Teacher Appreciation Week 2017

Teacher Appreciation Week 2017 is here! What does that mean? It’s time to give a big shout out to the hard-working educators across the land! During the first week of May, or this year, May 8-12th (Conflicting dates, but you can’t go wrong with either) we celebrate a week of gratitude for the teachers that dedicate their lives educating the children of this world.

We all know that most teachers give so much more than a daily lesson. These sensitive, intelligent, hard-working folks put much of their time and energy into shaping, guiding, and loving our children. For some kids, that one special teacher may be their only source of safety, comfort, attention, guidance, a caring smile, and even a snack to fill their belly. I truly believe that teacher’s are the most special people on the planet. #Angels

As a student, mother, children’s author, and previous public school aide (many moons ago), I’ve had the pleasure of knowing an array of educators throughout the years. I’ll always carry a special place in my heart for the unforgettable people that helped shape who I am today and continue to do so.

My 2017 Teacher Appreciation #ShoutOut goes to Mrs. Jill Cofsky, from Oxford, Massachusetts, who also happens to be a talented voice actor. #HappyTeachersWeek to a positive, creative, exceptional lady, who continues to touch the lives of so many, every single day. Thank you for all that you do!



To learn more about Jill Cofsky, visit: @JillCofskyVoice


Give Your Children The Gift Of Health-


We’ve all been there. You open up your kid’s new toy and whew! It’s like a cackling skull and crossbones just floated above and flicked you in the nose. Yep, I’m referring to that nauseating odor that makes you wince (or gag) when opening a package. That smell is very likely a chemical soup of petrochemicals, PVC’s, phthalates, pesticides, BPA or BPD, lead, dioxins, ethylene glycol, methyl ethyl ketone, and (who knows what else?)

Unknowingly, your child will wear them, put them into their mouth, absorb them through their skin, and breathe it into their lungs. Chemicals so toxic, they cause asthma, cancer, birth defects, nervous system and organ damage, Down Syndrome, hormone disruption, behavioral changes, cognitive decline, and a myriad of other unfortunate, and many times, irreversible things.

Those of us who are chemically sensitive knew this long before the vast amount of information hit the web, validating what we already felt. Despite friends, family, and the occasional doctor throwing strange looks when you mention the swelling and migraines you’ve been battling since purchasing that new carpet or the disorientation you experience from a trip to the car mall, fresh window caulking, perfume, etc. We knew these products were making us sick.

To say that the regulation of chemicals in the U.S. is in need of serious reform is a gross understatement. Thankfully, independent research organizations have made it a priority to fight for our health and reveal the truth.

Now that this information is widely available, it’s your duty to protect your children from this toxicity. As a parent, naturally, you want what’s best for your child, right? They may not be able to completely avoid it out in the world but why put them in harm’s way in their very home? Bedding, toys, clothing, food…you control it, therefore, controlling the chemical load they’re exposed to, giving them the best chance at a healthy mind and body.

So what kinds of crazy chemicals are we talking about? Here are a few to put on your radar.
• PBDE’s Polybrominated diphenyl ethers * DecaBDE

These toxic flame retardants are found in hard plastics, toys, stuffed animals, curtains, mattresses, textiles, electronics, furniture, building materials, and hundreds of other products.

PBDE exposure is associated with thyroid dysfunction, hearing problems, neurological and cognitive disorders, cancer, birth defects, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, (the list is quite long). This stuff is in our children’s toys, mattresses, and couch cushions?
• PVC (Poly vinyl chloride)

PVC is a synthetic plastic polymer considered to be one of the most toxic carcinogens known to humans. Just one vinyl shower curtain can release over 90 volatile chemicals into the air. Yuck!

It’s found in toys, food packaging, flooring, adhesives, rain coats & boots, sports equipment, inflatables, solvents, adhesives, plastic wrap, mattress covers, arts & crafts, and a lot more- since it‘s so cheap. In fact, cost-effective lead is what’s used as the emulsifier. Massively high amounts (up to 95% higher) have been found in imported toys.

The proven health effects of PVC and it’s released dioxins are vicious. Immune system damage, endometriosis, birth defects, cancer, diabetes- stay away from PVC!
• Methyl ethyl ketone

This industrial solvent has been discovered in over 447 products. Boots, shoes, toys, clothing, art supplies, hats, baby bibs, teething rings, gums, resins, rubber and wax products. It’s a known neurotoxin as well as an irritant to mucous membranes, eyes, nose, and lungs.
• BPA & BPS (Bisphenol-S)

This devil of a carcinogen is used in plastics, toys, baby bottles, CD’s-DVD’s, dental sealants, PVC water lines, canned goods, paper money, store receipts, sippy cups, and more. It’s been linked to over 30 adverse health effects. A large amount of advertised BPA-Free products that were tested still contained toxicity.
• Phthalates

Phthalates are a group of toxic chemicals used to soften plastics and increase flexibility. It’s found in soft toys, IV tubing, mini blinds, food packaging, wallpaper, flooring, nail polish, hairspray, perfumes, detergents, soaps, lubricant, aftershave, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and more. Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors and can damage the kidneys, liver, and reproductive organs.

Can you believe that over 80% of toys and children’s products sold in the US are manufactured in China and other Asian countries, where they do NOT regulate these deadly chemicals?

So now what? You’ve got to make changes, that’s what. Here are a few places to start. Do your research, educate your family, throw out the worst offenders from your home and car. Do you really need that gold, polka-dotted, vinyl shower curtain? Nope. Replace it with an eco-friendly cotton one or glass doors. Start fresh.

There are a ton of places to buy non-toxic children’s products, food, dishes, makeup, home furnishings and building materials. Stick with the most natural, least chemically treated everything.

When buying food, do your best to choose organic, non-GMO products. Organic is always best if you can swing it. For textiles, cotton, hemp, and bamboo are awesome (they look and feel great). Use natural woods, glass, bamboo, cotton, hemp, beeswax, ceramics, stainless steel, low or no VOC, for as many things as you can. Re-use cloth bags or recycled paper for shopping.
• Whole Foods Market or Food Co-op

You’ll find your organic foods, cookware, supplements, eco-friendly diapers & baby products, personal care, makeup, non-toxic detergents, they even have formaldehyde-free toothpicks!
• Target

They have a huge selection of 100% organic cotton, eco-friendly, non-toxic baby toys, products, bedding, towel sets, and children’s clothing. *Budget friendly.

These sites have an array of doll houses, toy boxes, instruments, games, rattles, teething rings, bed frames, clothing, bedding, and toys- all free of dyes, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals.

If you implement these changes, the next time you open up that toy for little Johnny, you may find that you’re greeted by a tiny sunshine instead of a green, ominously giggling, Mr. Yuck sticker. Best of luck with your new, healthier lifestyle!

Nurturing Your Future Bookworm-Inspiring Kids to Love Reading

Getting children to be enthusiastic about reading can sometimes be a challenge. Compared to the television, with all of its stimulating jingles, colors, and characters, reading may seem quite boring. That’s why the earlier they begin their lifelong love of books, the better. Books with vibrant art, rhyming, and lively characters is a great place to start. Soon they’ll be hungry for new words, worlds, and of course, special time with you.   

*Make sure to read with them daily. Although schedules get hectic, carving out 15 minutes for a story goes a long way.  

* Take turns reading aloud, alternating pages.

*Use funny voices or accents sometimes just for fun.

*Get them a library card and show them how to use it. Spend time there together and allow them to choose subjects of interest. You may also want to participate in some of the activities/programs that your branch has to offer.     

*Bring them to the used bookstore for new reads and encourage them to donate or share books they’ve outgrown.

*Make story time your uninterrupted one on one time together.

*Laugh! Reading should be enjoyable and fun.

*Discuss the story and characters- always encourage questions. Rouse their imagination by asking how they would’ve chosen the story to end or what happens afterward.        

*Have lots of literature at home and available to them. Make it a fun project to build and decorate a bookcase for their bedroom filled with favorite books.

*Prompt them to bring books along for trips, car time, waiting areas, picnics, etc. 

*Teach them to respect books, their pages, and to take good care of them. Allow them to develop a bond with reading in general.  

*Create decorative book markers together for every season for some craft time fun.

*Be an example. If kids see that reading is your norm, it’ll be theirs.

*Most of all, inspire them to make books and reading a part of their everyday life. Read signs, menus, games, flash cards, magazines, comic books, etc. Take them to libraries, bookstores, annual book sales, and flea market tables. Sound things out together, teach alternative meanings, challenge, and praise them often.

“What is another word for mommy?” Bibliophile. Bibliophagist. Logophile. Bibliomaniac. Bookworm. Happy.           

A December Day in Pittsburgh

It’s an already-dark 6:15 PM in Pittsburgh as I sit at my keyboard, distracted by the fat, beautiful snowflakes falling outside my window. Suddenly, I realize just how much I love this city during the holiday season. If the seasonal weather, spectacular lights, sporting events, holiday-themed activities for both adults and children, outdoor skating rinks, music, and traditional downtown window displays doesn’t have you feeling the least bit festive, then you may want to read How the Grinch Stole Christmas. A couple of times.

The ‘Burgh’ has so many wonderful things happening throughout the year but the holiday season is where you’ll undoubtedly fall in city-love. Here are a few activities that are sure to cement amazing memories and lift your spirits high into the snowy, (or rainy) Pittsburgh sky!

Start your season off right with the traditional Light Up Night Celebration.

Light Up Night kicks off the opening of the Peoples Gas Holiday Market in Market Square. Lots of food, music, and fun. {November 18-December 23, 2016.} Receive a complimentary snapshot with Santa if you make a donation to the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.  

Layer up for some ice skating at Mass Mutual Ice Rink. With the holiday tunes playing, snowflakes falling, and nearby art displays in view, the ambiance is amazing.

Cruise on over to the PPG Wintergarden for some hot cocoa and to explore the Spirits of Giving From Around the World exhibition. Kids love the Gingerbread House and Train exhibit. You’ll surely enjoy Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Railroad & Village as well

Kennywood’s Holiday Lights begins in November and has close to two million gorgeous lights! Sing along with the local choirs, hang out with Santa, ride the Gingerbread Express, or just walk around and have some food.

Pittsburgh’s Cultural District has annual performances of The Nutcracker, A Musical Christmas Carol,  A Christmas Story, & more.  

Need to expend even more energy? Take the family out to screams their heads off at a Steeler or Penguins game. (Ohhh yeah!) 

Trans-Siberian Orchestra World Tour at the arena is something you MUST experience at least once. Fantastic!

Even if you do none of the above activities, there’s something festive going on inside nearly every store, mall, library, or restaurant. There are local storytime events, sales, visits from Santa, giveaways, free concerts and holiday music playing most everywhere. Hopefully when you hear that familiar Salvation Army bell ringing outside the store entrances or along the wreath-lined street corners, it brings out the part of you that loves to give to the less fortunate. 

The holiday season is a great time to count your blessings. Not everyone has access to warm blankets, coats, shoes, a place to live, medical care, or food and there are many programs in the Pittsburgh region in need of donations. Coats, blankets, canned goods, money, toys, & books, are just a few items that you can donate to someone in need.

Pittsburgh has always been a festive, charitable, diverse, resourceful, humble, yet proud city and I’ll always be proud to call this place my home. #HappyHolidaysPittsburgh