Category Archives: Health

How To Be A Happier Couple

We’re off to Italy tomorrow — (see #1 below). Since I won’t be posting while we’re traveling I wanted to share the following thought-provoking article with all of you.

(Shared from WhoWhatWear):

According to the app Happify, the most blissed-out couples have been married for under five years and have no children. If you’re among that demographic, congrats! If you’re not, or if you foresee yourself crossing over into a long-term partnership or having a family at one point, fret not, as there’s still good news—happiness in relationships, just like individual happiness, is something you can work to achieve. Here, eight research-backed methods for becoming one of those happy couples of whom everyone is jealous (and not just on Instagram, but in actual life).

1. BE ADVENTUROUS

According to the New York Times, “New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine. These are the same brain circuits that are ignited in early romantic love, a time of exhilaration and obsessive thoughts about a new partner.” So while butterflies inevitably fade, studies show you can inject new energy into your relationship by regularly trying new things with your partner. Try date night activities that are outside of your comfort zone, rather than spending another night in watching Netflix or simply walking over to your favorite neighborhood restaurant. It’s fine to continue with these beloved activities (after all, fall TV!), but if you want to keep the flame alive, it’s advisable to mix things up every once in a while.

2. MAKE AFFIRMATIONS A DAILY OCCURRENCE

According to research conducted by Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and author of the book Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship, one of the biggest learnings from her divorced clients was that they wished they had been more affectionate toward their spouse, or that their spouse had been more affectionate to them. Dr. Orbuch recommends performing one small act of kindness for your partner each day, be it a verbal affirmation (something focused on a positive attribute they possess or a positive feeling you have about them) or a physical action (like folding their clothes, giving them a hug). Taking specific note of the small things your significant other says and does to make you feel loved is important, too, as negative interactions are more naturally notable to our brains than are positive ones.

3. TALK ABOUT THINGS OTHER THAN MONEY, WORK ETC.

Dr. Orbuch’s research also revealed that the happiest couples made time to talk about things you might talk to your boyfriend about in the early stages of dating—dreams, values and goals. She recommends you commit to spending 10 minutes per day discussing with your significant other something that does not concern your job or other practical life demands. Ask your partner questions about their past (“What’s your favorite memory from childhood?”) and encourage them to share their bolder visions for the future (“What would you do tomorrow if money was no object?”).

4. FIGHT MORE BUT BETTER

Communication is key in relationships, and because you are two separate people, with separate world views, perspectives and goals, chances are that communication sometimes manifests as an argument. If you’re fighting small fights, often, this can be healthy, as it means neither partner is letting resentments build up. That said, the key to a “good” fight is to really listen to your partner’s point of view from a non-defensive place, and to try to look at the situation not just from their perspective, but from a non-partial, third party perspective. Also, it’s important to remember that you likely suffer from a closeness-communication bias, which means that you think you’re communicating your perspective to the people with whom you’re most intimate better than you actually are.

5. MAKE UP MORE

Apparently, being intimate one time per week is enough to increase happiness levels for couples, according to one study, and that going from one time per month to one time per week creates a happiness boost equivalent to that of a $50,000 raise. Though the same study also shows that intimacy more frequent than one time per week does not improve happiness levels, we don’t really believe that you can over-do it on this one.

6. LAUGH A LOT

Couples who laugh together, stay together, according to one study. Apparently, remembering times in which you shared a giggle in the past helps increase happiness within a relationship, as well.

7. MAKE OTHER PEOPLE A PRIORITY

This one has a few caveats. In news that’s sad for discarded single friends everywhere, it turns out that couples who hang out with other couples feel closer to one anotheras a result. More sad news, for divorced people, is that hanging out with friends who have split makes couples 75% more likely to divorce.

Generally speaking, though, it’s assumed to be healthy for any relationship for couples to spend time apart, with friends and family who are outside of the relationship bubble. This way, you’re not putting all of your expectations and needs onto one person—author Bella DePaulo articulates the dangers of doing exactly that here.

On another note, couples who prioritized others in the sense of parading their relationship for them online are not happier than couples who keep it a little more low-key. Read more about this fascinating phenomenon here.

8. DRINK TOGETHER… or don’t

Consuming a similar amount of alcohol as your partner increases the odds of success in a relationship; however, if you and your significant other do not have similar boozing habits, there could be trouble down the line.

Random Hacks

The Internet was full of interesting tips this week!

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7 ways to prevent (and fix!) smelly shoes

1. Start with clean feet: Soak them in salt water, then dry off and dust with talcum powder (baby powder or Gold Bond).

2. Put antiperspirant on the soles of your feet.

3. Sprinkle the inside of your shoes with baking soda and leave overnight. Vacuum or shake out in the morning.

4. Place dry tea bags inside your shoes and leave them overnight.

5. Put crumpled newspaper inside your shoes and leave overnight. It absorbs odor-retaining moisture.

6. Place your shoes in individual plastic zip bags and leave them in your freezer overnight to kill bacteria. During the winter, leaving them overnight in a cold car will work too. Let your shoes slowly return to room temperature before wearing.

7. Spritz sneakers or fabric-lined shoes with mixture of water and white vinegar. Let dry thoroughly.

 

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5 steps to relaxation

1. Place the tip of your tongue just behind your front teeth and exhale sharply.

2. Close your mouth and inhale slowly through your nose for a count of four.

3. Hold your breath for a count of seven.

4. Exhale strongly to a count of eight.

5. Repeat 3 times. Ahhhhh.

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17 ways to save money

  1. Clear your browsing history. When shopping online – especially for airline tickets – make sure to empty your cache. Online companies follow your history and raise prices based on this information.
  2. Shop as a guest. When buying online, use the Guest option instead of creating an account. New customers usually get lower prices.
  3. Leave items in your online cart. Get everything filled in, with your name, e-mail address etc., but don’t purchase immediately. You’ll often get a follow-up e-mail a day or two later offering a discount code to incentivize you to complete the sale.
  4. Lower the brightness on your TV and computer screen. Reducing the brightness of your TV and/or computer monitors from their default settings can reduce power consumption by up to 40%. 
  5. Carry large bills. Research shows that you’re likely to pay less if you use cash instead of a credit card. That’s because purchases feel more “real” when you see the amount you’re spending. If you carry only $50 bills you’ll be less inclined to break them, which helps avoid impulse buys.
  6. Make lists. You’re also less likely to succumb to impulse buys at the mall or grocery store if you’ve decided ahead of time what you need and plan to buy.
  7. Build your credit. Your credit score determines your rate on loans; nowadays utility and insurance companies use these scores to calculate monthly premiums.
  8. Make large purchases at the end of the month. Buying a couch, car or electronics? All sales reps have to meet monthly quotas. If they’ve had a slow month they may be willing to give you a deep discount in order to make a sale—and reach their quota. 
  9. Paint your roof white. If you live in a warm climate, this quirky idea could save you a bundle on air conditioning bills. Traditional roofs are dark, and dark colors absorb more heat.  Go even further and install solar panels – the upfront cost will be worth it if you plan to live in your house for a long time.
  10. Brew your own coffee. Home brewing cuts your cost to about $0.25 per cup vs. $3 at a pricey coffee shop, saving you hundreds per year (and over $1000 if you have a 2/day habit!) 
  11. Eat less meat. Eating vegetable-centric meals 2-3 times per week will save you some major cash.
  12. Buy generic. Store brands often have the same ingredients as name brands and may even be made by the same companies. Same with prescriptions – ask your doctor if the generic version is an effective option. 
  13. Buy a water filter. Bottled water isn’t just expensive; it’s not necessarily healthier than tap water. The filtration process may result in water that’s actually better for you than spring water!
  14. Exercise daily. Research confirms that working out regularly limits the number of trips you’ll take to the doctor’s office.
  15. Eat out at culinary schools. If you love dining out, investigate culinary schools in your area. You can enjoy delicious meals from up-and-coming chefs at significant savings vs. restaurants.  
  16. Stay hydrated. Many people overeat because they mistake thirst for hunger. Drinking water before a meal will help you to only consume what you need. Result: lower grocery bills!
  17. Ask for discounts. Most companies offer money-saving promotions but may not advertise them. When contacting your cable, gas, phone, or credit card companies, ask if there’s a way to reduce your bills. Sometimes, mentioning that you’re ready to cancel a service or switch providers is all it takes for them to “magically” come up with a better deal.

Paint It Black

The Q Bar at the Empress Hotel in Victoria BC serves the most addictively delicious charcoal-spiced popcorn with their drinks. Inspired to recreate it, I was curious to see how else I might use food-grade activated charcoal.

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First, though, I wanted to learn what it is and what it does. Activated charcoal – not to be confused with the chemical-laden stuff you use on the grill! – is made from a variety of sources such as hardwood and coconut shells and naturally traps toxins, chemicals, gases etc. in its porous surface.

Activated charcoal (AC) doesn’t absorb these toxins; instead, it works through the chemical process of adsorption. A quick refresher: In the body, absorption is the process that occurs when elements such as nutrients, chemicals and toxins are soaked up and assimilated into the bloodstream. Adsorption is a chemical reaction in which elements bind to a surface. The charcoal’s negative electric charge causes positively charged toxins and gas to attach to its tiny nooks and crannies, allowing them to be flushed out so the body doesn’t reabsorb them.

6 Common Uses for Activated Charcoal

Having purchased a bag of the stuff from Amazon, it was time to figure out what to do with it besides making popcorn (stay tuned for recipe).

FullSizeRender 5Teeth Whitening Being a fan of coffee, tea and red wine, my teeth often look a bit dingy. AC is supposed to whiten teeth while promoting good oral health and it’s certainly cheaper than Opalescence or whitening strips so I figured I’d try it. My Internet search revealed that AC attaches to plaque and microscopic stains while changing the pH balance in the mouth to help prevent cavities, bad breath, and gum disease.

I spoon a small amount into a ramekin and tote it to the bathroom. Be warned, the fine powder can (and will) stain grout and fabrics. Protect counters, floors and clothing before using and lean way over the sink. And always avoid breathing it in (there’s a warning label about potential hazards).

Directions are simple: Wet a toothbrush and dip into the powdered AC. Brush teeth for about 2 minutes, paying special attention to areas showing the most staining. Your mouth will immediately turn black, and I looked like an extra in a road company production of Les Misérables; truly hideous. Then sip a bit of water, swish through mouth thoroughly and spit out. Continue rinsing until the water runs clear.

For best results, brush your teeth with activated charcoal two-three times per week.

Note: If you have crowns, caps or porcelain veneers, it’s possible that activated charcoal will stain them, although most users say this isn’t a problem since these are smooth, hard surfaces. Play it safe and just brush it on natural teeth. Of course, if your teeth become sensitive, quit using it.

Gas & Bloating AC has been found to alleviate discomfort by binding with gas-causing by-products in certain foods. Several brands of charcoal supplement tablets are available at pharmacies and drugstores, which has to be a lot neater and more appetizing than dumping black powder into a glass. Make sure to read the directions and drink plenty of water to get the charcoal into your system.

Incidentally, drinking 8-10 glasses of pure water every day helps to calm the digestive tract, fight fatigue, keep organs functioning, and lubricate joints and tissues.

Alcohol Poisoning & Preventing Hangovers While AC does not adsorb alcohol, it does help to quickly remove other substances from the body (such as artificial sweeteners) that contribute to symptoms.

When taken at the same time as alcohol, some studies show that AC can significantly reduce blood alcohol concentrations. Seems easier to just stop after the second margarita, no?

Bee stings This is a cool home remedy! Make a paste with powdered charcoal and water and put it on the painful area. Be sure to cover it with a bandage so you don’t stain your clothes. Again, a bit messy but if it works, why not?

Mold I’m diligent about spraying Tilex in the shower but never thought about mold living in people’s bodies (Ick!) Turns out, inhaling mold spores has been linked to eye irritation, headaches, respiratory and immune system issues, kidney and liver failure, decreased brain function and heart disease.

If you experience symptoms such as rashes, headaches, watery eyes, coughing or wheezing that aren’t explained in other ways (e.g., allergies), check your home for mold spore levels, even if you don’t see visible mold. It can develop behind drywall, under floors and in ventilation ducts, especially in homes that have flooded or have small leaks under a sub-floor or in the walls.

Poor ventilation exacerbates the problem, and damp, humid areas such as bathrooms, basements and laundry rooms are particularly prone to mold growth.

AC tablets can help flush out spores in your body; check with your doctor for dosing recommendations. And if there is visible mold in your home, natural remedies such as baking soda, apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil and borax will clean hard surfaces and help keep mold from growing back. Make sure to wear gloves and a protective mask during cleanup so you don’t inhale more spores.

Water Filtration Activated charcoal traps impurities in water including solvents, pesticides, industrial waste and other chemicals. (Hello, Brita!) Note that AC doesn’t trap viruses, bacteria or hard-water minerals.

Food Poisoning AC is also recommended for food poisoning accompanied by nausea and diarrhea. Check the dosage on your bottle of AC tablets and of course call 911 in severe cases of any type of poisoning.

Now, about that popcorn: Mix garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Add a tiny amount of powdered food grade charcoal and stir, being careful not to inhale the charcoal.

Charcoal powder won’t stain sinks and other hard surfaces but it could stain grout and WILL stain clothes. So use carefully!

Sprinkle a small amount on buttered popcorn and enjoy!

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Avoiding Brain Drain

In hopes of staving off cognitive decline, I’ve been refreshing my French with the help of the free online language courses on DuoLingo. Next up: brushing up on my minimal Italian (one college semester) in preparation for our trip to Sicily, Milan and Florence in October.flag-2292679_640Younger readers may think this is an issue that only affects their parents or grandparents. Not so fast: apparently the seeds of dementia can be sewn in our 30’s, 40’s and 50’s — up to three decades before the disease appears full-blown. Yowza.

Nearly two-thirds of Alzheimer’s sufferers are women. But the good news is that there’s a lot we can do to protect ourselves – at every age. Reducing inflammation, insulin resistance, blood sugar, high LDL cholesterol and vascular problems lowers our risk, and current research now focuses as much on causes as on cures.

The Big Three: Eating, Exercise and Engagement.

EATING

The Mediterranean Diet won’t just keep you slim; it’s literally brain food. Eating veggies, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry and olive oil boosts brain health. And don’t forget the wine: the resveratrol in red wine has many benefits.

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  • Protects the lining of our arteries so blood can flow freely
  • Improves the body’s ability to repair damage caused by free radicals, which helps prevent premature aging of cells
  • Blocks the production of inflammatory agents

What to avoid? Sugar. Too much can lead to obesity and diabetes, both of which increase the risk of dementia. So swap that margarita for cabernet! And watch your cholesterol: high levels can cause plaque buildup in blood vessels and keep blood from effectively reaching all parts of your brain.

EXERCISE

It’s as good for your brain as it is for your butt.

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  • Aerobic exercise builds up grey matter in the cerebral cortex (where memories live), releases chemicals thought to affect learning and memory, and delivers oxygen to your brain.
  • Regular exercise sharpens focus and stimulates nerve cells and blood vessel formation in the hippocampus, another part of the brain associated with memory. Don’t you love the word hippocampus, which sounds like a university for, you know, hippos? (I threw that in to see if you’re paying attention.) hippo-783522_640
  • Studies have shown that strength training improves blood flow to areas of the brain associated with executive function and memory. So pump that iron!
  • Stress busters such as yoga help reduce cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone that can go into overdrive, impairing memory and causing neuron-damaging inflammation.

ENGAGEMENT 

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  • Learn something new and keep doing new things (at least an hour each day).
  • Spend time socializing; it helps build new brain cells.
  • Protect your heart (and not just romantically!) The better it pumps, the more blood can circulate throughout your body, nourishing the neurons and blood vessels in your brain.
  • Feeling bored at work or in a social situation? Wiggle your toes — it snaps you back to the moment.
  • Hit the sheets for at least seven hours. The slow-wave stage before REM sleep is thought to be the time when cognitive function strengthens and consolidates.
  • Take time to relax. It lowers blood pressure to help reduce strain on blood vessels.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my new fitness regimen: lifting several heavy glasses of wine while reading Italian travel guides and researching restaurants. Gotta start someplace, right? Salute e ciao!

Beauty Adventure: Microneedling

Recently, my daughter met one of my cousins for the first time and commented, “She looks about 80.” Normally, this wouldn’t be a compliment, but my cousin is nearly 95!

One reason Helen looks so good is that she’s always taken care of her skin. In my own quest to keep blotches and wrinkles under control without going overboard, I keep exploring non-invasive procedures that deliver visible results to supplement my small arsenal of lotions, potions and sun block.

Which led me to the SkinPen.FullSizeRender 13

Let me say at the outset that there are devices such as the Derma Roller you can use at home, and they seem to do a nice job of making the skin glow. However, they don’t penetrate as deeply as tools used by professionals so are less effective at treating fine lines.

The idea behind microneedling is to create thousands of micro-injuries (tiny vertical channels in the dermis) to initiate the body’s wound healing process. It sounds scary but is actually pretty cool, as the body responds by breaking down underlying damaged tissue and producing healthy new cells. These repair the injured tissue, creating more collagen and elastin.FullSizeRender 14

As a side note, Fraxel will do the same thing, although it’s more aggressive.

Lasers, chemical peels and other invasive methods are considered ablative, meaning that they remove tissue to start collagen production in your skin. Lasers such as Fraxel or CO2 fractional laser either remove the top layers of skin or remove only small parts/fractions of the skin. Your skin care professional will know what’s best for your particular situation.

Both microneedling and lasers result in collagen production that slowly continues months after treatment, but the lasers remove tissue. Microneedling creates micro-injuries without using heat and without removing layers of skin, so the skin heals more rapidly compared to the recovery time from lasers. It’s also much less prone to infection.

Sign me up.

Microneedling is a two-step process. During the 28-day remodeling period following treatment, specific nutrients such as Vitamins C, A, E and copper peptides are applied topically to ensure proper cell nutrition. The makers of SkinPen offer a full line of post-procedure products (surprise!) or ask your derm or facialist for other suggestions.

Stephanie, my skin whisperer, recommends a series of three treatments spaced a minimum of one month apart. I can continue treatments indefinitely if the budget allows; she has one well-heeled client who comes in every six weeks but at a couple hundred a pop that’s out of my league.

Here’s what the makers of SkinPen say:

  • A procedure that helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and smooth wrinkles, SkinPen® may be used on all skin types
  • A safe solution with little recovery time
  • Results from a minimally invasive procedure
  • A procedure for ongoing maintenance of healthy skin
  • The advantages of your SkinPen® microneedling procedure include:
    • SkinPen® microneedling is minimally invasive and a quick procedure, performed in-office
    • Little recovery downtime makes SkinPen® ideal for a busy lifestyle, and a great place to start for aesthetic procedures
    • Support of healthy skin
    • Skinfuse® post-procedure protocol by Bellus Medical ensures you receive all the right vitamins and minerals to your skin, with none of the wrong ingredients
    • Results are generated from your own skin’s natural collagen remodeling and elastin
    • SkinPen® may be used on all skin types
    • Ideal for assisting in reducing the signs of aging
    • A versatile, precision design for use on most all parts of the body including face, neck, and décolletage. The SkinPen® helps reduce fine lines and soften the signs of aging. By tightening pores, your skin will look refreshed and have a youthful glow!

It’s now about 3 months since my first treatment and the lines around my lips do seem to have diminished. It will probably take another 3 months to see the true results.

TREATMENT #1

First, Stephanie applies a numbing cream and I wait 20 minutes for it to take effect. Perfect time to catch up on the office’s trashy celeb magazines! Using a gel for glide, she moves the little machine (which indeed looks like a pen) all over, avoiding moles. She goes over the worst areas (around mouth, chin) a couple of times. The SkinPen makes a fairly loud buzzing noise and doesn’t hurt, except for some slight pain in my lip and forehead areas. It certainly hurts a lot less than the IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) facials I get twice a year to zap brown spots. She then applies the company’s SkinFuse Rescue to protect the skin and begin restoring its moisture barrier. I leave with a tube of Rescue to use twice a day (or more as needed), a weekly collagen booster (Surge) and post-procedure instructions.  FullSizeRender 12

  • Day Of: After microneedling my face is dry, shiny, tight and blotchy, as if I have a sunburn. I go straight home, hoping I don’t run into anyone I know. The redness fades a bit after a few hours and I don’t look quite as horrible though it feels rather uncomfortable. Tonight I’m instructed to rinse my face with water only and apply Rescue cream before bed. I notice that the Rescue peels a bit (I’ve now applied it a few times) and resist the urge to poke at it.
  • Day 1: After 24 hours I use a mild cleanser, apply moisturizer and avoid the sun. Most of the redness has faded but my skin still feels very dry, tight and dehydrated. I have a few areas of tiny pinprick blood spots on my cheeks and apply some topical arnica. I would NOT want to socialize with my skin looking like this!
  • Day 2: Better but still dry. I continue putting arnica on the pinpricks.
  • Day 3: Much more hydrated. Pinpricks are fading. Using normal skincare products. By today I could go out in public wearing tinted sunblock.
  • Day 4-6: My skin now feels normal; I can cover the pinpricks with makeup.
  • Day 7 and once a week: Use the Surge collagen booster. IMG_1861

TREATMENT #2 (5 weeks later)

  • Day Of: After I comment that I haven’t seen any improvement yet, Stephanie suggests using PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma; also known as the “vampire facial”). PRP involves extracting a small amount of a patient’s blood from their arm and spinning it in a centrifuge to separate the plasma – the fluid part – from the red and white blood cells. Sounds creepy but is supposed to speed healing. Hey, why not?
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Bwaahaha!

Stephanie is more aggressive with the SkinPen than last time but only my lip area is briefly painful. The plasma drips more than the gel so it’s messier but it only stains the headband she’d applied. After treatment Stephanie uses a new product from Alastin. Their recovery product is a whopping $195 for 1 ounce so, guess what, I don’t buy it.

At home I do some online research and find that the company (founded by 2 guys who used to work for SkinMedica) doesn’t disclose much about their ingredients or amounts so reviewers are skeptical. The products are meant to produce both elastin (hence the name) and collagen but doctors question how much a topical can really do. I’ve also read that it’s difficult to regenerate elastin in mid-to-older skin. Before I spring for the big bucks I’d want to learn a whole lot more.

  • Day 1 (24 hrs later): The redness is fading and my skin is taut but less so than the first time. I have fewer pinpricks but in the same (left cheek) area. Apply arnica.
  • Day 2: Notably more hydrated. My skin is too blotchy to go out in public without makeup (I use tinted Elta MD sunblock) and there’s some peeling from the products but it feels way better.
  • Day 3: Almost 100% normal. Still applying arnica to red spots and using normal skincare.
  • Day 4: Totally healed and my skin feels hydrated and supple. I’ve added Elta MD Barrier Cream to my skincare ritual (as of Day 1 night), which may be helping.
  • Day 8: Add Surge to my nighttime ritual (and will continue to use once a week).

TREATMENT #3 (after 4 weeks)

  • Day Of: PRP again. Nurse draws blood and spins to extract platelets. The SkinPen is painful around my lips, ok on my forehead/neck. I notice more redness/blotchiness/ blood spots than the previous two sessions. Stephanie applies Alastin and Rescue before I leave.
  • Day 1: Today the redness is like a fading sunburn and my skin is taut. I only need Rescue twice (afternoon and at night). I apply arnica to blood spots (left cheek), take oral arnica 3x and add Elta barrier cream to my night ritual.
  • Day 2: I use a hyaluronic acid mask, which adds moisture, and I can go out in public if I cover spots with Elta tinted sunblock. My skin feels slightly dryer than normal but not taut. I add vitamin C to my daytime ritual after applying Rescue.
  • Day 3: Back to normal. I still have faint red spots on my left cheek and continue to use arnica.
  • Day 7: Spots are finally gone.

One final note: The less you’ve cared for your skin, the more dramatic the results will be. If you’ve been diligent about sun block and retinol or use professional-level skin care products with good concentrations of vitamin C, glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid etc., the results will be more subtle: smoother skin, less blotchiness and a softening of fine lines.

So far, I think it’s worth it.

(Note: Not a sponsored post — I wish!; sunrise image from Pixabay.com)

Absent Friends

A dear friend died suddenly last week.  A kind, gentle man with a keen intellect, life hadn’t always been kind to him.  He struggled with his weight, his sexuality, and a singing career that didn’t go the way we’d all predicted when we’d first heard his glorious voice.

Despite — or maybe because of —  these challenges, he retained a vivid sense of humor and appreciation of the unexpected. A new message in my inbox always promised something witty, intriguing or surprising.

Below is the content of one of his last e-mails to me.  It’s a fitting reminder that what’s on the surface often doesn’t tell the whole story.

The Parrot

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“This is not a bird. The parrot is actually a female model who posed for Johannes Stötter, a fine art body painter who used breathable paint to create the image of a parrot, brushstroke by brushstroke.  The model’s arm forms the parrot’s beak and head, and her legs form the wing and tail feathers.

Remember: always take a closer look, as things aren’t always what they appear to be. Once you see the woman, the bird disappears.”

Either way, both images are beautiful. As was my friend.

A Day in Hospital

Yesterday my husband had surgery and everything went well, for which I am truly and profoundly grateful.

Many people have been asking how he is (“Fine”) but I realized that nobody has been asking how MY day was. What’s up with that?

Since I’m sure my experience is AT LEAST as fascinating as any surgical patient’s, I thought I would share every detail of my incredibly long and stultifying day with you, my favorite people. I just know you’ll hang on every word!

6-8 AM

  1. We wake up bright and early and zip over to the medical center, arriving promptly at 7:30 for R’s 10 AM surgery.
  2. Shortly after we arrive in the reception area, R gets a special one-on-one interview. It’s almost as though they were waiting for him! The interviewer is obviously really interested in getting to know him because he asks all kinds of personal questions, such as, “Who is going to pay for this?”
  3. Then he gives R a nifty personalized bracelet with his name on it and everything! Meanwhile, does anybody want to know MY name? What am I, chopped liver??

8 AM  We are ushered to a private room where we wait. And wait. And wait some more.

10 AM  Discover that surgery is going to be delayed. A lot.

Apparently, the patient scheduled for the first slot didn’t bother to find out her arrival time and waltzed in two hours late. (This must be a person who has never attended a meeting, gotten a haircut, or flown on an airplane.) Consequently, everyone else’s surgery has been pushed back two hours.

Still, the day is young and the procedure should only take an hour and a half so no big deal.

11 AM Suddenly there is a flurry of activity and R is whisked off to do all kinds of interesting things: Get stuck with IV! Have catheter inserted! Gag while tube is pushed down throat! Breathe into nasty mask! Get pumped full of drugs! Sleep!!!!

Here’s what I get to do:

11AM-12 PM

  1. Walk down corridor through swinging doors to reception area and buy overpriced bottle of water from vending machine.
  2. Discover that no one is at the reception desk to buzz me back into the surgical area.
  3. Drink water and pace until Doogie Howser lookalike takes pity and lets me go through.

Once back in the room, I peruse e-mail, browse some online shopping sites without buying anything and drink more water.

12 PM

  1. Answer call from surgical nurse who says things are going well (See what I mean? It’s all about HIM.) I will hear more when they finish in another hour or so.
  2. Go down to cafeteria to buy overpriced hospital food for lunch.
  3. Return to room.
  4. Eat half of flavor-challenged lunch.

12-2 PM

  1. Peruse e-mail.
  2. Browse online shopping without buying anything.
  3. Watch Amazon Prime movie (“The Dressmaker” with Kate Winslet as glamorous seamstress returning to wreak havoc on the dusty Australian town which labeled her a murderer when she was a child.) Pretty good.
  4. Buy second bottle of water. Prop door open to avoid lockout.

2 PM

  1. Surgical nurse says R is now in recovery and should be there for “about an hour”.
  2. The day is almost over. Breathe sigh of relief.
  3. Eat mini Toblerone as reward for all my efforts.

4 PM

  1. R arrives back in the room, cheerful and groggy from medication.
  2. New nurse says he needs to rest for an hour and as soon as he can pee he will be discharged.

4–6 PM Wait for R to pee.

7-8 PM Continue waiting for R to pee. Show R pictures of waterfalls on iPad and run water in sink hoping his insides will get the message. They don’t.

8:30 PM

  1. Doctor recommends inserting temporary catheter so R can go home. (Hey, what about ME???? My contacts are burning holes in my eyes, I’m hungry enough to eat more hospital food, and I can’t read with all these people hopping in and out!)
  2. Watch catheter insertion. Try not to hurl.
  3. Pack up rubber gloves, alcohol wipes, portable urinal, discharge papers etc.

9 PM

  1. R is ensconced in special chair and escorted to my car by attentive nurse. Me? I get to walk by myself, thankyouverymuch.
  2. Realize my monovision is terrible at night. Can barely see road signs but luckily have a general idea where I am and R is alert enough to navigate.
  3. Arrive home without hitting family of deer strolling through neighborhood. Whew.

10 PM

  1. Dose R with meds and tuck him in.
  2. Have teeny tiny vodka. After all, I worked hard today!
  3. Zzzzz

2 AM

  1. Get up to empty the catheter. Was this a glamorous day or what?!?
  2. Say silent prayer to all the Carl and Clara Bartons out there. God knows, R has stepped up enough times to take care of me – it’s only fair I take my turn in the barrel.
  3. Zzzzz… until 6 AM.