Archive for May, 2012

Hosting Guest During The Holidays, Then and Now

By Chris Thomas


“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,

and they shall name him Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.”

Matthew 1:23


The season of Thanksgiving to Christmas has always been a special time for us, full of family and traditions. My mother in law always had a Birthday Party for Jesus, baked mountains of cookies and put together goodie sacks for each of her twenty two grandchildren. My mom always made oyster stew for Christmas Eve, decorated every room in the house, and hosted parties each week in December for various friends, family and business associates.


When our sons were young, we lived six hours away from Texarkana. Choosing to be part of the gatherings and traditions meant taking vacation days, spending gas money and “camping out” at Grandma’s or at “Thomasville”. For our folks, it meant extra food preparation, cleaning spare bedrooms and bathrooms before and after our visit, and the noise and energy of young children in the house. Though each of these might be seen as a burden, when offered with love they became a gift. Hospitality was joyfully given and gratefully received.


In his book Virtues for Ordinary Christians, James Keenan points out that hospitality is the virtue that God practices. He observes our needs and our vulnerabilities and provides for them. Even though the world was inhospitable to Jesus, he welcomed the world. In Bethlehem, Jesus, Mary and Joseph extended hospitality to the poor shepherds and the rich magi. Jesus instructed his disciples in this virtue through his parables and through his actions by welcoming the children, feeding the multitudes and accepting all invitations that were extended. His final action in the book of John was to prepare breakfast for his disciples. Truly Jesus fulfilled his role as Emmanuel by being fully present both as host and as guest.


This Thanksgiving and Christmas will be our first as grandparents. It is a privilege and a joy to welcome our son and his family to Texarkana when they now travel six hours to be here. There will also be a deep awareness of their need to share time with our daughter in law’s family. Sometimes the gift one is called to give is graciously accepting that the visiting family may need to come and go or

just desire quiet time. We have been fortunate that our daughter in law makes sure we know when they are available for meals or gatherings. When they return home, she always sends notes with thanks and photographs which lighten a gloomy January day.


Even in their poverty, the Holy Family extended hospitality to the shepherds who then returned to their flocks, glorifying and praising God. In the book of Luke, we are told “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”. During this season of giving thanks, take a few moments of reflection to praise the God who is with us in our loved ones and our guests.


May 10, 2012 at 3:29 pm Leave a comment

Encouraging Your Children In Faith

by Chris Thomas


“…that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine.”  Romans 1:12


    When I was invited to write a column of spiritual encouragement for parents and families, I spent time remembering how I have received encouragement.  I remember David, my husband, standing by my side, holding my hand, his eyes twinkling above the surgical mask as each of our three children were born by c-section.  I remember my mom giving Andrew, our oldest, and Catherine, our youngest, their first baths in the bathroom sink and showing me how to hold this wet, slippery baby and still test the warmth of the water with an elbow.  I remember a time when David couldn’t get home, so a dear friend, Cathy, took me to the hospital and held my hand through the testing and diagnosis of appendicitis.  She kept close by and reassured me, sometimes with words, always with her presence.

    When have you been encouraged by a loved one?   Did they offer instruction, words of encouragement or just their presence?  Was it a time of crisis or just an ordinary day?

    The word encouragement is derived from three roots:  the prefix, en-, which means to “cause to be in”, the Latin word “cor” for heart and the suffix -age, which in English means “the outcome of”.  To encourage could be said to be the result of holding in the heart.  Definitions include to stimulate spiritually, to revitalize and galvanize, to fortify and to console.    

    In the sixteenth century, the mystic and holy woman, St. Teresa of Avila once wrote, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours; yours are the only hands with which He can do His work. Yours are the only feet with which He can go about the world; yours are the only eyes through which His compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world.”

   I believe Christ encourages us through His presence found in loved ones and even in strangers.  Often, he uses us to console and fortify others with our words, our presence and even our questions.  Sharing concerns, questions and prayer requests gives others the opportunity of realizing they are not alone on this journey and more than likely that others have the same needs and desires.

    Just for today, notice the others whom God has placed in your life:  spouse, children, co-workers, strangers.  What is the result of being held in their hearts?  How have you held them in your heart?  How has Christ looked through your eyes or worked through their hands?

    Texarkana Parent Magazine has the goal of promoting a balanced and healthy life for our community’s families; physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.  One way to encourage others and find encouragement for life’s big and little obstacles is to share with our online community.  You are invited to join the discussion at my blog,  to share, to ask, or to encourage.

May 10, 2012 at 3:26 pm Leave a comment

Faith Can Be Caught, Not Taught

By Chris Thomas


Pray, then, in this way:  Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name… Matthew 6:9 NAB


When our sons were small, evenings would be full of bubbles and baths, pajamas and stuffed animals. The lights would be lowered and the four of us would share prayer. Memorized ones like the Lord’s prayer and spontaneous ones beginning with “thank you, Jesus” followed by gratitude for the day’s happenings. We would end with a blessing by tracing a cross on each others forehead. I treasure the memory of our middle son’s two year old face – so solemn and so cherubic – as he touched his chubby thumb to my forehead and said “God bless you, Mommy”.

As parents, we made a special effort to set aside time for family prayer during Lent. These forty days after Ash Wednesday mark a time of reflection and preparation for Easter. Christians have a long history of observing Lent. As early as the second century, St. Irenaus wrote about the early churches readying for Easter. Forty days mirror the time of fasting that Moses endured before receiving the Ten Commandments; Elijah walked for forty days to Mount Horeb; and perhaps most importantly, Jesus spent forty days in the desert in preparation and reflection before he began his public ministry.

The word Lent comes from the Dutch word “lente” which originally meant the “lengthening of daylight” and eventually became the general term for springtime. In 2012, it is observed by most Western Christian churches from Ash Wednesday, February 22 to Easter Sunday, April 7.

Traditionally, Christians have spent this time in prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  I have always been of the belief that faith is more “caught” than “taught”.  Instead of just telling our kids about these practices, we did them together. 

Prayer is our conversation with God. As we take time to speak and to listen, we grow closer in our relationship with him. During the rest of Lent, your family might commit to attending your church on Sundays, praying together at bedtime or saying a blessing before meals.

Fasting can take many forms. It is an ancient practice that reminds us of our hunger for God. In the past we have given up chocolate, sodas or eating out. One year, we decided as a family to give up television. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. We had more time for reading, family games and getting to bed earlier.

Almsgiving is giving to the needy in love and is our response to all God has given us. Your family might give up a night out to give that money to your favorite charity or collect change to have the children put in the offering at church.

Finding time for prayer and reflection, fasting from food or activity, and giving from our material goods are not necessarily easy but they are worth the effort. The celebration of the resurrection of Christ at Easter will be experienced more deeply when our hearts have spent Lent in reflection and preparation. 

May 10, 2012 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment

Nutrition Before and After Pregnancy

by D’Andra Bingham, MDImage

Most moms to be will change some things about their nutrition while they are pregnant.  In fact, dietary changes should actually begin prior to conception.  One of the most important things to do prior to pregnancy is to begin taking a multi-vitamin or prenatal vitamin with folic acid.  Women need at least 0.4 to 0.8 mg of folic acid daily for a minimum of one month prior to pregnancy to prevent certain types of birth defects.  It is best to visit your health care provider prior to pregnancy to see if there are any additional things you may need to change based on your health and history.

Eating the right foods will help your baby’s development and help you have a healthier pregnancy.  Eating the wrong foods could harm your baby.  The best diet for a healthy pregnancy and baby includes lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and protein.  Women who do not eat much dairy will need to take a calcium supplement as well.

Pregnant women need to be careful about avoiding germs in food.  Beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and other meats need to be fully cooked.  Fresh fruits and vegetables need to be rinsed under lots of running water before eating them.  Listeria is a bacteria that can be especially dangerous to pregnant women because it can cause miscarriage and fetal death.   It can be found in ready to eat foods and can grow at refrigerator temperatures where most other foodbornebacteria do not.

Here are some specific things regarding nutrition that pregnant women need to know:

Fish:  You should avoid fish that may have high levels of mercury in them.  These include swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and shark. (Fortunately, not found too often on the menus around here, but may be if you travel during your pregnancy.)  It is okay to eat other cooked fish and seafood during pregnancy.  Women can safely eat 12 ounces of cooked fish per week during pregnancy.  A typical serving size is 3 to 6 ounces, so this is around 2 to 3 servings per week.  This includes shrimp, canned light tuna, and catfish.  Tuna steaks should be limited to one serving per week.  Raw fish (sushi) or raw shellfish (oysters) should be avoided.

Sprouts:  Alfalfa, clover, and radish should be avoided.  Bacteria can get into the sprout seeds before the sprouts grow.

Juice:  Fresh squeezed juices sold by the glass may not be pasteurized or otherwise treated to ensure safety.  Pregnant women should avoid all unpasteurized juices.

Lunch meats and hot dogs:  These should be heated well prior to eating.

Soft cheeses:  These include feta, brie, camembert, queso blanco, and quesofresco.  These are typically made with unpasteurized milk and should be avoided during pregnancy.

Caffeine:   There has been an observation between high caffeine intake and several adverse pregnancy outcomes.  Caffeine consumption should be limited to less than 200 mg a day (between  2 to 4 beverages).

Artificial sweeteners:  There is no clear cut evidence that use of these are associated with increased risk to the developing baby.  Studies are conflicting on risks with high doses of saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low) so most clinicians recommend trying to avoid it.  Aspartame (Nutrasweet) and sucralose (Splenda) are currently considered safe to use in pregnancy.

Herbs:  It is recommended to avoid herbal preparations during pregnancy.  The strength and purity can vary widely and there is limited data on their safety .  It is also important not take vitamin supplements in addition to your prenatal vitamin unless approved by your health care provider.  Certain vitamins can be toxic if taken at too high dosages.

Eating the right foods (and avoiding the wrong ones) is important for your health as a mother and for your baby’s development.  A well-balanced, common sense diet with a prenatal vitamin both before and during pregnancy is one of the best gifts you can give your new baby.

May 9, 2012 at 8:29 pm Leave a comment

It’s Raining It’s Pouring, My Mommy’s Not Boring: Rainy Day Activities for Your Cooped Up Kids

By Molly Sullivan Taylor, Ph. D

When the showers appear, find things to do inside the house and go puddle splashing after the storm passes. This hello kitty froggy rain slicker can be found at for $44.00.















Sunny days are right around the corner when parenting can seem fun and somewhat easy but before we trade in our warm boots for flip flops we have some rainy days ahead. Most mothers of young children would agree that although everyone says these years go by fast there are days that seem very long especially when it’s raining outside and everyone must play indoors. Sometimes having some tricks up your sleeve and a little preparation in mind for a rainy day can be just what you need for a fun day at home.

In the Kitchen:

Bread Painting

  • Bagels or Bread
  • milk mixed with a little food coloring
  • bowls
  • clean paint brushes

Let your little one paint his/her breakfast and then toast it. This is so fun and very easy to prepare.

Flour drawing

  • Cookie sheets
  • flour
  • and a few little fingers

Let your children draw pictures, letters and numbers in the flour.

Alphabet cookies

  • sugar cookie dough
  • icing
  • sprinkles
  • chocolate chips
  • any other eatable decorations you might have in your pantry

Roll the dough out into small balls and let the children roll it into letters and place on a cookie sheet to bake.Then decorate as you please.

Indoor Picnic Lunch

  • Tablecloth
  • paper plates
  • lunch foods
  • dress up clothes

While you prepare the lunch encourage your little one to dress up for a super hero lunch or a princess tea party. At our house we put the tablecloth under the table and let our girls eat under there, it’s way more fun than eating on top of the table.

At the Table:

Sock puppets

  • old socks, you know the ones that the dryer ate up and you can’t find the match
  • buttons
  • yarn

Make sock puppets with your kids and then let them put on a puppet show for you.

Paper Animals 

  • paper plates or paper bags
  • crayons
  • markers
  • construction paper
  • scissors and glue

Paper plates can be made into animal faces and paper bags can be made into animal puppets. Make an example and then let your children use their imagination and creativity.

In the Living Room:

Vehicle Track

  • books of equal thickness
  • cars
  • trains
  • tractors
  • trucks

Lay down the books to make a street with turns and bumps along the way for your little racer to play with. This can be done in one room or build it so long it goes into another room. You can even make it a race with sound effects.

Dance to the Music

  • music
  • dress up clothes
  • scarves or Daddy’s ties

Turn on some music and dance to get those rainy day wiggles out. You will be surprised at how your kids will giggle when you join in the fun.

Secret Hide Out 

  • sheets
  • blankets
  • an empty table

Drape the sheets over the table to make a secret hiding place. At our house we stock the fort with flashlights, books and special snacks. This is a great place to tell stories and read books with your children.

Obstacle Course: Set up an obstacle course throughout the house. For example, start by hopping on pillows on the floor in the living room, ride a tricycle around the kitchen three times, skip around the dining room chairs to the bedroom, do five somersaults on the carpet, and finish with ten jumping jacks. This will be a favorite, I promise.

In the Garage

Indoor Play Yard: Back out your car and close the garage door. Get out those scooters, bikes and roller skates. Another fun addition is a CD player with some fun music playing.

May 9, 2012 at 8:20 pm Leave a comment

Childhood Obesity: Know The Facts

By Christina Payne, MD

Healthy eating habits should be established early with children to prevent obesity.

It’s time for your son’s 9 year-old check-up. He appears healthy,

but needs a physical form signed for camp. He isn’t due for shots and

hasn’t contracted anything more than a cold in the last year, so the

entire appointment seems unnecessary. As your doctor visits with you,

he expresses concern that your son is obese and discusses a nutrition

and exercise regimen to help the condition. He also suggests blood

work to evaluate cholesterol and blood sugar levels, which seems

premature to you given he is only 9. Although always appearing a

little “pudgy”, he has never given cause for alarm. He goes to P.E. three

days a week and plays outside on a regular basis. Lunch is eaten from

the school cafeteria and dinner often involves fast foods due to a busy

family schedule.


Childhood obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) greater

than the 95 percentile for age and gender. BMI is calculated as weight

(in kilograms) divided by height in meters squared. An overweight or

at-risk child has a BMI greater than the 85 percentile. Most physicians

calculate the BMI with their electronic charting systems at check-ups

for children over 3. Almost one in five children in the United States

is overweight or obese, this amount tripling over the past 30 years.

Therefore, obesity prevention and diagnosis is fast becoming a regular

part of health maintenance. Obviously, appropriate nutrition leads the

list of interventions to maintain healthy weight children. Guidelines

can be found online at AHA nutrition guidelines.

Good nutrition along with regular exercise must be enforced to help

prevent obesity and its associated diseases.


Obese children have increased medical care usage when

compared to healthy weight children. They begin developing adult type

illnesses at a young age, often requiring medications still unapproved

for children. Type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia (elevated cholesterol),

hypertension, asthma, and fatty liver disease are the main medical

issues increased in obese children. Obstructive sleep apnea is 5 times

more likely in obese children compared to those at a healthy weight.

Orthopedic conditions and sports related injuries are significantly

higher in these children as well. Once present, most of these issues tend

to worsen into adulthood. Fortunately, weight reduction and a modified

lifestyle help reverse these problems. Obesity is definitely a major

problem to be treated by the medical community, but also a serious

public health issue as well.


Treatment of the obese child involves interventions in almost all

areas of life. Busy families may have good intentions but have difficulty

putting a physician’s recommendations into practice. The goal of

weight reduction therapy is to allow younger children to maintain their

weight as they grow taller, and older children to undergo slow weight

loss (around one or two pounds per month). Successful dietary plans

enforce portion control and food selection. One such plan called We

Can!, is sponsored by the NIH ( More rapid

weight loss or complicated cases should involve a nutritionist. The

American Academy of Pediatrics Sports Medicine and Fitness

recommends 60 minutes of physical activity a day. To get this amount

of exercise definitely requires more time than school programs allow.

The entire family must be involved in the change, from the type of foods

kept at home to family time afterschool and on weekends. Studies have

shown that if just one parent is present for a sit down meal with the

family in the evening, those children are more likely to maintain a

healthy weight.


In conclusion, the topic of weight management and obesity in

children is a very sensitive topic, but its treatment is essential for a

healthy childhood. Patients like the boy mentioned at the beginning of

this article are rapidly increasing. As pediatricians, our goal is to

encourage healthy changes without making a child feel insecure or

develop other unhealthy eating disorders. Steady lifestyle modification

with progressive small changes in diet and exercise over time remains

the mainstay of treatment.


Nutrition Guideline for a healthy weight

  • Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and continued breastfeeding until at least 12 months
  • Limit dining out for meals
  • Limit sugared beverages
  • Eat breakfast daily
  • Eat a diet rich in calcium
  • Try to eat whole grains when possible
  • Consume recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables
  • Allow a child to self regulate the quantity of food he eats within
  • the appropriate portion size
  • Have at least five family meals at home per week


May 9, 2012 at 8:01 pm Leave a comment

Should Your Child Eat A Gluten-Free Diet

By Christine Payne, MD

Should your child eat a gluten-free diet, check the facts before making the decision

When we shop for groceries, most of us check the nutritional facts for calories, protein, preservatives, etc. trying to provide the healthiest choices for our families. Should we also be looking for a gluten-free label as well?  In the last several years, gluten has come under attack as a culprit in many diseases. Currently, it has been scientifically proven to cause celiac disease and as one component in wheat allergy.  Many people are also convinced it can be a factor in other medical disorders as well.  Searching gluten sensitivity or intolerance on the Internet brings up numerous websites and blogs, their authors passionate about linking gluten to many illnesses. Testimonials abound proclaiming resolution of conditions such as irritable bowel disease and migraines to improvement in developmental disorders like autism and ADHD. Much of this informationin the media is currently unproven, and should be examined with caution.  The jury is still out whether the gluten-free diet is an extraordinary cure, or just snake oil.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.  Celiac disease occurs when this protein causes an immune-mediated reaction ingenetically predisposed people.  This reaction destroys the lining of the intestine, resulting in the malabsorption of nutrients.  Affecting 1% of the population of the United States, it is one of the most common chronic disorders in children.  Issues range from the gastrointestinal symptoms of diarrhea, poor weight gain and abdominal pain, to other findings such as short stature, delayed puberty and arthritis.  Reliable screening tests are available for celiac disease involving blood tests for endomysial antibody and tissue transglutaminase.  Intestinal biopsy often accompanies the evaluation.  Children with chronic gastrointestinal symptoms, poor growth, or evidence of malnutrition should be tested.  Likewise, children with certain associated diseases should also be checked.  Treatment for positive individuals includes mandatory, complete removal of all gluten from the diet. This results in symptom improvement often in a matter of weeks. Referrals to a nutritionist and gastroenterologist are also important.

Intolerance or sensitivity to gluten is something else altogether.  It is a basket term linking gluten ingestion to a multitude of medical problemsin people with negative celiac disease tests. Many of these individuals still report improvement of many symptoms when going to a gluten free diet. In an effort to treat frustrating conditions like autism and hyperactivity, many parents place their children on diets free of gluten as well.  This is not advisable unless instructed by a medical doctor.  Altering a child’s diet in this way can lead to both inadequate calories and vitamin D and B12 deficiencies among other problems.  Although research is underway, currently the gluten-free diet as a treatment in children who do not have celiac disease is unproven and possibly harmful.

On a practical note, gluten-free diets are extremely difficult. Gluten is found not only in bread, baked goods and pasta, but is used in many foods as a thickener or filler.   Occasionally, a few products catering to this diet can be found in major grocery stores; but most of these items need to be purchased at specialty shops.  Determining what contains gluten on a restaurant menu is also next to impossible, making dining out troublesome. Understandably the foods taste strange to kids new to the diet.  My daughter described gluten free brownies as bitter and chewy, not to mention the mix was three times the cost of the regular Betty Crocker variety.

In conclusion, unless advised by your pediatrician or gastrointestinal specialist, a gluten-free diet should not be placed upon your child. If done inappropriately, it can be unhealthy not to mention extremely difficult for your child’s palate.  We have learned much about celiac disease in the last few decades.  Hopefully further research will shed light onto other gluten-associated disorders. Until then, following the good ole food pyramid with lots of fruits and vegetables is usually the best option.

May 9, 2012 at 7:54 pm 1 comment