Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Equals Comfort

This post is part of the Food and Mood series.  Today’s guest author is Amanda Keefer. Welcome, Amanda!

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 2.14.39 PM

Tomato soup and grilled cheese is a classic, kid-friendly comfort food that many of us, including myself, relate back to cold winter days with family and friends. Even after moving away from the cold weather as an adult, the combo of tomato soup and grilled cheese still stir up a feeling of comfort for me. Now, I serve my own version of the duo to my family.

In this recipe I skip the sodium-packed canned soup and go for an easy, homemade version that’s packed with veggies! You can stir in 1 Tbsp. plain yogurt to each bowl for extra creaminess.

The mini grilled cheese sandwiches are perfect for little mouths and for dipping.

Now, As I share this recipe with my family, I feel a new sense of comfort knowing that I am passing along not only a taste, but a feeling for them to carry on to adulthood.

Want the full recipe? Check it out over at Produce for Kids.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 2.19.46 PM

Taking Your Child To A Funeral


Should we take our kids to the funeral?

That’s a sad question that most every parent will have to ask themselves at one time or another.  We recently lost a dear family friend and my husband and I found ourselves asking this very question.  Now that a few weeks have gone by and I’ve reflected a bit, I have come up with a few thoughts on the topic.  Here goes:

Funerals are important for many reasons: they provide structure to our grief, they answer questions about the meaning of death and what happens after life, they give us the opportunity to grieve with (and support) others; and perhaps most importantly, they allow us to participate in a tradition that humans have been participating in for many, many years.  And just doing something that our ancestors did can be comforting.

The other part about funerals, though is that they are sad, and often quiet, and can bring up lots of questions too.  So, should we bring our kids along? A few things to consider:

  • Kids can be a wonderful distraction from grief.  Lively, healthy, happy children can be a lovely contrast to the pain of losing a loved one.  But not always.  Sometimes they are too much of a distraction, though – like my 3 year old would have been at the funeral – he didn’t join us.  In this case, they might be best left at home.
  • Funerals are part of life.  We are all going to die.  As hard as that is to write down, of course it is true.  Shielding our children from that reality isn’t doing them any favors.  Allowing them to witness others grieving, consoling, supporting, remembering and loving each other is.
  • Life isn’t just about us.  At the recent funeral I attended, I experienced the importance of tradition, history, culture, language, music and food in times of grief.  Just like in times of celebration (weddings, births, baptisms), grieving families benefit from the familiarity of shared family and community traditions.  Life isn’t all about us.  It’s also about the many people who came before us, and all those who will come after us.   And important lesson for all kids (and adults) to learn.
  • Sometimes things are boring, long and uncomfortable.  The funeral we attended was all in Greek (literally), was quite long, and we pretty much had no idea what was going on.  But that wasn’t the point.  The point was to sit quietly and respectfully as we remembered our deceased friend and showed his family our love and support.  Just like life isn’t all about us, it also isn’t always instantly-gratifying.  The sooner and better we learn that, the easier life will be.



Cyber Monday: Good for Mental Health?

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 4.48.25 PM

Shopping is one of those tricky things that can be both good and bad for mental health.  On the one hand, shopping can be a fun distraction and excursion with friends.  It can also be relaxing when done alone, when you can spend 20 minutes perusing purple necklaces if that’s what you want to do – and with no one bugging you to move on to Cinnabon.

The downside, of course can be that when done to excess, shopping can quickly become out of control and wreak havoc on finances.  This time of year can be particularly treacherous when there are so many SALES and DEALS and SAVINGS!  It’s tough to resist all these “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunities to save (and spend) money.

With all the pros and cons of shopping in mind, I have decided to do something new this year: make all of my holiday purchases on-line.  I have decided to test the theory that on-line shopping will be better for my mental health than mall shopping.  Here are the few of the reasons I think this hypothesis is true:

  • As I get older I have less patience for crowds and loud noises – both of which are abundant in malls and shopping centers
  • When I shop in a brick and mortar store I am super-susceptible to buying things a) I don’t need b) the people I’m buying gifts for don’t want (how many Bath and Body Works products do any of us really need, anyway? ugh)
  • I love seeing packages waiting at my front door – silly, but true
  • Shopping on-line allows me to be a lot more clever and creative than I am in real life.  Google “great gifts for 10 year old boys” and you have more cool, educational AND fun gift ideas than you will ever need

I was recently contacted by Pearl & Clasp about taking a look at some of their earrings.  It was meant to be.  My online shopping experiment ready to go, together with my LOVE LOVE LOVE for jewelry – we made a perfect pair!

Here’s what arrived on my doorstep (it’s looking good already!):

9mm Button Pink Freshwater earrings Pearl & Clasp

9mm Button Pink Freshwater earrings
Pearl & Clasp

Darling little (but not-too-little), pink pearl earrings.  They are very sweet and would work for an adult or a young girl – not that I will be giving mine away.  This online shopping stuff is definitely improving my mental health so far!

Want to do a little shopping of your own? Check out Pearl & Clasp’s holiday deals.


Mental Illness and the Holidays

Screen shot 2014-11-11 at 2.10.47 PM

As soon as Halloween rolls around, psychologists around the country know to expect their phones to start ringing.  The combination of shorter days (and less sunlight), the time change and the impending holidays proves to be a tough mix for a lot of us.  As a result mood can go down, anxiety can go up and mental health can fly right out the window.

There are about a million reasons why the holidays can be hard on our mental health.  But contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just those who have lost a loved one who might struggle during this season.  It’s also those who have strained family relationships, those who struggle financially, those who aren’t where they thought they’d be at this point in life, and those who don’t feel they measure up at any point in the year – let alone this one.

The holidays are also tough on mental health because so much is expected of us.  We’re expected (often by ourselves AND others) to have perfect homes, perfect clothes, and perfect appetizers set on a perfectly-decorated table.  We’re also expected to have smiles on our faces, thanks in our hearts and plenty of joy and Christmas cheer to spread to everyone (even when we don’t feel it ourselves).  Some of us don’t get invited to any holiday gatherings and feel dejected about that.  Others get invited to so many parties that the entire month of December is spent in the car scurrying from one festivity to another.  Some have no one to celebrate with, others have plenty of people around – but not the one they wish were there.

No matter how you cut it, the holidays are tough on mental health.  For that reason, it’s important to be aware of the resources around us to help us get through until January 1st.  Here are a couple useful links:

Surviving the Holidays – With Flair

Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress – Produce for Kids

Tips for Parents on Managing Holiday Stress – APA

If times get really tough and you’re finding it hard to cope alone, consider reaching out to a psychologist.  Here’s how to find one close to you:

APA Psychologist Locator

Psychology Today

If you need to talk to someone right away, try:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Suicide Hotlines by state


How to Stop Worrying About Ebola

Even if you have tried to ignore the stories about Ebola over the past few months, the news has been impossible to avoid.  And now that the disease has hit close to home, many of us are left with worries and fears concerning our own health.  While we know that sitting in our living rooms worrying about it won’t do any good, it can be hard to know what else to do.  So, I have gathered a couple great resources on managing worries around Ebola.

My favorite tip is to take a break from news coverage.  When we are bombarded with media coverage about any event – including this one – it can cause significant anxiety.  And lots of anxiety over a long period of time is no good for our health, or the health of our families and communities.

Check out some other resources here:

How and Why You Should Ease Your Ebola Fears – Your Mind. Your Body:

It’s important to always stay alert, to be informed and take precautions if you think you may be at risk for coming into contact with any virus. But to help maintain emotional well-being, it’s critical to ease Ebola fears by reviewing the facts, maintaining perspective, and upholding hope.
Keep things in perspective. Limit worry and agitation by lessening the time you and your family spend watching or listening to upsetting media coverage. Although you’ll want to keep informed — especially if you have loved ones in affected countries — remember to take a break from watching the news and focus on the things that are positive in your life and things you have control over.

Ipads in the Classroom: Good for Mental Health?

I was recently interviewed for a story about using ipads in the classroom.  It’s a hot topic around these parts (Northern Colorado) as the school districts are – for the first time ever! – distributing ipads to all students.  I think most people agree that this is pretty cool, and a sign that our schools are keeping up with the time.  Sure, there will some glitches to work out and some naughtiness that will most definitely occur, but most folks agree that schools need to embrace technology.

But, here’s the angle I didn’t think about until the reporter asked me: “Does ipad use in the classroom count toward a child’s daily allotment of screen time?”

Hmmm…excellent question.

My first thought was “no” because kids are using ipads, presumably, as a learning tool when they are in school.  But the more I thought about it I wondered if a screen-heavy classroom necessitates a screen-lite home life?  After all, it’s more physical activity and in person interaction that we are aiming for when we set screen limits, right?  It’s a tough question, and one that will likely answer itself as the school year wears on.

Here are some of my thoughts that appeared in the article in the Johnstown Breeze:

But is using an iPad all day healthy for children?

“It can definitely be part of a psychologically healthy classroom,” said Smith, who has more than 10 years of experience in the field. “… It can be a wonderful complement.”

Smith said moderation is the key. She said parents should work closely with teachers to be sure about how the iPads are to be used at home. She also said that parents should put strict limits on entertainment screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of entertainment screen time a day for children and teens.

“We need to be careful of not having kids on screen, TV, iPad too much,” she said. “Technology in the classroom can be useful when it’s part of the instruction, not a babysitter.”

Happiness: Easier to Find Than We Think?

I am writing this post as part of The American Psychological Association’s Mental Health Blog Day. #MHBlogDay

I'm Blogging for Mental Health.

Sometimes it can feel as if true happiness is elusive.  Between the stresses of work, relationships, parenting, money and all the other goings on in the world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, sad, angry and just plain fed up.  I’m not questioning the reality of the stressors listed above, and I’m certainly not doubting the very real effects of mental illness on mood.  However, I do think we – at least sometimes – tend to make happiness more complicated than it has to be.

I have dedicated the month of May as The Picture of Happiness Month on this blog.  I have invited women from all parts of my life to share a picture of what makes them happy.  The catch? The pictures can’t include family, pets or lovers.  What I’ve discovered (about halfway through the month) is that just as we all look different and choose different paths for our lives, the things that bring us happiness are different too.

True, lasting happiness and contentment might be elusive for many of us; but momentary joy and pleasure are within almost everyone’s reach.

Take a look at some Pictures of Happiness:

Screen shot 2014-05-13 at 5.58.17 PM

Screen shot 2014-05-13 at 5.59.44 PM

Screen shot 2014-05-13 at 6.01.04 PMScreen shot 2014-05-14 at 8.44.35 AMWant to see more Pictures of Happiness? Follow along on Dr Stephanie this month, or check it out on Facebook or Twitter.


Jesus, Diapers and Chardonnay

Welcome to Moms’ Month on Dr. Stephanie! This month I will be featuring guest posts from some awesome moms around the country.  They will be sharing tips, tricks, and funny stories about motherhood.  This will be a fun celebration – thanks for joining us!  Today’s author is Chara Ramer.  Welcome, Chara!

Photo: Lancia Smith

Hi! I’m Chara and I am the mama of two fabulous boys, ages 3 and almost 6.  I work as a bookkeeper, but my passion is being with my kids as well as writing.  I hope to write in such a way that opens dialogue where it is most needed but seldom happens.  I hope to create a safe space for Moms to support each other in this journey.
To that end, I am getting my blog up and running:

So I gotta be honest…sometimes I really don’t like my kids.  Take this moment to judge me all you want, but please keep reading.  I love my kids. They are brilliant, adorable, fabulous, inspiring…and often exhausting.  Don’t get me wrong, I really do usually like them, and I always love them.   But being a mom is hard, and being nice to my kiddos day in day out is even harder.
I think the problem is that our society doesn’t give us space, or license to talk in such terms.  We are all walking around pretending that we feel that raising children is this continuously fabulous and joyous experience that we are privileged to be a part of.  And that is very true, some of the time.  But the rest of the time, Mothering is hard work.  Mothering requires great effort, endless sacrifice, and constant innovation.  We are always on call, we never really have a day off, and our job description changes by the hour.
As moms we spend a lot of time feeling guilty, and this guilt keeps us from expressing what is really going on inside.  But as with any difficult situation (and ladies, let’s face it, raising children is difficult), we can find comfort in knowing we are not alone.  We can find refreshment in ideas from other like minded equally honest “colleagues.”  We can find rest for our weary spirits sometimes if we just pause long enough to admit that this is really a struggle, and its okay not to love it every minute of every day.
So if you are reading this, and you do not struggle, then I applaud you, and even envy you.  If you are struggling, but feel too scared to tell anyone, then think about taking a risk.  Chances are, moms around you are feeling the same way.
Just go for total disclosure, and trust that other Mamas will feel relieved and empowered by your honesty.  I mean don’t we all wonder who we can talk to when all you want to say is “I can’t stand being around my kid right now, I feel like I am a crappy mom, and all I really want to do is take a nap for 3 days.”  If only each of us had another mom to call when we feel such things…
For instance, lately my 3 year old has been making me totally nuts.  Literally “Bouncing off the walls” is an understatement of his behavior the past few weeks.  Last week at my older son’s kindergarten graduation party, I had to run out to the car to grab something.  I found a couple of my “Mommy friends” and said to them:  “Could you keep an eye on him real quick?  Because if I have to take him all the way out to the car and back, I might just give him away to someone.”  They laughed, a bit awkwardly in that way we moms do when we don’t know how to respond to another mom.  Then I smiled a big smile saying:  “Of course I wouldn’t give him away, that would be crazy…I would sell him for money.”  Their awkward smiles just got bigger.  But beneath the somewhat strained smiles, was an element of relief that they weren’t the only ones having a tough time with their kids.  As I walked out of the room I said with a big smile, “Clearly I’m just kidding…well, mostly kidding.”
Of course I would never actually put my 3 year old up for sale (does EBay even have a category for that?).  But sometimes, just in joking about it (when the kids are clearly out of earshot and can’t be emotionally damaged by what I’m saying!), I find I can breathe a little easier.
Bottom line; let’s be a little more honest about the tough stuff.  Let’s support each other a bit more by admitting that we all have our moments of extreme joy, and also extreme anguish when it comes to this journey called motherhood.  And if all else fails, pour yourself a glass of wine or sparkling water with lime, sit down for a minute no matter how crazy the kids are, and remind yourself that you are fabulous, and your kids are so fortunate to have you as their Mama.