Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Visit with the Old Broad

Here’s a snapshot of me and Mom from my visit with her last month. We did little except hang out together, which was exactly what each of us wanted to do. We did make a visit to the local mortuary/crematorium to talk with the experts about what to do when…. Oddly reassuring for both of us (in a chilling sort of way).

The visit was instructive in another sense as well. Mom lives in a federally-subsidized housing complex occupied mostly by old women. There’s the expected bickering and gossip common to any closed community, but more pervasive was a sense of the residents living in the moment, taking contentment from the small pleasures their limited lifestyles afforded. They seemed satisfied with what they had because, I think, they were simply happy to be alive.

Mom showed me off to her friends by having me join a Nintendo Wii bowling tournament. (Wii is that virtual bowling game.) While my arm didn’t ache the next day as it would have if I’d actually been lofting an 11-pound ball, my sciatica killed me for days afterward!

How to Be Happier

Mom raised me on a rewinding loop of incantations taken from her own childhood, the same charms she knew -- Pennsylvania Dutch wards calculated to avert bad luck: meandering black cats, walking under ladders, open umbrellas, hats on beds.

Perhaps that’s why I’m attracted to simple rules that help govern life. If that's so, I have found a treasure trove of such resources in a web log called “The Happiness Project.” Written by a former high-powered lawyer named Gretchen Rubin, the blog is a memoir of the year she spent “test-driving every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study” she could find on rules for improving one’s life and increasing happiness.

The strategies range from the practical (e.g., the one minute rule: If it takes one minute or less to do something that needs to be done, DO IT) to well-reasoned arguments encouraging wholesale changes in lifestyles, habits and attitudes. (I confess, one of the tips from The Happiness Project, is helping me defeat a lifetime habit of cynicism.)

Making fruits and veggies safe to eat

More than twenty years ago, one of the publications I maintained in my small town library was a wonderfully readable little science and technology magazine called Science News. One of the articles I read from a mid-1990s issue detailed the discovery of a simple, cheap and effective way to disinfect fruits and vegetables at home. A food scientist named Susan Sumner found that squirting produce with three percent hydrogen peroxide (what’s sold at the drugstore) and then squirting it with vinegar (or doing it the other way around – it doesn’t matter) killed the organisms that give you gastroenteritis: E. coli, Shigella and Salmonella. Furthermore, added Sumner, the resultant spray sterilizes the sink, the cutting board (even wooden ones), and all the surfaces that come in contact with the mists. (n.b., this spray is protective against surface bacteria; nothing will protect you from systemic or absorbed contaminants.)

You can’t mix the two solutions together in a single bottle but must keep them separate. What I do is use a nozzle from another spray bottle and plug it into the hydrogen peroxide and keep the vinegar in a cute little sprayer I found at the dollar store. I keep the peroxide under the sink as it is light sensitive and will loose its efficacy when exposed.

My question, however, is this: The spray works, so why isn’t it widely known and hugely popular? Is it because you have to spray twice and Americans want something even more convenient? Or, and this is what I believe, Sumner simply let the public know about her discovery without any patent or copyright compensation for herself. As a result, no big corporations and their attendant high-dollar marketing agencies could come along and make big bucks from the formula.

Yes, I know, I know…I’m supposed to be getting over my cynicism. But surely I’m right.

E-you later, darlings.

Aunt Rose

Links of interest from this posting:

A typical article on Wii bowling:,0,2755896.story

The Happiness Project:

Science News is still in print and has a fun and informative web site as well:

The story behind the nifty disinfectant spray discovery:

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Duped again?

I get annoyed with a stock phrase in all the health and nutrition newsletters I subscribe to: “Talk with your healthcare professional.”

When I first moved to Snowflake I got an appointment with a woman gynecologist thinking she would be more in tune with my female concerns. I had been on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) at that time for about 15 years and was thinking of ending treatment. This was a year or two before the Women’s Health Initiative study blew the lid off the idea that HRT was the miraculous “cure” for menopause as well as a preventive for major ailments including cancer and heart disease.

When I told the doctor I was thinking of ending the hormone replacement therapy, her eyes opened with alarm. “What!” she blurted, “And ruin your bottom?”

Don’t you just hate it when doctors use medical jargon?

My current doctor is a pleasant, middle-aged man who wears a big turquoise bolo tie and matching watch band, and talks fondly of his 70-year-old-mother. (I look for clues that gynecologists like older women; it’s tough competing for attention against fecund young women about to engage in the miracle of birth.) He’s been my doctor for five years now, but that means I’ve only seen him five times. Despite the basically intimate nature of our relationship, it’s not a particularly warm or familiar one.

When booking my last annual check-up, I asked for a consultation with the doctor to talk about my bones. Four years previously he’d prescribed weekly doses of the bone-building drug Fosamax, after a baseline test registered a T-score (the standard measurement of bone density) of -1.3. This meant, he said, that I had osteopenia (thinning of the bones).

Ever eager to avoid bone loss, I took the meds, knocked back 1200 milligrams of calcium every day. And, at his urging, stayed with hormone replacement therapy as well. (It’s still reputed to be effective against bone loss.)

Despite these efforts, my last two scans were even worse (-1.8). And I wanted some answers.

So at the end of the physical, still in the examining room, me clutching closed the skimpy, open-fronted exam gown, Doctor T. flipped through my charts. “You wanted to talk about something?”

I repeated my litany of how I was doing everything possible for my bones. What more could I do? And why hadn’t my scores improved?

"Well," he replied, “they haven’t gotten any worse.”

End of consultation.

That did set me off. I began researching articles and buying and reading books about osteoporosis. While I’m probably guilty of confirmation bias (you know, only paying attention to information supporting your own point of view), I have become convinced that American women are being duped again. Just as with hormone replacement therapy, we are being hyped and herded into taking drugs, supplements, potions, and notions for osteopenia, a naturally occurring condition of age that is not a disease. And that actual, diagnosed cases of genuine osteoporosis, a disease marked by fracture, pain and disability are extremely rare.

I have stopped taking the Fosamax. Like most everyone, I want a magic bullet; it's so much easier to take pills than make lifestyle changes. But the causes of bone loss and the processes of rebuilding it are so complicated that researchers do not yet know enough to make any kind of accurate predictions or prescribe sure-fire "cures." At this point bone loss treatments are simply in the hypothesis stage. But there is one certainty: pharmaceutical companies are making big bucks.

So I address my bone health the hard way: exercise (the most protective thing you can do) plus a diet so healthy that I frighten people (less animal protein and lots and lots of fruits, veges and legumes). I take modest amounts (600 mg) of calcium but have added Vitamin D to my daily regime (400 IUs on the days when I don't go outside without sunblock). And I have given up Coke (sigh).

And now, the one exercise you need to do daily for the rest of your life:

Starting right this minute begin practicing Kegels, the exercise to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Maintaining these muscles will keep you from pee-peeing your pants (I like using medical jargon!) whenever you sneeze, cough, laugh or get a big hug.

I thought because I’d never had children this would not happen to me. Wrong. Embarrassingly wrong.

And things can get far worse than pink cheeks and dewy underpants. In extreme cases, beyond having to wear adult diapers, one or more of your body parts (bladder, small bowel, urethra, uterus, etc.) can drop into (or, even worse, out of) your vagina.

I asked at a woman’s seminar if anyone had recommendations of how many Kegels a woman should do every day. One of the attendees said that in Ayurvedic tradition it's recommended to do one each time you pass through a doorway. Whew.

I'm too clueless for that approach so I’ve ended up doing sets of ten here and there throughout the day (while driving or brushing my teeth, or sitting at the computer) until I’ve worked my way up to about forty. The results have been significant.

Here’s the little mantra I use: “Tight, tighter, tightest." (With a slow release of the muscle.)

Other news you can use:

Both Best Foods and Kraft have come out with low-fat olive oil mayonnaise. I’ve only tried the Kraft (on sale; I prefer Best Foods). And as you would imagine it’s a more vigorous taste than the ordinary low-fat, but not so much olive-oily as vinegary.

I guess I'm just finally used to regular low-fat mayo, and I prefer it to this new version. But the olive oil kind might be good with potato salad or other dishes where you’re looking for a bolder taste.

Whichever kind you use, here’s a tasty quick fix: Bean & veggie salad. Drain & rinse one can of red beans. Add a tablespoon or two each of finely chopped red onion, celery, carrot, peppers, or whatever veggies you’ve got hanging around the kitchen. Plop in a dollop or two of low-fat mayo mixed with a squirt or more of fresh lemon or lime juice, or a couple dashes of chipotle hot sauce, or herbs of choice, or just plain old salt & pepper. Mix well. Eat. Makes two one-cup servings, about two hundred calories each (or one 400 calorie lunch!)

Bye for now.

Aunt Rose

P.S. Part of my frightening move to eat more healthfully is a shift toward vegetarian dishes. I've mentioned this blog before, but for fun, and generally accessible, vegetarian recipes ("Black bean brownies" anyone?) visit:

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Another birthday? You're not old...

February, my favorite month, exceeded all expectations this year. I got my first ever Social Security payment, turned in my resignation at work, and, on the 29th, celebrated my 8th wedding anniversary (that’s 32 in regular years). (The accompanying picture is the wonderful flower arrangement given me and Bob by our friends, the Kennedys. I didn’t have any flowers at my wedding and this gesture just thrilled me.)

I also participated in a day-long workshop entitled, “The Divine P.I.T.A.: Essential Elements for Aging Well,” with a promised focus on “Practical Tools for Infusing the Daily with the Spiritual: Purging the Aging Myths.” My take on the subtext was that aging brings the freedom to be your authentic self, but, the reality of it still looms large. P.I.T.A. stood for “pain in the ass.” As a pre-boomer I was the oldest woman there and think I have learned to accept at least the greeting card wisdom about aging: The card front cover says, “Another birthday? You’re not old.” (Open card): “Hell, you were old last year.”

Coincidentally, the same week as the workshop I had been listening to an audio book called, No, I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club! It is the diary of the 60th year of a British matron, Marie Sharp, who is embracing this time of her life as the occasion to throw off the “shackles of youth.” (See above – becoming one’s authentic self by unlayering the masks we no longer need in age.) She vows never to join a book club where members seem to feel, “…they’ve forever got to poke their brain with a pointed stick to keep it working.” To her a book is either “brilliant” or “total crap; don’t touch it with a bargepole.” I found “No, I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club” if not brilliant, certainly one of the most engaging novels I’ve read in years.

I went online and bought some Evert-Green reusable plastic bags--the ones purported to keep your fruits and veggies from going bad. Do they really work? Actually, yes, if you don’t expect miracles. They keep things near to purchase-state for about two to three times the amount of time you might normally store produce. I ate a vine-ripened tomato the other day (be sure to remove any leaves or vine; they get weird) that I had bought and kept at room temperature for about 10 days. It was a touch more acidic than normal, but certainly better than any tomato that had been refrigerated even a night or two. Also, a basket of out of season strawberries, (I’m weak; I couldn’t resist) notable for turning to mush about 20 minutes after you unload the groceries, stayed viable in my fridge in one of the bags for about 36 hours. I’d say you’ll see a return on the cost of the bags (about a buck each) within a few months as they are reusable up to half a dozen times. The medium-sized easily accommodate a large head of red or green leaf lettuce or romaine.

And now that were on to food, if you are looking for a healthy, fab snack, try a “fusion” avocado. Cut a perfectly ripe avocado in half; fill the pit depression with 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce. Eat. Nummy. Try not to eat the other half too, because then you are treading in deeper caloric waters. One half of a small avocado will run you about 150k, a nice nutritious, afternoon snack that will easily tide you over until dinner.

In the continuing dry skin department…Mom, the original old broad, recommends generic no-tears baby body wash/shampoo. I use it now rather than Dove or Aveeno. At less than two bucks at any grocery store it’s a find.

E-you later, darlings.

Aunt Rose

P.S. Here’re today’s citations:

Evert-Green plastic produce bags:

No, I don’t want to Join a Book Club by Virginia Ironside from Amazon:

Fusion Avocado recipe:

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Lousy Birthdays

Ask anyone with a birthday near Xmas how they feel about it, especially those born a day or two afterward, and the whining begins: “I never got a party at school; I got Xmas cards instead of birthday cards, I only got half as many presents….”

I suspect, like me, the celebrant came to feel insignificant in the face of the attentions paid to a somewhat greater preeminence.

I was born December 27, and, in a perpetual snit of jealousy, I haven’t “done” Xmas for years.

After a nice break, I returned to work this past Wednesday, January 2, only to hear this from a colleague, “Wanna’ know an even worse birthday than yours? Try today (It happened to be his.). Everyone is worn out and/or hungover from celebrating for two weeks, they’re broke and can’t afford more presents, they’re fat and grumpy, and on top of all that, they had to come back to work.

I felt better right away!

This was a milestone birthday for me; I turned 65. And while I may grump about my birthday, one benefit is that during the seasonal madness I can usually sneak under the wire of scrutiny of, “How old are you anyway?” But this year, urged on by some inner compulsion (advancing senility perhaps) I blabbed my age to everyone. I think I wanted to hear what I had in many previous years when asked my age,“No! Rose, you don’t look it a bit.”

Funny, I didn’t hear much of that this year. (As you can tell from the accompanying pic, I look like a little old lady, cute, yes, but definitely on the downhill run; digital photo editing can’t do everything!)

Speaking of cute little old ladies, I have a great role model: Mom, the original old broad, turns 90 on January 14. She’s perky and healthy and bright. She’s occasionally cynical and favors single-malt Scotch. (Hey, at 90, you’re entitled to both.)

If you think of it, send her a card or note of congratulations: Rachel Brown, 1100 Linda St., Apt 315 A; Fort Morgan, CO 80701.

She’d get a kick out of it.

Notions, Lotions, Potions

According to the experts, Arizona is in year 11 or 12 of a 20-year drought. Along about year five, I started experimenting with remedies to help relieve dry winter skin on my belly and butt and legs and arms. I was literally itching myself raw/scratching myself raw? Whatever. I was a mess.

If you google “dry skin remedies” you can take a peek at much of what I tried (except slathering myself in mashed avocadoes; those I eat.) but one single activity seems to have had the most benefit – I gave up applying lotions in favor of creams. And after trying several brands have settled on Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream.

Now, when I get out of my every-other-day (every 3rd day if I think I don’t stink too much) lukewarm, not hot, shower, instead of lotion, I dip into the one pound jar (I’d buy it by the barrel if I could) for globs of the fragrance-free, non comedogenic (doesn’t clog pores) cream and paint generous amounts on my still damp bod. (Face creams are different; my dermatologist says retinol ones are a good choice.)

What remedies work best for your dry skin (besides moving to Florida)?

One other thing in recommending Cetaphil; it’s not made in China! (But, and I find this disconcerting, did you know that most of the vitamin supplements sold in America are manufactured in China, and you have no way of knowing point of origin because it’s not on the label.)

May 2008 be kind to you and yours.

Bye for now.

Aunt Rose