Poison Ivy Dermatitis

Poison Ivy Dermatitis

Prevention and treatment of exposure to the dreaded “leaves of three”

By Angela Toms, M.D.

In our part of the world, after the mud dries up and the temperature rises, we are elated to see the sun shine and the grass turn green. To treat our cabin fever, we venture outside into the fields and woods. Our children might be hiking at camp, retrieving an overthrown ball from the edge of the field, wrestling with buddies by the edge of the stream, or helping us clean up brush around the house, when days later they start to itch.

What is it?

While there are lots of summer rashes that itch, one of the most common summer rashes is poison ivy dermatitis. This very itchy and red rash is caused by an allergic reaction after contact with plants like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, members of the Toxicodendrum genus which appropriately means “poisonous tree.” These plants contain an allergic compound called uroshiol. When this colorless oil touches the skin it causes a reaction in about 85 percent of people. Any contact with the roots, leaves, stem (even a vine with no leaves), or sap of this plant can cause the rash.

Spot it before it “spots” you

Many know the saying, “Leaves of three, let them be.” This rhyme is helpful because the plant’s leaves grow in clusters of three. Being able to visually recognize poison ivy is the first step in avoiding it. This can get tricky, though, because the same plant may look different depending on the season and geographical region. In the east, the plant is vine; in the west, it’s a shrub. Young poison ivy leaves are green, then turn red or brown and eventually fall off. It tends to grow at elevations below 4000 feet, so lying in the grass at the top of Mount Moosilauke is probably okay. Already know you’re at risk of a severe reaction? Ask your doctor about a product called bentoquatam (Ivy Block).

Soap and water — on the double!

So, what if you don’t notice the shiny leaves of three and end up in contact with poison ivy? As soon as possible, remove any clothing around the exposed area and then gently wash the skin and fingernails with soap and water. There’s no need to scrub. A study once showed that washing 10 minutes after exposure removed 50 percent of the uroshiol, after 30 minutes removed 10 percent, and after an hour removed none of it. Still, washing helps reduce the severity of the reaction even 2 hours after exposure. Remember to wash all clothing, tools, and pets, too!

What to expect

The rash will be very itchy and red in areas where oil made contact with skin. Bumps and blisters may form (often in lines or streaks if the plant brushed the skin) and may develop over time rather than all at once — usually within 14 days after exposure. Poison ivy dermatitis usually lasts 1 to 3 weeks and most of the time does not require a visit to the doctor. Sometimes, after a week or so, the rash will spread to areas that definitely did not touch the oil. When this happens, it’s called a generalized dermatitis, or an “id” reaction.” Note that touching the rash or the blister fluid cannot spread poison ivy, as long as all of the uroshiol oil is washed off initially.

In some situations, you should call your doctor. These include: if the rash is severe, very swollen or covers a large part of the body; the face or genitals are involved; you’re not sure the rash really is poison ivy dermatitis; the rash appears infected — is oozing pus, is very red and hot, and/or is accompanied by a fever; or the rash does not get better after 2 to 3 weeks.

Knowledge is the Best Prevention

Since we want our families to have lots of fun outdoors without suffering the itchy rash of poison ivy dermatitis, take some time to learn what poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak look like, and then teach your kids how to avoid these plants. My family enjoys reading Fancy Nancy: Poison Ivy Expert, by Jane O’Conner. Fancy Nancy helps remind us that even experts can get poison ivy dermatitis, but we’d much rather avoid the rather itchy and unpleasant experience if possible!


Never burn a poison ivy plant. Burning releases chemicals into the air that can damage the lungs if breathed.

Parent Tips

  • Try not to scratch!
  • Take oatmeal baths and place cool, wet washcloths or towels on the skin.
  • Use calamine lotion.
  • Use products that have aluminum acetate in them (like Burrow’s Solution or Domeboro) if the rash is wet and weepy.
  • Oral antihistamines (like Benadryl) are commonly used for itching, but may not be that helpful.
  • Over-the-counter topical steroids may make a difference before blisters develop and help with itching after blisters form, but are not as helpful as their prescription-strength counterparts.

Angela Toms, M.D., is a family physician at White River Family Practice. She lives on a small farm with her husband and four children as well as cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and dogs.


Kid Stuff Summer


Pixels & Bricks

Pixels & Bricks

Congenial Randolph, Vt., venue draws kids inside for everyday fun

By Kim J. Gifford

If “rainy day fun” used to mean time spent indoors playing Monopoly™, Bingo™, or Chutes and Ladders™, then it’s a brand new day. While traditional board games can still be a lot of fun, today’s game has been raised, so to speak, with the growth in popularity of trading card games such as Magic: The Gathering (MTG or Magic) and new multiplayer board games such as The Settlers of Catan. Gaming no longer has to take place around a kitchen table; today’s youth have the option of participating in events at gaming stores such as Randolph, Vt.’s Pixels & Bricks. Such venues give kids and adults alike an opportunity to enjoy friendly competition while socializing and forming new friendships.

Pixels & Bricks launched last year as an offshoot of Vermont Computing Cooperative, which shares the same space at 23 Merchant’s Row. Robert Holman, Ian Stewart and Matt Gustafson purchased Vermont Computing from its original owner in November, 2014, and established a new cooperative.

An Idea that Snowballed

“After a few months, I think we were getting a little stir crazy from the long Vermont winter and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we start a gaming event every other weekend?’ The idea was to keep it pretty casual, but it really blew up,” says Gustafson, who oversees the Pixels & Bricks portion of the business.

The events grew from every other weekend to several nights a week and today it is not unusual to find the business open Wednesday through Saturday until 9 or 10 p.m. or even later. Earlier in the week the store keeps more traditional hours, typically closing at 6 p.m.

Thursday nights are free MTG nights. “We want to reflect a comfortable environment for gaming, rather than closing at 5 or 6 p.m. like most businesses in Randolph. We want to be a place where people can go after school or after work,” says Gustafson.

On Thursdays, the environment is casual with no specific format. Gamers can come in with a Magic deck that is “15 years old or 15 days old and be able to sit down and play for free because that’s exactly what I wanted to do. When I was younger, we had these random terrible decks and we would sit around our kitchen tables until 1 a.m. playing Magic,” says Gustafson.

A Valuable Alternative

Gustafson is happy to create this environment and a new opportunity for Randolph’s rural community. “I think a lot of the drug problems in this area are because there is nothing for kids to do. Having a constructive, affordable alternative is huge in my opinion,” he says.

Gustafson also notes that today’s players are more diversified than the typical “nerdy” image of old. The youngest player at the store is a 7-year-old girl while adults in their 40s come in to play, too. Tovah Donahue, a young local, agrees that the gaming store provides a safe and fun alternative for the community. “I encourage people to come and play because Magic is a fun game and it is a better, healthier way to spend your money than on drugs,” she says.

Thursday evenings draw anywhere from 6 to 30 people. Fifteen-year-old Tristan Brown of Randolph helps out at the store. “I love to watch people come in and duke it out in some awesome MTG games,” he says.

Keagan Jarvis says that Pixels & Bricks is also a great source of gaming supplies. “They have a bunch of cool merchandise to buy for Magic as well as computer stuff. There are also competitions where you can earn in-store credit.”

Although 20-year-old Christian Jarvis doesn’t play at Pixels & Bricks himself, he understands the appeal of such a place to gamers like his brother Keagan. “It is fun, enjoyable, and a way to meet new people and form friendships,” he says. The wide appeal of the game stems, in large part, from the strategy involved. “It requires you to put a lot of time in to it, but it is very rewarding. There is more to it than people think. It involves a lot of strategy, but that makes you feel really good when you win.”

Magic and Beyond

Other nights of the week gaming is structured around specific events. Pixels & Bricks is sanctioned by Wizards of the Coast, the makers of Magic, to hold official tournaments. But the store is not only about Magic. Gustafson encourages people to come in and bring their favorite board games or play a game like Dungeons & Dragons. On occasion they hold specific board game nights but, whenever the store is open, tables and chairs are set up for informal play of any sort. Some kids, such as Sam Hopper of Randolph, also enjoy taking part in creating content for Pixel & Bricks’ YouTube channel and podcasts.

Brown says, “Pixels & Bricks added a much needed element to the local community. It allows gamers, nerds, fanboys and fangirls — and people of all ages and genders — to take a little time out of the busy world to play games and have some fun!”

And, of course, it offers new and veteran gamers alike a friendly gathering place.



Kim J. Gifford is a writer, photographer/artist, avid dog lover and blogger at pugsandpics.com. Her Bethel, Vt., home is always filled with nieces and nephews and her three pugs, Alfie, Waffles and Amore.


Kid Stuff Summer 2016


Summer Fun


Originally published in Summer 2016

JUNE – International Mud Day

By Laura Jean Whitcomb

Gooey, messy, squishy mud. It’s fun to play in, and on one day in June you can dive into the mud for a great reason: to connect children around the globe through the earth.

International Mud Day (June 29) is the day children and early childhood professionals — and anyone else — all over the world celebrate nature, outdoors and mess by getting really muddy. ABC’s Child Care Center at New London Hospital has participated for the past five years.

“Here at ABC’s the children look forward to Mud Day all year. We include all the children infants to preschoolers — and the staff! It is a day for the children to really be children, have fun, no rules (as long as you are safe) and they get to see their caregivers let go as well,” says Tina L. Walker, director of Child Care Services. It’s also part of the school’s ongoing educational program: “We try to incorporate what happens with children around the world so the children will start young to have empathy and understanding that their world may be different then another child’s.”

Mud Day can be a great tradition for your family, too. Learn more at


JULY – Old Home Days

By Laura Jean Whitcomb

In 1899, New Hampshire Governor Frank West Rollins started Old Home Week. The tradition still continues today — but just for a day or two in many Granite State towns. Almost any weekend in July, you’ll find a fun celebration with activities for the whole family.

Springfield’s Annual Old Home Day (July 9) has a boat race, sock hop, farmer’s market, a family fishing contest and a 5K ramble. Grantham (July 4) is known for the fire department’s chicken barbecue and themed parade through town on Route 10. Unity (July 23) has a pancake breakfast hosted by the fire department, a day of activities, and ends the festivities with a dinner hosted by the eighth grade class. Enfield (July 29 to 31) hosts a chili cook-off and a community dance.

It’s a great time to visit with your neighbors, eat some good (local) food, do something different (an Iron Man contest!), learn local history, and create some family memories.

AUGUST – Vermont Open Farm Week

By Grace Meyer

Do you love local food and farms? Want to get to know your farmer better — and get a behind-the-scenes look into Vermont’s working agricultural landscape? Mark your calendar for Vermont Open Farm Week: Aug. 15 to 21.

During Vermont Open Farm Week, farmers across Vermont will open their barn doors and garden gates to welcome the public for a behind-the-scenes look at Vermont’s vibrant working landscape. Last year, more than 100 farms participated, many of whom are not usually open to the public.

What’s the greatest part about Open Farm Week? Every farm is unique. Milk a cow and harvest a carrot at one farm, sit on a tractor and take in the smell of freshly cut hay at another. You can meet the farmers, plants and animals that bring your favorite high-quality Vermont products to your plate. Some farms offer activities (scavenger hunts and hayrides) while others offer fresh farm food and live music.

To find a farm near you (or to plan a farm tour), check out the up-to-date lists of participating farms and search by location at DigInVT.com

Local: A Newbie’s Guide to the Upper Valley

Summer is the best time for newcomers to explore the Upper Valley

By Marcos Stafne, Ph.D.

Being new to the Upper Valley last spring, I was pleasantly surprised at the numerous cultural resources that come alive when the weather warms up. Here are a few family friendly picks that I highly recommend.

Get Your Feet Wet

The Montshire Museum of Science’s David Goudy Science Park is a favorite among area residents. While cooling off in the water activities, kids have a chance to do a little tinkering and explore hydrology. Three miles of trails offer outdoor physical activities and, when you’re ready for a break from the sun, it’s well worth a stop inside to visit the Tinkering Loft exhibition where kids of all ages are invited to design, build, and create. Try venturing out on the Planet Walk; it sends you on a three-mile round trip around the solar system.

If you’re looking for a summer flight of fancy, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) in Quechee, Vt., facilitates daily programming featuring our feathered friends. Kids get up-close and personal with extraordinary birds and explore the amazing natural environments on the VINS campus. Be sure to check out The McKnight Trail, perfect for a long summer afternoon walk and accessible for people using wheelchairs and strollers.

Delve into the Past

Craving ice cream? Stop by Billings Farm and Museum to get a good dose of the Upper Valley’s farming past while tasting delicious ice cream produced from its dairy. Walking the grounds during the summer to meet the horses, checking out their robust kitchen garden, and exploring how people farmed in the past is a great family outing — be sure to neigh “hello” to Jim and Joe for me (they’re horses).

If industry and engineering excite your kids, check out the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt. Kids get to explore the history of the tools and machines that made the Upper Valley an industrial center and see demonstrations of real machining. Don’t miss the awesome miniature machine shops of John Aschauer at the back of the museum.

Dabble in the Arts

After visiting natural environments, why not try sketching what you see out in the open? On Thursday evenings in the summer, AVA Gallery in Lebanon, N.H., facilitates free plein air (making art outside) activities in nearby Colburn Park. AVA Gallery provides changing exhibitions over the summer and Kira’s Garden is a great place to take in some fresh air while looking at fantastic outdoor sculpture.

Need a little inspiration to bring out your inner artist? Feed your creativity with a walk around Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, N.H. The historic buildings and fascinating sculptures are a delight at any age. Visit on July 31 for a special Explore Your Park day featuring music, art activities and family friendly games.


After each visit, keep the memory alive by asking a question to spark conversation and imprint memories. I like to play a game called “Three Favorite Things.” Ask everyone, “What were your three favorite things about the day?” Then write them down in a small notebook. Collect these experiences over the summer and review them before school starts. Kids are often surprised to later be reminded what they enjoyed at a museum the day they visited. It’s a great way to relive the experience together.


Marcos Stafne, Ph.D., is executive director of the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich. Follow him on Twitter at @marcosstafne

How to: De-stress

A class, meditation, essential oils — follow a mom’s quest to find peace and tranquility during a busy week of work and family.
By Laura Jean Whitcomb

“Stress has become a part of everyday life,” says Allison DeStefano. “It has become a badge of honor to be stressed…but, at the same time, it’s killing us. It increases your heart rate, increases your blood pressure, and weakens your immune system.”

Ouch. I’m in a conference room with 25 other folks for a free seminar on the topic of “Alleviating Stress & Anxiety Naturally” hosted by the Concord Food Co-op of New London, N.H. There was a waiting list for the class, so it seems that I’m not the only one that would like to remove my badge. DeStefano — a certified integrative nutrition health coach who has her own practice and works at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. — is going to help us identify oncoming stressors and how to avoid them, how to combat and reduce stressors you experience (sometimes there is just no avoidance), and how to push past them in the future.

The co-op staff is serving tea and dark chocolate, so that’s a good start. DeStefano has us close our eyes for a few deep breaths. It’s hard to “tame my monkey mind” — a phrase DeStefano uses to describe how our thoughts jump all over the place — but eventually I’m able to clear my head so I can focus on the class.

The key to alleviating stress, it seems, is organization. First, identify your triggers. For example, trying to get two kids out the door in the morning always ends in a scream fest and some crying (sometimes you). You can organize your environment to make it easier: give each kid their own space for backpacks, boots and coats in the front hall. You can make a schedule; tell the kids to pack backpacks the night before and set the alarm for 6 a.m. for yourself. Second, cut yourself some slack. “Give yourself permission to feel the way you do, then work to change it,” says DeStefano.

If mornings are still your cross to bear (face it, the kids are not and may never be morning people), then do things to help your state of mind. DeStefano suggests grounding exercises, like listing animals or saying the alphabet backwards. Maybe clench and release your fists (but behind your back so no one thinks you are going to punch them). Then, once the situation has passed, do other things to release the tension from your body: make sure you get enough sleep, take a walk, stay hydrated, and eat foods that help you relieve stress: dark chocolate, walnuts, cashews, berries, garlic, oranges and avocado, to name a few. And, to keep yourself on track, add relaxation to your calendar. “Schedule ‘me time’ just as you would any appointment,” she says. “You need to take care of yourself before you can care for anyone else.”


I like the idea of me time. I set up my “stress reduction” schedule. The Yoga Connection in Grantham, N.H., offers free meditation space on Fridays from 5 to 5:45 p.m. Janice Vien, an RN who has been practicing yoga since 1982 and teaching since 1989, built her yoga studio on Route 10 two years ago. It has heated pine floors, and big, bright windows with views of the rolling hills of Grantham. She opens the doors to her studio two days a week for meditation. “I offer free meditation as a community service. Not everybody can afford classes and everybody can learn to meditate,” Vien says.

The studio offers mats and blankets (as well as chairs and other yoga props), but I have my own. Four other ladies are there, and we all set up in different positions: some lying on their backs, some sitting up, some using props, some not. A chime starts the evening session of sitting together in silence.

Meditation, a practice that helps make your mind calm and peaceful, is not easy. I think about the timing of the class; 5 p.m. is usually when I get dinner started. The kids had a snack, but I’m not sure if my husband planned on cooking. Why didn’t I start the slow cooker this morning? I remember my yoga teacher telling me that it is okay to have these thoughts — acknowledge them and let them go.

Someone is snoring. How can she be sleeping? I realize that my shoulders are creeping up to my ears, a sure sign of stress. I drop my shoulders and try to relax them. I shift slightly, quietly, so I don’t disturb anyone else. After a few minutes my shoulders are back up to my chin, so I start the process over again. Now my back hurts. Can I bend my knees to release some of the pressure? I do silently, but now notice that my shoulders hurt in a different place.

Never mind the complaints of your body, I tell myself, focus on your breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Is anyone else talking to herself like I am? Stop, breathe. Nose, mouth, nose, mouth, deep into the bowl of my belly. I hear the hum of the traffic on Interstate 89. I open my eyes. The pink of the sunset is glowing through the windows. I listen to the cars with my eyes open. My mind is quiet. I close my eyes, and the chime rings to send the session.

I am surprised that 45 minutes went by so quickly. I enjoyed the silence — something I don’t have at home — but I’m wondering if a guided meditation, where a leader walks participants through the meditation practice with his voice, might be better for me? Wonderwell Mountain Refuge in Springfield, N.H., offers a session on Monday evenings, so I add that day and time to my stress reduction schedule. We’re lucky here in the Upper Valley: you can find a meditation drop-in every day of the week: Wednesday night at the Upper Valley Zen Center in White River Junction, Vt.; Tuesday night at the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover, N.H., with the Valley Insight Meditation Society; and Thursday night at the Women’s Resource Health Center on the green in Lebanon, N.H., to name a few.

Essential Oils

Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly crabby, I light a candle. It’s not news that scents can help you shift your moods or emotions; there’s a science behind why smells make you feel a certain way and an entire industry built around it: aromatherapy. In her talk, DeStefano mentions essential oils — biologically active volatile compounds of flowers and plants in a highly concentrated form — as one way support physical health and mental well being.

“Lavender oil is my immediate go-to for stress; I dab it on my wrists, use it in my baths, and breathe it in throughout the day when I need something to decompress,” she says. “It is also important to pause and truly breathe deeply to experience the effects. Applying the oil is a reminder for me to slow down a moment, take a few deep breaths, center myself, and continue on with my day.” In addition to lavender, DeStefano also recommends rose, chamomile, lemon, cinnamon and eucalyptus.

With 50 million smell receptors inside the nasal cavity connected to the brain’s limbic system, an area responsible for emotions, it’s not surprising to see why the scent of my candle (vanilla is soothing) helps ease my irritability. I take a trip to the natural food store to see what might be available, and essential oil blends abound. I can buy one with bergamot, jasmine, frankincense and rose to help me unwind, or one with sunflower, lemon, grapefruit and vetiver to give me energy. A few dabs on my wrists and I do feel a bit better. DeStefano suggests using essential oils in a diffuser, adding a few drops to a shower or bath, or “wafting the scent to the nose instead of breathing in straight from the bottle.” My bottle of essential oil is now in my purse and, if the kids are in a bad mood when I pick them up after school, I wave it around the car. I’ll let you know if it works.

Parent Tip

Meditations are free at some locations, a small fee at others. Check before you drop in.

Laura Jean Whitcomb, wife and mother of two, wrote this article while basking in the light of her Himalayan salt lamp.

Pediatric practice gives out free books to kids

Reading as Medicine

Pediatric practice gives out free books to kids

By Matt Golec

Brother and sister team Dillin and Morgan Reed are picking out books.

There are lots of choices in the giant, well-organized bookcases and the siblings from Baltimore, Vt., take their time poring over covers and showing off possible titles to take home.

Eventually, each settles on a book: Castaways of the Flying Dutchman by Brian Jacques, a pirate-y adventure, for Dillin, 10 (“Looked interesting,” he says) and Owl in the Garden by Berniece Freschet and Carol Newsom, a picture book, for Morgan, 7 (“I like to look at the pictures,” she says).

Reach Out and Read

Despite the literary surroundings, the Reeds aren’t at a bookstore or library. Instead, they have just seen a doctor at Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center’s Pediatrics Department in Windsor, Vt., where every kid gets to take home a free book.

The practice participates in a national program called Reach Out and Read, which helps provide new books to kids aged 6 months to 5 years during annual well-child visits. This practice, however, goes above and beyond by collecting gently-used books to give to all patients (and patients’ siblings) regardless of age and at every visit.

“The kids really enjoy them,” says pediatrician and chief book collector Dr. Mary Bender. “And it’s a way to get back on their good side” after swabbing their throat or poking them with a needle.

But putting books in kids’ hands generates more than goodwill. Dr. Bender explains how books lead to kids becoming better readers, writers and communicators. Parents reading out loud can help their kids develop lifelong reading habits while strengthening the parent-child bond.

Research cited by the Reach Out and Read program agrees that early reading is important: kids who are exposed to books do not struggle as much with reading in early grades. That can set them up for success later in school — and life.

Books for Wellness

Books can even be seen as medicine, of a sort. Thanks to vaccines, Dr. Bender does not see many infectious diseases and has more time to focus on overall child wellness. To treat patients’ stress and anxiety, pediatricians at Mt. Ascutney commonly prescribe exercise, relaxation techniques, less “screen time” and, of course, more books.

“Sometimes kids really do have challenging lives, and books are a great escape,” Dr. Bender says, adding that books are a nice way to wind down from a busy day. “We want there to be a book by every bed.”

Mt. Ascutney’s pediatric practice has been putting books by kids’ beds for more than a decade through the Reach Out and Read program, but about six years ago they also began giving out used books to kids who were too old for Reach Out and Read or were at the doctor’s office for something other than a well-child visit.

“I didn’t like being in the position of telling kids they couldn’t have a book,” Dr. Bender says.

There’s no firm number on how many books the practice has given away, but clinical secretary Sue Miller-Goulet estimates that between five and 20 books go out the door each day, depending on patient volume. Even at the low end, that’s more than a thousand volumes per year. “We have given away a lot of books,” Miller-Goulet says.

Miller-Goulet enjoys when kids come back to her office to show off the books they’ve picked out. She likes to ask them what they think the book will be about from looking at the cover and, if Miller-Goulet has some time, she might even start reading the first few pages with the child. The books make pediatric visits more pleasant for kids, and they help build relationships between health care providers and their patients.

“The kids who come here, once they know the routine, they’re excited to be here, excited to pick out a book,” Miller-Goulet says.

You Can Help

The book program is successful, though running it takes money and time. Financial donations help purchase the new Reach Out and Read books, while staff members buy most of the used books themselves at church, rummage and library sales. Miller-Goulet also credits “book angels” who drop off books for the program.

As for time, last year Miller-Goulet drafted Hatsy McGraw, a retired elementary school librarian, to help her keep the shelves organized and appealing to young readers. McGraw volunteers about once per week. She groups the books for bigger kids up high and the littler kids’ books down low. She restocks the shelves, filling in gaps where popular books ­­— series like the Magic Treehouse and young adult fantasy books — have been snapped up. If kids ask, she’ll offer book recommendations, but she’s happy to let them discover books on their own.

“The idea is to keep kids reading,” McGraw says.

McGraw notes that the program is especially nice for those families who can’t afford a lot of books. “It’s pretty wonderful to know that you can take it (a book) home with you and keep it,” she says.

Douglas Reed, father of Dillin and Morgan, says his kids love the book program. He likes how it encourages reading, and also how it makes them more excited to come to the pediatrician.

“It isn’t just a doctor appointment,” Reed says. “They get some fun out of it.”

Matt Golec lives in Norwich, Vt., where he does some writing, game design, and light child care. Matt, his wife and son have lived in the Upper Valley for 10 years, though it doesn’t feel nearly that long. For more, visit mattgolec.com





Kid Stuff Summer 2016


Summertime Fruit Tower Cake


Summertime Fruit Tower Cake

This scrumptious pillar of summer produce is fun to make — and requires no cooking.

By Amy Makechnie

While perusing the Internet for a nutritious, summertime cake recipe, I came across a rather ingenious picture of a “cake” I’d never made or seen before. Both creative and healthful, our very own towering cake of fruit was born (the title being a bit more appealing than “fruit cake.”)

Layered with naturally sweet and juicy fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, pineapple and berries, this cake is simple to make and will have your family and friends asking for seconds and thirds. With beautiful, bright colors containing all-natural ingredients and no artificial dyes or added sugar, this unique spin on “cake” is a terrific summertime alternative for those hot, humid summer days when you’d rather not turn on the oven.

The fruit tower cake contains ingredients high in antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals, but low in calories and fat. In addition, it’s hydrating and gluten-free, making it an excellent choice for a glorified snack or special event. With all the summertime produce coming into season, you might pluck the ingredients right out of your own garden, local farmer’s market or fruit stand.

In lieu of ice-cream or whipped cream, add plain Greek yogurt drizzled with local maple syrup for a bit of pizazz and protein. Got a birthday celebration coming up? Add some candles and you’re in business!

Recipe: Summertime Fruit Tower Cake

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 small watermelon
  • 1 cantaloupe
  • 1 honeydew melon
  • 1 pineapple
  • 1 cup blueberries and raspberries
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup


  1. Slice circles of watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon and pineapple about ½ inch thick. Start with the largest fruit circles as the base layer. Use a knife to cut out the middle or a biscuit cutter for a more uniform look. If the slices look too large, trim as needed.
  1. Layer watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple and honeydew. Repeat. Use long skewers to keep the cake from falling over.
  1. Top with cut kiwis, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.
  1. On the top, add a dollop of Greek yogurt drizzled with maple syrup. Prefer whipped cream? Make your own using one cup whipping cream and one tablespoon powdered sugar. Whip until light and fluffy.

Parent Tip

Try to make your cake circles as uniform as possible in terms of width, so they will stack more easily. The long skewers will definitely be helpful in keeping your cake upright and in place. Because watermelon tends to be the biggest fruit, I made that my first layer, but feel free to stack in whichever order makes sense in terms of size.

Amy Makechnie is a sports nutrition specialist, freelance writer and the mother of a wily flock of children. You can find her at maisymak.com


Kid Stuff Summer 2016

Transcending the Summer Doldrums


Transcending the Summer Doldrums

Educational coach offers a surprising response to a common complaint: “I’m bored.”

By Susan Cowan Morse

During the first several days of summer break, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, decompressing after long months of hard work and focus. After the first week or so, though, boredom sets in and frustration grows. As parents, it’s quite tempting to rely on a couple common strategies: either (a) fill your child’s summer days with activities, programs and camps or (b) succumb to the inevitable (and incessant) request for time on a computer, tablet or television — I call it “screen time.” Screen time is highly addictive; that blue glow sucks us in and, before we know it, hours have passed and we haven’t moved an inch or lifted our eyes from the screen.

This summer, I encourage children and parents to endure the boredom! “Why?!” you ask. “Are you crazy?” No, I’m not crazy. Summer is an opportune time for kids and grown-ups alike to let their minds wander. Let me explain.

The Inevitable “I’m bored”

A common summer day in any home with children: after breakfast, Ryan does as Mom suggests and heads outside to play. Within 15 minutes, he’s back. “I’m bored!” He exclaims that there is nothing —absolutely nothing — to do outside. “Why do I have to be outside? I just want to get on my computer and play Minecraft. Why won’t you let me? You are so mean. All of my friends are allowed to. Why can’t I?” After a barrage that leaves Mom feeling pecked to pieces, she relents and gives in. Ryan jumps on the computer. And the situation plays itself out over and over at various times of day with children of various ages in various homes throughout the summer.

Just Say “No”

Instead of playing out this scene in your own home, I challenge you to endure your child’s begging and say “no” to screen time. Eventually, most children will wander off and find something to do. When my children were young, after they tired of begging and pleading (which I often had to endure for 30 minutes or more), I would later find them building a fort in the woods, constructing a bike ramp, making things from cardboard boxes, or reading a book that had been sitting on the shelf for a year. Someone once said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Boredom with no quick fix (i.e. screen time) eventually drives a human being to invent entertaining and interesting activities.

A Journey from Gloom to Glee

Boredom is the doldrums one must break through in order to get to the zany, witty, splashy, colorful island of Creativity, where the ideas start flowing and the hands start moving and creating. Plenty of research has been conducted on this phenomenon by neuroscientists and creativity and productivity specialists, but I won’t bore you with the details. If you’re super interested, type “boredom benefits” into Google and see what comes up.

Truly “Free” Time

The human brain at every age needs time to wander. When it wanders, many important processes happen in the brain. Children need time to be creative. And I don’t mean time to do art projects. I mean time to invent, engineer, concoct, dream, experiment and more. Children of all ages need the time and space to find their inner artists, inventors, scientists, writers, engineers. That time and space must be free from rules set by adults, free of all — well, almost all — constraints. In days gone by, before television, computers and the Internet, this was when children were found playing in forts and treehouses or hanging out with friends, doing “nothing.”

Indeed, not all children are comfortable with unstructured time and space. It may take a little longer for some children, especially those outside their comfort zone. If you as the parent can grit your teeth and transcend your “bored” child’s complaints, he will find something creative to do. Holding your ground and allowing your children to find their way through the dark halls of boredom to the colorful world of their creative minds is perhaps the richest gift you can give your children this summer.


Be a Role Model

Grown-ups, too, are vulnerable to the mesmerizing blue glow of a smartphone or tablet. Consider how you spend your time and the behavior you model for your children. Is your smartphone or tablet always in your hand or nearby? Do you check it constantly? The more your children see you reading, writing, being creative and doing the sort of screen-free constructive things that you want them to do, the more likely it is that they will follow suit.


Susan Cowan Morse is an educational coach and consultant in Wilmot, N.H. Her new microschool, Tap Your Brilliance Learning Studio, is going strong in its first year. Her school specializes in personalized learning for students in grades 6 to 12. She may be reached at susancmorse@gmail.com


Kid Stuff Summer 2016

Boredom Busters

  • Push — well, figuratively speaking — your child to play outside and require they stay outside.
  • Gather a collection of reusable objects like toilet paper tubes, egg cartons, shoeboxes, shipping boxes, etc. Along with staples, tape, glue, and scissors, challenge them to build something.
  • Keep a box of random Legos. Lego kits are great but do not encourage raw creativity. Most children who are offered a large collection of random Legos will dive right in.
  • Spend time with your child in the kitchen. Many kids love to cook. Toss the recipes aside and let them go to town experimenting.
  • Look for craft activities to do and keep supplies on hand.
  • Plant a vegetable garden. Kids of all ages, even teens, get great satisfaction out of growing food. Gardens need care all summer so there will always be something to do outside: weed, thin, water, fertilize, pick. Short on space? Try container gardens.
  • Find out what your child dreams of making, building, or creating. Then find the materials and tools and make them readily available at all times.
  • Take your child to a Maker Space, where you can find all sorts of tools and workshops. Many local libraries offer Maker events and the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt., regularly schedules events. There’s also Generator in Burlington, Vt. and MakeIt Labs in Nashua, N.H.
  • Visit your local library frequently and keep an assortment of books in reach for your child. Books, books, and more books! There’s no such thing as too many books!

A Technology Contract for Tweens and Teens (and Parents!)

By Amy Nelson Makechnie

The technology contract idea came from Janell Burley Hoffman’s contract written for her teenage son and his new iPhone. It was published on December 2012 for The Huffington Post. As a mother of tweens and teens, I adapted it to fit our family. We want our children to be tech-savvy, but live in the present, and have meaningful and daily conversations with real people. As with any system, my experience is that laying out the rules ahead of time leads to a much smoother family life, with less arguing and ambiguity. Using this contract as a guide, I suggest getting input from kids during a family council. Tweak and adjust so it fits your individual family needs. Then, stick with it. And good luck!

Dear Children,

Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a cell phone, iPod, or iPad — Aren’t you lucky!? These devices are something your parents never had; we used a phone with a short curly cord attached to the wall in the kitchen.

Because we love you and want to raise responsible, kind and well-rounded children, here are some rules regarding your amazing piece of technology.

  1. Your [insert technology here: cell phone, iPod, iPad] is a family device. Your parents bought it and are letting you use it. Aren’t we awesome?
  2. We will always know the passwords for all of your devices.
  3. When your mom or dad calls, texts or emails, answer. This is the primary reason we gave you a phone: to communicate. Have good manners.
  4. At home, technology is to be used in public spaces — not bedrooms. We can talk about exceptions like homework.
  5. All devices are to be shut off and handed over to your parents at 8 p.m. until the next morning. If you need to make a call, text, or write an email after 8 p.m., ask permission. Be respectful of other families and their time together as we like others to be respectful of our family and our time.
  6. You may take your device to school. Use it wisely. Do not text or email during class. Have real face-to-face conversations with your teachers and friends during lunch and free time. It’s a life skill.
  7. If it falls in the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. Start saving. It will happen. Be prepared.
  8. Do not use your device to bully, lie, trick or deceive another human being. You are a kind person. Act that way.
  9. Do not text, email or say anything through this device that you would not say in person or in front of your parents.
  10. No pornography. If you have questions, ask a trusted adult — preferably your parents.
  11. At home, devices are put away during meals. In public places, like restaurants and theatres — or while speaking to another human being — turn off or silence your technology. Make eye contact. Real people are more important than websites and online games.
  12. Speaking of online games: they are addictive. Stay away from violence. Always ask yourself if you are using your time well.
  13. Do not take, send or receive seductive or inappropriate pictures of yourself or anyone else. Pictures don’t disappear and can ruin your reputation. Remember that you represent yourself and your family. Let your light shine.
  14. Ask permission before you download any apps or movies or visit “chat rooms.”
  15. Listen to different types of music. Try classical music. It will fill your mind with wonder. Never before has music been so accessible. Take advantage of this gift.
  16. Leave your technology at home sometimes. Live real life without the FOMO (fear of missing out.) Your technology is not alive — you are! Look up. See the world around you. Listen to nature. Take a walk. Think. Ponder. Wonder without “Googling.”
  17. After school, all homework, piano and chores must be done before screen time. (P.S. Your mom really appreciates a conversation about your day.)
  18. You will mess up. We will take your device away. We will talk about it. We will start over again. We are learning together. We are on your team.

Most of these lessons apply to life in general. Technology is an amazingly powerful and enticing tool. Use it well and always for good. Trust your mind and heart whenever you are using your phone or are on-line. Now, enjoy your new device — it’s going to be fun!

If you agree to the terms, please sign your name below.


Love, Mom and Dad

Download a text file of this contract for your personal use

September-October 2014

Feature: I Want a Puppy!

What to consider before adopting a pet
Text and Photography By Kim J. Gifford

“I want a puppy!” These words are almost inevitable. As a concept these small creatures — kids and dogs — seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. But what is good in theory doesn’t always work in practice, leaving many pets, parents and children frustrated and an ever-increasing number of dogs in animal shelters.

“A pet can be invasive to a family,” says David Cranage, a longtime border collie owner in Grantham, N.H. “A single person, couple or empty nester might be better able to adapt to the challenges, but when a child is involved there are additional complications. When something goes wrong, you end up frustrated, the dog ends up frustrated, and the next thing you know it’s bit someone, run away, or been hit by a car and you have to explain that to your kid.”

Assess Maturity

Avoiding scenarios such as this and even minor pitfalls, such as quarrels over who takes Fido out at night, requires determining when your children are actually ready for a dog and choosing the proper addition to your family. Most dog experts agree that once children reach ages 10 to 12, they are mature enough for parents to begin assessing whether they are ready for dog ownership.

“Ten to twelve is a neat age. Children are physically and mentally capable then of handling the day-to-day requirements, such as scooping poop, changing water, using a brush, etc. Pet ownership can be a great responsibility for children of this age to take on as long as they understand there is a lot of responsibility and incorporate this into a routine,” says Jackie Stanley, shelter manager at Lucy Mackenzie Humane Society in West Windsor, Vt.

Certified dog trainer Amanda Regan of Bethel, Vt., suggests parents first look at whether children are responsible in other areas of their lives. “Are they doing other things in the house — washing dishes, helping you clean up, consistently doing chores and doing them well?” she asks.

Introducing a dog into a family can have a number of benefits for children. “Dogs teach responsibility, caring for another individual and putting others’ needs above your own,” says Jessica Jones, DVM and owner of Country Animal Hospital in Bethel, Vt.

Carmen Lezama of Grantham, N.H., recently introduced a Havanese puppy into her family after years of urging by her daughters Astrid, 13, and Andrea, 11. She notes that the dog, Havana, has been helpful in getting the girls outside and moving. “There are benefits to the family. We are more active. The kids are more considerate of what they do,” she says. “They now ask themselves, ‘Do we want to go to that sleepover? Will Havana be by herself too long?’”

Proper timing seems to be key when choosing to add a pet to the home. Not only do the children need to be mature enough, but also every one in the family needs to be in agreement. “This is a full family decision,” says Cranage. “When it comes to families, if the whole family isn’t committed, if there is one adult who isn’t on board, then it’s not going to work,” adds his wife, Amy. The couple, along with their daughter, Emma, 11, recently added border collie sisters Tessa and Ellie to the family.

Lezama waited years before deciding she was ready to have a dog in her home. Growing up in Venezuela, she was accustomed to animals being outside. Embracing a pet indoors and ultimately being responsible for its care was not something she relished. When Astrid first asked for a puppy six years ago, she purchased a stuffed one instead. She eventually concluded that her family was ready for a pet through a series of baby steps — first fish, then birds, a neighbor’s hamster and, finally, a neighbor’s dog.

A Personal Stake

Leah Gifford and her husband, Paul, of East Randolph, Vt., also waited six years before introducing a small Pomeranian-Shih Tzu mix named Jasmine into their family. Their daughter Catherine, now 10, began asking for a small puppy to cuddle and take with her everywhere after seeing a Maltese when picking out the family’s larger breed dog years ago. The Giffords realized that since the family would potentially have two dogs at once, Catherine would need to assume some of the care of the smaller animal. To ensure she was ready, Gifford asked Catherine to save half the money to purchase her pet. “We wanted to instill in her a feeling of pride and a sense of ownership and responsibility,” she says. “There were no rules for her saving. She wanted to spend money at times, but would hesitate. Occasionally, I would tell her it was okay to spend some. She is a great saver.”

Jones agrees that getting a dog is a great time to talk to children about finances. “Pets are expensive — they eat cellphones. Even a cut paw can cost $200 to $300 to treat. It’s huge. This is a good time to have a discussion about everything owning a dog involves, including finances. Knowing a kid probably isn’t going to be completely responsible, you can still talk to them about whether they might have to contribute to its care,” she says.

Assuming everyone is on board with owning a dog, the next step is to do the research and have a support system in place. “You need to find the right dog, the right breeder and the right trainer to set your family up for success,” says Cranage.

In addition to babysitting a neighbor’s dog ahead of time, Lezama and her family also researched various breeds through books, Internet videos and television shows. While Jones doesn’t like to pigeonhole any breeds, there are some that are generally considered more kid-friendly — such as golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and poodles — though experts agree that what is crucial is finding a dog that fits the lifestyle of each particular family.

Train the Trainer

Stanley notes that families can also find excellent matches at shelters. Information is key when going this route; they gather as much as possible in order to make an informed match. There are numerous issues to take into consideration. For example, even if the children in a family are mature and knowledgeable about interacting with pets, do they have an active group of friends that comes over each day and makes a lot of noise? “This is good information for us to know ahead of time to make the right match,” Stanley says.

The initial introduction is important as well. When visiting a shelter, Stanley suggests that kids and parents take adoptable dogs for walks and get to know them. Jones stresses teaching children proper dog etiquette even before considering getting a dog.

“It’s important to teach good dog manners to your kids — such as never approach a strange dog without asking permission to pet it, never approach a dog from behind and start petting from its tail, don’t play with its feet until you know the dog, etc. Teaching kids how to be around dogs in general will make them better owners,” emphasizes Regan.

Regan encourages families not only to set up training classes for their new pet, but to have children come along as well. Making sure everyone is consistent and knowledgeable in training sets everyone up to succeed.

“You’re either all in or you’re out,” says Cranage. “If parents find themselves telling a child, ‘this is your dog and you are the one who is solely going to be responsible for it,’ you shouldn’t get the dog….ultimately the dog is part of a family and, as parents, we become the default caregivers.”

That said, there will always seem to be something precious about a child’s relationship with a pet. “It’s a beautiful relationship,” says Gifford. “Kids should have the experience of taking care of a real being and learning to be responsible for someone else.”

Parent Tip: Paws to Consider

So, your kids want a puppy. Here are a few things you can do to ensure a successful experience for the whole family.

  • Be Fido Friendly Don’t wait until it’s time to get a dog to teach your children how to act around one.
  • Do Your Homework Research, research and research some more. What are you looking for in a dog? Consider your family’s lifestyle. Are you active? Do you spend most of your time at home? Find a dog that fits in with the family’s activities and needs.
  • Consult the Experts Talk to your vet, the local animal shelter and respectable breeders. Ask questions and offer information about your family to ensure the best match.
  • Choose the Route that’s Right for You Humane societies and animal shelters are full of great dogs in need of a good home. Breeders are another alternative, especially when looking for a specific breed.
  • Start Small Not sure if your family is quite ready for a puppy? If your kids forget to feed the goldfish, they may not be prepared to take Spot out for a walk. Try a lower-maintenance pet and then work up to a dog.
  • Be Prepared Find a trainer, dog sitter and veterinarian. Puppy proof the house. Know where your dog will sleep and what rooms should be cordoned off ahead of time. Buy chew toys. Set your pup up for success.
  • Assign Tasks Talk to your kids beforehand. Decide who will be responsible for various jobs from feeding the dog to letting it outdoors. Have a plan and make sure each family member knows his or her role.
  • Be Responsible Dogs can teach children a lot about empathy and nurturing, but ultimately you are the parent and the success of bringing a puppy into your family lies with you.

Kim J. Gifford is a writer, photographer/artist, avid dog lover and blogger at pugsandpics.com. Her Bethel, Vt., home is always filled with nieces and nephews and her two pug dogs, Alfie and Waffles.

Originally published in the April-May 2015 issue of Kid Stuff