Health & Wellness

Since I’m in Nova Scotia this week, I thought this post about treating mosquito bites would be a good one to resurrect. I really need to write about preventing the little critters from biting in the first place, but I’m still trying to figure that one out

Angel Point

After B and I began dating, he came home with me to eastern Canada for my sister Olga’s wedding and met the family. He not only loved them (which is hard not to do), he loved everything about Nova Scotia. Except for one thing: the mosquitoes.

Our family cottage sits on the Northumberland Strait. There are fields and woods everywhere, as well as marshlands, which are home to many lovely birds, funky-sounding frogs…and plenty of mosquitoes. And boy, do those critters love fresh meat. I’ll never forget when B and I attempted a hike during part of our honeymoon in Cape Breton (the northern part of the province). B decided he wasn’t going to let the mosquitoes ruin everything, so he pulled on thick jeans, socks, boots, long sleeves, and a baseball hat; then he slathered himself with poisonous DEET from head to toe. He was the first one out of the car, and he headed confidently for the trail. When I looked up, all I could see was a large grey cloud around him, following him into the woods. The next thing I knew, he was running back to the car, arms flailing, spewing curses left and right…and off we went to find some fish chowder and tea to make him feel better about the defeat.

When something like DEET won’t even keep mosquitoes away, the only thing to do is move to phase two — treating the nasty bites once you’ve got them. Since the past winter was so mild in North America, many kinds of bug larvae did not die off in their usual numbers, so this summer has been unusually bad when it comes to critters, especially the blood-sucking kind.

You can blame mosquito saliva for itchy bites. Our bodies react to the saliva by producing histamine, so the redness and itchiness are actually a mild allergic reaction. Healing time depends on the person, since some of us are more susceptible and sensitive to mosquitoes. Here are a few remedies I know of to help soothe those bad bites when you get them:

Ice cubes. We used to do this frequently when I was a kid. You grab a small bowl of ice cubes and apply one to the bite, holding it there as long as you can stand it. Keep doing this until (a) the ice cube melts, (b) you can’t feel anything anymore, or (c) you’re bored and need to move on. Obviously, this little trick numbs the skin, taking away the itchiness and calming the redness and heat.

Baking soda. What can baking soda not do? For a bad bite, create a paste using baking soda and warm water and apply it to the itchy area. Keep it there for a bit and then wash it off.

Calamine lotion. This is an old-fashioned over-the-counter treatment that people swear by. I think we had some when I was young. Not a bad thing to keep in the cupboard if you live in or are visiting a bug-infested area.

Saliva. A friend was just telling me about this one. Sounds kind of gross, but what could be cheaper and easier to use? You just take some of your own saliva and apply it generously to the bite. Also, you can mix your saliva with baking soda to create a paste. Apparently this trick works, though I haven’t tried it.

Salt water. It was always soothing to hop in the ocean to soothe bad bites. It didn’t take all the itch and aggravation away, but salt water definitely helped decrease the itchiness and speed up the healing process.

Aloe. Aloe is an incredible healer and helps soothe skin irritation (from burns and the like), so a little dabbed straight on a bite would really make a difference.

There are a host of other remedies people swear by. Check out this list — sent by my friend Irene, who inspired me to write this post — which includes herbal tinctures, foods, and various items you probably have hanging around your house.

Got any effective or unique bite remedies you’d like to share?

P.S. Lest you never want to visit Nova Scotia now for fear of the mosquitoes, let me reassure you that they’re not always terrible, and they’re definitely an improvement over the type of mosquitoes we have in Maryland, which you never see but somehow manage to bite you 20 times before you have time to walk more than a few feet. Nova Scotia mosquitoes are not so evil and sneaky: They’re bigger (so they’re easier to see), and they buzz — both things that help you more easily dispatch them to mosquito heaven.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 

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Just had to post this little video of a peculiar experiment: A young couple, about to get married, agrees to be altered by professional makeup artists to see what they will look like in their 50s, 70s, and 90s. I must admit I got a little teary watching it. His alterations looked a little strange, but their reactions to seeing themselves and each other were so genuine and lovely.

If you could see yourself in different phases of aging, would you? And would you welcome seeing your significant other this way?

 

 

 

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Back to Civilization

May 11, 2015

B & Girls in NC
We arrived home safe and sound from our off-the-grid adventure in North Carolina, and I’m happy to report that the trip was a blast!

We worked with a terrific television crew who were laid back and fun to hang out with. The weather was pretty much perfect the whole time, the setting and scenery were gorgeous, and we enjoyed some delicious food (no dried food rations or foraging for berries, it turns out!).

The biggest take-aways, though, were the things we learned — about ourselves and our abilities, about what “off-grid” can actually mean, and about what we may want for our family moving forward.

B and I are still processing the trip and comparing notes. I was amazed at how this husband of mine — who’s never lived rurally and is so urban in many ways — jumped right into everything and didn’t want to leave. I was surprised he said yes to this in the first place, and he’s even happier now that he did.

The girls impressed us, as they always do. They had their moments (they’re still kids, after all), but considering the long and unpredictable days, late nights, and completely new and changing environments, they embraced it all with gusto.

Zoe & the girls in NC
As for me, I tried to channel my inner adventurer, which wasn’t always easy during the more stressful moments. And I’m still not very good at packing up the whole family, since this is only our second trip since the girls came home. But overall, I think I did pretty well (apart from downing mini bottles of vodka in orange juice in front of my daughters on the plane).

As for the show itself, I’m not allowed to say much about it, and I have no idea when it will air. It’s hard to imagine what the episode will end up looking like in the end; we said and did a few things that I seriously hope get left on the editing floor! But hopefully we won’t cringe too much at the final product.

Some friends and family — and possibly some of you here at SlowMama — may wonder why we’d ever agree to do a reality-type television show. The short answer is that, after making sure it wasn’t exploitative or sensationalistic in nature, and being confident that our kids could handle it, we thought it was an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up. It was a chance to do something outside of our comfort zones, make some memories, and learn some new things. It’s edifying to be able to say we accomplished all that!

How have you been? Is there anything about off-grid living that you’re curious about?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Spring Feverish

April 22, 2015

heron-in-a-boat
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

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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

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Playing in Public

April 7, 2015

Life-of-Pix-eiffel-monument-Paris-seine-Javier-Palmieri
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

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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

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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

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Woman

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 

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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

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