Meet the Parenting Program Staff: Lori Polakowski

Photo of Lori Polakowski

Lori Polakowski is an
Individual Family Support Coordinator with the Parenting Program.

Where did you grow up?
North Manchester, IN.

Tell us something about your family.
My husband and I have a combined family with five children, one dog, one Russian tortoise, and one cat.

Why did you choose to be part of the Parenting Program?
I volunteered for five years before becoming a student intern. My first contact with the BPP was Beth Frydlewicz who was incredibly enthusiastic which was contagious.

Who or what inspires you?
My 3 daughters—watching them become young women and seeing what choices they make for their own lives.

What are your hobbies or special interests?
Traveling to countries I’ve never been before

What’s your favorite family-friendly destination?

What’s your favorite movie? Book?
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

What’s your favorite meal?
An interesting vegetable dish with pickerel

What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
I don’t particularly like ice cream because it’s cold. Much prefer carrot cake.

Share something about you that might surprise us.
I grew up in a town of 5,000 people. As a teenager I thought it was so boring but as a 50 year old, driving down country roads surrounded by corn fields makes me feel calm and happy.

Books and More

Stuffed elephant and pig with matching book

Go ahead, admit it, you’ve had something to eat or drink recently that was flavored with pumpkin spice. It’s become a part of the fall weather tradition around here in Michigan. As I sit here and drink my pumpkin spice coffee, I wanted to share some creative ideas on how you can pair up books with other unique gifts for birthday or holiday celebrations.

  • Name Books. Search Amazon for books that include the child’s name in the title. Children love hearing their name mentioned over and over again in a book. I just did this for a first birthday gift. I picked out three or four books with the character name “Lucy” in them for a sweet little girl.
  • Book and Stuffed Animal. Put together a book with a stuffed animal of the main character. We received this gift recently and especially loved the Ladybug Girl book collection.
  • Book and Toy. One of my favorite titles that encourages childrento be themselvesis called The main character is an elephant and the book is a great fit for preschool and elementary-age children. Pair it up with a puzzle for a creative bundle!
  • Themed Baskets. Pick out two or three fall books. Add them to a basket (Home Goods has great canvas baskets) along with some candy corn, hot cocoa, marshmallows and a mini-sized pumpkin. This can be switched up for any season and for any holiday. When our son was born, a friend filled a navy blue and white canvas tote with nautical themed gifts and books. It was a really fun gift to receive and I hope to give some out in return!
  • Fall Books. Check out my blog post from last year with ideas on fall books.

– Maria Dismondy, mother of three, reading specialist, fitness instructor and bestselling children’s author living in Southeast Michigan.

Turn Off and Tune In

Photo of older man sharing life lessons with younger woman

Caspar Diederik, Flickr / CC License.

I had the displeasure of taking my car to the dealership recently. General maintenance, but still it was kind of a hassle because it was on a precious Saturday morning.

But trying to make lemonade out of lemons, I decided to use my time in the waiting room constructively and read a book I downloaded on my phone. About two chapters in, a gentleman sitting next to me made a loud comment about something on the television that I was conveniently using as background noise.

Being pseudo-polite, I raised my head and nodded toward the man; this was the opening he looked for to start a conversation that made my nearly two-hour trip to the dealership fly by.

He was an older gentleman of mixed-race and you could tell by word one that he was a kind soul. Over the hour and a half we chatted, we touched on race, religion, the future and the past … you know, all the stuff we’re taught to never talk about outside of the home.

He told me of his heritage — he was part French and part African-American — but in the eyes of those he grew up around back in the 1950s and 1960s, they never mentioned his beret-wearing family. He grew up in Washington, DC during the Vietnam War, where he went on to serve but had trouble fighting for a country that he didn’t feel a part of, or truly welcome in.

We talked politics (we didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything and that was OK), how news folks need to change their ways and stop giving viewers “fool-aid,” and how if people really followed what their beliefs teach — and not be so selective — that the world would be a much better place.

As fate would have it, we were both called at the same time by the service manager, so we shook hands and thanked each other for making the time go quicker.

So why am I writing about this story in a parenting blog? Well, for three reasons actually.

First, if I kept my nose in my phone I would never have learned so much about someone else’s journey, a journey I honestly knew nothing about. Too often we let our kids keep their noses buried in our/their phones and miss out on so much. Go gadget-free on your next trip and have them see what they’ve been missing.

Second, everyone’s story is so much different than yours and if you take the time to listen, you can learn from those differences and come away with a better understanding that although we all take different paths, people are all trying to get to that place that makes them happy and better people.

Last, we need to teach our children that they can learn from other people’s experiences, all they have to do is listen. I’m glad my Dad taught me to listen, because I would have never gotten to learn so much about life (mine and others), and how to make it better.

Not every chance encounter will be life changing … but you never know, and that’s what makes life worth living!

– Jim Pesta, Parenting Program participant and father of two girls

The Face of Beaumont Parenting: Cam Tazar

Woman standing between two men

Cam Tazar with her son, Nicholas, and husband, Paul.

A regular feature on the Maternal/Fetal Health Unit at Beaumont, Troy is the smiling face of Cam Tazar. Cam is one of the Parenting Program’s outstanding volunteers. The term “regular feature” isn’t an overstatement; she volunteers for the BPP more than some people work in a paying job. That’s just part of Cam’s way of life — dedication to all she puts her efforts into.

Cam has been married to her husband, Paul, for 31 years. Together they have a son, Nicholas, of whom they are very proud. Nicholas tells [his Mom] “that she has been a wonderful role model not only [for] the way he was raised but the way he watches [Cam] live her own life, and that he truly learned how important it is to be giving and caring. He added that [his Mom’s] example has shaped the way he thinks, feels and believes much more than she will ever know.” Cam’s dedication to her family and community has obviously set an excellent example for her son. She also shares the happy news that Nicholas is engaged to Dr. Kari Aretakis, a Beaumont physician, and the BPP shares her joy in the addition to her family.

The story of how Cam came to volunteer for the BPP well illustrates her focus and drive. When Cam retired from her career in federal law enforcement, she decided that she wanted to spend her time volunteering with babies. She’s one of eight children in her family, and spent a lot of time babysitting when she was younger. She wanted to draw from that love and experience in her volunteer life. Cam promptly applied to all of the local hospitals, looking for a position that would allow her to work with children. How fortunate for the BPP that we were the first to snap her up! Cam started with the BPP as an ALGO hearing screener (a position that has her administering the state-mandated hearing testing to newborns in the hospital).  Since then, her work expanded to include volunteer roles in the NICU and in pediatrics, as well as being one of the Parenting Partners on the Mother/Baby unit. Cam’s main focus at present is on her NICU role, and she says, “[she] excitedly looks forward to coming to volunteer each day and cannot wait to give the loving support that those newborns so need!” The entire Maternal/Fetal Health Unit benefits from Cam’s tireless dedication.

Woman with her son and her mom

Outside of Beaumont, Cam helps out at her Mom’s nursing home, where she tries to visit every day.

In her leisure time, she loves to golf — a passion she’s shared with her husband throughout their marriage, and also with her son. In fact Cam says that most of their family vacations centered on golf and golfing destinations. More evidence of her dedication to everything she does. Thank you, Cam, for sharing your drive with the BPP!

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program volunteer

Upping the Toothbrush Game

Photo of power toothbrush head

Wikipedia. CC License.

Creating a fun toothbrushing experience for your children is a cool way for you to help to take care of their teeth.

The power toothbrush is a great choice!

A manual brush can actually get the job done when used correctly, however I don’t recommend taking the risk. As a parent, you’re looking for efficiency, and a power brush is a great alternative to manual brushes. Power brushes, especially the ones with a soft bristle head and timer, will create a fun routine for your child and get the job done well.

Choosing a Toothbrush

Whether you’re buying a manual brush or an electric power brush, keep these must-haves in mind:

  • ADA Seal of Approval. The American Dental Association’s seal reflects the standard in the dental health industry. The seal means the brush will last for a normal period of time and has no rough edges or unsafe components.
  • Soft bristles. Hard bristles are marketed to the consumer because many people believe they do a better job; this isn’t the case. In fact, the harder the bristle, the more potential damage you could cause to the healthy tooth structure. Also, make it a great habit to switch out the bristle head every three months.
  • Choose a child-sized head and handle. The brush must feel comfortable in your child’s mouth so he/she can maneuver it into all those nooks and crannies where bits of food can hide. The bigger the handle the better, because kids love getting a grip on their brush.
  • Variety. There are plenty to choose from. Rechargeable brushes are typically the “higher-end” style and I recommend using this style brush than the battery-operated models. Two popular brands of rechargeable brushes are Oral B and Phillips Sonicare. Both do a great job!

Using a Power Brush

  • Age 3 is a great age to introduce a power brush, but it also depends on the child. Some kids will pick up on things a little quicker. Overall, it’s best if they get used to this style of brush early on in life.
  • A power brush does the work for you. Instead of having to brush in a back-and-forth motion like you do with a manual brush, the power brush is designed to work on a tooth-to-tooth basis. Brushing routines vary by individual, but I brush by splitting my mouth into four segments (upper right, lower right, upper left, lower left). Spend 30 seconds on each segment and that’s the recommended two minutes!
  • Lighten up the pressure. Brushing with a power toothbrush requires minimal effort and less force, while still being more efficient and effective than a manual brush.
  • It’s music to their teeth. Some power brushes (i.e., Sonicare, Oral B) play music until it’s time to stop, which will encourage the two minutes of brushing and make it fun.

Other Tips

  • Be sure to brush morning and night.
  • Floss once daily. Flossing should be done prior to brushing because it will remove all of the food particles, etc. and you can brush them away after.
  • Count the teeth. When kids know how many teeth their tiny mouths contain, it brings excitement. They feel the need to take care of them! I recommend counting them in front of a mirror where the kids can visually appreciate all of their teeth. I typically do this and it helps engage kids on the importance of taking care of their pretty white teeth.

– Ali Saad, D.M.D., is a dentist practicing in southeast Michigan and a volunteer blog author for the Parenting Program. He was awarded the “Top Dentist” distinction by Hour Detroit and the Consumer Research Council of America.

September is National Disaster Preparedness Month: Thunderstorm Safety

Photo of lightning bolts

After the “Polar Vortex” this winter and recent mass flooding, many Michiganders have a new appreciation for disaster preparedness. Michigan’s most common potential disaster situations include thunderstorms, power outages, tornadoes and extreme winter temperatures. In honor of national disaster preparedness month, this special series will offer a few suggestions on how to make sure you and your family are ready.

A thunderstorm can be beautiful to watch from afar, but it can certainly create devastating aftermath. A severe thunderstorm, which is defined by the American Red Cross as producing hail of at least 1 inch in diameter or wind gusts of at least 58 miles per hour, can cause flooding, high winds, power outages and lightning injuries. As of Sept. 7, 2014, there have been 23 lightning-related deaths in the United States this year alone.

Here are some things to remember to stay safe in a thunderstorm:

  • If you’re swimming, get out of the water. Do not return until at least 30 minutes have passed since the last thunder rumble.
  • If outdoors, avoid trees and metal objects such as tractors and golf clubs.
  • Seek indoor shelter as soon as you are notified of the presence of a thunderstorm. Avoid sitting by doors and windows.
  • Do not touch items that are plugged into electrical outlets. Also, do not use any indoor plumbing items that can conduct electricity until the storm has passed.
  • If flooding has occurred, do not swim or play in it! Flood water can contain sewage as well as hidden dangers that could cut or injure you.
  • If you don’t already have flood coverage, check out the National Flood Insurance Program website for tips and advice to get your home covered.
  • Driving through flooded streets is extremely dangerous. It only takes 6 inches of water to completely lose control of the vehicle. Driving through large bodies of water could also cause vehicle damage, creating dangerous situations in the future.
  • If you notice a downed power line, call 911 immediately to report it. Stay away and prevent others from getting near the line or anything near or touching it.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers resources on its website, including emergency supply checklists. There are also games that make the lesson fun and not scary for children.

– Erica Surman, RN, BSN, Pediatric Trauma Program Manager, Beaumont Health System



Healthy Meals on the Go

Mason jar of yogurt, granola and fruit

This is my Breakfast in a Jar. It’s healthy, delicious and easy to customize.

It’s back to school time again! For some of you that also means back to sports, dance, gymnastics, or any other extracurricular hobby that keeps your family busy all week. Sometimes it seems as if those activities are scheduled right in the middle meal time and rarely in between. That usually doesn’t leave much time for cooking a nice, hot, healthy meal. Fast food and take-out are the most convenient but aren’t very healthy, and certainly not easy on the pocketbook. Of course you could grab a snack on the way out, and come home to a crock pot meal or a casserole that needs to go in the oven. But wouldn’t it be nice if there was another way to enjoy a quick, healthy, even potentially hot meal while on the go?

Our family is always on the go. I’m in school full time. My husband works seven days a week with hours that result in me parenting alone most days. My oldest son has tutoring twice a week, my daughter has ballet, and all three kids play soccer with practices and games two or three days a week. We won’t even mention the amount of the dreaded “H” word we have every day. I can tell you that eating out is very tempting! And though many restaurants offer a variety of healthy options, the cost can really add up.

A couple years back I decided that I had enough things to worry about and that dinner shouldn’t be one of them. As a student I usually don’t have time to sit and eat, so I took my own personal routine of making my meals portable and did the same for our children. I got creative and came up with some meals (I like to call them “meal hacks”) for any time of the day that are quick, easy, healthy and delicious! These options save time, clean up and money, and have the added benefit of being healthier for you and your active and growing kids!

Breakfast Choices

Mornings are always a time when we need food to-go. If your kids are anything like mine, they have no urgency at all, so having a nice breakfast would make us even later than if we just grabbed a cereal bar and headed out the door. Here are a couple of breakfast ideas.

  • Breakfast in a Jar. I have this almost every morning and it’s really easy to customize. The basic ingredients are:

o     Plain Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is made differently than regular yogurt and packs about 15–20g of protein (compared to 9g in regular). Buying plain eliminates the unnecessarily added sugars from the flavorings.

o     Granola. Its extra fiber helps lower the bad (LDL) cholesterol, control blood sugar levels, provides a dose of healthy omega-3 fats, and includes vitamins like thiamin and folate, minerals, and antioxidants. It also keeps the kids feeling full longer and “regular” in the potty department. You can make your own homemade granola, but there are also some healthy options at your grocery store (just be sure to check the labels).

o     Fruit. Berries are another great way to pack in some additional vitamins and nutrients.

o     Honey. Adding a little drizzle sweetens things up a bit.

  • Breakfast Smoothies. For a quick breakfast, blend some fruit (e.g., bananas, strawberries) with Kefir (pronounced “KEE-fer”). Kefir is like yogurt, but more liquid and drinkable. It also contains more probiotics and is a great source of calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins and protein.

Lunch/Dinner Choices

  • Pizza dough pockets. These take some time to make, but you can stuff them with your choice of hot or cold filling, then wrap it up with some foil and you’re good to go! Start with either homemade or pre-made dough. (Making your own dough provides the added benefit of having fewer preservatives and you controlling the ingredients. Here’s a good recipe. Next, stuff the dough and make your own version of a Hot Pocket – pizza; or chicken, cheese, and broccoli; or mini stromboli.
  • Hot dog bun meals. I’ve used hot pulled pork/beef/chicken that was made in the crock pot the day before. Egg/tuna/chicken salad also works great in a bun if you want something cold.
  • Pitas. Some options include:

o     Hummus with veggies and feta

o     Deli meat and cheese

o      Salads of all types work great

  • Whole wheat taco shells or wraps.

o     Fill with scrambled eggs, cheese, and ham.

o     Make quesadillas

o     Turn them into sandwiches like BLTs

Container Options

  • Mason jars. You’ll notice my breakfasts are all in a Mason jar. That’s because it’s my favorite container for meal travel. The jars fit perfectly in a car’s cup holders and clean up is simple. All you need to do is bring a spoon (plastic or reusable) and you’re good to go! Just remember to bring the lids and rings to seal the jars up when you’re finished so nothing left over spills out. Those also keep the smell to a minimum; think hot car + yogurt = not the freshest of scents! You can also use mason jars for things like soup, chili, pasta…the possibilities are endless.
  • Edible food containers wrapped in a foil pouch. These (e.g., buns, wraps, etc.) are easy, quick are also pretty self explanatory. Try to stick with whole wheat and/or whole grain items so you get all the nutrients that are lacking in the ones made with refined grains. Whole grain versions provide more energy, along with fiber, iron, B vitamins, and antioxidants that aren’t found in fruits and vegetables. You can read more about whole grains and their benefits at the Whole Grains Council.

Final Thoughts

  • Eating a variety of foods daily is an easy way to ensure your family is getting all the nutrients they need. Try to incorporate a variety of healthy lean meats, dairy, and fresh produce.
  • Some of these items might take a little preparation, but be creative and adventurous! You might start off with just a ham and cheese, but then add in a slice of tomato or onion next time, or try Muenster instead of cheddar. Maybe you’ll get crazy and throw in some fresh avocado slices into that BLT!
  • It’s really important to let the kids have fun, too! Sometimes when children feel they have a little more control over what they eat, they’re more likely to eat it.

Has anyone else made some great to-go type meals? If so, please share! I’d love to hear what’s worked for you!

– Joohi Schrader is a nutrition and food science major at Wayne State University, a mother of three amazing children, and a certified Square Foot Gardening instructor. She’s also a Parenting Program volunteer.


“Kefir Benefits: 12 Things to Know About This Yogurt-Type Food.”

“Whole Grains 101.” The Whole Grains Council.


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