Smart solutions for busy parents

  • Written by ARA

15942149_webMany parents are busy these days juggling everything from work, car pools, soccer practice, and cooking dinner. But a hectic schedule doesn’t have to mean poor food choices. Here are a few time-saving tricks to make mealtime easier and nutritious for the whole family.

Create a family calendar

Whether you prefer the old fashioned calendar posted on the refrigerator or smartphone apps that sync your schedules, a key to reducing stress is to find an organizational system that works for you. By tracking everyone’s daily activities in a central place, you are less likely to forget any important work or family events and minimize the chance of double bookings.

Shop for groceries on a schedule

Schedule a regular time each week for grocery shopping.

Create a list so you stay focused when you shop, helping to save time and money. Post the list in the kitchen where the whole family can see it and everyone can easily add in a variety of their favorite items as soon as you run out.

Make a meal in a minute

Ready-to-go meals are a smart choice for working parents.

For example, family-owned pasta company Barilla offers microwaveable meals made from 100 percent natural ingredients. These palate-pleasing favorites like Mezze Penne with Tomato and Basil Sauce or Whole Grain Fusilli with Vegetable Marinara Sauce don’t require refrigeration, so they can be easily stored in the kitchen pantry or a desk drawer for lunch at work. Better yet, they are ready in just 60 seconds in the microwave so you can have a wholesome lunch or dinner - no cooking required.

Engage the whole family in menu planning

Ask everyone in the family - especially the kids - to plan a balanced dinner menu for one night of the week. Encourage them to think of creative themes like Italian night. Menu planning eliminates the last-minute scramble for something to eat, saves money on takeout and ensures healthier meals.

It doesn’t have to be a daunting task to maintain a wholesome lifestyle for the family. If everyone chips in, it can be easy and fun.

Thai-based restorative treatment works wonders on tired, sore and stressed bodies

  • Written by Deborah Stone

(I’m always on the lookout for unique body treatments offering variations on the theme of healing and relaxation. Being a massage connoisseur, I’ve tried everything from hot stone and reflexology to Lomi Lomi and Watsu. Whenever I travel, I seek out treatments that are indicative to the region or culture I am visiting. My latest favorite, however, is one I discovered right here in my own backyard.

It’s called “Thai Herbal Balls” massage and it’s conveniently offered at The Spa at Willows Lodge. Heated cloth balls filled with a special blend of herbs are the key components of this treatment, along with a technique that involves rhythmic tapping, followed by rolling or kneading with the herbal spheres.

Its roots stem from the practice of Thai herbal compress therapy, which dates back nearly 5,000 years to an era when knowledge of plants and their effects on the body were studied and then subsequently passed on through the generations.

This therapy was designed to relieve pain and reduce inflammation via the use of herbs such as prai, ginger, turmeric and lemongrass, which were wrapped in a muslin compress, steamed and then applied to the body in gentle pressing and circular movements. The treatment continues to be popular today in Thailand and is offered throughout the country from storefront massage establishments to high-end spas. In recent years, it has made its way to the West and now an increasing number of practitioners are becoming trained in the practice.

The Spa at Willows Lodge began offering Thai Herbal Balls massage four years ago, according to the spa’s director, Val Simkins. “When I first heard of it,” says Simkins, “I was intrigued. I then experienced it and instantly loved how it made me feel. It has so many benefits, much more than a hot stone massage, in my opinion.” She adds, “The combination of aromatherapy, thermal therapy and herbal therapy works to target joint and muscle pain and is great for people who suffer from arthritis, as it really soothes and also helps with circulation. The herbs in particular really help with inflammation, as well as detoxification. I think it is very relaxing and stress-reducing, too.” Simkins notes that the treatment is popular at Willows, though not as well-known as some other massage techniques. She comments, “People are curious about it and are drawn to the description. Those who try it are never disappointed. They rave about it and come back for more.”

Nancy Sleeth, the therapist who performed my Thai Herbal Balls massage, has been doing the treatment since it was introduced at the spa. She says that there is specific training involved in learning to do the procedure effectively and that it takes time and practice to become successful at it.

She emphasizes that it’s the combination of the properties of the herbs, the aromatherapy, the heat and the technique that give the treatment its “power.” Sleeth adds, “They all work together to send people to a different place, a good place.”

Sleeth tells about two past clients she had, one with chronic pain and another who was very leery about massage in general, especially deep pressure. The first had tried everything to relieve her pain to no avail. With the Thai Herbal Balls, she was finally able to relax – something she hadn’t been able to do for a long time – because her pain eased just enough so she could finally let go.

The other client put several restrictions on her massage, creating a challenge for Sleeth to sufficiently modify the procedure. “Even with it being modified, she was blown away by the experience,” explains Sleeth. “She told me that it was so soothing and that it really helped with her inflammation.”

After my session with the Thai Herbal Balls, I can attest to similar feelings. I went in with a sore hip, a bruised foot and plenty of tightness in my shoulders, neck and upper back.

The heat felt marvelous, but it was the ability of the herbal balls to penetrate into these problematic areas that made the difference.

Sleeth notes that because of their shape, she can employ the spheres to reach deep inside the muscle via the rolling or kneading technique.

She adds, “I also think the rhythmic nature of the compressions and the repetitive motion are really essential to the whole process.”

The icing on the top for me was the gentle stretching that followed, along with the “finish” massage work.

I left the spa feeling intensely relaxed, yet energized and invigorated, from this restorative treatment. And what’s more, I was able to take the herbal compresses with me and use them again for my own home massage purposes.

For more information about this treatment or any others offered at The Spa at Willows Lodge: (425) 424-2900 or

Sleep smarts: Sleep is an important part of back-to-school preparation

  • Written by ARA

16133102_webDoes your list of school supplies include sleep? Studies say it should, especially for teens.

Only 8 percent of American teenagers are getting the required nine or more hours of sleep needed, according to the National Sleep Foundation. In fact, a recent study published in the “Journal of Adolescent Health” found that more than 60 percent of high school students get less than seven hours of sleep per night. The situation does not improve in college, either.  A 2010 study conducted at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota revealed, not surprisingly, that 70 percent of college students get less than the 8 recommended hours of sleep.

While most people have, at times, battled sleep issues, poor sleep habits plague college campuses. Let’s face it: Most college kids do not place a premium on a good night’s rest. In addition to sleep falling low on the priority list, most students are sleeping on cheap dorm mattresses and worn out pillows which can affect sleep quality.

Perhaps reminding your student that there is a proven relationship between healthy sleep habits and academic success might help encourage healthier habits. In 2010, a University of Minnesota study found a significant positive correlation between the amount of sleep per night and GPA. Additionally, as the average number of days per week a student got less than five hours of sleep increased, GPA decreased.

Once a pattern of bad sleep has developed, is it possible for teens and college students to “reset” their internal clocks? Researchers at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine say it is. Suggest that your students try following these tips, a little bit at a time, over several weeks:

• Try your best to avoid caffeine, smoking, alcohol, heavy exercise and heavy snacking (pizza included) at least three hours before bedtime.

• Don’t pull all-nighters or cram for exams late at night. Specifically schedule studying for when you’re most alert so your performance won’t be affected.

• Be as consistent as possible with your sleep habits, ideally aiming to go to bed at the same time each evening and get at least eight hours of sleep per night.

• Wake up at the same time every morning and head outside. Sunlight helps reset circadian rhythms, the body’s internal biological process that rotates around a 24-hour schedule.

• Turn off your cell phone and laptop at night. Besides being a distraction, exposure to light can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that aids sleep.

• Make sure your bedroom is set up for sleep. If you are a light sleeper or your dorm is noisy, try wearing earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones. Keep the room cool and dark. Make your bed as comfortable as possible.

Consider investing in a foam mattress pad and a quality pillow. For example, for around $100, you can purchase a mattress topper and a waterbase pillow, both of which greatly improve head, neck and back support while you sleep.

“While you most likely cannot control the amount of sleep your teens or college-aged kids receive, at least you can make sure that once they are in bed, the sleep they do get is of the best quality,” explains Maurice Bard, founder and CEO of Mediflow Inc., a company that makes waterbase bed pillows. “One simple way to accomplish this is to make sure your teens are sleeping on the right pillow - one that adjusts to properly support their head and neck throughout the night.”

Countless studies have shown that people who get the right amount of sleep are physically and emotionally healthier —  which is of course is something we all want for our children. Getting better grades is just the icing on the cake.

King County, EvergreenHealth join forces to reduce falls in the home

  • Written by Deborah Stone
One of the major concerns for elderly individuals is a fear of falling and the risk of incurring a serious injury in the process.

In King County alone, more than 14 percent of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responses for patients age 65 and older are attributed to falls in the home.

Moreover, there is a greater number of accidental deaths each year attributed to falls than there are deaths attributed to motor vehicle accidents within this population.

Two of the strongest risk factors for falls are older age and a prior history of falls, according to Dr. Brad Younggren, medical director of EvergreenHealth Emergency Preparedness and associate trauma medical director at the hospital.

He says, “The elderly have a greater risk of falling because as we age, we lose our balance and fine motor skills. And then there are also other factors, such as certain medical conditions, that add to this risk.”

Dr. Younggren notes that falls in this population can result in fractures, broken hips, hemorrhages and more, adding, “Almost half of the emergency department trauma visits we see from patients over 65 years old are a result of falls.”

With this statistic in mind, Dr. Younggren began looking at ways to prevent or reduce the frequency of such accidents from happening.

He discovered One Step Ahead, a program of King Country EMS, which began as a pilot a few years ago with Northwest Hospital

The program provides free assistance to patients who experience trauma due to a fall and are seen at a local emergency room.

“It’s a really good program,” comments Dr. Younggren, “and I felt that it would be something Evergreen could easily get involved with as a collaborative effort.”

In One Step Ahead, a trained specialist from King County does an in-home assessment to determine the patient’s risk factors.

According to Dr. Younggren, EMS can refer the patient to the program, as well as staff members at Evergreen’s emergency rooms in its Kirkland and Redmond locations.

To qualify, patients need to be older than 65, ambulatory, living independently, at risk for a fall or have fallen in the past six months.

They cannot be suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia nor can they be living in subsidized housing, retirement facilities or nursing homes.

Once the patient opts into the program, the intervention specialist makes a home visit to identify the exact set of risk factors and design a prevention action plan.

The specialist evaluates the individual’s physical balance and strength, surveys the home for fall hazards and reviews medical conditions and medications in order to customize a course of action.

He/she also frequently arranges for the installation of safety equipment around the home to reduce fall risk.

“To successfully prevent the next fall, you need to identify which specific risk factors each individual may have,” explains Alan Abe, program manager for Injury Prevention at King County EMS. “One Step Ahead uses successful fall-prevention strategies that match the individuals’ risks with specific interventions so that the individual receives a personal program.”

The program has had success, evidenced by a study conducted by King County EMS, which noted that participants experienced 36 percent less risk of suffering a fall in the home than those not enrolled in the program.

“It’s a very individualized program,” says Dr. Younggren, “and you’re working with the patient right in his or her home to make it a safer environment. You’re educating the participant while providing a very specific plan. And you’re connecting the patient to resources in the community, such as classes in Tai Chi or yoga, for example, which will help with balance and strength.”

Dr. Younggren emphasizes that the program is the first step toward creating more of an umbrella network of such services at Evergreen. He explains that the hospital already has an inpatient falls program.

“The idea is to catch those at risk who are “pre-hospital,” he says.

“They might be going to our senior health clinic or our anticoagulation clinic, for example. And if they’re on blood thinners, it’s very important to reach them because if they fall, it can be extremely serious. When that happens, they’re treated with a modified trauma protocol.”

Evergreen began its collaboration with King County EMS in January and according to Dr. Younggren, upwards of 20 patients have been referred to One Step Ahead.

He adds, “We’ve seen some great results with those who participate.”

Food labels 101: Do you really know what you’re eating? Certified organic and natural - what’s the difference?

  • Written by ARA

(ARA) - With so many people trying to improve their eating habits, the good news is that there are a lot more healthy options on store shelves than ever before.

But the dizzying array of products makes it hard to know what the best choices truly are. Have you ever stared at the products on a store shelf and wondered what all the labels meant? How do you know which ones you should feed your family?

Two prevalent labels that seem to be especially confusing are “natural” and “organic.” If you have been wondering what these two terms mean and what the difference is between them, here’s a hint: One is strictly regulated, while the other can mean just about anything. Which is which?

If a product has the organic seal, it means that it is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and must meet strict government standards which control how such foods are grown, handled and processed. To be certified organic, the food must be grown without toxic synthetic pesticides and herbicides, genetically engineered ingredients (also called GMOs), antibiotics or artificial growth hormones. That means when you and your family are eating organic foods, you are not putting any of those things into your bodies. Organic farming helps by not adding chemicals to the air, water and soil, as well as keeping it away from you, your family and future generations. Some studies have shown that organic farming also helps produce more nutrient-dense crops.

When it comes to products labeled as “natural,” there is no strictly defined or regulated definition. It may mean that it has minimally processed ingredients, no preservatives or additives, or it may mean none of these things.

Natural products do not have to abide by any standards, so they may contain heavily processed ingredients, toxic chemicals and GMOs. If you and your family are eating natural products, you don’t really know exactly what you are putting into your bodies.

“Despite what many people think, organic and natural are not interchangeable. When you eat something marketed as ‘natural’ you may think you are doing something good for your body, and you could be, but the reality is that it’s more likely you are consuming toxins and GMOs which wouldn’t be allowed under the organic certification.

Our bodies are meant to use food for energy —  they get confused, irritated and harmed when presented with food and chemicals. To put it simply, organic is food, the best fuel for any body,” says Registered Dietician Ashley Koff, author of “Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged.”

If you’d like to eat more organic foods, it is easy to take the first step:

A good place to start is with the foods that you consume every day. For instance, if you and your family start off each morning with a bowl of cereal, try eating organic cereal instead, like Nature’s Path (, which has an extensive line of cereals (as well as waffles, granola, oatmeal and granola bars) that are all USDA certified organic.

To learn more about organic food, go to the websites of The Mayo Clinic, The Rodale Institute or The Organic Center.

There are a lot of confusing choices out there, but with a little knowledge about the difference between the certified organic and natural labels (check out the chart at, you can find peace of mind that you are making the best choices for your family. For the best assurance that you are not consuming toxins and chemicals along with your food, look for the USDA certified organic seal on the products you buy.