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Feature Stories

Best 1-Bowl Holiday Cookie Recipes


by Gail Belsky

There's the warm and fuzzy image of holiday baking with your kids, and then there's reality: smeared hands, gloppy spills and flour everywhere. You can't escape the mess altogether, but these one-bowl cookie recipes will help you minimize it -- while maximizing the fun. They're quick, easy and virtually stress-free. Try them:

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Sniffle-proof your whole family


This isn't just the start of holiday season; it's germ season as well. That's why many of us will be hacking away and looking a lot like Rudolph before winter is over. "The average adult gets one to three respiratory illnesses each year, and women, especially if they're moms, tend to catch even more," says Charles Gerba, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona and coauthor of The Germ Freak's Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu.

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Crowdfunding a Genome Sequencing Project


World's first crowdfunded genome sequencing project uncovers 4-year-old's unknown genetic disease

Rare Genomics Institute, Ivy League medical research center identify novel gene variant

St. Louis, MO - The Rare Genomics Institute (RGI), a non-profit organization that uses genome sequencing and other biotechnology to help children with rare genetic diseases, and an Ivy League medical research center have jointly identified a new gene variant in four-year-old Maya Nieder that may indicate a brand-new disease.

This finding marks the first time that a patient-initiated, crowdfunded genome initiative project has uncovered the genetic basis of a rare disease.

Suffering from global developmental delays, Maya has undergone multiple operations, is unable to speak, and has difficulty hearing. Despite visiting countless physicians, her condition had remained unexplained for years. Doctors agreed that "something genetic" was responsible for her condition, yet six genetic tests - each screening for a myriad of known genetic defects - yielded no definitive explanation.

"When you've been looking for the answer for three and a half years, you don't really expect one anymore," said Maya's mother, Dana Nieder, who began working with RGI in the spring of 2011.

By turning to the Internet to raise funds from a large base of donors, RGI is pioneering a funding model for rare disease research. In an overwhelming response, donors across the United States contributed more than $3,500 to the research project for Maya Nieder, with most amounts between $5 and $50 each. The project reached its fundraising goals within just six hours of launching the online campaign.

The funds for Maya and her parents facilitated full exome sequencing to hunt for the disease gene, and less than one year into the project, researchers have found what they believe to be the culprit behind Maya's illness: a gene active in fetal development and early childhood.

Maya's is one of RGI's ten pilot projects that have been created to help children with rare diseases through genome sequencing. By providing a comprehensive look at a patient's genetic code, sequencing enables researchers to identify genetic defects that might otherwise elude standard medical testing.

Since standard genetic testing can only find previously identified mutations, Maya's condition would have remained unexplained without sequencing.

"Though we need to do further research to confirm this first gene discovery, it is a major milestone," said RGI founder Jimmy Lin, MD, PhD, a physician-scientist on the faculty at Washington University in St. Louis and a 2012 TED Fellow. "The most exciting part of Maya's project is that we are enabling research that could not exist otherwise. Through RGI's network of academic institutions and crowdfunding, we hope to remove the barriers to technology access and funding to empower families like Maya's to advance research for their loved one's rare disease."

As research into Maya's condition continues, her researchers are studying the protein coded by the gene in question. This work will help Maya's physicians better understand her condition and may someday point toward a treatment for Maya and other children like her.

About RGI:
The Rare Genomics Institute (RGI) is a non-profit organization that uses genome sequencing and other biotechnology to help children with rare genetic diseases. RGI hopes to provide new answers and treatments to those affected by rare, otherwise unexplainable genetic disorders. Through crowdfunding, RGI aims to bridge the gap between science and patient care by securing funds for patients needing sequencing. For more information about RGI, please visit www.raregenomics.org.

About Maya:
Maya is a four-year old delight. She's wiggly and giggly and has a partner in crime, her dog Parker. She loves animals, other kids, being naughty, and life as a whole. Dana, Maya's mother, writes an award-winning blog called Uncommon Sense at niederfamily.blogspot.com.

... Continue reading Crowdfunding a Genome Sequencing Project.

C is for Classic


A primer on style that never goes out of style

"A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous." - Coco Chanel

You may have heard the saying that everything old is new again, but there are some things that just never go out of style. But what is "classic style" - and how can you incorporate those special touches into your every day?

Jane Lilly Warren, Katie Armour and Fallon Hogerty are the creative forces behind www.MatchbookMag.com, an online magazine that serves as a "guide to a charmed life." The women of Matchbook delight in a variety of classic styles and icons - from Chanel and Jackie O to contemporary style - makers such as John Derian and Jemma Kidd. Here, they share the basics about classic style for home decor as well as for the wardrobe.

What defines classic style?
"A classic is something that has stood the test of time and proven to be the best in its class," said Warren. "It's of high quality and is meant to last to be passed on through the generations." Warren says that while you might invest in an H & M shirt that will last a couple of seasons, a Lacoste polo will be around - and in style - long enough to hand down to your kids.

"There's definitely a timelessness to these things," said Hogerty, "they have an ability to transcend eras."

Modern takes on vintage designs are cropping up all over the place. From the clothes modeled on fashion runways to the paint colors in your local hardware store, there seems to be a bit of a retro revival going on. Armour isn't surprised.

"The world is changing faster than ever," she said, "and we have seen such instability over the past few years in a vast array of sectors, that I think people are embracing the classics, in part, out of the stability and comfort that they provide."

The women also noted that as budgets have tightened, people want to shop smarter. This means investing in items that won't go out of style and won't break the bank.

How to incorporate classic style into your life
If you'd like to bring some freshly vintage style to your home or wardrobe, the Matchbook mavens have these tips:
- Study the classic tastemakers, such as Jackie Kennedy Onassis. By studying, one can get an idea of what classic pieces will stand the test of time.
- When buying that new coat or pair of shoes, think about what is well made and will last through the years - those will invariably be the classics in your wardrobe.
- When it comes to color, black is always in style and can complement any outfit. Black slacks, ballet flats, cardigan or coat - you can't go wrong.
- Short red nails, black mascara - sometimes it's the simple things that add a classic pep to your step.

To get some classic style on a budget:
- Rummage through flea markets for under-appreciated, timeless gems at a steal.
- Visit consignment shops for wardrobe bargains.
- Spruce up what you have - a coat of paint on a piece of furniture can do wonders.
- A little pizzazz goes a long way. Maybe you can't afford the yards of lavish fabric you want for curtains or a sofa - but try using some for a throw pillow.

Top 5 classic pieces for your home:
1. Monogrammed towels
2. Good china (Finish your set with pieces from www.replacements.com or www.chinaandcrystal.com.)
3. Fine art that speaks to you (Some resources for inexpensive art: www.art.com, www.20x200.com, www.ugallery.com.)
4. Fresh blooms - they'll brighten up any room
5. Unique, over-sized coffee table books (about your favorite artists, vacation destinations, fashion designers, etc.) can take a coffee table from boring to spectacular

Top 10 classic musts for every wardrobe:
1. A crisp, well-fitted white oxford
2. Black cigarette pants
3. A trench coat
4. A cashmere sweater (Land's End is a great resource for cashmere, both inexpensive and high-quality.)
5. Black ballet flats
6. Little black dress
7. Flattering pair of dark wash denim jeans
8. A black pencil skirt
9. A wrap dress (they're flattering on nearly every figure)
10. Invest in one trendy piece per season which you can add to your classic wardrobe.

Classic jewelry and accessories:
1. Pearl studs (high quality replicas are just as good as the real thing)
2. A pearl necklace
3. Yellow-gold charm bracelet
4. Dark sunglasses
5. A silk square scarf (to tie around your hair or your handbag)

Living a Stylish Life
Embracing the spirit of classic style is about more than what you wear or how you decorate your home. The creators of www.MatchbookMag.com say it's about approaching life with certain joie de vivre that celebrates even the little things that make life a bit more stylish. In their eyes, that Matchbook-type girl:
- Views the world through rose-colored glasses.
- Loves to throw dinner parties, but has been known to burn the roast.
- Is the first to laugh at her own bad jokes.
- Paints her nails bright coral when she's feeling blue.
- Is infinitely curious and always up for a grand adventure.
- Could happily live off of red velvet cake.
- Has a signature shade of lipstick.
- Pens hand-written notes to her grandmother.
- Has a skip in her step and a twinkle in her eye.


All materials courtesy of: Matchbook

... Continue reading C is for Classic.

Summer "Mocktails" for Kids of All Ages


by Janet Lynch

Summer time brings out the fun in all of us - and certainly along with that comes the craving for cool and tasty drinks. Yet, while mixed-drink cocktails may fit the bill in some instances, it is sometimes nice to enjoy a non-alcoholic beverage or "mocktail" with the kids.

Kids love to play "grown-up," at times, so allowing them to partake in the party with their very own drinks can be fun - while at the same time even providing them with fruity - and somewhat healthy - refreshments.

Non-alcoholic "mocktails" can be just as beautifully created - and they can be equally as delicious as the "real thing" yet without the possibility of a hangover the next morning. Therefore, by enjoying the taste without the alcohol, some may even say that drinking mocktails is the best of both worlds.

Berry Sweetheart
One summer favorite kiddie-cocktail is the berry sweetheart. This tasty mixture includes 3 ounces of red cranberry juice, 3 ounces of apple juice, and 1 ounce of honey all mixed together and served chilled. You can even add a maraschino cherry on top for fun!

Watermelon Slush
What better time than summer to serve a watermelon slush? This cool delight is a favorite for both kids and adults alike - and rightly so! To mix this tasty thirst quencher, start with roughly half a dozen ice cubes and 2 cups of seeded watermelon.

Place the ice in a blender and pulse until crushed. Then, simply add the watermelon along with a touch of honey into the blender until you have a slushy refreshment. You may also want to garnish the serving glass with an additional watermelon wedge for a great presentation.

Unfuzzy Navel
Another wonderfully tasting favorite is the distant cousin of the fuzzy navel, the unfuzzy navel! For those who love peaches and pineapples, this is a true delight. To get this mocktail underway, start with 3 ounces of peach nectar and 3 ounces of orange juice. You will also want to add 3 ounces of pineapple juice along with a teaspoon of lemon juice.

Once you have all ingredients, combine in a shaker that is roughly half filled with ice and shake. For an even tastier effect, you could add in a dash of grenadine. In any case, your guests will likely be back for seconds.

Virgin Strawberry Daiquiri
For the strawberry lovers in the group, you must offer the virgin strawberry daiquiri. By combining one quarter cup of strawberries with 1 ounce of orange juice, 1 ounce of lime juice, and 2 teaspoons of sugar, you will have a real treat. A dash of grenadine can also be added here.

After combining all in a blender with ice, pour into a chilled glass and serve - but not before you dip the rim of the serving glass in sugar. This can be an especially tasty treat for the kids - and could even be substituted for a dessert.

Concord Cow
And speaking of dessert, how about mixing up a concord cow? This masterpiece includes scooping some vanilla ice cream into a glass and then adding an equal mix of concord grape juice and lemon-lime soda over the ice cream. Yum!

Fruity Punch
Most kids love fruit punch - especially at summer parties. This easy to make mocktail includes 2 cups of frozen cranberry juice, 2 cups of oranges, 2 cups of pineapple juice, and 6 cups of water. To this mixture, you will add 4 liters of ginger ale. Once mixed together, you have a nice cool fruit punch that all can enjoy.

Peanut Butter Frappe
For those who prefer non-cocktail drink versions, you may opt for a peanut butter frappe. This yummy summer drink treat entails mixing one-quarter cup of peanut butter with 1 cup of milk. Then, pour chocolate syrup into the glass while also slowly adding in seltzer. Voila - you now have a great dessert drink for all!

Vietnamese Iced Coffee
Another summer favorite non-cocktail is the famous Vietnamese ice coffee. This refreshing combination includes pouring 3 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk over ice. Next, stir in 1 cup of cooled but strong coffee. This drink can be especially beneficial for those who may need to drive home after your summer get-together and are in need of that quick second wind.

As an alternate, you could also offer a peach-ginger iced tea. Here, simply mash 6 canned peach halves with 1 and ½ cups of the accompanying peach juice. By adding in 1/3 cup of sugar and one tablespoon of grated ginger, all you need is ice and you are ready to roll!

Janet Lynch is a published writer and blogger in the health industry. She also is passionate about delivery diets and other simple dietary solutions.

... Continue reading Summer "Mocktails" for Kids of All Ages.

Start Early to Get Ahead


Balance is key for school readiness

What does being ready for elementary school really mean? It used to mean starting the first day of school with all the supplies on the list, but now we know so much more about how young children's brains develop. More and more parents are aware of the positive effects of a high quality early childhood education for their child's success. This knowledge has also led to extra emphasis on acquiring academic skills. Experts suggest parents take a step back and look for programs with a balanced approach to school readiness.

"With young children, everything is connected: their minds, bodies and emotions; creativity, happiness, security and intellectual progress," says Dr. Robert Needlman, author and nationally acclaimed pediatrician. "A balanced approach to readiness celebrates this reality about children. It's our best hope for turning out students who can think, feel and act independently and effectively."

What is a Balanced Approach to Learning?
From birth through age five, development in all areas of the brain is rapid. Research suggests that the quality of interactions children experience during this essential time can have a far reaching effect on future learning and the formation of satisfactory relationships. It is true that early childhood education programs have become more learning-focused in light of the research on childhood brain development, but high quality programs take a broader perspective. The focus of a balanced early childhood education program should be on helping children develop physical, social-emotional, creative and academic skills.

Nurturing guidance and attention to every part of a child's development during this crucial stage helps children not only learn reading and math skills, but how to show compassion, independence, resilience and curiosity - all qualities that could be taken for granted, but that are taught and encouraged in a quality preschool setting.

"Children who are confident, self-regulating and able to relate to others will have a better experience transitioning to elementary school, regardless of their exact reading or math skill level," said Dr. Mary Zurn, vice president of education for Primrose Schools, a family of 220 private preschools across the country. "On the academic side, it is as important for children to be eager to learn, to ask questions and to be able to think as it is for them to know letter names and sounds and be able to solve mathematical problems."

When looking for an early childhood education program, research is the first step to selecting one that will provide your child with these lasting benefits. Dr. Zurn recommends looking for these five key factors in a preschool:

1. Focus on mastering concepts, not just memorization: Look for a preschool that teaches children to love learning. They develop an understanding of concepts through hands-on activities, play and by expressing what they have learned to others.

2. Physical Activity: P.E. or even recess can often get cut from public programs, but being physically active is key to curbing childhood obesity and to forming positive life skills. Purposeful instruction in motor skills and outdoor play are both part of a well-rounded preschool education.

3. Music: Did you know that early exposure to music not only enhances a child's ability to create and enjoy music, but also fosters other aspects of brain development? Early exposure to music can improve IQ scores, motor coordination and social skills. Research shows that music potential needs to be nurtured with song, dance and play before age five or it is not likely to develop. An early childhood education music program supports the development of your child's sense of rhythm, pitch, melody and motor coordination, all while having fun.

4. Character Development: Look for programs that intentionally and consistently teach your child to be honest, kind, compassionate and respectful. Social-emotional development during preschool is key to a successful transition to elementary school and lifelong healthy relationships.

5. Parent Resources: Finally, it's important to remember that learning does not stop outside the classroom - your interactions with your child at home are equally important. Consider the resources, tips and tools that a school can offer parents. Frequent communication with your child's teacher can give you insight into how your child is advancing and help you reinforce balanced learning at home.

Choosing a Preschool
Dr. Joanne Nurss, professor emeritus of educational psychology at Georgia State University in Atlanta and former director of the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy, has conducted extensive research and published numerous articles in the field of children's literacy development. Dr. Nurss encourages parents to look for high-quality early childhood education programs with the following criteria:

- Physical Development: Is indoor and outdoor physical activity part of the daily schedule? With childhood obesity on the rise and research that shows that movement plays a role in early brain development, daily exercise such as running, stretching or even dance should be a part of the curriculum.

- Social-Emotional Development: Does the curriculum include programs specifically designed to nurture your child's social and emotional development? Look for programs that promote an understanding of concepts like friendship, generosity and honesty.

- Creative Development: Are enrichment programs such as art and music woven into the day's activities? Young children naturally engage in creative activity in their day-to-day thinking, but ongoing enrichment activities lay the foundation for later creative skills.

- Academic Development: Does the classroom teaching method go beyond basic memorization to encourage concept mastery? Academic success is not just about fact memorization. Learning how to think critically, use mathematical concepts and expand listening, speaking, reading and writing skills will help your child develop a love of learning.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images


... Continue reading Start Early to Get Ahead.

Memory of Fallen Friend Leads Sheila Wysocki to Fight For Safety of Others


After helping to solve the 26-year-old rape and murder of her college roommate, this Tennessee mother is working to prevent others from a similar fate

It required becoming a private investigator, overcoming dyslexia and breaking through an unhelpful Dallas police department, but the persistence of Sheila Wysocki led to solving the 26-year-old murder of her friend and former college roommate, Angie Samota. The remarkable story is soon to become a book, movie and hour long documentary special on Dateline NBC. Now, this mother from Brentwood, TN is hoping to prevent others from experiencing a similar fate as her friend. "If we had the knowledge in 1984, we would have saved her life," says Wysocki.

Wysocki first met Samota when the two were roommates as freshmen at Southern Methodist University. The pair could not have been more opposite: Wysocki was the daughter of a working class mother and attending school on scholarship; Samota was rich, beautiful and one of the few female computer majors in the country. But the pair eventually formed a close friendship that continued even when Samota decide to move off-campus.

However, one night in 1984 changed the course of Wysocki's life forever, when a stranger knocked on Samota's apartment door in the early morning hours. "He said he needed to use the phone and the restroom and because she was kind, she let him in," says Wysocki. Realizing that she had made a mistake, Samota called her boyfriend, but her attacker had already cased the home.

Angie Samota was raped, murdered and stabbed 18 times. The murder scene was so gruesome that investigators initially believed that Samota's heart had been ripped out. The death of her friend proved to be a crushing blow, leading Wysocki to ultimately drop out of college. "It was so out of anything that I understood in my safe little world," says Wysocki. "I just didn't know that evil existed. The death was traumatic enough, but the manner in which she died was life altering."

Wysocki spent the next two years speaking with detectives and even regularly met with suspects in the case. Even when she tried to distance herself from the murder, the death of Samota continued to hang over her head. "When I'd be out at restaurants or parties, I would look at someone there and wonder if they had anything to do with it," says Wysocki.

The introduction of DNA evidence in O.J. Simpson's murder trial in 1995 began to get Wysocki thinking about exploring the case once more. But when she eventually gave birth to her two children, their medical conditions left her powerless to do anything. Both of them suffered from environmental poisoning, with her sons were making weekly trips to the hospital. When their conditions stabilized in 2004, she was able to consider exploring the murder once more. "I thought the police were the ultimate authority in my 20s," says Wysocki. "Years later, I started questioning things and beginning to think they could have been done differently."
However, it was a Bible study session that year which led to Wysocki seeing a vision of her fallen friend, a clear sign to continue moving forward in finding answers to the murder. "I was sitting at my bed and at the end of my bed, I saw her smiling and could see what she was wearing" says Wysocki. "And as crazy as it sounds, I knew then that it was time."
She contacted the homicide division at the Dallas Police Department, who informed her that no one had called about Samota's murder in 20 years. For the next two years, she called for updates on hundreds of occasions, but was given the run-around by the department. They had no interest in reopening the case.  "I just couldn't understand how hard it was to pull the file and pull the DNA, but obviously it was for them," said Wysocki.
Wysocki eventually spoke with the owner of the security company in her gated community, who said her best bet was to become a private investigator. Suffering from dyslexia, Wysocki had her then 13-year-old son read her the book with all the laws that she was required to learn. Once she passed the exam, she contacted Skip Hollandsworth, a writer for Texas Monthly, and he offered to walk her through the politics of Dallas police.
With her P.I. badge in tow, she reached out to the Dallas police once more, but found them to be just as unreceptive. "The credentials did nothing," says Wysocki. It just let them know that I wasn't going away and was going to become a bigger problem unless they started working on the case."
After four years and hundreds of phone calls, she finally got a call from a female detective who was assigned to "investigate" the case. Wysocki felt the homicide department was patronizing her. At one point in the investigation a former detective proved to be her most upsetting moment in the search for answers. "He told me that some cases weren't meant to be solved, this was one of them and that I needed to back off," she recalled. "I can't tell you how angry that made me." The case was later selected to appear on an episode of Crime Stoppers, but after getting into a heated argument with a detective who asked whether or not Samota was "loose," they ended up pulling it from the program. "They still blame the victim in situations like this and it makes me so mad, but I learned that I have to bite my tongue to get what I want, regardless of what my feelings are," says Wysocki. 
Detectives eventually relented and agreed to reopen the case in 2008. When they tested the DNA, they found a perfect match in five-time convicted serial rapist Donald Bess. Bess was ultimately detained and sent to trial, where he was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death in 2010. It was the only cold case that received a death sentence that year. And with that, Wysocki promptly retired her P.I. license. "I had worked some other divorce cases and helped friends out, but there was only one case I had gotten my license for and truly cared about," says Wysocki.
But Wysocki continued to get signs that her calling was perhaps not done yet. When she spoke at seminars, people would send letters or come up to her afterwards and confess their own experiences with rape, asking her to help find their perpetrators. Deciding that no one should ever go through the terror of being assaulted, Wysocki researched a self-defense program in Dallas and incorporated a similar model in the Nashville area.
She started Without Warning: Fight Back in July 2011, a program which educates both male and female children and adults on self-defense through awareness, prevention and training. The end goal is to develop a program in school systems where children are taught "stranger danger" and how to protect themselves, ultimately incorporating a curriculum in schools across the US. "I don't need to create the curriculum, but people get complacent, so somebody like me has to push it," says Wysocki. 
Her investigating days may not be done yet either. Wysocki is now in the process of renewing her P.I. license with her youngest son reading the current handbook to her.  And she's finally gained closure in the death of Samota, revisiting the SMU campus for the first time since the murder when her oldest son chose to attend college there.
But while the mystery of Samota's murder has drawn to a close, Wysocki says she has now made a lifelong commitment to solving and preventing similar incidents. "I feel like if I'm not supposed to be doing this, a barrier would go up," says Wysocki. "That hasn't happened yet."

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This June Dateline NBC will be airing an hour long documentary special on Sheila Wysocki. Wysocki's stupefying story has caught the attention of many. It will also soon be released as a book and a movie.

... Continue reading Memory of Fallen Friend Leads Sheila Wysocki to Fight For Safety of Others.