See You Later Winter… Hello Spring!

Looking forward to spring?

So are we!

And depending where you are, perhaps you haven’t really seen it yet. We sure haven’t.

Luckily, our friends at the Rainforest Alliance have been thinking ahead with ideas to put a little more spring in our stepregardless if its here yet.

For welcoming spring, theyve come up with five eco-friendly, sustainable ideas to revitalize our bodies, homes and minds.

From the Rainforest Alliance:

To celebrate spring, the Rainforest Alliance has developed five green ideas to revitalize your body, home and mind, and give a boost to the planet while ensuring sustainable livelihoods. By choosing products and services that have achieved the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal, the Rainforest Alliance Verified™ mark or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo, you are supporting the environment and the well-being of farm and forest workers, their families and communities.

1) Rejuvenate your skin

Nourish your skin with the Rainforest Skin Care Formula by Alba Botanicals. Enjoy peace of mind knowing that the Andrioba and Brazil nut oil used in these products were grown on farms that help to conserve the very rainforests they were grown in. Be sure to try the renewal scrub, foaming cream cleaner, toning mist and facial cream.

2) Refresh your mind

There is no better way to refresh your mind than by learning something new! The United Nations has declared 2011 the International Year of the Forest. Watch this video to learn about forests and the vital role they play as the lungs of our planet, providing food, water and habitat to plants, animals and humans.

3) Revamp your outdoor living

It’s time to enjoy the great outdoors once again, and what better way to enjoy it than in the comfort of your own backyard. If you are looking for new wooden outdoor furniture, ensure it comes from responsibly managed forests, certified by the FSC. Explore the range of certified outdoor furniture at Jensen Leisure Furniture and Forest World.

4)  Reduce clutter

It’s time for spring-cleaning! Rid yourself of clutter and raise funds for the rainforest without dropping a dime! Hold a charity garage sale, donating proceeds to a nonprofit sustainability organization. Donations to the Rainforest Alliance go towards protecting wildlife habitat, reforestation, and promoting sustainable livelihoods in developing countries.

5)  Relax on a vacation in Latin America or the Caribbean

Relax and soak up the sun in Latin America or on a tropical island in the Caribbean. Book your trip using SustainableTrip.org and rest assured, knowing that your vacation is supporting the environment as well as the livelihoods of local communities

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The Rainforest Alliance works with people whose livelihoods depend on the land, helping them transform the way they grow food, harvest wood and host travelers. From large multinational corporations to small, community-based cooperatives, businesses and consumers worldwide are involved in the Rainforest Alliance’s efforts to bring responsibly produced goods and services to a global marketplace where the demand for sustainability is growing steadily. For more information, visit .

Time to Clear Out the Medicine Cabinet!

January is a great time to get the medicine cabinet cleaned out.

In fact, the American Pharmacists Association encourages everyone to make an annual New Years clean out of their medicine cabinets.

Not only will you be reducing clutter and gaining more space, but you may also be securing your health. Old medications and cosmetics can at best be ineffective and at worse be dangerous.

So, pick a day this month to get ‘er done!

Medicine cabinets can quickly become filled with all sorts of expired and unused medication.

This is because each month, especially in the winter, can bring new conditions and ailments.

The first thing you should toss is old or expired medications.

The obvious reason is that they can degrade, become ineffective or make you sick. But there is another reason for tossing those old medications.

With extra medication around, you might inadvertently take the wrong one by mistake. Eliminating extra unused medication can also eliminate that risk.

Extra unused medication also carries the risk of being misused or abused. Unfortunately, someone else may decide to take advantage of it.

While many of use grew up with the direction to dispose of medication by flushing it, we now know that flushed medications do get into the water system and can be consumed in drinking water.

Properly disposing of medication is very important. Either throw them in the trash or dispose of them through a community disposal program.

To avoid anyone getting into the medication, such as children or pets, place it first in a sealable plastic bag.

If the medication is in a solid form, such as a pill, add water or dissolve the medication.

Then add something to make it unappealing, such as cat litter, sawdust or even coffee grounds. Seal the bag and then dispose of it in the trash.

Cosmetics and lotions should be tossed if they are opened and 12 months old (or older).

Mascara or anything that goes near the eyes should be tossed after four month because it probably has high levels of bacteria.

The same is true for any age cosmetic that has an off color or smell.

The Best Calf Stretch Exercises

You know its important to stretch your calves, but do you know how and why Here, learn why you should stretch before and after a workout. Plus, learn two beginner calf stretch exercises

Stretching before and after working out is very important for your health. It’s important before a workout because stretching can stimulate blood flow to muscles, helping them to perform more efficiently—but it may be even more important afterward. According to physical therapist Debbie Pitchford, “After running, stretching helps to remove lactic acid from the muscle, which in turn reduces muscle soreness.”

This helps the body to be more flexible and reduces your risk of injury—and stretching after your workout has the added benefit of helping you to relax.

Basic Calf Stretch

The basic calf stretch helps to relax the entire calf and should be done before and after your workouts, in addition to the rest of your stretching routine.

To perform this stretch, stand up straight. Face a wall, standing about 12 to 24 inches away. Put your arms on the wall in front of you and slowly lean forward until you feel the stretch in your calves. Hold this position for about thirty seconds.

To get a more intense calf stretch, place your feet further from the wall while performing this exercise.

Hamstring Stretch

The hamstring muscle runs up the back of your leg from right below your knee to your buttocks. It helps you to lift your lower leg and to bend your knees. Pulling the hamstring muscle is a common and painful calf injury. Performing hamstring stretches before and after your workout can help to reduce the risk of this type of injury.

You can perform this type of stretch one of two ways. While standing up, place one foot on a chair that is about waist high. Slowly bend forward until you feel a stretch in the muscle and hold at that point. Don’t stretch further than is comfortable for you.

You can also perform this exercise while lying on your back. Keep your back flat and eyes pointed at the ceiling while stretching. Lift one leg and hold it behind your thigh with your hands. Pull the leg toward your body until you reach a 90 degree angle. As you grow more flexible over time, you can slowly move the leg closer to your chest during this exercise.

Before starting any fitness program, be sure to consult with your doctor to ensure that you’re physically able to do so safely. Never force your body to stretch beyond its limits. Stretching should feel good—not cause pain.

Finally, remember this advice from fitness and nutrition expert Wayne McGregor, “It’s much safer to under stretch than to overstretch. Always remain within the comfortable stretch zone. Never go to the point where you cannot possibly stretch any more as this could do more harm than good! If you feel any pain or discomfort at any stage of the stretch then stop the stretch immediately!”

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Choosing the Best Electronic Medical Record Vendor

Electronic Medical Record system or EMR system is an integrated system used today as a vital part of the modern healthcare management system. It helps track, deliver and share patient’s medical records, among health organizations. Health records of patients will be stored in this web-based system to facilitate easy access anywhere in the world. Therefore, patients can move to any place they want and get a new physician while their old records and new records will be consolidated.

Standard Regulations when choosing the right EMR system

The Department of Health and Human Services has created a division network that provide standard EMR system that medical record vendors must strictly follow to maintain consistency between health care organizations. These regulations must be strictly be followed by pharmacies, private physicians and other health care givers to maintain software that will help coordinate all records that are accessible to all.

What to look for in Electronic Medical Record Vendor?

First, AAFP or the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that you choose a vendor that have more than experience in providing an integrated system for this purpose. With vast experience, these physicians would have just about enough to provide high quality service. It also recommended that you hire large firms to handle this for you if you are operating large practices. You need to rate their service according to policies, quality of service, functionality of their system, the feature inclusion, their recommendations and cost of their service.

Since, system downtime is never acceptable, especially for such important data. Loss of records due to system downtime must be avoided. Your EMR system must always have a backup system that will ensure that all records are kept safely. The patient’s security and record confidentiality must also be addressed adequately. Be sure to talk to at least three different EMR consultants before purchasing one.

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Tips for greener laundry

Laundry. We dont really love it but we have to do it. Each day, we use clothing, towels, bedding and, inevitably, we have to clean it. But how can we do this in the greenest way possible?

You see, second to the refrigerator, the washing machine and dryer use the most energy in the home. And that isnt the only ungreen thing about these appliances; most of the laundry cleaners go down into our water systems, too.

Here are our top tips for making the chore of laundry as green as can be:

Get a Front Loader

Front loading washing machines clean clothes more thoroughly and use less water and energy than  most top-loading counterparts. Even further, if they bear that Energy Star logo, they  typically use between 18 and 25 gallons of water per load; compared to the 40-plus gallons used by older machines, thats significant.

Keep it Cold

No matter what kind of machine you have, using cold water will improve its energy efficiency. About 90 pe cent of the energy used for the washing machine is from heating the water. Check out the Switch To Cold website, which estimates a savings of $50 to $100 a year by switching to washing on cold.

Nix the Irritants

Most conventional laundry soaps contain irritants that bother our bodies and the environment. These phosphates that can cause a negative impact on our ecosystem, and synthetic dyes and fragrances can cause some major problems. However, there are many phosphate and bleach-free products made from biodegradable, plant- and vegetable-based ingredients

Line It Up

An easy energy saving option: dont use the dryer altogether. Drying on a line saves energy and leaves your clothes smelling with a lovely freshness you cant get anywhere else.

Or Dry It Right

If you must use the dryer, be sure to keep the lint filter clean. It will increase efficiency and shorten drying time, and reduce the wear and tear on clothes. The best part? It will save loads of energy.

Ditch the Dryer Sheets

Although hanging it to dry is the best option, sometimes the weather isnt compliant, or a fluffy soft towel is necessary. However, those dryer sheets are full of toxins that leech into our breathing space. A better option? Try making your own with a  moist washcloth sprayed with liquid fabric softener and tossing it into the dryer?

Other Quick Tips

  • Instead of washing two small loads, just wash one instead.
  • If you only have a few things to wash, and want to wash them because you had a slip in the mud or a problem with some tomato sauce, be sure to set your water level accordingly.
  • However, be sure not to overload your water they need to move freely in order to get clean.
  • Cold-water rinse saves energy, even if they were washed in hot water.
  • Do all your laundry loads on the same day. If the dryer is hot from another load, or the water is heated from the previous run, it used leftover heat instead of starting from scratch.

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Food Stamps and Soda: Of Soup, Nuts, Carrots, and Stick

I have a sneaking suspicion that the “keep the government out of our business!” crowd will object to the plan by NYC’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to preclude the use of food stamp assistance- known as SNAP- to purchase soda.  But here’s the irony in that: this is the government minding its own business, literally, more than anyone else’s.

First, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is, of course, a government program- overseen centrally by the USDA, with administration farmed out to state and municipal authorities.  If the government is giving out the money, the notion that it has a say in what it can be used to buy may not be entirely outrageous.  I trust we can all agree that there would be cause for protest if money or vouchers given to help sustain a ‘hungry’ household were spent on, say, cocaine, or for that matter tobacco- right?  Soda is not cocaine, or tobacco- but it is an at least nominally addictive substance, corrosive if  not abruptly toxic to health, and devoid of any nutritional value food assistance is intended to help obtain.  QED

But second, and at least as important- the ranks of SNAP participants- much enlarged courtesy of our global economic woes- are substantially the same ranks enrolled in Medicaid, government health insurance for the financially challenged.  So here’s the thing for all to ponder: should government food subsidies be useable for the very kinds of foods that are most strongly associated with bad health outcomes, for which additional government expenditures will be required?  No private business would function so dysfunctionally, and this seems to bespeak the very kind of government inefficiency to which the shrink-the-government contingent objects.  

Maybe, to the extent possible, the government should mind its own business.  But almost any way the soda bubbles burst, this is their business.

So- I support the move.  Food assistance dollars should pay for…food.  Only in a modern world habituated to glow-in-the-dark comestibles could soda even be considered food.  It is, in essence, a sugar- or in its diet guise- artificially-sweetened chemistry experiment in a cup.  Typically, a very large cup.  At least as far from anything that truly deserves to be called food as it is from cocaine.

So it comes down to this: maybe food assistance dollars should be limited to food.  Is there really cause for protest in that bold position?

Of course, it does raise a challenge the American Beverage Association will no doubt quickly voice:  is soda demonstrably less ‘food’ than, say, Fluffernutter; artificially colored hearts, moons, stars, and clovers; cheese-like spread (whatever that is, exactly); fruit roll-ups (that have, in fact, never met a fruit); and so on?  Their anticipated protest is legitimate, and not- in equal measure.

Legitimate, because soda is by no means the only detour from the realm of actual food into the realm of modern pseudo-food concoctions we eat routinely.  But not legitimate because soda is a very good place to start the process of limiting dedicated food assistance dollars to food.  It is about as devoid of redeeming nutritional properties as a food can be; as a beverage presumably intended to address thirst, it is readily replaceable with something that is available to almost everyone for free (or nearly free), namely- water; and, it is decisively and specifically associated with weight gain, obesity, and compromised health.  

But even as I defend and applaud the Mayor’s plan, I feel obligated to point out that we could do far better than this.  We could make the SNAP program work better by applying a carrot, rather than a stick- and by addressing food choice from soup to nuts, rather than just from Coca Cola to Pepsi.

Here’s the idea: directly link the purchasing power of food assistance dollars to the nutritional quality of the food selected.  The rationale for such an approach is both clear and compelling: if the government is providing money for food, then the more nutritious that food is, the better spent those dollars.  And, just as bad food (or pseudo-food) can propel people toward ill health, true food can immunize them against it- and confer vitality.  I trust we can agree from all points on the political spectrum that when the government DOES spend its (and therefore, our) money, it should spend it wisely.

To make this work, we need a universally applicable, objective, reliable measure of overall nutritional quality.  As regular visitors here know- we have one.  The NuVal system assigns a score from 1 to 100 to any and all foods; the higher the number, the more nutritious the food.  Some 75,000 foods have been scored this way to date.

Now, imagine taking these scores and for any given food category- say, bread- putting them into quartiles: the lowest scores; the next higher; the next; and the highest.  Now, link the scores to SNAP vouchers so that a dollar is worth a dollar in the bottom quartile; it’s worth $1.25 in the next; $1.50 in the next; and $2 in the top quartile.  No punishment (stick) for choosing food of low nutritional quality, but a direct financial reward (carrot) for choosing food- in any category- of high nutritional quality.  Such an appoach could help make SNAP a means not only of procuring calories- but of actually procuring nutrition.  Currently, the SNAP program prevents hunger, but does little or nothing to defend against obesity, diabetes, and other chronic disease- which, indeed, are disproportionately abundant among SNAP participants.  Why not fix this?

And in so doing- and here’s a nod to my “less government” friends- markedly reduce Medicaid costs?  It is my hypothesis- and that of a large group of esteemed colleagues- that it would cost far less to subsidize and encourage nutritious foods this way, than it does to pay the costs of diabetes and heart disease care associated with poor food choices.

This group of colleagues- from throughout the U.S. and indeed, the world- has joined me in the development and submission of a grant application to the USDA to test this very hypothesis.  We want to prove that if food assistance is directly linked to a reliable measure of food quality, health will improve, and costs will go down.  We will learn the fate of the grant in November; more on that topic when we do.

For now, anticipating the objections to Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal, I defend it.  Even though I like using carrots better than sticks.  Even though I prefer a soup-to-nuts over a soda-only approach.  

I defend prohibiting the use of food assistance dollars for soda because, by any reasonable measure… soda isn’t really food.

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USAID Releases Report to Track Progress of NGOs in Europe and Eurasia

In 2009, NGOs across Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia were at the forefront of the issues facing their societies, from elections to discrimination to environmental degradation, according to a new study released by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This study, released on July 30, is the 13th edition of the NGO Sustainability Index, a key analytical tool that measures the progress of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in this region.

NGOs have persevered in their efforts to raise public awareness, advocate for policy change, and deliver needed services, often in the face of formidable obstacles.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton toured the region in early July to highlight the important role that civil society organizations have played in democratic development. At the Community of Democracies in Krakow, she cited, “societies move forward when the citizens that make up these groups are empowered to transform common interests into common actions that serve the common good.”

USAID tracks the progress of the NGO sector in 29 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Contained in the 13-year collection is a historical record that provides substantial data on each country. Differences between the countries surveyed in this report are great, but the challenges facing NGOs are often surprisingly similar. NGOs from Latvia to Tajikistan strove to improve internal governance, to raise their visibility in the media, and to secure stable sources of funding. NGOs experienced government pressure and criticism in countries as diverse as Moldova, Montenegro, Slovakia and Belarus. The NGO Sustainability Index examines these and other key events and developments that affected the region’s NGOs during the year.

Two articles in the Index highlight trends that significantly affect NGO sustainability in the region. In “The Quiet Revolution: How technology is changing the civil society landscape in Eastern Europe and Eurasia,” Ari Katz explores how NGOs are using different types of technology to advance their mission while Joerg Forbrig delves into the effects – both negative and positive – of the economic crisis in “Never waste a good crisis: The 2008 economic downturn and post-communist civil society.”

The NGO Sustainability Index examines the overall enabling environment for civil society, focusing on seven dimensions: legal environment, organizational capacity, financial viability, advocacy, service provision, infrastructure, and public image. Each country report provides an in-depth analysis of the NGO sector along with comparative information regarding prior years’ dimension scores, which are encapsulated in easy-to-read charts. Dimension scores for 1997-2009 are summarized in Annex A. The full report can be found on USAID’s Europe and Eurasia Website, http://www.usaid.gov/locations/europe_eurasia/dem_gov/ngoindex/2009.

USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Europe & Eurasia, Jonathan Hale noted, “A strong civil society is critical to effectively tackling a range of challenges from fighting global disease to strengthening government accountability. We are pleased to be able to offer this tool to our partners to highlight progress in civil society development in the region.”

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China probes milk powder link to infant hormone levels

Beijing – Chinese health authorities are investigating milk powder as a possible cause of high hormone levels found in several infants who appeared to show signs of premature sexual development, state media said on Wednesday.

Experts have started testing samples of milk powder produced in 1998 by the dairy company Synutra International Inc in the eastern city of Qingdao, the official China Daily quoted Health Ministry spokesman Deng Haihua as saying.

Deng promised “timely publication of the investigation results,” the newspaper said.

The investigation follows reports that at least four baby girls had developed breasts and showed high levels of the hormones estradiol and prolactin.

All four had regularly consumed infant milk formula made by Synutra, the reports said.

But no tests had been performed on the milk powder and the company insisted that its products were safe, the newspaper said.

New Zealand’s giant milk company Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd, which has supplied Synutra, said Wednesday it had abided by strict legislative controls on the use of hormonal growth promotants (HGPs) in New Zealand and they were not allowed for milk cows.

A major milk scandal hit China in 2008 when tests found that many milk products, including those of most leading brands, contained high levels of melamine, an industrial chemical used to artificially boost protein levels and raise producers’ profits.

The tests followed reports in late 2008 that thousands of infants had developed kidney and other health problems after consuming several popular brands of powdered milk.

The government later said at least six infants died and up to 300,000 were sickened by contaminated milk powder.

Chinese courts have tried at least 21 people accused of involvement in the 2008 milk scandal. Two of them were sentenced to death and executed in November.

But state media have reported several new cases of melamine-contaminated milk since 2008.

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