you have to rely on because where there’s big money, there are big lobbying groups like Berman and Company working to spin the information so they can all make big money (and you’re left with a host of diseases 10/15 years from now).

As a matter of record, I have received no money from Chipotle to write this post—and in fact, have never received anything free from Chipotle. I choose to eat there with my family because I know it’s healthy food—and the ingredients are fresh. My kids love it. And what’s more: none of us are chubby.

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Best. Sunscreen. Ever.

Written by: on Thursday, July 30th, 2015
Sunscreen Application

You need to apply—and reapply—sunscreen all over the body…to prevent skin damage.

Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays is just about the worst thing for your skin (besides smoking). The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are essentially radiation that’s penetrating your skin, right down to the deeper layers. Not only can this mess with your DNA (your genetic mapping that determines how your cells should act)—which can trigger mutations and even skin cancer—it also depletes collagen and elastin in the skin. These are the skin-firming proteins that make skin look more youthful looking. (It’s when collagen and elastin get depleted that skin starts to sag and lose its youthful fullness.) The sun’s UV rays also cause hyperpigmentation (age spots and freckles), rough skin, fine lines and wrinkles, and more.

While not going out in the skin ever is probably the best thing for your skin, it’s just about impossible to do that—particularly if you’ve got kids in swim lessons (outdoors) and in other various activities (like me) that necessitates being out in the sun.

I don’t use chemical sunscreens on my skin or on my kids’ skin. There are just too many questions about the chemicals being absorbed into the skin and showing up in urine. (It begs the question: what could those harmful chemicals be doing to your body—or to a child’s body—over time.)

Enter Raw Elements.

 

Organic, natural sunscreen

When it comes to the beach and the pool and being outdoors, this sunscreen delivers serious protection.

Raw Elements simply makes the best sunscreen. This is a physical, not chemical, sunblock. I swear by this stuff. It’s organic, cruelty-free, non GMO certified, has non nano particles (so nothing penetrates the skin), offers UVA and UVB protection, and not one member of my family has gotten a sunburn yet despite plenty of time spent in the pool (it’s super water resistant) and playing tennis. (I used this last year as well with the same results.) You can find it lots of places online, including amazon.com—where a 3-ounce tube (which lasts about a month or maybe a little less for my entire family) costs $13.74. Another favorite natural skin-care website where I buy this is carenonline (they often have 20% off sales, which brings the prices down).

What’s even better: I can slather this ALL over my kids’ faces … and it never irritates eyes. Have I said how much I love this stuff? (A side note: my 11-year-old son just wants a “spray” sunscreen like all the other kids…and wants me to say he thinks this stuff is too white on the skin. If you rub it in well, this whiteness tones down. But doesn’t bother me—or my younger kids. No chemical sprays in this house!)

Update: I got a call from the Raw Elements people after my post; they suggested that my son try their Raw Elements Eco Tint Stick 30+ tinted sunscreen. I purchased it (see note below) and my son loves this! I have to say I love it too…it’s not white but matches up pretty well to skin tone (it still needs to be rubbed in, though). It’s perfect for the face.

Another Raw Elements fave that I just tried: Eco Formula 30+ Lotion in a recyclable tin (plastic-free packaging); it’s beyond easy to apply and you can use up every last bit. I’m buying some more to finish out the summer (this—and the Eco Tint Stick 30+—will be perfect sunscreens for skiing too!).

(Note: I have bought all these sunscreen products, and have received nothing free—and no discounts—to say I love this stuff!)

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Watch This, Get Motivated

Written by: on Thursday, April 9th, 2015

I love watching this video…and have watched it (and shared it) numerous times. When you’re feeling down about your life—or anything—this woman’s words can lift you up!

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Follow Your Heart…and Your Dreams

Written by: on Friday, January 30th, 2015

Follow your passion…and you’ll never regret it, why I love this video!

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Why You (& All Women) Need to Lift Weights…Starting Today

Written by: on Friday, January 16th, 2015
Woman lifting weight

All women should be lifting weights for strength, balance, bone building, and a dose of confidence.

If you’re like most women, you probably head to the gym for a power workout—completely avoiding the weight floor. Or maybe you have a pair of handheld weights that you do some arm exercises with…when you get the chance (but you’ve been doing the same moves with the same weight for as long as you can remember).

If this sounds like you, you’re missing out on the key benefits of weight training, say experts like Paula Burger, a personal trainer based in Ft. Lauderdale. “I can’t stress the importance enough of why women—particularly as we get older—should be weight training,” says Burger. “As a woman, your body wants to lose muscle mass every year—and you gain weight because of it. Plus, your hormones are all over the place: your estrogen and testosterone [yes, even women have some] are dropping and you have to lift heavier weights, eat less, and work harder than ever to keep the weight off.”

But consistent weight training can shift the momentum—significantly. Studies conducted by Wayne Westcott, PhD, fitness research director with the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, back this up. Westcott found that strength training two to three times a week for just two months will help women gain nearly two pounds of muscle and lose 3.5 pounds of fat. Why? As the body increases muscle mass, our fat-burning furnace (metabolism) fires up, which means you burn more calories and fat—all day long—even when you’re sitting. This is key as we get older because our metabolism slows down with every passing year—the reason you’re eating the same foods as you did years ago but now you’re gaining weight, gradually.

Miriam Nelson Book

The groundbreaking book that laid out exactly why women need strength training.

Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, author of the national bestseller Strong Women Stay Young, is a staunch proponent of women lifting weights, based on research she’s done—and continues to do through her The StrongWomen Program, a women’s national community exercise and nutrition program. Nelson found that after a year of strength training twice per week, women not only had less fat and more muscle, they also increased strength and energy dramatically, improved balance and flexibility, and prevented or reversed bone loss.

Why weight training gets such impressive bone-building results: Cells called osteoblasts are critical to maintaining bone structure; when you do weight-bearing exercise, these osteoblasts lay down new bone tissue to strengthen the points where the bone is stressed. Do regular strength training—and continually challenge yourself with heavier weights and more repetitions—and these osteoblasts continue to reinforce the bone, over and over again, reducing your risk of serious health problems like osteopenia, or low bone density; full-blown osteoporosis; and sarcopenia, or gradual loss of muscle mass. All can affect not only how you age but your quality of life, too (i.e. what’s the joy in living longer, if you’re bed bound with compound hip fractures and have little muscle strength to do daily activities?).

Kris Wilkes, 59, is a former federal prosecutor and former litigator and senior partner at an international law firm in San Diego who has experienced the body- and life-changing benefits of weight training first hand. “I was in a very demanding career, often working 16 to 18 hours a day,” explains Wilkes, who took up weight training almost 20 years ago. “I would leave work feeling exhausted. But I forced myself to exercise after work. It became a great stress reliever for me. I started to feel euphoric because I was taking care of my body—not just using my mind as I did at work.” (Exercise, both cardio and weight training, is a proven mood booster.)

woman working out with dummbells

Dumbbells are an effective first step in any weight training program, but you need to switch up your routine every six weeks to prevent your muscles from getting used to it.

But Wilkes found that while cardio did help reduce her stress, it didn’t re-shape her body as she had expected. “I’d see these girls coming out of Gold’s Gym with amazing bodies—something that we just weren’t achieving in the aerobics studio next door,” explains Wilkes, who credits that with inspiring her to get a trainer and start lifting weights. “Of all the things I’ve done over the years—yoga, Pilates, running, step classes, CrossFit—weight lifting is the one that has truly sculpted my body and changed it, for the better.” (Wilkes has become such a fan of weight lifting, she competes regularly in International Federation of Bodybuilding competitions.)

In the Gym

The scene at the World Gym in Ft. Lauderdale, where Wilkes now lives, is impressive—and to the lay exerciser, a bit intimidating. Awe-inspiring photos of bodies sculpted at the gym line the walls and top-of-the line exercise equipment fills the floor. But it’s the members themselves who draw the most stares: muscles rippling, super-fit women and men can be found pumping iron, plenty of it. Wilkes is one of them—and is right at home. “I do 60 to 90 minutes of weights followed by 30 to 40 minutes of cardio, typically the StepMill or interval running,” says Wilkes, who works out 5 to 6 days a week and is unquestionably in the best shape—and health—of her life.

Dumbbells

Don’t get intimidated by heavy weights; work your way up to using them.

But Wilkes doesn’t just lift some heavy weights and call it a day. She plans out her course of action—something a trainer taught her early on to sculpt her body and avoid injury—working different body parts on different days. “Some days I do chest, shoulders, and biceps, followed by a leg day, and then the next day, I’ll do back and triceps,” she says. “Then, on the last day, I’ll work my abs and calves. You really have to thoroughly train the areas you’re targeting to get results.” But a trainer is key, says Wilkes: “There are so many different things you can do at the gym to build muscle—and a trainer can help you figure everything out and come up with a plan.”

Ft-Lauderdale-based Burger agrees. “You have to get out of your comfort level to see results. When you’re 50 or older, you can’t just go and do some shoulder presses and curls with 5-pound weights. You’ve got to push yourself and build up to the next level. A trainer can help you do that. I have a 75-year-old client doing step-ups with 15-pound dumbbells; she didn’t start there. She had to work up to it, but she did—and she’s doing it—and she’s getting great results.”

man lifting weights in gym

Don’t worry about bulking up like this if you lift weights; the truth is…you won’t.

“There’s a persistent myth about weight lifting and women,” explains Wilkes. “Women think that if they lift heavy weights, they’re going to bulk up and look like a guy.” That’s just not happening, she says. “As we get older and our hormone levels start to drop, women have to fight for every shred of muscle we put on. We have to work really hard for it. We’re just not physically capable of bulking up like a guy. Sure, I want to fill out sagging skin with muscle, but I also want to be able to wear a dress and not look like a football player.”

The Fountain of Youth?

For women 50+, hormones and an aging body aren’t their best friends—but weight training can turn things around, something that Maria Liza Eden Giammaria, M.D., MPH, a vein specialist—based in New York and Ft. Lauderdale—discovered firsthand. “My father was ill with cancer and I was traveling between North Carolina, where he was, and my offices. At one point, when I turned 50, I had an awakening,” she says. “I was exhausted, I wasn’t working out, I wasn’t eating healthy, and I wasn’t sleeping. I felt toxic. I needed to work on me—and because I was so busy, I had to maximize my time. I wanted to get the best results in as little time as possible.” Enter weight lifting. As Eden Giammaria got more toned, she started eating better, lost weight, felt better about herself—and had a better overall mood—and even started to feel more empowered at work. “I want to gracefully embrace the aging process,” she says, adding that weight training has helped her do this.

Fifty was also the magic number for San Diego-based Meg Kruse, a personal trainer who’s now 56. Like Wilkes, Kruse is a regular at bodybuilding competitions, but Kruse never initially believed she could ever get to that point. “A trainer came up to me one day right around the time I turned 50 and suggested that I take my weight training to the next level because I had a beautiful back,” says Kruse. “When she said that, a little voice in my head said ‘You can’t do that. You’re too old. You’ve got wrinkles. Your right boob hangs down.’ But that made me even more determined to do it.” As her muscles grew, so did her self-esteem. Says Kruse: “As a woman, when you get stronger, you get more confident. There’s no question.”

This boost in self-esteem is a common side effect of taking on a challenge like weight lifting—particularly as you get older, says Michele Kerulis, LCPC, director of Sport & Health Psychology at the Adler School of Professional Psychology, in Chicago. “When you’re in your 50s and older, there are many body changes occurring that make seeing results in the gym extremely difficult,” explains Kerulis. “But that’s what makes setting, and achieving, goals like this that much more outstanding for women.”

Woman holding water bottle in gym

No matter what age you are, exercising—both cardio and strength training—can help you look younger.

“Having a goal to work toward keeps you young,” adds Carol Matthews, 68, a personal trainer in Ft. Lauderdale who regularly weight trains women 50+ (including women in their 80s and 90s, whom she trains in their nursing homes). And getting stronger is a goal, says Matthews, which should be on every woman’s fitness bucket list. “Every single woman should lift weights,” she says. “You’re never too old to start.” But Matthews also stresses the importance of balancing out the rest of your life, too: “Eat clean and healthy—and prep your food for the day so you have things with you—get plenty of rest, and get out there and do cardio, even if it’s walking. These all work together to help you live a strong, healthy, long life.” Kruse agrees, saying: “You need to feed your body fuel: good healthy protein [like lean meats, fish, eggs, and beans], vegetables, and healthy carbs.”

So weight training—along with living a healthy, balanced life—makes you stronger, boosts your health, and wards off disease. But there’s also a tiny bit of vanity that comes from being able to wear sleeveless dresses with ease and a boost of confidence that comes from being able to heft your own shopping bags or your suitcase, or even your grandkids, sans help. All are what keep growing numbers of women, like Wilkes and Kruse, committed to strength training. “So we’re getting older?” says Kruse. “Women who strength train are not going to break their hips and they’re not going to ride up the stairs in one of those trolley things. And we’re not going to head to the grave with a muffin top. I like to call what we’re doing aging gracefully—and actively.”

Getting Started

Looking to boost your strength and improve your health with weight training? Consistency is key. Start with a trainer (all gyms have them, or try a personal training center that can work with you—and your goals). Or gradually work your way up to a trainer with these easy strength training tips*:

Put on a walking vest. These adjustable weighted vests can be worn daily to transform your daily walks into strength-training ones.

Do body weight exercises. Push-ups are the easiest exercises to do. You need no equipment and can do them anywhere. Other good options include squats (for your legs) and crunches (for your abs).

Try resistance tubing. These stretchy, lightweight pieces of latex provide resistance (and strength training) when stretched. (Tip: the lighter the color of the tubing, the less resistance it offers.)

Do free weights (or use weight machines). Dumbbells are effective strength training tools. You can do everything from biceps curls (to strengthen the arms) and shoulder raises (to strengthen the shoulders) to weighted squats (to help boost muscle—and bone—in the legs). Weight machines at the gym are a more advanced way to build bone; a trainer can show you step-by-step how to use them.

Do 5 to 10 minutes of cardio before strength training (this warms up the muscle, helping to prevent injury). Then choose a weight or resistance level that will tire your muscles after 12 repetitions. (When you can do more than 15 reps without tiring, increase the amount of weight or resistance.) Plan to do two to three, 20- to 30-minute sessions a week, alternating days that you work on different body parts.

* Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise regimen so you don’t get hurt.

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Edible Seeds & Why They’re Good for You

Written by: on Monday, November 3rd, 2014

I love this chart highlighting the benefits of seeds. We’re not conditioned to think of seeds as a food here in America—but we should. (I personally love flax and chia seeds because they’re chockfull of omega-3s [I sprinkle them on my oatmeal every day] — and sesame seeds, which I sprinkle on my salads, because they’re high in calcium.) Take a look and find a seed to try in your diet.

6 Edible Seeds: Here is why you should sprinkle them into your diet
“6 Edible Seeds” on Health Perch

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