Tag Archives: Family Guide

Campfire Stories

March 16, 2018 by

The Fisher Stars

Constellations have fascinating histories, and different cultures have their own takes on the figures that can be seen in the stars. One of the more famous constellations is commonly known as the Big Dipper, but the Big Dipper wasn’t always known as such. In the early 1900s, a family might have called it the plough (a cultural remnant from England and Ireland). One of the more interesting explanations of the Big Dipper is this sacred story from the Ojibwa (also known as Chippewa):

Once there was a great man named Gitchi Odjig, and Gitchi Odjig was a great hunter. This was a good thing, because at one time on Earth, there was only winter. The world wasn’t completely unpleasant—if you worked hard, you could get enough; but all the days were cold, and all the days were icy. Your life was basically the freezing and thawing of your fingers. Gitchi Odjig’s skills served him well in this cold world.

Gitchi Odjig and his family had heard a story that explained that the sky they looked to every day wasn’t only a roof, it was a floor as well: a floor to a world in which winter was not present. The water in that world was free of ice. The trees wore green glossy things called leaves. You could walk during the day without a coat or hat. It was a beautiful story to hang on to, but even if people believed it, they didn’t think there was much anyone could do about the cold. Things were the way they were.

Gitchi Odjig’s son, however, didn’t think that way. He wanted to do something to make things better. He thought it would be wonderful if the warm world above somehow opened to this one. He held on to the idea.

Then, one day, Gitchi Odjig’s son was hunting, and he got a good bead on a squirrel. The squirrel stood up and spoke: “Please put away your arrows. There is something I think you’d like to know.”

Gitchi Odjig’s son was surprised, but he dropped his weapon and listened.

“You know and I know the constant cold we both live in is no picnic,” began the squirrel. “This frozen ground doesn’t yield much and is incredibly unforgiving. But there is something called summer, and it exists in the world above us. There is a weather that is warm and abundant. Instead of killing me, let’s work together to see how we can somehow bring that world here.”

The son took this information to his father, who felt that this was a sign and that it was time to hold a feast and discuss the matter. He invited all the animals he knew, and together they decided that they would travel to the highest mountain peak, and break through to the summer world.

They found the peak, and cracked through the top of the sky into the world above. They all climbed through. Gitchi Odjig couldn’t believe what he was feeling—the wind wasn’t bitterly cold; the trees rustled with beautiful drifts of leaves instead of clattering and whistling their bare branches; the ground was lush and green, and hummed with the music of insects; the water in the streams and rivers wasn’t cluttered and scabbed with ice. He was standing in the middle of summer.

But the people of that world did not appreciate these intruders, and they did not appreciate that the edges of the hole these intruders had climbed through had cracked and crumbled, and now summer (and spring, and fall) gushed down onto the earth in a giant torrent of colors, and life, and change.

They fixed the hole and started to chase Gitchi Odjig. In order to go faster, he turned himself into a fisher (which is a like a badger, or wolverine) and he was almost caught when he recognized that the people of this world were some of his distant relatives. He called on this connection, and convinced them to let him go.

Although he had gotten free, he could not break again through to the Earth. This saddened him, but beneath his sadness was a deep peace and satisfaction. He had brought the seasons to the Earth. He laid himself down at the scar where he had entered the sky, and was happy.

You can still see him laying there in the night sky, with the four points of the Dipper as the four points of his body, and the handle of the dipper his lithe tail.

The Cornfield Spider

You might have heard of the Jersey Devil, a beast that haunts the woods of New Jersey. That story involves a woman who was in league with evil spirits. She gave birth to a child which appeared normal at first, but then began to grow and change at awful speed, its head transforming into a goat’s head, its body becoming long and winnowed and serpent-like, and its back sprouting great leathery wings.

This area also has a legend like that. At the heart of this story is a beast that makes the Jersey Devil seem tame. This story involves a 12-year-old boy in league with shadowy forces:

One July night, a farmer who tended 500 acres west of Omaha saw his son at the edge of a field talking to a strange figure. The farmer called to his son, and the boy and the figure turned. The figure dissipated into thin air, but the boy ran, setting off up a slope into the knee-high corn. The father gave chase.

He again called to his son. The boy reached the top of the ridge and turned to look at his father. Then he disappeared down the other side. The father ascended. When the farmer was nearly at the top of the wide hill, something rose up from the other side—but it wasn’t his son.

It was a terrible thing with a long thin torso, great long arms, and wild long fingers that ended in thorny claws. It bent over long thin legs. According to the farmer, it was covered in wiry brown hair, and had an almost spiderlike body, with a small long head, like a human’s head that had been pulled in a taffy puller, then given sharp long teeth and wide lidless eyes. The farmer turned and ran. He could hear the thing loping after him. He made it back to the farmhouse, slammed and locked the door, and heard the wild scratching. Then, nothing.

He never saw his son again. However, a handful of people have seen a similar creature on summer nights, sometimes standing still and watching, sometimes giving desperate chase.

This article was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide.     

Scouts of Honor

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lillian Henry heard something scratching on the rolled-down screen of her cabin door at Camp Catron. She cautiously peered out into the pitch black night. 


Lilly jumped when she saw glowing eyes. A lot of eyes. Raccoons? But raccoons couldn’t possibly be way up here. Lilly, along with four other Girl Scouts, were packed into a sky cabin. The wooden structure elevated them into the trees well above the ground and out of reach of raccoons.

“We are all going to die,” one girl freaked out, screaming.

Lilly couldn’t blame her. Lilly wanted gum. It always calmed her down. Her sister, Genavieve “Evie,” had what she needed, but she was far away. Outside was whatever had the glowing eyes and was scratching on their door.  Bravery or impulsiveness rushed through the then-12-year-old-girl.

“People don’t make good choices at 3 a.m., even Girl Scouts,” Lilly, now 14, recalls, laughing.

Along with a friend, Lilly walked out in the cool night air. She banged on the door and woke up her sister.

“I was having a scary dream about a bear eating me,” Evie says.

But she didn’t get angry at her sister and laughed it off.  Pawprints on the screens confirmed the girls’ fear in the morning. The sisters believed the raccoons wanted to share in the fun, be honorary members of the squad. This camaraderie and adventure are two of the reasons why the pair have been in Girl Scouts well into their middle and high school years.

Evie, a sophomore at Gretna High School, started as a Daisy Scout, skipped Brownies, and returned as a Senior Scout. She plans to become an Ambassador. Lilly started as a Brownie. The eighth grader at Gretna Middle School is now a Cadette with Troop No. 44640. They are on the fence about camping. It depends on the weather or the mosquitos.

“Mosquitos get you in places you never knew existed,” Evie says.

This doesn’t deter them from zip-lining, tubing, and other outdoor escapades. In fact, the entire Henry family bonds over their love of all things Scouts. Heather is the leader of Evie’s troop, No. 43855. Matt leads his youngest two sons’ Cub Scouts Pack No. 244. Nick, 12, spends his time in Troop No. 282 with the Boys Scouts.

“It’s definitely a shared experience,” Matt says.

The sisters, dressed in their badge-adorned vests, are adamant their Scouts rule. Boy Scouts focus more on camping while the girls’ program offers a diverse mix of fun and education. It doesn’t matter if someone is a girly-girl or a tomboy.

“It [Girl Scouts] balances the love of outdoors and spa parties,” Heather agrees. “Girls just like to have fun.”

Nick, though, enjoys pitching a tent surrounded by the fresh air of the wilderness.

“You hear the crickets. You look up into the night sky and see a ton of stars,” Nick says.

Nick tells stories around a blazing campfire set by his own two hands. Along the way, he is gaining knowledge about being a leader and speaking in front of a group.

Signature programs are offered for boys and girls all the way to senior year and includes such topics as college applications, conferences, or leadership skills. 

Lilly believes the educational opportunities and activities empower women. She made a car out of candy on Engineering Day and learned how to put together a toilet from the only female plumber in Lincoln. Scouting has opened her eyes to a world of possibilities for young women.

Evie loves to help the younger children and meet fellow “sisters.”

“They are full of energy and have these cute ideas. They don’t know the world will fight them every step of the way,” Evie says.

Evie was once that little girl, sitting around the campfire terrified of her first time without her parents. Only 7 or 8, she wanted to go home.

“Why don’t you have some s’mores,” a leader told her. She helped Evie through her fears while they munched on sandwiches of toasted marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers. Leaders like these have inspired Evie to become more extroverted.

Wendy Hamilton, a senior development director, met the sisters through the Girl Scout Advisory Group (GSAG) two years ago. The girls connected with Wendy’s gung-ho attitude, determination, and her love of all things pink. 

“Lilly is so positive and represents her age group in a mature way. Nothing scares Lilly, ever,” Hamilton says.

Except maybe raccoons at 3 a.m.

She says Evie is “always supportive of other girls.” Hamilton has seen her become more comfortable with herself. The sisters couldn’t be more different. Evie wants to be an engineer or a dentist. Lilly wants to be an English teacher or writer. The two still fight over things like socks, but the friendship is tight.

Volunteering, including selling those famous cookies, can stack on the hours, but it’s worth it.  The girls earned a trip to Washington D.C. to immerse themselves in history. The family works together to sell Christmas trees or popcorn. It can be chaotic with five children, but it works when the family can unite over shared interests.

Some days are wilder than others, but the Henrys are happy being together.

Front row, l-r: Nick, Johnny, and Daniel Henry
Back row, l-r: Heather, Genavieve, and Lillian Henry

This article was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide.

From the Editor

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I recently picked up the book The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler. It is a book that starts at Boy Scout camp in the 1960s and follows the longtime friendship of two men who meet as boys at camp.

I’m excited to start this book because it combines a couple of my joys in life. This summer, like every summer, I plan to spend several days in the woods camping with my husband and our group of fellow Volkswagen Bus owners. This magazine features the camping adventures of a school counselor, a family of Scouts, and more. The guide in this edition showcases a wide variety of summer camps in the area.

Reading is another of my favorite pastimes, and it’s a great activity for summer. One of my fondest memories is that of my mother taking my sister and me to the public library in our small town to participate in the summer reading program. Each summer, the event included puppet shows, arts and crafts, and lots of reading. The summer before I started third grade, I won third place for the number of pages read, which meant a reporter snapped my picture for the weekly newspaper and I received a goodie bag full of prizes.

The best way for parents to encourage their students to read is to read themselves. Why not put away the electronics for an hour before bed each night as a family and read a book? When people ask me, “Wow, how do you manage to read 12 books a year?” I tell them that I digital detox each night before I go to bed. Another idea might be to encourage kids to read during the heat of the afternoon when one needs to find a cool spot and escape.

Whether your summer is filled with camping, reading, or other adventures, I wish you and your family a fantastic school break.

Daisy Hutzell-Rodman is the managing editor of Family Guide, a publication of Omaha Magazine LTD. She can be reached at daisy@omahamagazine.com.

This letter was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Hey Parents-

This sponsored content was printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide. To view, click here: https://issuu.com/omahapublications/docs/fg_flipbook_0318/2

Summer slide may sound like an exciting activity, but in reality it’s no fun. The term refers to the learning loss many children experience over the summer. Research shows that without access to learning activities throughout the summer, kids fall behind academically. For students who are already behind in school, summer learning loss pushes them even farther behind their peers. Repeat this year after year, and major consequences develop, as one in six children who do not read proficiently by third grade fail to graduate high school in time—four times the rate for third graders with proficient skills.

“We want children to have the best summer ever, and of course that means time for play, but it’s also important that children continue to engage and learn,” said Jenny Holweger, Vice President of Program Development at the YMCA of Greater Omaha. “A child’s development is never on vacation, and at YMCA Summer Camps, kids don’t just learn about the world around them; they actively engage in the world around them.”

In Omaha, the YMCA of Greater Omaha helps prevent the summer slide by offering a diverse selection of summer camps that keep kids active while sharpening their minds.

The stress of finding the right summer camp can feel overwhelming, but with the YMCA of Greater Omaha’s easy-to-read Camp Guide (now available online and at all nine YMCA of Greater Omaha locations), shopping for the best summer camp fit is as simple as browsing through a catalog.

With such a variety of camp options, it’s easy to find the perfect camp to keep your child engaged, and learning, while having fun along the way.

YMCA summer camps include: day camp for kindergarten-twelve years, the outdoor-enthusiastic favorite Camp Platte for ages 6-15, half and full day specialty camps that allow for mastery of topics ranging from babysitting to healthy living to Lego building for ages 5-14, STEM camps for kindergarten-fifth grade, preschool camp, and teen leadership camps.

Outside of camp, parents and caregivers can help by keeping their children reading and engaged in learning throughout the summer. Here are a few tips from the Y to help parents get started:

Foster an Early and Ongoing Passion for Books—Read to and with your kids. Start a book series together and read each night as a family. Reading at night keeps the brain buzzing and young minds active!

Visit Your Local Library—Explore new books you and your kids may have missed to keep your mind sharp during the summer. Be sure to check out special programming while you’re there; many libraries offer classes, story time or programs throughout the summer.

Cut Screen Time—With smartphones, tablets, video games, television and movies there are more options than ever for your child to entertain themselves with screens, but children should spend no more than two hours per day in front of a screen.

Enroll Your Kids in Camp—Camps like those offered at the Y provide well-rounded programming, make learning fun and provide a social outlet for your children throughout the summer.

Pick up your YMCA camp guide today at all YMCA of Greater Omaha location or online at metroymca.org/camp.

FamilyGuide Cover Redesign

Illustration by Mady Besch, Matt Wieczorek, and Bill Sitzmann

The cover of the 2018 FamilyGuide summer camp edition was conceptualized as an image that would grab the attention of both parents and children using vibrant colors and a singular theme.

This being summer camp, I used geometric shapes in the composition: circles for the sun; triangles for trees; and an intricate campfire scene with a tent, fire, and traditional summer camp sign with arrows pointing to the articles within. 

I first created the cover in Adobe Illustrator as a digital mock-up to size, and from there selected different felt materials for the actual shapes to cut out. Thanks to our art director, Matt Wieczorek, and photograper, Bill Sitzmann, we were able to exaggerate the shadows of the shapes and give the cover a real 3-D effect that conveyed the feel and texture of felt on glossy printed paper.

This cover redesign departs from the static look (recurring icons with different cover colors) found in previous FamilyGuide covers. We plan to carry stylistic elements of this cover redesign through the rest of the year’s editions of FamilyGuide.

Find the new edition of FamilyGuide for free at select locations around town (omahamagazine.com/locations).

Lending Book and a Helping Hand

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On a recent Monday evening, Omahan Kalli Pettit wheeled a squeaky book cart down a hospital hallway. A pair of teenagers jostled each other as they walked past.

Kalli, not much older at age 18, continued pushing the cart toward a family waiting area where she spotted a father busy on his cellphone and a preschooler bouncing from seat to seat.

“Book on a cart,” the young boy shouted with excitement.

“Would you like to pick out a book?” Kalli asked. 

The father placed the caller on hold to help his son.

“Look, Dad! Dinosaurs!”

Even though the interaction was brief, Kalli says seeing the young boy’s smile stretch from ear to ear was worth every bit of time she spends volunteering at Omaha Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.

The Marian High School senior started volunteering with the hospital in summer 2017. Teen volunteer services at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center typically increases in the summer months as young students are on break from school. Kalli started volunteering a few hours each week in June at the hospital’s Kids Camp, which is an area designated for siblings of family members attending routine clinic appointments to long-term care.

Friends and family say she’s always gravitated to helping kids. Perhaps it’s because not so long ago Kalli was in their shoes.

Kalli had a recent episode that forced her to spend a few nights at that very hospital’s sixth floor—the next area in which she planned to wheel the book cart. 

It wasn’t her first trip to the hospital. In 2009, Kalli—daughter of Mark and Kristie Pettit—was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 9.

“I remember being so young when nurses and doctors explained what was happening to my body,” Kalli says. “I was worried all of the time, but remember how calm the nurses and doctors were. They really inspired me to give back. It’s why I’m here today volunteering.”

She wants to spread that support and positivity to other kids.

“Having been a patient there initiated the whole idea,” says Kristie of her daughter’s volunteer work. “She loves to work with kids. Always has.”

“These kids have so much going in their lives. They’re trying to stay strong,” Kalli says. “As a volunteer, you can’t show them you’re sad.”

Kalli volunteers in the Teen Connection at Children’s Volunteer Services with roughly 50 other students to help in various capacities from the book cart to kids camps and hospital greeters.

“She’s been a great volunteer,” says Angela Loyd, a spokeswoman who oversees the Volunteer Services department. “She’s so cheerful and nice when helping families.”

“I want to make kids feel welcome at the hospital. Just knowing their minds are at ease a little bit as we play is worth my time,” Kalli says. “Sometimes we would paint or draw or play house. Really whatever they wanted to do that day. I always felt bad when it was time to leave because I didn’t want to leave.”

Knowing she has the power to make a difference in someone’s life is rewarding, Kalli says. She encourages other young people to consider service opportunities in their areas.

“No matter what, always have a positive attitude,” she advises. “How you express yourself can affect the way other people view you and how they’ll react to you.”

Visit childrensomaha.org for more information.

This article was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Passing On Education

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As a freshman at North High School, Elaundra Nichols knew she would someday go to college—she just wasn’t sure what that would look like or what it would take to get there.

An excellent student in math and science, Nichols figured she’d go to a state school—probably the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she attended several summer science camps, or the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Then, Nichols spent a week at the College of Saint Mary Summer Academy the summer before her sophomore year.

“I didn’t even know College of Saint Mary existed before I attended that camp—and it changed my opinion about attending a small school that’s also an all-girls school,” says Nichols, now a second-semester freshman at CSM studying science to become an occupational therapist.

As a young African-American woman, the ability to surround herself with other African-American women was important to her, and to College of Saint Mary.

“One of the things we try to show people who come from these two populations (African-American and Latina) is that if you have an interest, if you persist, you can do it,” says Summer Academy Coordinator Alexis Sherman.

“That experience changed my life in many ways because not only did I learn about CSM, but I also saw and listened to other African-American women who went to CSM during the camp. It completely changed my outlook in many ways.”

Nichols says she learned about the camp (there also is a separate camp in the summer for young Latina women) from a guidance counselor at her school.

Word was out that CSM was looking for African-American students interested in science, so she filled out an application and paid the fee — a mere $25 for the whole week.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “This was a full week. Plus, all of the presenters and counselors at the camp were African-American women and students. I was really excited but also a bit apprehensive at first.”

Like many camps on college campuses, Nichols was quickly immersed in the college experience—living in the dorms, eating at the cafeteria, attending regular sessions and meetings, etc.

At CSM, Nichols immediately loved the forensics and coding classes she took in the mornings. She was drawn to meet and interact with other African-American women.

In the evenings, fun activities brought campers and counselors together to share stories, ideas, experiences, and dreams.

“Almost all of the counselors were CSM students, so it was a great experience to learn about science, but also learn about their experiences in college as women, and African-American women,” Nichols says.

“The speakers they brought in were really amazing, with great stories and experiences. It made it very easy to understand where they were in their lives in relation to where we would be in a couple of years.”

Nichols says she returned to the camp the summer after her junior year, and enrolled as a full-time student at CSM last fall. She participates in student senate and HALO (Honorable African-American Leadership Organization), and works in the CSM Student Leadership Office.

Nichols is excited once again for this summer’s CSM Summer Academy because she’s returning as a counselor.

She can’t wait to pass along all that she’s learned to the next group of young African-American women.

“I’m really looking forward to being as helpful and inspirational to them as the counselors were to me when I was attending as a student,” says Nichols, who keeps in touch with many of her fellow campers and counselors.

“I felt very empowered during my time at the camp, and I want these young women to see how powerful and smart they can be. The goal is to get them all on the right track to go to college, and I want them to know that there are options for them just as there were for me.”

UNL Big Red Summer Camps

Summer camps on UNL’s Lincoln campus also offer experiences that coordinator Lindsay Shearer says “give kids an opportunity to explore what college has to offer.”

UNL camp themes include: chickens, culinary arts, engineering, entrepreneurship, filmmaking, outdoor Nebraska, veterinary science, weather and climate science, and unicameral youth legislature.

“It’s an opportunity to explore what college has to offer. They get a chance to interact with faculty in their chosen field,” Shearer says.

This article was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Kids Otter Know

Photography by provided

Summer camps with swimming activities will certainly have safety practices in place, but parents should take steps ahead of time to help their children be safer in and around pools and lakes. According to Tracy Stratman, recreation manager for the City of Omaha Parks and Recreation Department, water safety begins before anyone enters the water.

“You don’t even have to be by a body of water; you learn about the dangers and how to be responsible in and around water,” she says. “Water safety should be taught as the child grows like any other safety discussion we have with our children.”

Stratman recommends that families review pool regulations and swimming rules, including such particulars as depth boundaries, the distance between the child and an adult, and which fixtures (i.e., diving boards, slides, fountains) are permitted, along with the appropriate activities for each.

Formal water safety instruction offered by the city and other sources emphasizes rules. Jenny Holweger, YMCA of Greater Omaha’s vice president of program development, says that YMCA water safety and swim lessons have recently been modified, including stronger emphasis on out-of-pool guidelines that also promote safety.

“We’ve decided we should be intentional about teaching things like asking permission from an adult to get into the water and other fundamentals,” she says. “We have been teaching kids to swim for 175 years; it evolves over time. We always concentrated on personal safety and rescue skills, but the water safety skills we have honed in on for participants now are very practical. And they’re things all kids, all adults—everyone—should know.”

Another important concept for parents to practice, and teach, is respect for others in any public swimming facility or beach. That can mean taking turns on slides and diving boards; not shoving, splashing, or dunking other children; and even curbing exuberant shrieking and yelling.

“It’s just being cognizant of those who are around you,” Holweger says. “Just being aware of your surroundings and who else is in that space, and being polite and courteous.”

“Kids are all out for fun,” Stratman says. “But I do think most people use common sense and etiquette, and respect shared facilities and use them properly—just realize there are other people using them as well. You don’t want to impede on anyone’s enjoyment, and you don’t want them impeding on yours. It’s everybody’s space.”

Basic instruction should start when children are introduced to water, Holweger says. The YMCA even offers parent-and-child classes for families with children as young as six months old. These classes emphasize fun and safety. The City of Omaha provides similar classes along with Josh the Otter Water Safety & Awareness program and Float 4 Life training.

Traditional swim lessons are suitable for children over age 3 and focus on more advanced activities like strokes, breathing techniques, and rescue skills.

Even older inexperienced or marginal swimmers can learn survival techniques like “swim-float-swim” or “jump-push-turn-grab,” Holweger says. And non-swimmers can benefit from basic safety instruction, too.“ You do not have to be a water enthusiast.”

Many of the same rules and principles that make public pools more enjoyable also apply to spraygrounds, Stratman says. Adults should insist on respectful behavior like taking turns and forbid roughhousing. And safety is still an issue. “Even though there’s no standing water, there’s still risk.” Running can lead to falls, for instance. On hot summer days, the pavement of parking lots or walking paths leading to spraygrounds can burn bare feet.

Adults can also help protect children in and around water by being safe themselves, Stratman says.

“Adults need to be responsible around the water and be a good role model when it comes to water safety,” she says. “Saying ‘I know how to swim so I don’t need to wear a life jacket when I’m on a boat’ would be like saying, ‘I’m a good driver so I don’t need to wear a seat belt.’ Accidents happen.”

Teaching good safety practices and respect for others “makes being around water fun and enjoyable,” Holweger says. The learning experience can be fun, too, Stratman adds.

“We really encourage parents to be active swimmers with their children,” she says. “A pool or a sprayground is a perfect opportunity for a parent to engage with their child and play with them.”

Out of all the precautions adults—even young adults like camp counselors—can take to keep children safer in and around water, one rises above the rest.

“Adults should know that supervision is the No. 1 thing they can do to protect their kids around the water,” Holweger says.

“You cannot substitute adult supervision,” Stratman says. “[Adults] need to supervise children and watch and be vigilant.”

Visit parks.cityofomaha.org or metroymca.org for more information.

This article was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide.

No Sick Days Allowed

February 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A badly congested and bleary-eyed man pokes his head through a door and intones, “Dave, I’m sorry to interrupt. I’ve got to take a sick day tomorrow.”

The recipient of the man’s pronouncement isn’t his boss, but a brown-eyed toddler standing in his crib with a quizzical look on his little face.

This TV commercial for a cold medicine elicits chuckles, but the underlying message is nothing to sneeze at: Moms and dads who care for their children can’t take days off.

As germs begin to outnumber snowflakes, take comfort. Several basic, commonsense, and proactive approaches to keep bugs at bay exist, as outlined by a medical doctor, a registered dietitian, and a mental health expert.

For The Body

Wash Your Hands

Good hand hygiene ranks No. 1 on the prevention list of Dr. Emily Hill Bowman, a physician at Boys Town Internal Medicine. That means frequently washing your hands with soap and water, or, in their absence, using a hand sanitizer.

“Contact with hands is a frequent cause of transmission for viral infections,” says Hill Bowman, and that includes touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Medical guidelines recommend a good scrubbing for 20 seconds, or about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.

Cover Your Mouth

Viral illnesses can spread through respiratory secretions. “Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, then wash your hands,” cautions the internist.

Get a Flu Shot

Because influenza can lead to serious consequences, especially for younger children and the elderly, Hill Bowman recommends everyone over the age of six months should get a flu shot to prevent the spread of the virus. ”Typically, the influenza vaccine is an inactive vaccine so it does not cause influenza,” reassures Hill Bowman, allaying concerns a flu shot might do more harm than good.

Take Vitamin D

Healthy habits make your immune system fight infection. That means eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep. “But we don’t get enough vitamin D in our diet and we don’t get enough [vitamin D] from the sun after September, which is why vitamin D is always my starting point with people,” says registered dietician and exercise physiologist Rebecca Mohning, owner of Expert Nutrition in Omaha. “It boosts the immune system and it’s naturally occurring in mushrooms and egg yolks, but not in the amount we need on a daily basis.”

Eat Fiber

Mohning says fiber, particularly that found in oats, barley, and nuts, has protective compounds that boost the immune system.

Probiotics—the Friendly Bacteria

Those good live cultures found in yogurt or in the fermented milk drink kefir also boost your body’s ability to fight infection, as do fermented foods like sauerkraut. Not a fan? Take a probiotic supplement, says Mohning.

Drink Water

Getting enough water during the winter months can be more difficult because you may not feel as thirsty. But nothing beats water for flushing toxins from your body. Try drinking a 12-oz. mug of hot water with one teaspoon of lemon juice for a healthy way to warm up.

For The Mind

Does anyone in your family turn on all the lights in the house as soon as the sun makes an early exit during the winter? Seasonal affective disorder, also called the winter blues, affects about 15 million Americans, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. The depressive disorder can sap your energy and bring on moodiness. Treatment for SAD can include a light box and, in extreme cases, talking with a mental health practitioner.

Plan Activities and Stick to the Plan

Heading off the blues before they arrive can be as simple as marking a calendar, says Jennifer Harsh, Ph.D., director of behavioral medicine for General Internal Medicine at UNMC. “If we know the cold weather season can be difficult for us mentally, we can plan ahead,” she says.

As a family therapist, Harsh believes strongly that keeping the mind and the body active can help your physical, emotional, and social well-being.

“Plan activities as a family or with a partner, whether they include games indoors or physical exercise elsewhere. Put them on a schedule or calendar and hold it with the same importance as you would hold going to work every day,” she says. “That way you act according to the schedule instead of according to your mood.”

Harsh says you can stave off emotional difficulties when you have something planned ahead of time that you value.

Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself

Maintaining good mental health should hold fast to the commonsense, basic, proactive approach that characterizes a healthy body discipline.

“Make your goals specific, attainable, and measureable,” says Harsh. “When you engage your family or a partner, you’re more likely to follow through.”

This article was originally printed in the Winter 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Quick and Easy

February 18, 2018 by
Photography by Di Tendenza

This chili is a perfect chilly day recipe. Keep these ingredients on hand for busy days. No worry about thawing chicken for this recipe. Simply open a few cans, add some spices, and within 20 minutes serve a warm and hearty meal.


  • Two 15-oz. cans cannelloni bean (use liquid in the can)
  • One 15-oz. can chili beans (drain and rinse)
  • One 15-oz.can black beans (drain and rinse)
  • One 15-oz. can garbanzo beans (drain and rinse)
  • One 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
  • One 10-oz. can chicken breast chunks in water
  • One tablespoon chili powder
  • One teaspoon cumin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper


1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, combine beans, diced tomatoes, spices, salt, and pepper, then mix in chicken breast chunks.

2. Bring to a simmer, turn the heat to low, and let cook 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Serve with crusty bread and a sprinkle of cheese, if desired.

Time: 20 Minutes
Serves: 6

This recipe was originally printed in the Winter 2018 edition of Family Guide.