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Training for a 5K as a family

Training for a 5K as a family

It’s no surprise that many families feel a bit like they are coming out of hibernation this time of year (especially after the long winter we’ve had)! Need a little motivation to get you and your kids off the couch? Train for a 5K!

A 5K is a fun, doable accomplishment for kids and parents. Setting a goal as a family helps hold all of you accountable. And training for a race improves family communication, fosters stronger relationships and teaches kids how to support each other.

Recommendations on ages & how to get started

Running is an activity that can be fun for kids as young as five and many 5K’s offer a shorter “fun run” distance of 1K or 2K that is perfect for the younger crowd. If your child is at least 8 years old, they are likely ready for the challenge of a 5K (3.1 miles). Misty Chandos, Director of Training Programs at Fleet Feet in Schererville, runs a Youth No Boundaries program for kids ages 8-14.

Misty’s Tips for Family Runs

• Parents should be realistic about their child's physical activity and help them set achievable goals.

• Both parents and children should be supportive of each other and work toward the goal together. Do not compete with one another, but provide motivation and support through the struggles.

• Both parents and children should celebrate small accomplishments and encourage each other to work toward improvement.

• Parents should not compare one child to another child.

• Parents and children need to commit to the running program and hold each other accountable for completion.

Ultimately, the goal is to have fun. Chandos reminds parents to “enjoy every moment and celebrate each mile! Your children will learn important life lessons that are even bigger than finishing the race.”

Set your sights on these local spring races

May 11: Mother’s Day 5K at Taltree Arboretum in Valparaiso

May 17: Girls on the Run Spring 5K in Highland

May 31: Sunburst Races in South Bend (Bonus: the finish line is on the field at Notre Dame Stadium!)

June 7: Munster Rotary 10K/5K in Munster

June 14: Annual Hub Run 5K/2K in Crown Point (Note this year the Southlake Family YMCA in Crown Point is offering youth training for the 2K distance. Visit for more info.)

June 21: Firecracker 5K in Chesterton

April 06, 2014 6:00 am Photos


Beginner Gardeners: Plants to try with little green thumbs

Beginner Gardeners: Plants to try with little green thumbs

As Spring weather is just starting to show itself, gardeners are busy planning this year's bounty.

If your little ones are eager to join and learn more about the craft of gardening, experts say there are certain plants and seedlings that are better at shaping your children's interests in gardening.

"The main thing that you have to remember with gardening with kids is to keep it fun and simple," said Donnee Smith of Lake County Master Gardeners.

Before picking out which plants to purchase, Smith suggested spending time with kids learning about which ones grow best in this region, which pests may be attracted to plants of interest and what to do to combat them, and learning about the plant cycle of life.

Here are some go-to plants for parents beginning a garden with their kids:

Potatoes - Bill Maynard, president of the American Gardening Association, said potatoes are fun for kids because potatoes come in a variety of colors and sizes. "The kids love to hunt for them when they are ready," he said. "They never know how big the potatoes will get. It's like an Easter egg hunt."

Bush or pole beans - Kathleen Van Arsdel, Porter County Master Gardener, said bush or pole beans are very easy to grow. "They're versatile, and are very tasty with other veggies, especially tomatoes," she said. "They're also great fresh to eat straight out of the hand."

Leaf lettuce - Lettuce is a very fast grower - perfect for impatient little ones - but it needs attention to moisture and light, Van Arsdel said. "Be careful of spicy or bitter greens if the little ones are not fond of strong flavors," she said.

Armenian cucumber - Also known as a "snake melon," the Armenian cucumber is somewhat sweet, though it can be used in place of a cucumber, Van Arsdel said. "Talk about your oddities - it is winding, ribbed and growing to over a foot long," she said. "It's fun to look at and fun to eat."

Tomatoes - Grape tomatoes are small and sweet, a favorite for kids, Maynard said.

Strawberries - Though Van Arsdel recommended covering them with a net to protect them from the birds, she said the minor inconvenience is worth it because kids love them.

Raspberries - A slightly thorny plant, this might not be the best choice for younger children. However, older children will enjoy the juicy berries that come with fantastic flavor, Van Arsdel said.

Sunflowers - Perfect for a hint of drama in your garden, sunflowers come in a variety of heights and colors. "The Russian Mammoth has a great wow factor," Van Arsdel said.

Celosia - "Celosia can also be quite fun for kids as they are weird and wooly and come small as well as tall," Van Arsdel said. "If you pair them with ageratum, the color effect is downright electric."

If time is not on your side, Van Arsdel said parents can start with plants from the nursery.

"If space is also an issue, start with inexpensive basic clay pots," she said.

However, make sure the children read instructions for successful planting and care, she said.

"Anything in a pot dries out faster and will need frequent fertilization due to all that watering, so go for plants that can take the heat and aren't water hogs," Van Arsdel said.

April 03, 2014 8:30 am

Show us your family!

Show us your family!

Once again, we asked you to show us your families, and you did! Check out the great local photos we received from you this month. You may see a friend, neighbor - or yourself - in our pages!

Send us your fun family snapshots and you could be published in The Times. Just email the photo to (along with the names and town of those pictured, your phone number and address) and look for yourself right here on the first Thursday of every month.

April 03, 2014 6:30 am Photos


Show us your family!

Show us your family!

Once again, we asked you to show us your families, and you did! Check out the great local photos we received from you this month. You may see a friend, neighbor - or yourself - in our pages!

Send us your fun family snapshots and you could be published in The Times. Just email the photo to (along with the names and town of those pictured, your phone number and address) and look for yourself right here on the first Thursday of every month.

March 06, 2014 6:30 am Photos


Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss: Fun ways to celebrate the joy in reading

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss: Fun ways to celebrate the joy in reading

On March 2, 1904 Theodor Seuss Geisel, popularly known as Dr. Seuss, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. From his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, to his last, Oh the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss thrilled young readers with his unique tongue-twisters and fanciful worlds. Dr. Seuss passed away in 1991 but his birthday has become a day to celebrate reading.

In fact, this date is now known as Read Across America day. Many elementary school classrooms will have activities in honor of Dr. Seuss this week, but they shouldn’t get to have all the fun. Here are some ways you can celebrate Dr. Seuss and reading in your own house.

Creative Crafts: Bookworm bookmarks

Supplies required: Elmer’s glue, adhesive foam shapes, colored craft sticks, google eyes and a marker.


1. Layer the shapes on one end of the craft stick and overlap them a bit to make the worm.

2. Add some google eyes on top.

3. Use the marker to draw a smile, glasses or other details.

• Related reading: I Can Read with My Eyes Shut

Awesome Activities: Book relay races

Following the example of that master balancer the Cat in the Hat, have the kids show off their balancing skills. Group the kids into teams and have them do a simple relay race with a book balanced on their heads. Make it more challenging by adding a book on each trip – see how many books they can balance on their head while walking across the room.

• Related reading: "The Cat in the Hat"; "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back"

Spectacular Science: Make oobleck

Making oobleck only requires two ingredients (one of which is water), some newspaper to contain any messiness, a bowl and your hands. Paper bowls make for easy clean up (just toss it all in the trash) but any bowl will do. Feel free to double or triple the ingredients to make more.

Oobleck ingredients: 1/4 cup corn starch, 8 teaspoons of water. Place in a bowl and mix together.

Just like in the story, your kids will quickly realize that there’s something up with this liquid. The secret? It reacts under pressure – it’s a liquid that can act as a solid. Have your kids try these experiments:

1. Put a finger into the liquid and push down, you should feel it getting hard and almost gripping your finger. Now try to quickly pull it out. It will probably pop out but not easily and sometimes the whole bowl comes with you. Put your finger in again and slowly pull it out – it comes right out with no problems whatsoever. Why? It’s all about pressure – apply pressure and this liquid acts like a solid. Keep things easy and it behaves as a liquid.

2. Now ask the kids what they think will happen if you scoop up a handful and try to squeeze it. After all, if you squeeze a handful of water you just get water dripping out of your hand. Ahhh… but squeeze a handful of oobleck and you get a handful of something hard – it’s true! Open your hand to release the pressure and watch it melt back into a liquid.

3. The splash test. If you splash a bowl of water hard, you’ll end up with very little water in the bowl but lots of water around you. Splash your bowl of oobleck – it stays in the bowl!

• Related reading: "Bartholomew and the Oobleck"

Important note about clean up: do NOT pour your oobleck down the sink, unless of course you want to make a call to your local plumber to unclog that hardened mess. Toss it all in the trash.

Celebrate reading! Sometime today, pull out your favorite Dr. Seuss books and read them together. Go to the library and pick out some new books. Get out the green food coloring and whip up a batch of green eggs and ham. Most importantly, use Dr. Seuss’ birthday as a chance to have a little fun together.

Excellent resource for more fun facts, recipes, printables and other Seussian activities:

March 01, 2014 11:00 pm Photos


Party like a president

Party like a president

As most kids celebrate a day off from school Feb. 17, the nation will mark Presidents’ Day.

While Presidents’ may not seem like the ideal day to host a party, it’s actually a great way to spend family time together and reinforce what they are learning in school.

Here are some ways to mark the holiday with kids, from serving patriotic food to playing president-themed games.

Become detectives

Don some detective hats and trench coats and make a game out of discovering things about presidents that aren’t necessarily covered in kids’ history books.

Debi Lilly, a party planner and owner of A Perfect Event, which serves Northwest Indiana and Chicago, said finding interesting facts about former presidents brings them to life.

“Kids love doing research, so start by making a list of the presidents, as long or short as you like, and find out fun facts about each,” she said. “From George Washington to Barack Obama, where is he from? What was his first job? What is his favorite food? Favorite sport? Kids can design their questions around their personal interests, making it more fun and interesting.

Decorate the house

Design a party around the presidents by decorating the table with photos in frames, or even paper maps with their hometowns and cities where they began their careers.

“Draw family portraits with their children and dogs,” Lilly said. “These details become busy craft parties, and decorate the table at the same time.”

Get creative by using just a few fun items as well from around the house.

“Add colorful red, white and blue ribbon wrapped onto pillar candles for pretty lighting on the table,” she said.

Have kids fill round rose bowl vases with water and add red, white and blue flowers, Lilly said.

Prepare festive food

Plan menus for that day’s meals based on a president’s favorite foods and drinks.

“Write them onto paper, then cut into the shape of your round glass plates,” Lilly said. “Set underneath for a custom presidential menu plate design.”

Red, white and blue sodas make the perfect drinks, and don’t forget to use any red, white and blue dishes to accent the party’s patriotic theme, Lilly said.

“Make mini parfaits with red, white and blue – raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and vanilla yogurt or frozen yogurt — are the perfect presidential day dessert,” she said.

Plan activities

Plan games based on what the presidents loved to do and play outside the office, Lilly said. For instance, if a president enjoyed playing cards, set up Go Fish tournaments throughout the day.

The White House Historical Association also suggests having kids write in their diaries for the day as if they were a first kid. They can write about the first day they moved in to the White House, or their favorite heroes that came to the White House to visit.

Older children may enjoy designing their own White House – adding their own personal touches based on what they enjoy doing.

At, kids have the opportunity to print their own campaign posters, and has several games kids can enjoy online.

For more information on activities, go to

February 06, 2014 7:15 am

Show us your family!

Show us your family!

Once again, we asked you to show us your families, and you did! Check out the great local photos we received from you this month. You may see a friend, neighbor - or yourself - in our pages!

Send us your fun family snapshots and you'll be entered to win a $50 gift card. Just email the photo to (along with the names and town of those pictured, your phone number and address) and look for yourself right here on the first Thursday of every month.

Congratulations to last month's winner, Dianne Whiting of Crown Point!

February 06, 2014 6:00 am Photos


Right at Home: products aim to help kids sleep

Right at Home: products aim to help kids sleep

Do your young ones balk at bedtime? Get gnarly at naptime?

There are plenty of products aimed at parents looking to create the right mood in the nursery to send little ones off to sleep.

Parents of wakeful or colicky babies should talk with their pediatrician. And the first rule is not to put anything in the crib of a baby under a year old, says Deborah Pedrick, founder of the Family Sleep Institute in Stamford, Conn. ( She notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that any loose articles, such as blankets, bumpers or stuffed animals, be removed from a crib, although a pacifier is OK.

After a year, however, many parents do like to give babies comfort objects. Retailers and manufacturers are happy to oblige.

Land of Nod has super-soft plush blankets that have animal head shapes, so children can cuddle elephants, rabbits and lambs. (

Pillow Pets, those soft plush toys that double as pillows, include unusual animals like koalas, buffalo and elephants, as well as dolphins and dinosaurs. A lighted version, Dream Lites, projects a starry night sky on the wall for 20 minutes. (

Projectors that display starry skies and frolicking sheep, and pillows that glow in the dark, have caught on in recent years.

Elizabeth Pantley, author of "The No Cry Sleep Solution" (McGraw-Hill, 2002), says darkness is nature's way of signaling that it's time to sleep. The projectors or glowing pillows can be part of the bedtime ritual, she says, but then turn them off. Or put them behind furniture so the glow isn't as strong. (

Many of the projectors do come with a 20-minute programmable shut-off.

White noise can be relaxing for many babies and children, Pantley says, especially a steady, unobtrusive, relaxing sound, such as rainfall, ocean waves or, for newborns, a heartbeat.

Homedics' SoundSpa collection includes machines that play sounds of nature including moving water, crickets and heartbeats. There's a portable clip-on model for traveling. The Graco Baby Sweet Slumber Sound Machine is a veritable sleep disco with 12 different sound options, MP3 port for customizable plug in music and a night light. Duux makes a cool-mist humidifier shaped like a mushroom, with an aromatherapy option (;; )

You can personalize your child's bedtime routine by downloading songs or stories to Cloud B's menagerie of soft sleep critters. The company also offers the Lullabag, a soft, baby-size zippered sleeping bag. (

If high-tech peace of mind is important, check out They offer a sleep mat integrated with a fiber-optic system that monitors baby's breathing and movement. You can also record your voice or lullabies.

For troublesome sleepers, Pedrick likes the Sleep Buddy system, which consists of a blue light projector, a storybook and a reward chart. Stickers are awarded for nights when kids don't get out of bed; after consecutive successes, small prizes can be offered. (

Brooklyn, N.Y., mom Betsy Bradley dealt with her daughter Phoebe's colicky early months by using a Metropolitan Museum of Art lullaby CD and one of Miracle Baby's swaddling blankets. The one-size-fits-all shaped cotton blankets wrap baby snugly so she can't twitch and startle herself. ( )

February 03, 2014 7:30 am Photos


New Year's resolutions for your wallet: Learning how to save money to cash in on future benefits

New Year's resolutions for your wallet: Learning how to save money to cash in on future benefits

A clean slate.

That’s what the New Year is to many, including financial experts who say now is the perfect time to start saving if you haven’t been.

Though times are still tough for many residents in this region, there are simple steps you can take to put away a few bucks here and there, said Terrence Quinn, senior vice president of Peoples Bank in Munster.

“There are many habits people can develop to enable them to save regularly,” he said.

Here are a few ways you can wipe the slate clean and start the New Year on the right financial note.

Create a budget

“A spending plan, or budget, is the basis for effective money management,” said John Gibson, director of graduate and undergraduate programs at the Indiana University Northwest School of Business and Economics.

If anything changes occur in your life – major or minor – be sure to update that plan, he said.

“Changes in income, living expenses and goals will require changes in your spending plan,” he said.

Keep a diary

Keeping a detailed personal spending diary is a great way to find money, Gibson said.

“Many people are surprised at how and what they are spending,” he said.

While an old fashioned notebook can work, there are also a wealth of apps and web sites created, like, to do the work for you.

“If you are a debit or credit card user, your online statement is also an easy way to see what you are spending on,” Gibson said.

Watch that coffee

Do you have the habit of stopping for coffee in the morning on your way to work?

“If you do this three times a week at $3 to $4 each, you will find you are spending $40 to $50 a month on coffee,” Gibson said. “You can have the same thing practically by making it at home for pennies.”

Other ways to easily spend a lot without realizing it include dry cleaning and eating out.

“People intuitively know that making a lunch at home is cheaper than buying one,” Gibson said. “I think the key here is we are paying a premium for convenience. Convenience is the killer app of the day, but that app costs more than we think.”

Participate in a 401(k)

If your employer offers a 401(k) plan or other savings program at work, Quinn advises to participate and if possible, to increase the percentage set aside each year.

“These dollars are deducted from your paycheck before any taxes are computed,” he said. “Since the dollars saved do not show up in your take home pay, you don’t miss it.”

Empty your pockets

If it’s difficult to set aside money each month for savings, Quinn suggests simply emptying your pockets at the end of the day.

“Every evening, take all the change out of your pocket or purse, and put the coins in a jar, drawer, whatever,” he said. “Then every month or so, deposit the coins into a savings account. You’ll be surprised how much in coins you carry.”

Another variation of this idea is to save coins and $1 bills each day – essentially refusing to spend the leftover change you get after making purchases and putting that money away in savings.

Pay yourself first

With each paycheck before you pay any bills or go out for dinner, your first payment is to yourself of a predetermined amount, Quinn said.

“Some people set aside 5 or 10 percent right off the top,” he said.

Create a future

A regular savings program for you or your children can make a huge difference for the household finances over time, Quinn said.

“It’s tough as we all have bills and other obligations, but if you are able to do so, it can lead to financial independence in the future,” he said.

For children, he suggests opening a 529 college savings plan for each child.

“The money grows tax-free, and can be transferred to another child if the first child does not need the funds for college,” he said.

January 12, 2014 7:00 am

Old Habits Die Hard

Old Habits Die Hard

With New Year, resolutions to form new, good habits are abundant. But what about habits that aren't the best for your child to pick up?

It doesn’t take long for a child to develop a bad habit. In fact, many habits begin shortly after birth. While parents should be aware of what a bad habit looks like as it’s forming, they should also know how to help their child break the pattern before it becomes a more serious problem.

The following are three of the most common habits among kids and some suggestions for breaking them.


Thumb-sucking is one of the earliest developed habits, usually starting at infancy. Tae’Ni Chang-Stroman, MD, of Kids First Pediatrics on Rt. 30 in Dyer, recommended deterring your child from thumb-sucking from the start. “Try to have them use a pacifier instead” because pacifiers can be taken away, whereas the thumb is always there, making the habit much more difficult to break.

“If they already have the habit,” said Stroman, “don’t do anything with it until they’re five or six years old.” You can try to limit the behavior by telling your child he can only suck his thumb in his room or some other space, but according to Stroman, it’s not worth trying to stop it entirely. “Psychologically they can’t break the habit until they’re five or six,” he said. That is the age that kids begin school and will learn from their peers that thumb-sucking is socially unacceptable.

Some other tactics are to show them pictures of kids whose teeth are damaged from sucking their thumbs, or to put bitter-tasting flavors on their thumb.

Nail Biting

This habit is notoriously a tough one to break, which is evidenced by the large number of adults who bite their nails. “Kids usually get this habit from their parents,” Stroman said. Parents of girls might be able to lure their daughters away from nail biting by offering to paint her nails if she doesn’t chew on them. “With boys it’s tough,” however, said Stroman. “They’re going to do it no matter what.”

Sometimes an infection called paronychia can develop as a result of nail biting, so that knowledge, or the occurrence of the infection itself, may keep kids from biting their nails. One parent interviewed had success by putting bitter-tasting, clear, no-shine polish on her child’s nails.

Biting or Hitting Other Kids

Unlike the above habits, biting and hitting are serious behaviors and should be nipped in the bud early. The key is to do so without making a scene.

When a kid bites you or someone else, Stroman recommends putting him in his crib, closing the door and leaving him there for one minute per age (if he’s one year old, he stays in the crib for one minute, if he’s two it’s two minutes, etc.). After the time frame is up, take him out of the crib and walk away without saying anything. (At the most, you can say, “No biting.”) Do this every time he bites or hits.

“They bite for effect,” said Stroman. “They’re mad at you so they bite you, or they want you to get mad so they bite you. They want attention.” Therefore, if you respond by biting them back (as many recommend) or yelling, they’re getting the attention they crave and will continue the habit.

Breaking a child’s habit can be difficult and exhausting. Stroman said staying calm is the key to success. “Is it worth fighting about? If not, don’t even start the fight. If it’s a habit where they harm themselves or others, you do have to stop it. But be very low-key. Don’t get overly emotional about it or you’ll lose focus. Be calm and constant. They have to choose to stop on their own.”

January 02, 2014 6:30 am

Show us your family!

Show us your family!

Once again, we asked you to show us your families, and you did! Check out the great local photos we received from you this month. You may see a friend, neighbor - or yourself - in our pages!

Send us your fun family snapshots and you'll be entered to win a $50 gift card. Just email the photo to (along with the names and town of those pictured, your phone number and address) and look for yourself right here on the first Thursday of every month.

Congratulations to last month's winner, Donna Spears of Hobart!

January 02, 2014 6:00 am Photos


Make holidays more meaningful

Make holidays more meaningful

The holidays are a meaningful time of year for families, but sometimes that meaning can get lost in the hubbub of Black Friday shopping, presents under the tree and running from party to party.

To instill the true meaning of the holidays in children, it's not necessary to eliminate everything commercial or all presents under the tree, said Dr. Lawrence Brewerton, a practicing psychologist and professor at Indiana University Northwest.

"You don't have to de-emphasize Santa and presents," he said.

Children - especially young ones - love spending time with their parents, and there are several activities families can do together during the holidays that reflect the spirit of the season - whether it's spending quality time together or giving back to the community, Brewerton said.

Here are a few ways you can have fun as a family and bask in everything the season offers, without losing its meaning.

Plan family outings

Get a schedule of local holiday-themed concerts, plays, parades, shows and other events, and choose a few to attend as a family, said Andrea Reiser, a mother of four boys, blogger and author of "Letters from Home: A Wake-Up Call for Success & Wealth."

Reiser, who writes about how to raise happy and healthy children, said kids will enjoy counting down to these outings, and will have an even better time attending them.

"In most communities, there are plenty of events to choose from that are free to the public," she said. "It just goes to show that you don't have to spend a mint to make memories over the holidays."

Have meaningful conversations

Conversation is the foundation upon which any memorable event is built, Reiser said.

"So to make the most of outings and experiences this holiday season, have a few meaningful topics up your sleeve to engage your family," she said.

For example, drive around a neighborhood looking at Christmas lights, and ask the kids about their favorite Christmas memories.

Brewerton suggests pulling out old family albums while sipping on hot chocolate by the fire place - emphasizing strong family roots and traditions passed down from generation to generation.

Make routine tasks anything but

With the holidays comes the tasks of wrapping presents. This is a perfect time to gather family members and turn a routine task like this into a beloved tradition.

"Get everyone together to wrap gifts for friends and family, and share hot chocolate and cookies while you're curling ribbon and cutting paper," Reiser said.

Decorating can be difficult for older adult relatives, so Brewerton suggests using a visit to the relative as a time to gather the whole family and turn the routine stop into a joyous memory.

Create traditions

"It's amazing how much kids value and remember family traditions," Reiser said. "Unlike anything else, they're a source of fun, they strengthen family bonds and they form a meaningful link to the past."

Whether it's baking cookies, watching a favorite holiday movie or Christmas caroling, creating traditions is a great way to enjoy each other's company and to make lasting memories, she said.

Brewerton suggests creating a family ornament each year as a craft or having a family grab bag as a new tradition as part of gift giving.

"Put names of immediate family members in a bag and each member chooses someone's name out of the bag," he said. "For the person you choose, you have to make something — a poem, drawing, anything."

Give back

The holidays are a perfect time to count blessings, and while kids may focus on what's under the tree, Brewerton said parents should help redirect their focus.

"Explain to them there are people out there who are less fortunate," he said. "Explain that Santa is a gift giver and doesn't expect anything in return. This helps set the tone for giving."

Make room for new toys by encouraging children to donate some of their toys and clothing they no longer use or need, or make a care package as a family for servicemen and women overseas, Brewerton said.

Rather than donating money to a charity, Reiser said gather family members and volunteer at a soup kitchen or go caroling at a nursing home.

"This is the perfect time of year to teach children that it truly is better to give than to receive, and it can actually feel really good, too," Reiser said. "These experiences will instill values in your children and broaden their perspective on holiday privileges."

Chris Eller Esparza, volunteer coordinator with the United Way Regional Volunteer Center, Lake County, said several organizations in the Region need volunteers during the holiday season.

The Salvation Army offers an Angel tree where participants can give a present to a child whose name is on the tree, and several pet rescue organizations are in constant need of supplies, Esparza said.

The United Way is also looking for volunteers to hold drives to collect new stuffed animals for elementary kids.

"We give each child in first or second grade a stuffed animal as a reading buddy," Esparza said.

For more volunteer opportunities this season, go to

December 22, 2013 10:30 am

Local residents 'adopt grandparents' to bring holiday cheer to everyone this season

Local residents 'adopt grandparents' to bring holiday cheer to everyone this season

Mary Kathryn King couldn’t forget what she saw during a visit to a senior living facility two years ago around Christmas time.

She was dropping off a delivery to one of her customers, when a resident walked down the hallway crying, said King, an executive salesperson with an international cosmetics company.

“My customer said she was crying because she was so lonely,” King said.

“She said this time of year was so hard because many of them are so lonely. She said this person has no visitors all year. It was hard to believe.” After the encounter, King went to her car and cried herself. That’s when inspiration struck.

“I thought there has to be something my team can do, so we asked customers and small businesses to donate to start Adopt a Grandparent.”

King, of Valparaiso, and about 30 of her team members who live in Northwest Indiana and Illinois worked on the project the past two years.

Ludwig Fish and Produce Company in LaPorte donates large white bags, which are decorated and colored by area elementary and preschool children.

The bags are filled with fuzzy socks, stuffed animals, blankets, and hand and foot cream.

During Christmas week, a team of “elves” get dressed up and hand deliver the goodie bags.

“We surprise these patients that receive no visitors all year long with these gifts. They're excited about the gifts but the physical presence is what they love the most,” King said.

Last year they adopted more than 400 local grandparents from nursing home facilities in Valparaiso, Michigan City, Portage, Crown Point and Merrillville.

The nursing homes help the team compile lists of seniors who know they are lonely.

“We adopt however many the nursing homes gives us. That's our goal number and we just work until we meet the goal.”

Pam Baldin, activity director at Golden Living in Portage, said the recipients love the visitors and treats.

“Last year, they called and said they wanted to do something nice for residents who have no families around or don’t have any family,” Baldin said. “I was on board right away.”

When the lonely residents received gifts last year, it brightened their day, she said.

“They felt like somebody really cared about them, not just us. When someone on the outside does that, it means a lot. It was a very special gift for them to get.”

She said there are different reasons a resident may have no visitors throughout the year.

“Some have it where families live far away and some don’t really have family that comes to visit them.”

It’s not too late to help even if you’re not part of a group, Baldin said.

Christmas gifts can be dropped off at the front desk. Suggestions include Kleenex, slippers, scarves, hand wipes and small snacks (other than candy.)

Help and donations are also needed throughout the year, especially during twice-a-week bingo games.

“We have probably around 45 to 50 residents who play bingo. We have organizations and people who will donate prizes. We do different prizes from ornaments to knick knacks to snacks.”

Groups such as Scouts and school groups can also volunteer to come play games or spend time with residents.

For more information, call (219) 762-9571, ext. 109.

December 22, 2013 9:45 am Photos


From the US with Love: Valpo family to spend Christmas in Uganda

From the US with Love: Valpo family to spend Christmas in Uganda

As families around the region gather around Christmas trees and dinner tables, one Valparaiso family will be together in another place special to them. Their second home happens to be one of the poorest nations in the world; where the per capita income is $460 and the life expectancy is just 53 years. And it’s in this place that sounds to have little hope, that Lovelyn and Matt Palm and their nine children will go to learn and share and make a difference.

“Uganda is one of the 20 poorest nations in the world,” said Lovelyn Palm. Her friends and family appropriately call her “Love” for short. “Almost 40 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. Despite that, the people there are some of the kindest, most faith-filled, and joyful people I've ever met.” This will be Palm’s eighth trip to that country.

It’s where she has witnessed the reality of the phrase that “it takes a village to raise a child” as many are unofficially adopted by others through kinship care. “The land is beautiful with tea plantations, red dirt roads, lush bush areas where a safari can be taken. It’s one of the very few countries that mountain gorillas can be seen, the source of the Nile River and the equator runs through the country,” said Palm.

And while the family plans to include a safari, stand on both sides of the equator and enjoy exotic fresh food, like mango, chapatti, maooke and jackfruit, the purpose of the visit is more than a sightseeing adventure.

The Palms first visited Uganda in 2009 to complete an international adoption of their son Nick, now 12. “We fell in love with the country and its people,” said Palm. “While I was in country for the court proceedings of our second adoption, our oldest son, Nicholas (then 10) told me that he wanted to take me to a village he had once visited with a mentor.”

Nicolas wanted to gift a bicycle he’d been given to a boy he met there. “When we traveled there, the people were so kind and welcoming. They live in little huts with straw thatched roofs and warmly welcomed us into their homes. Then, they wanted to take me to see their well,” said Palm. “What they took me to see wasn't a well at all. It was a low lying area collected with run off water. It was extremely dirty and the only source of water. They drank it, washed with it, cleaned with it, had their animals drink from it.”

 After the trip, Palm felt a calling to do something to help that village. On her blog,, she asked her followers to donate $32 on her 32nd birthday with the goal of raising $3000 to install a well. Double that was raised in less than two weeks. “Hundreds of people all over the world donated their $32, and it added up to so much. We were able to spend time with people in the village and share with them that we did this in love out of the love that God has for all of us,” she said.

In January 2012, the well placement was facilitated by Holden Uganda. At that time Palm, Matt and their five oldest children traveled there to dedicate the well. “They allowed Nicolas the honor of pumping the first pump of fresh, clean water,” said Palm.

On this trip, they are returning with their brood of 11. The family will also spend time at their boys’ former orphanages. In all, the Palms have 3 sons adopted from Uganda (ages 12, 7 and 5,) and six biological daughters. The girls are ages 10, 9, 7, 4 and the youngest are 1-year-old twins.

A former medical-surgical and pediatric nurse at Porter Hospital, Palm said she and her husband had always talked about adopting. “He has a sister who was adopted from Korea, and I’ve had an interest in both adoption and the African culture since I was a young girl.”

So, why a trip to Uganda this Christmas? “Our girls actually are the ones that sparked the idea about going for Christmas,” she said. “They’ve been asking when we could go back and one night said that the only thing that they wanted for Christmas was to spend time in Uganda.”

Palm’s trip has turned into mission of her own to help the people in a country that gave her three sons as she has reached out through her blog for donations to distribute on the trip and by selling necklaces made by Ugandan women. “As of right now, we’ll be taking 50 soccer balls and hand pumps, six suitcases of medical supplies and 125 cans of formula, a digital camera for an orphanage’s social work department and a laptop for the director of an orphanage.”

December 22, 2013 9:00 am Photos


Santa Diaries: A look in to the life of Santa in the region

Santa Diaries: A look in to the life of Santa in the region

Catching up to Santa Claus for an interview can be a challenge, especially now when he’s busy getting ready for the holidays.

But Santa, who goes by a pseudonym when necessary, agreed with a right jolly “Yes” to answer a few questions about his very special visits. In Munster, Ind., he goes by the name “Jim Foster,” whose back story includes being a family man just this side of 50 with a wife, Kathy, and their five children, Jimmy 18, Tori, 17, Jack, 13, and twins Sydney and Hanna, 11.

Santa Jim explains everyone has to start somewhere, and he tells with a chuckle how he got his start in Munster. Jim was just a college kid, donning the sizable Santa suit as part of a Lewis University’s fraternity event for a local school for the disabled.

“One kid was uber-excited, jumping up and down and waving his arms as he charged forward to sit on Santa’s lap. Problem was, he was 21 years old, at least 6 feet 4 inches and weighed well over my 250 pounds. I was sitting on a metal folding chair and he jumped exuberantly onto my lap.”

Oh dear. “The chair folded like aluminum foil and down we went,” in a jumble of chair parts, legs and arms, with Jim trying to calm the young fellow who thought he’d just killed Santa.

The rest of the night went peaceably enough until Jim realized the earlier dust-up had broken Santa’s belt, so that he had to hold up his pants while sidling out of the room.

Discouraged? Hardly. “I was hooked.”

Since then, he’s dropped in on the Munster Chamber of Commerce’s Breakfast for Santa for 17 years; this year will be only the second time he’ll miss it.

“Jim is fabulous with the children, even the timid ones. He gets them comfortable,” said Wendy Mis, executive director at the chamber.

“I always ask the kids if they have been naughty," Santa Jim said. "It’s hilarious to see the kids trying not to lie, because after all, I have the master list. I try to save them by saying, ‘It’s okay, let’s just try a little harder, okay?’ That always gets a good smile.”

Santa Jim naturally knows the names of many kids — even their parents — who approach him. Here’s his secret: He and Mrs. Claus, who in Munster goes by “Kathy Foster,” coach young kids’ sports teams and remember the names of many players. “Parents wouldn’t know it was me, but I’d know their names, their kids’ names. It’s always fun to keep them believing.”

Last year Santa Jim had another surprise up his roomy sleeve. At his workplace, Lake Mortgage Co. in Merrillville, co-worker Sue Stockman in loan servicing said they knew of Jim’s Santa role. But when Santa showed up handing out bonus envelopes, “Nobody knew (it was Jim); all we could hear was someone going “Ho, ho, ho,” real loud,” she laughs. “He was a really a good Santa.”

For Tammy and Bryan Paskewicz, close friends of the Fosters, it was a tradition to bring son Ethan to see Santa at Breakfast with Santa but never knowing who he was. When Jim helped Bryan bring in a Christmas tree and saw all the pictures of Ethan with Santa Claus through the years, he laughed. Tammy asked why. “That’s me!” Jim revealed.

“That’s how good Jim is — we never knew (until he told us),” said Tammy.

Since then Bryan and Tammy love to watch Ethan’s wonder as Santa says his name and asks questions only Santa could know. And for sister Erin, “The look on her face was, ‘He really does watch me!’ ”

“He really is Santa’ he does it without expecting accolades,” said Tammy. “He’s a very giving person. So is his wife.”

Kathy sewed the clothes for Santa and the Mrs. Claus for Breakfast with Santa.” It’s real hot underneath the beard, and little bitty kids pull on it.” But Santa understands. And, “I try to give the list back to the parents on the sly. An elf helps me with that.” Nancy Trimboli of Trimboli Chiropractic, then Karen Maravilla at El Taco Real have been faithful elves for years.

For his own kids, “I would change my voice for them, and it took a few years before they figured out that I was actually the Santa. Other kids, I try to help them along; I know they can be petrified. I’ll tell them to make a list and give it to their mom and she’ll give it to me. And I tell them I’m a big fan of cookies, and I always ask the kids to not forget the reindeer.”

Duly noted, Santa.

December 22, 2013 7:00 am Photos


Holidays in Chicago: Step out of the Region to find holiday events in the city for the whole family

Holidays in Chicago: Step out of the Region to find holiday events in the city for the whole family

The holiday season in Chicago sparkles with lights and many fun events for families to do. Here’s our list of what’s best this season

Art Institute of Chicago

Holiday Thorne Rooms

Now to January 8, 2014

This year, one more of the 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms, capturing the exquisite interiors of abodes from the late 13th century to the 1930s, showcase their holiday style, making for a total of 11. Other rooms ready for the holidays include the Victorian English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period with Christmas tree, a modern-era California Hallway containing an Otto Natzler mid-century menorah and box with a dreidel and a English Great Hall from the Tudor period with such Christmas paraphernalia as a wassailing bowl, Yule log, and costuming for that period’s singing-dancing celebrants.

111 S. Michigan Ave

Gallery 11

Daley Plaza


Now to December 24

Based upon the Nuremberg Christmas markets dating back to 1545, Chicago’s outdoor Christkindlmarket celebrates this European tradition. Red and white crested huts are set around the cubist Picasso sculpture at the Daley Plaza, each housing vendors cooking European treats such as Gluhwein (a warm spiced wine), savory and sweet crepes, stollen, sauerkraut, sweet cheese fritters, snow balls, Nürnberger and Kilometer sausages, Leberkäse and potato pancakes. Non-food vendors feature a myriad of goods from all over the world including Bavaria (handcrafted ornaments and pewter), Peru (jewelry, charms and rings), pottery from Boleslawiec, Poland and, from Strullendorf – Germany, clay and ceramic pottery items like decorative German houses that light up, tea and coffee sets and straw ornaments.

50 W Washington St.

Goodman Theatre

A Christmas Carol

Now to December 28

See the Charles Dickens' classic at the Goodman Theatre, a tradition for over three decades. There are ghosts, music, dancing, a lot of "Bah, Humbugs" and ultimately a happy ending.

Lincoln Park Zoo and Ice Skating

Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo

Weekends Only, December 6–8, 13–23; December 26–January 5, 2013–14

Celebrate the holidays with the animals when the Lincoln Park Zoo is ablaze with over two million colorful lights. Activities include crafts, live ice carving demonstrations, visits with Santa in the Kovler Lion House, photos with Santa (up until December 23), carousel and train rides, musical light shows, animal encounters, 3-D displays, and food and winter drinks for a quick warm-up. New this year is ice skating at the rink in Farm-in-the-Zoo area.

Cannon Drive at Fullerton Parkway

Macy's on State

Christmas Traditions

Now to early January at Macy's on State Street

The wonderfully themed and decorated windows along State Street display a story of Christmas good will. Be sure to wander inside for a view of the 45-foot Great Tree bedecked with more than 1,200 themed ornaments and 25,000 dazzling lights in the store’s Walnut Room.

111 N State St.

Millennium Park

Caroling at Millennium Park's Cloud Gate/Ice Skating at McCormick Tribune Plaza at Millennium Park

Each Friday, take the family and sing along with such Chicago’s choral groups as the Chicago Children's Choir (Dec. 6) and the Wicker Park Choral Singers (Dec. 13). 6 - 6:50 p.m.

201 E. Randolph St.

After caroling, rent skates ($10) or bring your own for free ice skating at Millennium Park with the beautiful city skyline as a backdrop. Ends in March 9, 2014.

Michigan Avenue between Madison and Washington Streets

Museum of Science and Industry

Christmas Around the World & Holidays of Light

Now through Jan. 5, 2014

Since 1942, MSI has been doing it up in grand style with a 45-foot Grand Tree festooned with more than 30,000 lights and 1,000 ornaments and encircled by over 50 smaller trees decorated by the city’s ethnic communities to represent their cultures and holiday traditions. Located in the museum’s immense rotunda, intermittent falling "snow" adds to the holidays appeal. School choral groups and ethnic song and dance groups perform on the Holiday Stage by. This year’s holiday theme is inspired by the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives, the museum’s new temporary exhibit.

5700 S. Lake Shore Drive

Navy Pier

Winter Wonderfest

Dec. 6, 2013 – Jan. 12, 2014

Amazing as usual, the marvelous 170,000-square-foot Festival Hall is recreated to include such family-friendly holiday fun as an indoor ice skating rink, such rides as Reindeer Express, Iceline Express Zip Line, Arctic Plunge, Visit with Santa, and live entertainment for both young and old.

600 East Grand Avenue

Shedd Aquarium

A Holiday Fantasea

Now through Dec. 24

Want to watch dolphins leap, penguins saunter and a sea lion dance and hear beluga whales sing? Then the Shedd's themed, multi-species aquatic show, A Holiday Fantasea, is a must-sea (their pun not ours). With lights twinkling and music playing at the Abbott Oceanarium, Santa arrives and the animals show their stuff.

1200 S. Lake Shore Drive

December 15, 2013 10:30 am Photos


Elves spread holiday cheer

Elves spread holiday cheer

As the holiday season approaches, little magical elves are descending on hundreds of homes around Northwest Indiana, peeking in on little kids and reporting back to Santa whether the kids are on the “naughty” or “nice” list.

In addition to reporting to Santa, each night the elves — assisted by their adult human helpers — move around the house and wreak havoc while the children sleep.

Reports of holiday elves causing mischief date back to the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the 2005 children’s book “Elf on the Shelf” came out that it began to become a cultural phenomenon.

Today, in addition to being able to buy the book-and-elf combination at most “big box” stores, it has spawned a line of elf clothing, at least one DVD and a television special. 

Pinterest is loaded with hundreds of pictures and ideas for mischievous elf exploits. Basic ideas start with having the elf move around the house during the night, and more complicated ideas include floating the elf in a hot air balloon in the house, having the elf wrap the Christmas tree in toilet paper and building an elf-sized igloo.

Families all across the Region have made the elf a beloved holiday tradition, not only as a way to encourage good behavior but also to create memories they hope will last a lifetime.

Last year, a mischievous elf named Zap arrived at the Mikula home in Hobart, and Zap was as obsessed with Skylanders as was the family’s 5-year-old son, Riley.

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Zap the elf — with the help of mom Tianna Mikula — baked mini elf donuts and drew mustaches on pictures. Zap also used bath crayons to draw an entire town inside the bathtub, and filled a hallway with hand-cut paper snowflakes. 

On Christmas Eve, a second elf, named Brobee by 2-year-old Wyatt, joined the family and is expected to wreak havoc with Zap this winter.

“This way, each boy can take their elf with them to create memories for their own families one day,” she said.

Margo Machnik remembers her family having an elf that sat on the mantle, and she and her siblings would fight to be the one to put him up each year.

Machnik was excited to invite an elf into her home, and is delighted how her seven-year-old daughter, Summer, looks forward to Elfie’s next adventure.

Elfie has been known to eat leftover pie in the refrigerator and zip-line through the house, she said.

“On the last night Elfie appears, he always ends up in the manger, under the tree waiting for baby Jesus,” Machnik said. “I’m not sure in today’s world how long children keep believing in the magic of Christmas. We will always keep Elfie, but I’m not sure that Summer will believe that he is reporting back to Santa for too many more years.”

Elves also find their way into many elementary classrooms, keeping tabs on students for Santa. Each year, Melissa Dillard invites an elf, Fred, into her first grade classroom at Protsman Elementary in Dyer. Fred helps keep behavior in check in the weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break. His antics are so popular and outlandish, Dillard keeps track of his adventures in her blog.

“I don’t think I can get away with not having an elf visit our classroom ever again,” she said. “The rumor has spread and my current students have made it known that they know we will have an elf in the room if they misbehave.”

For many elf owners, there is always pressure to help their elves find new, creative predicaments.

“I do, like most parents that have invited the elf into their home, feel pressure to come up with things each night. Not so much to outdo myself, but just to keep it mixed-up and fun,” said Hobart resident Kristen Lotkowski. To that end, one night the Lotkowski family elf, Buddy, found himself trapped inside a snow globe. “I see how much they enjoy it, so I put the work into it. Some people do think we elf owners are crazy for putting any time into it at all, but I really don’t mind. Buddy can get away with most things we can only dream of, so that in itself is great.”

For the Miller family in Chesterton, elf Harley provides some pre-Christmas entertainment for boys Logan, 12, and Connor, 10.

Mom Amanda Miller said the elf is an extension of the magic and mystery of the holidays.

“It’s something my boys look forward to. It also brings an element of surprise to the days and weeks leading up to Christmas,” said mom Amanda Miller. “It’s something I can pass on to them and they can pass it to their children.”

December 05, 2013 9:45 am Photos


Show us your family!

Show us your family!

Once again, we asked you to show us your families, and you did! Check out the great local photos we received from you this month. You may see a friend, neighbor - or yourself - in our pages!

Send us your fun family snapshots and you'll be entered to win a $50 gift card. Just email the photo to (along with the names and town of those pictured, your phone number and address) and look for yourself right here on the first Thursday of every month.

Congratulations to last month's winner, Theresa James of Cedar Lake!

December 05, 2013 6:00 am Photos


Local holiday events bring the family together

Local holiday events bring the family together

During the holiday season, Northwest Indiana comes alive with festive activities for all ages. If you haven’t done so already, consider making these fun local events a part of your family’s holiday tradition.

Holly Days

The holiday season begins in downtown Valparaiso on Friday, Dec. 6 with Holly Days, an evening of festive fun for all ages.

From 5 to 7 p.m., the sidewalks of downtown Valparaiso will feature strolling carolers and visitors can ride the holiday train through the streets surrounding Central Park Plaza. These are just a few of the exciting activities planned by Valparaiso Community Festivals and Events.

“This event is a great opportunity for families to slow down and enjoy some of the sights and sounds of the holiday season,” said Jennifer Peek, marketing director at VCFE. Attendees can marvel at the sight of Michiana Ice Carvers creating a giant ice sculptor from 10 blocks of ice and the sounds of live holiday music performed on the Porter Health Amphitheater Stage at Central Park Plaza.

Other activities include a live nativity scene, free family photos sponsored by The Times of Northwest Indiana, Santa’s arrival at the Memorial Opera House and the lighting of the tree on the lawn of the Porter County Museum. In addition, the Holiday Village Market features special vendors, while downtown retailers and restaurants offer sales and specials for holiday shoppers.

“From watching live ice carving and singing along with holiday favorites to riding a train through the downtown streets, this is definitely an event kids and their families will not want to miss!” Peek promised.

'A Christmas Story' Comes Home

Each year visitors flock to the Indiana Welcome Center for the ‘A Christmas Story’ Comes Home exhibit, events and activities hosted by the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority. The exhibit runs now through Sunday, Jan. 5.

“A Christmas Story to me really symbolizes and personifies what it was like to grow up in the region during the holidays, the traditional, middle class, uniquely Region things that make this a fun place to grow up and have families,” said Speros A. Batistatos, SSCVA president and CEO.

The exhibit features six animatronic window displays portraying scenes from the movie that were originally showcased at Macy's in New York. This year, the SSCVA unveiled a new window scene, "A Hero’s Dream". The window depicts the dream sequence from the film in which Ralphie uses his Red Ryder BB gun to rescue his family from the bad guys.

“I think our new window is a lot of fun because of the whole dream sequence, imagining what it would be like to have his Red Ryder BB gun and protect the family,” Batistatos said. “I feel that kids can really connect to that window as they aspire to have a toy.”

The exhibit offers the full A Christmas Story experience with Mommy’s Little Piggy Contest on Saturday, Dec. 7 where contestants compete to eat the most mashed potatoes; the Oh Fuuudge! Relay Race, which features parent/child teams “changing a tire” and running through an obstacle course, on Saturday, Dec. 14; and the Write a Theme Contest with entries due on Wednesday, Dec. 11.

Children can even climb Santa’s Mountain and have their photo taken before sliding down the big red slide into a pillow of snow.

Winter Wonderland

Michigan City’s Uptown Arts District becomes a Winter Wonderland in December, beginning with the First Friday Art Walk on Friday, Dec. 6 from 5 to 8 p.m.

The evening kicks off with Santa’s ride into town with a police escort as he travels down Franklin Street before settling at his Santa house where he will visit with families. Families also can enjoy free horse drawn carriage rides sponsored by Horizon Bank.

“Winter Wonderland offers an opportunity for families to enjoy the magic of the Uptown Arts District every Saturday in December,” said Tiffany Bley, executive director of the Michigan City Mainstreet Association, as free photos with Santa and horse drawn carriage rides continue Saturdays, Dec. 7, 14 and 21 from noon to 2 p.m. at dh2w, inc., 813 Franklin St, Michigan City.

Also in the month of December, families can marvel at some of the finest historic stained glass in the region during the Stained Glass Tours on Saturdays, Dec. 7 and 14 from 1 to 3 p.m. and visit the Uptown Christmas Bazaar, an indoor holiday market on Saturday, Dec. 7 from 2 to 5 p.m. The market features more than 20 vendors of fine arts and crafts.

“There are a lot of great shopping opportunities outside of the events, so we look forward to inviting those families looking for an enjoyable experience in our district,” Bley added.

December 03, 2013 7:00 am Photos


A different take on Thanksgiving: Immigrant families incorporate traditional dishes from their home country to the meal

A different take on Thanksgiving: Immigrant families incorporate traditional dishes from their home country to the meal

Larissa Dragu was 11 years old when she celebrated her first Thanksgiving and remembers what it was like to observe a new holiday in a new country.

Dragu, who was born in Cisnadie, Romania, and currently lives in Wheatfield, Ind., is a criminal justice major and the Student Government Association President at Indiana University Northwest.

“I remember coming in this country and celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time with my mother, sister and stepfather.” Although the holiday, which is an American tradition, was not celebrated in Romania, they have added Romanian dishes to their meal make it their own.

“Around this fall season back home we would prepare for winter by harvesting, canning vegetables and marmalade. We would cook roasted duck with sautéed cabbage as our main dish, homemade bread, pies and more pies. Most of our traditions are by custom American concentrated, with the addition of certain dishes that we add.”

This includes ham and turkey as main dishes as well as sautéed green beans, cranberry sauce, and Romanian mashed potatoes.

For dessert, they have Romanian style apple pie, Dragu’s favorite, cheesecake and pecan pie with ice cream.

In the future, Dragu would like to add stuffed pigs in a blanket with cabbage and polenta to that mix as well.

“As the cooking comes to an end and is ready to be enjoyed, our family and friends come together and give thanks to God and each other for being in our lives.”

Because Dragu’s mom and stepdad grew up in different parts of the world, the American traditions were passed down from her stepdad’s family while her mother incorporated the Romanian traditions.

“My sister and I will be the ones carrying through these observed traditions through generations to come, and I look forward to making them my own,” she said.

“I have learned of how my friends celebrate their Thanksgiving by being a part of it, and how we celebrate ours and it is somewhat different.

“I can say that these traditions I have learned and been a part of will evolve when I have my own house, and my own family, mainly because I desire to celebrate my culture the way we would, if we were in Romania. Of course, there is no Thanksgiving dinner without ham and turkey, and they will undoubtedly forever be a part of our Thanksgiving dinners.”

She said she would like to teach her future children about the meaning of Thanksgiving, one of them being “their mommy coming to America from a different country and given an opportunity to have a better life. I would like to create roots here in the States, and never forget where I came from. For me this has become my home, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

Incorporating their own foods and culture to American traditions is typical of immigrant families, said Terrence Martinez, an immigration counselor at the International Community Alliance in Gary.

“They adapt it just by having a family affair and incorporating all their particular foods depending on what country they are from whether Mexico, Puerto Rico or India,” he said.

“It takes on an international flavor. Many families here intermarry with other nationalities and they have combinations of food from America and whatever their food is. They observe it as a food holiday.”

Holly Singh, the director of International Students and Scholars at Valparaiso University, said international students studying at VU usually use the Thanksgiving holiday as a time to travel.

Typically a week before Thanksgiving, the international programs office will join other campus groups to host a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the students. The week of Thanksgiving, school is out of session and they are then able to travel during that time.

The International Affairs office at Purdue University Calumet also caters to its approximately 700 international students. They coordinate fliers and e-mail correspondence on campus to match international students looking for a traditional Thanksgiving meal with a local student or faculty member who will share the holiday with them.

November 24, 2013 9:00 am

NWI gives back: Many opportunities to spread love around the region

NWI gives back: Many opportunities to spread love around the region

One woman’s sadness over two losses threatened to cast a pall over the holiday season — until she came up with a radical idea that her family embraced. Stay-at-home mothers are relieving hunger in their communities. A grocery store helps others feed hundreds more than just its customers.

In Northwest Indiana, compassion for people in need is leading families to acts of kindness — too many to name in this space, but enough to inspire.

Teresa Flamini, of St. John, turned grieving into giving.

“Losing my best friend and my mother within eight months in 2004 was terrible; Christmas was going to be sad,” Flamini said.

But the family loved Flamini's suggestion: “Instead of buying gifts for each other, we pooled our holiday resources and gave to those less fortunate.”

Now a family tradition, it gained focus when Flamini’s granddaughter was airlifted to a Chicago hospital. Flamini realized that parents whose children are unexpectedly hospitalized often find themselves away from home without basic needs. Before each Thanksgiving, donated items such as travel-size shampoos, toothpaste, snacks, cards, puzzles and more, plus a gift card, are put in comfort bags distributed to local hospitals. This year’s September Giving Thanks event provided 173 comfort bags to families, hospitals and organizations in the greater Chicagoland area. (A comfort bag wish list can be seen at

Stunned at its success, the nonprofit Flamini Family Foundation was formed in 2009, expanding to give 500 toys to children in 10 hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses. Comfort bears, using material from a piece of clothing from an ill or deceased loved one, will be made at Diane’s Apron Shoppe for $35 each, with $5 from every purchase going to the Flamini Family Foundation.

Word spread: Women’s accessories store Thirty One held fundraisers netting 92 blankets, $200, and wish list items. Heart in Hand Natural Health and Reiki Training Center in Highland is collecting items, and retired teachers of Lake County schools donate books. All items for hospitalized children must be new because of health concerns.

“I believe God brings us together for a reason,” Flamini said. “People’s generosity is wonderful.”

The art of giving

Local stay-at-home moms in MOMS Clubs (Moms Offering Moms Support) contribute to the needy. Member Kara Graper in Crown Point organizes a yearly packing party for Operation Christmas Child, a national organization founded by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham.

During the second week of November, designated drop-off centers receive donated items that can fit into shoe boxes.

”Many families make it part of their yearly tradition to fill a handful of shoe boxes. My kids look forward to every year, and it’s changed their hearts about material things,” Graper said. 

Highland/Griffith chapter MOMS Club member Molly Conley said its projects are “such a great way for our kids to get involved and learn the art of giving.”

MOMS Club member Angela Holmquist recalls one mother with three teenagers facing Thanksgiving and a four-day weekend with little food.

“We provided 10 bags of groceries. The shocked look on the mom's face just melted my heart,” Holmquist said.

Community outpouring

Some nonprofit agencies cannot exist without support, said Beth Szamatowicz, director of public relations and volunteer services at Campagna Academy in Schererville, which educates 100-plus residential and daytime at-risk children with developmental disabilities.

“Lots of hospitals and businesses support us,” said Szamatowicz, “and individual volunteers, like RSVP (55 and older) members and Tri Kappa members from Dyer, Schererville and St. John will help this season wrapping gifts and packing food bags.”

“It’s always amazing how charitable folks are at this time of year,” said Joe Kolavo, vice president of perishable operations at Strack & Van Til’s 24 Northwest Indiana grocery stores, which raise money and donate food for local food banks, soup kitchens, shelters and Salvation Army chapters. A Check Out Hunger campaign begins accepting donations from Strack & Van Til customers from the third week in November through Jan. 1.

Whether one family or an organization, opportunities abound for generosity in Northwest Indiana.

“Our hospitals reach out to fill a need, through food drives, Giving Trees and more during the Thanksgiving/holiday seasons,” said Elise Sims, in public relations at Community Health Systems. Community’s employee groups volunteer in such projects as partnering with the local Boy Scout troops' Scouting for Food Drive and host a blanket, coat and sock drive during the holidays for Sojourner Truth House, Brother’s Keeper, Rainbow Shelter and the Hobart Food Pantry.

November 24, 2013 7:00 am Photos


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