Health & Wellness

Spring Feverish

April 22, 2015

Just when I was about to pat myself on the back for not getting sick this past fall and winter — except for some mild sniffles before Christmas — a virus snuck up on me over the weekend. Sore throat, sinus headache, exhaustion, generally feeling blah…and oh, running to the bathroom every two minutes. Fun.

Since becoming a mother, there’s one thing that occurs to me every time I’m under the weather: Moms can’t get sick. It just doesn’t work. Little ones can empathize for about 9 seconds and then it’s too bad for you, they need to be fed or taken outside before they bounce off the walls or decide to walk around the house again with paint on their feet.

Lucky for me, this particular virus seems to be on its way out. Maybe thanks to immediately hopping on a range of immune-boosting concoctions: sipping raw apple cider vinegar, swallowing zinc supplements, high-dosing vitamin C, drinking medicinal tea, and snorting a xylitol spray. Whatever’s helping, I’ll be grateful to be operating on all cylinders again soon and catching up with my week!

Did you manage to escape the winter without illness? Any favorite home remedies that scare viruses away?

Image: David Meir, picography


Sugar Is Not My Friend

April 8, 2015

Easter Basket I’ve written here before about how my daughters don’t have a lot of refined sugar in their diet. They get honey on certain things, maple syrup with pancakes, and I bake with coconut palm sugar, but white sugar, candy, and conventional sweets don’t make it past our threshold very often.

I make exceptions, of course: stops for ice cream, special treats on Sundays or when visiting other people’s homes, birthdays, and holidays like Christmas and Easter.

Yes, Easter. Let’s talk about that. So, we kept the Easter baskets pretty small (it doesn’t take much to make S and H feel like they’ve hit the candy lottery): They received a chocolate bunny, chocolate eggs, a fun giant lollipop, jelly beans, and some other sweet things. Plus, we had more baked goods around, desserts, etc.

And then, like clockwork, just before heading out the door for Easter dinner with family, the meltdowns began. Every day since, after gorging on their candy and other sweets, we’ve had unusual fighting, fits of anger, sadness, long bouts of crying, grumpiness, and meanness.

All these things are a normal part of life at times, of course, and my girls are no exception — but not like what I’ve seen the past four days. Nothing else is different this week for them, except for the sustained sugar consumption.

Most studies about sugar’s effects on kids are about the connection sugar may have to hyperactivity, poor concentration, and decreased immune function. I haven’t seen much about its effects on mood, but it would be hard to convince me that sugar doesn’t affect children’s emotional states, especially after this week.

It’s a bummer because my girls get so excited about their sweets (because the poor things are deprived, of course). And when I do buy them, I try to get the best quality — no food dyes, no chemicals. But it hurts my mother’s heart to see them dealing with such extreme emotions this week and not to know how to help them except to take away the candy, which would only add to the tears. (Did I mention that a sweet neighbor lady gave them another chocolate bunny the other day as an Easter gift?)

Perhaps if they had sugar in their diet regularly they wouldn’t be reacting so strongly — or maybe they’d be like this all the time, and we’d assume it was “just the way they are.” (And we’d have to start hitting the whiskey every night to decompress.) Even B, who doesn’t always buy all my crazy health theories, is convinced about this one. He’s been here to witness it all with his own eyes — and ears.

Sugar is bad, people! At least it doesn’t seem to like this particular family.

Have you experienced these kind of sugar highs and lows with your kids? Yourself? How do you handle sweets and candy in your home?

Image: picjumbo


Playing in Public

April 7, 2015

As if I didn’t have enough reason to go to Paris, here’s another one: the Place de la République. It’s one of the city’s most beloved public squares and recently underwent a costly renovation. The new space is now primarily for pedestrians and includes a kid-friendly fountain, a space for skate boarding, a cafe, benches, trees, an open areas for games, and a different kind of kiosk: a toy and game station called “L’R de Jeux,” a play on the French word for “playground.”

The Hedgehog Review explains how it works: You leave your name, address, and ID with a staff person and then you can take “puzzles, card games, pull toys, or building sets” into the square to play with. (You can also sit in a corner at the kiosk and do it.) Oh, and it’s all free. The author, Wendy Baucom, explains that Paris gets something in return, too:

People of all ages and classes congregate in the square. I believe it’s critical that there is no cost to play. Some users could afford a day trip to a museum, while others have very few toys in their own homes. Moreover, the nature of play makes it easy for cultures and nationalities to mingle. Chinese and Senegalese Parisians may shop in different grocery stores, but here they play the same games, regardless of their language proficiency. As my non-French-speaking son can attest, language is seldom a barrier when there’s a great game in progress. Other, perhaps more insurmountable barriers, like politics or religion, may be set aside by adults in need of a chess partner.

Play is a natural way to break down barriers and bring people together, but we don’t tend to think about it much. We do have toy libraries in the U.S., of course, but as Baucom points out, they’re primarily for taking toys home. Which is great, but isn’t the same as public game-playing. I love the whole idea of accessible, inviting public spaces that promote intermingling and spontaneity among strangers in a low-key way.

Baucom poses some good questions for Americans in her article: Are we missing low-budget, high-impact opportunities for fostering positive civic interactions in our public spaces? And how can we better use the common spaces we already pass through regularly?

What do you think? And when’s the last time you were in Paris? Take me in your suitcase next time!

Image: Javier-Palmieri, found at life of pix


Using Essential Oils

March 24, 2015

Bokeh Bark

A lot of people I know use essential oils now. They claim these oils help with various kinds of conditions: insomnia, viruses, infection, high blood pressure, etc. Many parents are using them for their children’s ailments, too.

For the uninitiated, an essential oil is a concentrated liquid containing compounds from plants.  “Essential,” here doesn’t mean “necessary,” but that the oil contains the “essence” of the plant’s fragrance and properties. Essential oils are used in all kinds of products and have been used throughout history for medicinal reasons.

Claims for how effective they are for treating illnesses are regulated in most countries, but a medical doctor I spoke with recently said that while she’s still skeptical about the general public using essential oils, she’s impressed by mounting scientific evidence showing the ability of some of them to fight bacterial and antibiotic-resistant infections.

I had a brief venture into the land of essential oils myself: When I was constantly battling sinus infections the first few months my daughters were home, and they were dealing with sinus colds and congestion, I used some essential oils in a diffuser on the advice of a naturopath — with much success. Later on, though, when I got a little experimental (and careless) with another oil I picked up, my husband ended up with heart palpitations and couldn’t sleep all night. Oops.

I don’t think there’s any question that essential oils work, at least for some things; it’s just that you need to know what you’re doing, and use a high quality product.

Have you ever used essential oils for medicinal reasons, home made cleaning products, or anything else? I’d love to hear about your experience, as well as what companies you think are putting out the best products.

Image from picography


Window by Sarah Babineau

I watched this short video on Slate about the importance of turning our screens off at least one hour before bed, and I sighed. I find it so hard to do. Since S and H still won’t fall asleep without me or B, we take turns and many nights I just can’t get to the rest of my work until at least 10 p.m. Then there’s my current habit of winding down… checking Instagram and my favorite blogs, watching a program with B, etc.

I’ve always been a night owl and I work well at night, but working  before bed on screens is apparently a bad idea because it’s actually toxic for our brains. What to do?

We use a blue screen when watching shows movies at night, and it seems to help, though I’m not sure if it’s actually still doing some bad things to our grey matter or not. In a perfect world, I’d finish all my work by 9 or 10 p.m., but with my kids’ schedules right now, I’m not sure how to make that happen. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Do you turn all your screens off well in advance of bedtime? Does it concern you that it’s toxic for your brain to check your phone before you doze off?

Image: Window by Sarah Babineau found at Life of Pix



Sunday was International Women’s Day so I thought it was appropriate to talk about this recent article from the New York Times. Psychiatrist, Julie Holland, writes about the high number of women on mood-altering meds these days, and how the phenomenon undermines an important part of what it means to be a woman:

At least one in four women in America now takes a psychiatric medication, compared with one in seven men. Women are nearly twice as likely to receive a diagnosis of depression or anxiety disorder than men are. For many women, these drugs greatly improve their lives. But for others they aren’t necessary. The increase in prescriptions for psychiatric medications, often by doctors in other specialties, is creating a new normal, encouraging more women to seek chemical assistance. Whether a woman needs these drugs should be a medical decision, not a response to peer pressure and consumerism.

The new, medicated normal is at odds with women’s dynamic biology; brain and body chemicals are meant to be in flux. To simplify things, think of serotonin as the “it’s all good” brain chemical. Too high and you don’t care much about anything; too low and everything seems like a problem to be fixed.

Holland says that if serotonin levels are kept artificially high, women are at risk of “losing their emotional sensitivity with its natural fluctuations, and modeling a more masculine, static hormonal balance. ” She says this “emotional blunting encourages women to take on behaviors that are typically approved by men: appearing to be invulnerable, for instance, a stance that might help women move up in male-dominated businesses.”

Holland recalls a patient who called saying her antidepressant dose needed to be increased because she kept crying at work. Turns out she was upset by something demeaning that her boss had done. After talking it out, the patient realized the situation called for a response, but not more medication.

I’m guessing this is probably true for a lot of women out there. Life is moving quickly, there are so many demands; who has time to deal with strong mood fluctuations that are perceived by self and others as “difficult” or “negative?” It’s easy to believe that feeling strong emotions is bad.

But what does it say more fundamentally that women are more readily put on medication, and that our emotional fluctuations — which stem from the natural processes related to our biology — are judged as negative, unhelpful, and needing to be “fixed?”

I think Holland is right: there’s a tendency today to dismiss biology outright, as though it’s insignificant and unimportant. But we are mind-body-spirit composites. Women aren’t men and men and aren’t women, and this a good thing. When we judge biological differences, women always get the short end of the stick.

Before you wonder if I’m claiming that women shouldn’t ever take meds for things like anxiety or depression, I’m not saying that at all. Holland readily acknowledges this, too. Her point is that too many women are being medicated too often for something that is natural and good. More generally, I think her piece raises the question of whether our society allows — and supports — women to be who they really are.

Any thoughts of your own about this article?

Image: gratisography 


Ode to the Coconut

February 10, 2015

Coconut Tree
I grew up far from the tropics, so mangoes, papayas, and similar fruits hanging on trees in the South Pacific were rare treats. When my father spotted a coconut in a grocery store, he’d bring it home, hammer a hole in it, drain out the juice, and chop the flesh up for us to eat. I loved the flavor then, but I had no idea that I’d eventually come to idolize this bulbous fruit.

The coconut has gotten a lot of exposure in recent years, thanks to health and food bloggers. Recently, it hit the big time with Starbucks’ announcement that it would begin offering coconut milk with its beverages. But most people still don’t know all you can do with this marvelous fruit:

You can eat it. There’s the shredded coconut many of us grew up with, and the raw flesh, of course, but I use coconut oil a lot in place of butter, and by itself as a supplement. I make coconut cream as a replacement for whipped cream, and my new favorite variation is coconut butter — I’ve taken to eating a tablespoon of it here and there when I’m craving something sweet. But it’s also used in sauces, desserts, and a host of other things. Which leads me to…

You can cook and bake with it. I use coconut oil to sauté vegetables and cook popcorn; in baking, I use it in place of other oils and coconut milk as a substitute for dairy. For cakes, muffins, and pancakes I use coconut flour. Do you remember the chia seed coconut milk pudding I made for breakfast a while back? Yum.

Raw Coconut
You can drink it. Smoothies, anybody? I use coconut milk in our smoothies, cereal, and oatmeal all the time. I also use coconut water in smoothies, too — especially in the summer. Drinking coconut water by itself is still growing on me, and some brands are tastier than others, but it’s one of the best ways to hydrate because it’s so high in electrolytes and potassium and low in sugar.

You can use it as a body product. I’m back to oil pulling because it makes my mouth feel cleaner and my teeth feel better, plus I hear it may help guard against viruses and bacterial infections. I’m also going to start oil cleansing soon. (I’ll write a separate post on this soon to fill you in.) I use coconut oil on my daughters’ hair and skin a lot — sometimes blended with other ingredients, like shea butter, and sometimes just by itself. It’s my go-to skincare product. I’ve also used it to remove makeup, heal children’s bum rashes, and soften callouses.

Is there anything this fruit can’t do? I bet we can run cars on it, heat our homes with it, and water money trees with it; we just don’t know it yet!

Are you a fan of coconut? What are your favorite ways to use it?

Images from free images


Inspiration for the Aging

January 21, 2015


I don’t know if you’ve seen this article from bored panda about 60+ year-old people who are living their dreams and achieving amazing goals, but it’s worth a look. The photos and descriptions are inspiring. I feel like so much of what we hear about being older is negative and one of the reasons we want to prevent and deny it is not just that we don’t want to face death, but also because we assume there’s nothing much to look forward to, at least in terms of what we value right now.

Of course, it makes sense that we care about different things at different stages of our lives, and I certainly hope I’m not the same in my 70s as I am now. But what if some of what we assume about our senior years isn’t necessarily the case? For example, what if you were able to achieve one of your life-long dreams at 65? Or, what if you could be in the best shape of your life at 70? Could you be living your best life at 89? It may sound unlikely, but the people in the article above make it seem quite possible.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not counting on retirement — nor do I expect social security to be around by the time I get there. If I make it into my “senior” years, I expect I’ll still be working, learning new things, and staying as healthy as possible so everything else can happen. I don’t know that I’m ever going to want to jump out of a plane or sail around the world, but I can think of lots of things I’d like to do, first and foremost with my daughters.

Are you inspired by these photos and do you have any dreams for your 65 and over years?

Image from freeimages



Snowy owl by Carrie Ann Grippo-Pike Yesterday, I mentioned some big changes that will affect our new year, but those aren’t exactly “resolutions.” In fact, I didn’t actually make any resolutions at all this time — which goes to show you just how little room there is in my brain these days, since I always set some goals for the new year. I’m still planning to do it sometime this month, but while I’m going to make a short list of to-do’s, I’m planning to focus more on some qualities or dispositions I want to work on (or attain more of) this year.

For example, I’d like to be more cheerful in 2015. I’m not a dreary or negative person, but I find that busyness and tiredness quickly leads to grumpiness, which can lead to more complaining and a lack of gratitude. Cheerfulness is not just faking a happy face, but letting inner joy and peace radiate outward. I’d like to give myself and my loved ones a little more of that.

While 2014 was a tiring one for me, I know a number of people whose years were much more difficult: They lost loved ones or experienced particularly hard trials.  How do you approach a new year coming out of something like that?

This article, “Beyond Carb-Cutting: Resolution After a Trauma: Eat, Play, Love,” speaks well to the question. A new widow shares how, in the past, her resolutions centered on things like losing weight, but now — trying to move on after the death of her husband — they’re about how she wants to be, instead of a list of things to do. That makes a lot of sense, as moving on after trauma requires a focus on what is healing to mind, body, and soul, as well as trying to find a new way to be in your life.

Did you make any kind of resolutions this year? How did you go about the process — anything different this time?

P.S. — Have you noticed the comments are now fixed? Hallelujah! Thanks to Matt Cheuvront and his team at Proof Branding for their help! I highly recommend them out if you ever need branding, logo, media, or web development.

Image: Carrie Ann Grippo-Pike via Fine Art America




by Margaret Cabaniss

Born to Run
If you are at all interested and running — and probably even if you’re not — you’ve likely had someone recommend that you read Born to Run, Christopher McDougall’s book about the hidden Tarahumara tribe, their virtually inhuman running prowess, and the journey of a ragtag bunch of American ultramarathoners to the wilds of Mexico’s Copper Canyon to learn their secrets. It’s part adventure travelogue, part extreme athlete profile, part history of sports medicine, and way more interesting than I just made it sound.

People have been gushing about this book to me for ages, but the more they gushed, the more I resisted — mostly thanks to the whole barefoot running trend it helped inspire. If there’s been a dramatic surge in web-footed runners in your neighborhood over the last few years, you can likely thank this book: While the author himself isn’t a barefoot runner, he makes a pretty strong case that our high-tech modern running shoes are destroying our natural (he would say evolutionarily evolved) capacity to run long distances, pain-free. The stars of his book, the Tarahumara tribesmen, make a pretty convincing argument themselves: They’ll often run 40, 60, 100 miles in a go with nothing but thin pieces of rubber tire lashed to their feet.

The book inspired waves of people to buy those wretched “barefoot shoes” in droves — after which they’d turn around and press the book on me with all the missionary zeal of the newly converted. As someone suspicious of movements in general, it really did not interest me.

It took the recommendation of a (formerly non-running) friend for me to finally pick the book up — and I devoured it in almost one sitting. Turns out that nearly lost tribes of superhuman athletes, and the kinds of characters who are attracted to the idea of running 100 miles in the desert in the height of summer, make for pretty gripping reading.

And then there are passages like this:

That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they’d never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind’s first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle—behold, the Running Man.

Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn’t live to love anything else. And like everything else we love—everything we sentimentally call our ‘passions’ and ‘desires’—it’s really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We’re all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.

I mean, if you don’t want to get up right this second and run around the house whooping we are all Running People!, well, there’s probably no hope for you.

Yes, fine, I may have drunk the Kool-Aid a bit. I refuse to buy those cursed shoes, but suddenly I’m very interested in the Pose running method, and going barefoot more at home, and chia seeds and trail races and YIKES I really don’t know who I am anymore. But hey, it’s like they say in the book: “You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.”

So has anyone else read it — and if so, did it inspire new heights of running madness in your home, too? I’m still not quite on board the whole barefoot running train, but I am open to suggestions… Read anything else lately that you were dead-set against at first but found yourself embracing by the end?

Image: unknown, via Pinterest