Kids and wigs: required reading

One of the considerations we had before heading to the wig shop was Porsche’s own self-esteem and sense of self. We always thought ourselves fortunate that she wasn’t sixteen and dealing with teen drama; instead, she was still an overall healthy, happy kid. It wasn’t until she started noticing all the stares her way, around 8, that she felt different.

Even then, we always emphasized that being different (no hair) was akin to being cool/unique. It wasn’t until people started asking about “our son,” or ask what our son’s name was that the flip with Porsche was switched. She had no issue being bald, but heaven forbid she be mistaken for a boy, when she clearly, and loudly, is a girl.

In the photos below, my daughter is smiling because as she told her daddy, “I feel like a girl again.” (Yes, I cried on the phone as I was watching this from home).

Wig shopping

She went wig shopping the day after Christmas because she’d wished for hair. We couldn’t give her that, but went for the next best thing; a wig. It was Roger who went with her for two reasons. The first is I had a toddler at home and we were told this was going to take several hours. Second, the wig shop specializes in leukemia patients, specifically children. Given my own fragile state of mind and the possibility that Porsche had a deeper medical issue, I wasn’t sure I could handle it.

Round one of trying on wigs. Keeping a positive thought, it’s one way to have her envision what a “big girl” will look like.
Wig selection: synthetic first. Too blond (upper left), too dark (upper left) then finding the right color but needs a cut. The back was trimmed to be more age appropriate and bangs

So off they went. As you can see from the smiles, the wig shop was a fun experience for Porsche. First, her head was measured. Second, the colorists started matching what they presumed/thought/ascertained to be her natural color. Because her hair was gone, Porsche pulled out pictures, and then they started pulling out colors. Up next was picking synthetic or natural.

Synthetic

Pros: It holds its shape no matter the circumstances, which is wonderful. Reasonably priced, between 300-$750 dollars.
Con: It can’t be washed, curled, or modified in any major way. The edges will start to fray so you need to trim occasionally. You must keep it on a Styrofoam head piece after washing and condition (with special products)

Natural

Pro: you can wash, style and even color it if you want
Con: you have to keep it on a Styrofoam head piece after washing and condition, but you can use normal hair products. High prices- $3,000-4,000.

After choosing the perfect color, the customer is shown how to put on the nylon cap required to keep the wig in place. Then on goes to the wig. Size is very important for children because their heads are still growing, thus the requirement for the cap, which holds the wig in place when it’s a little loose in the first year or two. The final year, which is about how long a wig, real or synthetic, will last, the cap is no longer required.

The wig is then cut in to the shape desired. In our case, Porsche chose to have a few bangs which could be pulled back or tucked under. She walked out with special shampoo for the wig, a Styrofoam head, and a special brush for the synthetic wig. We also ordered a real wig, which took about 3 months to receive. We learned wigs are produced typically in Europe, and the color requested is matched to order.

Also, another note on natural wigs. They are made from untouched, or “virgin” hair. For this reason, they can be colored if desired, (unlike synthetics which can’t be colored).

Once the hair is cut to her liking, the big (really big) step was to take her out in public. Rog decided to feed her and just hang out at a café for a while.
Pass it on when you are done

As I’d mentioned in the first piece on hair restoration and loss, we found a young girl, aged seven, suffering from her second round of leukemia. She was the recipient of both wigs. Learn more about the issues we encountered when approaching the local Children’s Hospital to understand why we were unable to go that route (they were rejected).

This is the natural wig. You can see how it’s not quite as fluffy and lays more naturally. The hairline is also very well done–so much so you can’t tell it’s a wig unless you are standing right above her and know what to look for.

Tip: If you are in need of a wig, my suggestion is to call the local wig company themselves. Usually, they are the first stop for children/adults in need, and we have found they are very kind and willing to help connect families who are in need and don’t have the funds to purchase a wig.

Hair loss and restoration Part 2

Breakthrough! The metal connection

In the previous blog on hair loss, I described and showed visuals of the mystery illness that had afflicted my daughter, and to a lesser degree myself. Over the course of several years, her hair fell out in chunks, then entirely, as and a team of doctor’s tried to figure out what in the heck was going on.

Recapping where we started, went through and the beginnings of hope

In the spring of the third year, Porsche was nine, and the door of knowledge opened up just a bit.

An acquaintance from church came over to the house and asked about Porsche. She then told me it occurred to her that we might want to have our water and food tested for metals.

How to identify “typical” alopecia and something far worse. Top left: Porsche is still thinking it’s all going to be ok. Top right: She didn’t know I started straightening her hair to cover what was happening underneath. Spots larger than a dime, then huge sections

“Our neighbor had a daughter about thirteen who lost a lot of her hair,” the forty-five-year-old woman told me who lives on a few acres just outside the city water district. “The doctor asked for a water sample of the well, and it turned out it had a lot of heavy metals.”

Huh. We were, in fact, on a community well, but it had been used for over twenty years, and plenty of kids were raised drinking the water. With the exception of the elderly, everyone the community had their hair. Per law, it was regularly tested and passed all the national requirements without exception and always passed.

“Nonetheless,” my friend continued, “you should have it tested again, as well as your daughter for heavy metals.”

Near fatal numbers

Over the next 90 days, we learned that the EPA only tests a fraction of the hundreds of metals in the water (about 350), and that each additional test would be about $1,800 per test. Over 3,000 different metals and permutations exist. We didn’t have that kind of money and wasn’t sure it was going to make a difference.

Seeing huge swaths falling out can be a sign of massive metals in the system

Then Porsche’s own metal numbers came back. She was 70 times the toxic level for heavy metals for an adult, not to mention a nine-year old. According to Dr. Nebalski, she should have had permanent brain damage from the levels of toxicity in her body.

It was a bittersweet moment. At first, we thought: “Yes! We are finally getting somewhere. With a cause we can find a cure.” We were also brought to our knees that she was spared having permanent brain damage.

At the same time, we were no closer to determining the “why” of Porsche’s hair loss started. In order to find a solution, we needed to find the cause. Surely, the well alone couldn’t the culprit, it if it was at all, because s we explained, our family of four had been drinking from the well exclusively for seven years. We were left wondering what we could eat, drink or do that wasn’t going to make her situation worse, or heaven forbid, trigger a reaction in the rest of us.

Doctors united

By this time, we were working with a loose team of physicians, western, holistic and natural, who were all intrigued and somewhat obsessive about figuring this out. They all started working together, from Washington, to Arizona, Italy and beyond. I was relieved to find zero competitiveness among the “types” of doctors, but a sense of comradery born of a desire for results.

As Porsche lost her hair, I lost 30 pounds. It’s not a good look. On the right: we had to adapt Porsche’s habits because while she didn’t mind being bald in public, (she got good at ignoring people), her scalp couldn’t take any sun. She wore it for 3 years when not in the house, or a hat.

They believed it was likely Roger and my younger daughter had been spared because Rog always favored protein drinks, milk or juice over water (still does). My youngest had come off nursing, and was eating mostly organic baby food, and not ingesting bottles of water. Both of them had lucked out for completely different reasons. By comparison, me and Porsche likely had very high levels of metal in our systems because we are both water hogs.

The difference between hair growth and hair loss is night and day. Even, overall growth is evident. That said, hair grows back in the order it was lost.

The doctor’s hypothesized that Porsche’s system was triggered by the incredible doses of concentrated radiation in the ocean water from that original visit to Hawaii. What was already resident in her system went on overload. I was affected as well, but as I was older, constantly eating detoxifying foods such as blueberries while maintaining my supplements, it helped my Ph balance. I suffered hair loss, but not in in big swaths, not chunks. Porsche on the other hand, was in the formative stage; her body simply couldn’t handle it.

Cleaning out the system

If you recall from the last blog, at this time, Porsche already had a regimen for keep her hair follicles open. This included applying topical steroids (liquid) every night. She was still receiving @500 shots in her head every six weeks.

Every day to the scalp to keep the hair follicles open

To this, our holistic physician, Dr. Albert Alyshmerni recommended we (all of us) start taking Zeolite.

“You need to uses Zeolite to remove the metals from the body,” said Dr. Albert (he prefers we use his first name after Dr. instead of his last, so I’m not being disrespectful here).

Zeolite is volcanic ash. When absorbed, through liquid or capsule, it attracts the metals, and then it’s pooped out. It was so strange, because once I learned this information, suddenly others in my circle, who were well aware of my situation, admitted that they’d been taking zeolite for years because they love fish, but wanted to get rid of the mercury and other metals in the food chain. This is a natural, volcanic ash that absorbs heavy metals from the body. It’s been used for decades and comes in liquid and tablet form.

6 months after taking Zeolite and the magnesium, Porsche went from completely bald to this–the top sections first–early July 2015

We have used two different brands with equal success. The only reason for going back in forth is that they aren’t always in stock. Omica was our original, and our current is Theodosia, and it’s only because it seems to be in stock a lot more. I will say it’s a tad more convenient, because the dose is higher so we only take one per day (30 min before a meal) vs 2 a day with the Omica. But again, we notice no difference between the two.

Once or twice a day, 30 min before meals, depending on which brand you get. They both work equally well, though Thoedosia seems to be in stock more often

I will go in to much more detail during the May 30th event on Hair Loss and Restoration at the Athleta Spokane store, but for those of you suffering from any stage of hair loss, I want to get this information out.

Overview of Zeolite

Our doctor likened our Porsche’s body to a tree, her hair being the leaves. The base and insides of the tree had become infected, and the leaves were falling off. However, the tree might be salvageable, but it would take time (months/years) to clean it out, starting with the roots.

“It’s critical you drink at least eight glasses of water,” Dr. Albert emphasized. If we didn’t, the body wouldn’t release the heavy metals, we’d be constipated and this would negate any positive effects.

February 2016, the hair keeps coming in–but instead of being thin and fine, it’s tough and corse. We love it.

Even though we have been using Dr. Albert for 17 years and never been sick (thanks to going the natural route), we were dubious. We read quite a bit about scams of powder and pills, and all sorts of claims, but even the western physicians said: “It certainly can’t hurt.”


April 2016. We are astounded with her hair growth– and also the comments. I started getting looks and questions “Is her father African American?” looking between her skin, her hair then back at me. I took the question as a compliment.

Dr. Albert told us what products to purchase on line (not through him) and to ignore the chatter. Without fail, we (me and Porsche) started taking single zeolite pill every day, 30 minutes before eating. In one month, we didn’t see much difference. Two months in, we both had fine hairs sprouting up around our hairline. At month three however, our new hair resembled newborns, with shoots everywhere. Gradually, Porsche’s bald spots started filling in. The regrowth began in the order of hair-loss—not all over, and not all at once. Literally, we watched the spots of first loss fill in. Now, seven year later, the very last areas to go bald are finally becoming full with hair.

July 2016
The stage of hair re-growth

Phase 1: Interestingly, like a newborn, Porsche experienced something similar to cradle cap. The surface of her scalp (the bald areas) first became white and lightly crusty, requiring a very gentle scraping. We used the soft brushes used on a baby’s head, then switched to a standard black men’s comb. Our physician recommended we be sensitive, and we had to be; if we were rough, the skin would break and bleed. It did, and over time we learned how much pressure to apply.

Phase 2: The next step of re-growth were the fine, spikey shoots. These would grow to several millimeters, then fall out, much like a newborn’s hair. After a few days, the hair would then come in again, but this time, without the cradle cap. Further, the hair itself was strong, thick and never, ever came out. The doctors tested the strength, to be sure this was the real deal, and would tug on the hair. Sure enough, her strands weren’t going anywhere.

Our doctors were extraordinarily pleased, and the shock of the western doctors were high. But when I started asking around to my friends who are nurses, or naturopaths or chiropractitioners, most had heard of, and were using some brand or version of Zeolite! Gah!! As one female nutritionist told me, “I’ve been using it for years because I want to eat fish, and all fish has high metals, no matter what the food companies say,” she contended. Other than metals getting out of her system, I asked if she realized any other benefits. “My hair became thick again,” she said.

Apply to scalp nightly and wash the hair in the morning

While we were thrilled with our results, Dr. Albert asked if we’d been taking Magnesium either liquid of internal. Neither, was our answer. I’d never thought of it. He counseled us to immediately get liquid Magnesium and apply it nightly to Porsche’s hair, which we did. The rate of Porsche’s hair growth markedly increased, and then I asked the Dr. Albert is she could take it internally as well. He said of course. That day, we all started taking a once a day Magnesium supplement.

The added results of the Magnesium were beyond our expectations. About 2 weeks after adding the topical and internal versions, the little fuzzy shoots appeared faster and thicker. As the doctor explained, it was accelerating the healthy hair growth that had been aided by the metal removing Zeolite.

Adult benefits

Rog and I were beneficiaries of this newfound supplement regimen, albeit on a smaller scale. Neither one of us have ever used the magnesium on our heads, but decided to take it internally, along with the zeolite.

Another lesson learned: hair loss returns….

We learned if either one of us failed to take our zeolite while continuing to eat meat, fish or other proteins that are down at the bottom of the food chain, then our hair started to fall out again, and does so rapidly. (It still does). Also, when the water consumption dipped below eight glasses, the hair also started to come out. Case in point, once Porsche got lazy and didn’t take her Zeolite and in two weeks, she showed bald spots. Those same spots take three to six months to fill back in. For myself, I lose hair all around, but it’s most obvious at the tip of my hair, at the crown of my head. Not a great spot to be losing hair.

A recent example was when we went to Cancun. In theory, Atlantic-caught fish is ‘safer’ than Pacific because it’s further from Fukashima. Wrong. It doesn’t matter. After all these years, it’s all pretty much the same, and we learned this first hand because Porsche had remembered her Zeolite, and I’d forgotten. Still, I made the conscious decision to have seafood every day, my typical indulgence tuna tacos or tuna sashimi. Seven days in, when my hair was wet, I’d run my fingers through and they’d be covered with hair. Ten days, doing the same thing while dry resulted it the same, awful experience. By day fourteen, I was convinced I was going bald because of all the hair on the bottom of the shower. My husband talked me down from the follicly-challenged edge, reiterating it would all be ok when I got home.

He was in fact, correct, but it took another week or two before the hair stopped falling out in droves. As I bided my time of waiting, I just repeated to myself that the roots were infected and I needed to clean them out. Today, about 2 months later, my hair not only rebounded, but I have hair growing thick at the top of my forehead.

I couldn’t be happier.

In the next installment, I’m going to go through the side effects and downsides of what I’ve covered so far (not the supplements, but the shots). They were serious and sort of awful, but each one temporary and ultimately rectified.

Here’s what you can start to do immediately, and as we witnessed first-hand; the doctors were right. There were/are nothing but positive effects from the following?

Topical medicine & treatments

  • Morning and night, Porsche has used (and still uses) an over the counter steroid, known as Hydrocortisone 1% (see pic above). This is a topical steroid. All the other commentary about what it helps (itching, psoriasis etc.) are other ailments it apparently helps, but these are not our issues. This has helped the hair follicles remain open as her system became cleaned out. We have her continue to use it because her hair is not fully-grown in.
  • Magnesium oil (see pic above). This is topic, and is applied at night so she can wash it out in the morning. Why night? It turns white and become sticky. It’s not smelly at all, but it’s not the type of thing you want people to see in your hair either. She applies it every night. If she misses for a day or two a month, it doesn’t have an impact. However, if she misses more than that, it’s noticeable.
    **a note on the magnesium. If she brushes her hair/scalp vigorously prior to applying, it stings because her scalp is still sensitive. Watch out on that though—you don’t want the burning, which is akin to getting your hair bleached and the toxic chemicals hitting the scalp- it hurts.

Internal supplements

  • Daily: prenatal vitamin, magnesium, collagen, flaxseed oil and a barley green pills.

Feature picture: myself and Porsche when she was three and I was pregnant with my second daughter.

A daughter, a mystery illness and baldness

Hair loss affects everyone

When my daughter Porsche was six, she became accustomed to strangers walking up and rubbing her head, muttering in a language she couldn’t understand. Two years later, parents and children would see her and cross the street in order to avoid coming in contact with her. Back then, I would have given anything for information, solutions and ultimately hope—which is what I intend to give to you.

In this, the first of a three-part series relating to the last seven years, I’ll go through the causes, what we tried and what finally worked. The last posting will be about a few of the pitfalls we encountered along the way.

Part 1: the beginning

When we visited Hawaii in December, four months after the Fukashima nuclear reactor melt-down, we thought nothing of being in the water. For two weeks, Porsche lived in the bay, at least four to six hours a day, every day. I was in the water the second most, but was tending my two year-old quite a bit, so my time was limited.

The year before it all started, showing our hair.

Three months later, bald spots started appearing on Porsche’s head, first a dime, here and there, then a quarter size. By June her head looked like it was diseased. What started as a “simple case of hair loss, or alopecia,” as is commonly referred to in dermatology circles, gradually evolved in a medical mystery.  much more than that.

The hair started to go. Comb-overs, bangs and massive swaths.
The journey begins

Mom has always told me she can see the sadness in my eyes.

“Don’t deny it,” she’d say to me. “It can’t be disguised.”

When Porsche’s hair loss began, I started removing myself from pictures of my travels. That’s why you are seeing many of my posts over the last number years—up until this year, that I’m simply not in the pictures. (and here you thought I was being modest or shy all this time).

About nine months after the hair loss began, we began doubting the initial diagnosis by the (3) dermatologists. They’d promised rapid replenishment of hair, prescribed topic steroids and regular injections of steroids into the scalp. Our little six year-old had received her first set of injections in one bald spot, then another, the count growing from ten, then twenty, to a total of 59 shots in the first appointment. As the bald spots increased, do did the number of needles in her head. After two months, she was receiving over three hundred shots in her head, without numbing cream (it didn’t work) or numbing injections.

All the hair had gone underneath–the top layer was all that is covering the rest of her scalp.
Judgement and rejection

During this time, the suffering was as emotional and mental as it was physical. Mothers of Porsche’s friends requested we not attend playdates or activities where our children would interact. In truth, Porsche looked like a victim suffering from a transferable disease, and the kinder-hearted would assume leukemia. To the fearful and uniformed, even in a city like Seattle, she was treated as though she had Ebola. We would literally have parents see us, and walk across the other side of the road.

Six months later…..

For those who did have the courage to ask, we responded honestly. “We don’t know what’s wrong, nor do the doctors,” I’d admit. That led to more ostracization by the parents concerned enough ask our child be placed in a separate classroom.

In the end, we could not longer hide and cover up the hair loss.

Over time, the questions changed, but they still felt like punches on an open wound.

“Your daughter used to be the tallest in the class. Has she stopped growing?” What I wanted to say was that the steroids we were using to keep my daughter’s hair follicles open were killing her hormones, and she was likely going to become sterile as a consequence, but thanks for asking. Instead, I’d used the well-honed technique of redirecting the topic of conversation to how much the accomplishments of their own child.

Hair follicles and injections

The months passed and the injections increased, now reaching 500 every six weeks, about the time it took the bruising the small scabs to heal then come off. Side note: injections in children, done by needle, are done without numbing cream or numbing injections. It’s not legal in some states, and in others, we learned the hard way that to numb the head requires injections themselves, then waiting, then another round of needles. We learned the hard way that the numbing agent didn’t always work, because the amount allowed to young children is so small. In effect, this caused Porsche more pain, because the number of shots effectively doubled. It took only several sessions for Porsche to announce that she would take all the shots straight, no numbing at all. Tough girl.

Why the injections?

We were referred to Dr. Robert Nebalski, one of the premier hair-loss specialists in the northwest, who had been working with peers in Italy and around the world on the causes and solutions to hair loss. He told us that no, he had no idea why Porsche was losing her hair, but until we found the cause, and identified a cure, we had to do one thing: keep the follicles open. However, of two things, he was convinced. The first, was that this was not “normal hair loss, or alopecia.” Second, the injections were a must.

“You need to keep the injections to keep the hair follicles open so when we do find a solution, the hair can grow through.”

Jump forward two years. Porsche was eight, and the last of her hair was falling out. Over the months, I’d been cutting her thick hair to make it appear thicker, and has become creative with comb-overs, braids and using headbands to cover the spots. But on Christmas Day, as I brushed her hair, an enormous swath just stuck to the brush. I lost it, holding back my tears until she’d left to sob. The day after Christmas, it was my husband who took Porsche to visit a wig store specializing in children stricken by cancer. We purchased two wigs, one real and one handmade using real hair. The latter he purchased that day, and the second, we had made (more on that in a separate post).

As we prepared her for the coming New Year, and returning to school with a wig, we encountered the questions of “Why is this happening to me?” or “Why am I going through this?” Of course, these are questions we all ask when hard times befall us, and we don’t always have answers. The one grounding messaging I stood upon was this: we all go through things that make us stronger, turn us towards seek answers and then help others if we can. I told her that her experiences would make her capable of handling whatever life would throw at her, and someday, she’d be able to help others.

Still, we had to deal with reality, and confront prejudices immediately. We encouraged her to be forthright about her hair, acknowledging it’s a wig, she has no hair, and that we are working on figuring out what’s wrong with her body.

That was what she did, and you know what? It worked wonders. Porsche told her friends and teachers, wasn’t ashamed that she had no hair, and after her wig came off in a game of tag on the playground, she suggested to the teachers (and boys) that they be careful not to pull on her wig.

For the time being, we were still searching for answers, had ordered a hair made from real hair, and waited.

Wigs 101

Synthetic wigs are a fraction of the cost of real hair, as in, $500 vs $4,000. The primary difference includes the ability to wash, curl and style a wig made from natural hair, versus one from synthetic. That said, the synthetic wigs are so well made, one had to get really close to tell it wasn’t natural hair, and it kept its shape perfectly. The hairstylist at the wig shop demonstrated how to use the under cap (made of nylon) and place the wig on from properly. In order to keep the form of the wig, purchasing and using a styrophome head is necessary. Every so often, it’s required to trim a few of the hairs that would stick up or out from the synthetic wig, and it couldn’t get wet or dirty.

In contrast, a natural wig is treated like regular hair, because that’s what it is. We had the hair custom dyed to match Porsche’s previous color, so it matched her skin tones. When it arrived, we also had it cut in a shape ideal for her face, while long enough to style.

Can you tell which one is the real hair or the synthetic one?

A note-Porsche’s head continued to grow, and we knew that the wig had a lifecycle of about three years. When they no longer fit, it was my intention to donate the wigs to cancer victims. Imagine my disappointment when I contacted the local Children’s Hospital and was told they couldn’t accept the donations! Apparently, it would be a big, political mess to determine which children received the wigs, and they couldn’t possibly select two out of many. Not to be deterred, I found a seven year old girl who had experienced two different bouts of cancer and had had been profiled in the newspaper. The article mentioned her father, I googled him and tracked him down at a local car dealership. He took my cold call, (thinking I wanted a used car) and started crying when I told him I had two wigs for him. It was two weeks before Christmas, and he’d told me all his daughter had been praying for was a wig for her hair.

We both cried together.

Later that week, our families met. They’d lost everything as they mortgaged away their life to pay for their daughters’ treatment. In the living room of a friend’s home, we showed his daughter how to wear and take care of the wigs. Her smile was so bright and joy so full, we were without words. While we were no closer to discovering the source of our daughter’s situation, we gave thanks we had her in our lives, and that she was otherwise healthy and happy. It was a great start to what we were sure was going to be a better year. o

Avoiding weight gain while traveling

Traveling is a great thing, but it does have its consequences, weight gain being first and most obvious. I’m like that person who is stuck on an all-you-can-eat inclusive cruise line, except there’s nary a boat or ocean in sight. The world is my culinary oyster and I want the all-in, shooter version. No messing around with me and my food.

Straight up, I’ll confess my desire to maintain my weight while traveling is all rooted in vanity and money. First, I want to wear what I’ve brought on the trip, which is hard to do if my thighs increase like Christmas sausage being stuffed in casings. Second, I want to spend my hard earned (or saved) money on frivolous things, like purses that are meant to bulge, unlike my bathing suit. So, from my shameless-yet-helpful self to you, here’s how I keep my weight within 5 pounds of my starting point.

How I eat tiramisu…with two spoons…don’t come near me or I will spoon you!
Eat breakfast, every day, without fail

I’ll confess. After high school, I stopped eating breakfast. It wasn’t until the weight started to pile on did I look back in wonder at those glory-days and connected the dots. Mom would rise early, make oatmeal, eggs or some variation thereof. I’d be stuffed until lunch, and even then, not that hungry. In my late twenties, I worked out in the same Oakland Gym as a Mr. Olympian runner-up, who trained folks from all walks of life. I couldn’t afford him, so I did what any smart girl does, I chatted him up. He put it this way:

“I’d be out of business if everyone did one thing without fail: eat breakfast. Eggs and oatmeal.” The other thing he said is: “Eat every two hours to keep your metabolism cranking.”

2 eggs (anyway you like), whole, not just whites (“Only hard core body builders who don’t want a lick of skin skip the yolks,” continued Mr. Runner Up. “It’s just not healthy.”

1 cup steel cut oatmeal. I add a dollop of butter and either honey or natural (grainy) brown sugar and a little milk (or whipping cream. Real women use cream).

On the egg

The yellow is the fatty part, which actually keeps you full. My doctor repeatedly says: “God, or nature, whichever you prefer, created the perfect food in the egg. Why would anyone want to strip away one part?” I never knew bodybuilders and doctors had so much in common, but I digress.

As for the oatmeal, the steel cut oats are coarser and I’m a texture girl, so this works for me. Also, I completely fail at any food plan when I strip away the good stuff in life such as milk, butter etc. So I use the age-old “moderation-in-all-things” approach to life. I am full, satisfied and don’t have a bit of craving.

I was actually pleased to read that Patrick Vellner, the “second fittest person on Earth,” has eggs and oatmeal as well for breakfast. Read more about his diet here. It’s not just us lowly Authors and Olympians!

Steel cut oats in the U.S. but variations of this exist everywhere overeas
No fail lunch routine

Is lunch the biggest meal of the day, or a pitstop on the way to the finish-line called dinner? I’ve vacillated back and forth on this philosophical quandary until my brain hurts. The reality for my family and traveling is this: we are seriously starved between 12-2 p.m., and invariably end up eating a really late, robust lunch. Then we have the afternoon activities.

The golden rule: Salad with protein, eating off the plates of others

I love starting a fuss, so let’s get right into it, shall we? Mom raised me right: “Do not lower yourself to eating off the plates of others.” Yeah, I abided by that until I had kids. My two girls are eating demons, because they devour everything in site and look for more, usually going for what’s left on my plate (because every well-mannered female eats and chews, to slow down the actual consumption size, thereby eating less, and losing weight, right? I think that’s right out of a 1960’s Miss Manners. Oops. I’ve digressed again.

The consequence of spawning two voracious rats is that they always order off the adult menu. That means three adult meals, giving me the opportunity to have my salad of choice and take a couple of bits of three other dishes (hence eating off plates). The financial hawk in me loves the $20 I’ve just saved as well, and the others barely notice my fork dipping into their food as their culinary fever takes hold.

Dinner

This is sort of the forgotten meal when we travel because my body chemistry is unlike my husband or girls. Whereas they sleep better on a full stomach, I’m the inverse. I sleep terribly after a heavy dinner. Sugar throws me to the ceiling, bread just makes me bloaty (so attractive the next day) and water…well, let’s just say I like to sleep through the night.

What do I do? If we go out for dinner or make something, I stick to whole foods, but I’m not militant about raw or cooked. A raw food, for those who have no clue what that means, is simply defined as a food product in its essence, without being changed around by the cooking process. All fruits and vegetables, streamed, broiled, baked cooked or raw, all count. My husband will look at me and say “I feel so bad for you,” to which I retort “why? I have an entire world of food to choose from and be happy.”

The details…what to eat and avoid

My doctor has always said this: “Red is worst, white is better, fish is best and pure vegetarian is perfection.” Well, clearly, God knew that I wasn’t gonna reach perfection in any form, so I tend to bop between the three. Still, here are few things I’ve learned.

Meat and headaches

Now, far be it from me to gross you out, but I subscribe to the idea that knowledge is power, and when it comes to my body, and specifically, why I was getting headaches I had to get knowledgeable. I realized that I was getting migraines about 15 minutes after eating. Through the process of elimination, I realized the culprit was meat. Yet the type and severity was inconsistent. Through more trial and error (and lots of journaling) I sorted through meat types (red, white, fish etc) and organic vs farm raised vs fresh for all the above.

Eating boar…as in the pig…in Lichtenstein….no headache issues there!

Guess what? Any meat, regardless of color, with fins or legs, that was inorganic, was triggering migraines. It was then that I learned about the US processing requirements and usage of…get ready for it, chlorine washes for chicken, ammonia for meat processing, carbon monoxide to keep the color of the meat an even red (because really, would you want to eat a steak with uneven coloring?) were all contributing to the issue. Read more in this article from a reporter who covers the food processing industry, and this doesn’t even get into all the nitrates that are used in the US. More on nitrateshere.

U.S. versus Europe

When traveling (and living) in the U.S., I avoid eating meat at any restaurant because I hate to hurt. Contrast with Europe. Due to their wonderfully militant stance on anything mutated or chemically processed, I can pretty much eat any thing I want without so much as a twinkle of pain. It’s divine. But that doesn’t mean I won’t gain weight or spend a crazy amount of money on food. As such, I apply my lunch rules, with a slight modification. I will have protein on my salad, fish or any kind of meat that’s local.

Oh! and the chocolate. Don’t get me started. I can barely eat any chocolate made in the U.S., but I’m in heaven overseas because it lacks all the bad stuff that’s filling up our stores here. Translation: I can literally eat 2 huge chocolate bars of any kind–Swiss, Belgian, Czech- you name it- and a) I don’t get headaches and b) I don’t gain weight!!! I kid you not. It’s unreal.

What to avoid

Soups. Soups usually have a lot of salt. If you want your face and body thin the next day, avoid the soups unless the server can guarantee the chef isn’t using a salt-laden bullion base.

Breads. What’s the point of working out and crunching sit-ups if you look like a four-five month pregnant woman the next day (regardless of your gender)? The note here is the same with chocolate. I can eat breads galor in Europe without headaches or bloating, but not in the U.S.

Note: Breads turn into simple carbs, which means sugar. Often, a woman will get a UTI on a trip and wail “but I haven’t been eating lots of sugar.” When I ask about break, she’d admit that yes, lots of breads, pastries and the like. Think of that as poison to the system, and running to the bathroom in pain is not what anyone wants or needs on a trip.

Tip: If you do get a bladder infection and don’t have access to a natural remedy, prescription or doctor, do two things. Drop the sugar in all forms immediately (breads, alcohol and deserts). Get a couple of lemons and use half, or a whole, in 8 oz of water. Drink as much as you can…16 oz, 32 oz with as much lemon as you have or can stand. It will push the evil out of urinary tract and out of your system. This simple, home remedy has saved my little self on many occasions.

Overload of dairy. Puffy face and bloaty belly. Two things that should not be in the same sentence, or on your body. I read a piece on the actress Eva Longoria a year before she actually was pregnant, the magazine proclaiming her bulging belly was the result of becoming pregnant by her new husband. She laughed and said “No! I just ate a lot of cheese the night before.” You and I may not be globally famous, but that doesn’t mean we want to be bloated in all the wrong places.

Absolute Must do: Flush that body

Drink water. Lots and lots of water. This doesn’t mean you risk your sodium levels collapsing, but you seriously need to have a gallon a day. It will wash out and wash away a lot of culinary evils. Plus, if you are downing lots of sugar, either by sodas, alcohol or desert, it will lower the risk of you getting a bladder infection, which is most often triggered by too much sugar in the system.

The mother-of-all aids: Sleep

How many times do we need to read that 8 hours of sleep is critical for metabolism and weight loss or maintenance? The only thing I will add is that in my experience, it’s not only the length of sleep. When I got to bed is at least as critical is the length of sleep. For example, when I sleep from midnight to 8 a.m. I’m groggy and feel terrible. When I get to bed 10 p.m. or early, I wake up and feel energic, happy and full of life. For most of the week, 6 our of 7 days, that’s what I do. Yeah, I might have a late Saturday night here and there, but I value productivity and joy; without getting to bed at a good time, I’m not either of those, which makes for a less than happy homelife. It’s exacerbated when traveling.

Note on the cover photo: that was shot at a convenience store in Prague, Czech Republic. Entire rows of chocolate….bliss.

Snoring solution: How we became a traveling couple (again)

Snoring solution: Who we became a traveling couple (again)We had a traveling draught lasting nearly six years; the time it took to have kids and find an anti-snoring solution that worked. For those ADD readers who don’t have the time or desire to read the context, the failsafe is Snore Guard. Less (and more) expensive options are available (see below) but this is an economical way to cease snoring and get traveling.

The backstory

All was well in my marriage for the first six years. Only later, when the soft bubbles turned into stones craping together did I realize why: we were young, the room was always a brisk 65 degrees, and I didn’t have children. Post children, my second-sense, ever-alert state came in to being, and the house was a lot warmer (72 is warm for us). Heat begat a new level of sleep restlessness, and I feel and hear every turn and bump Rog made throughout the night.

Enter the solutions

Because Rog and I always traveled for business pre-kids, we saw parts of the world, but separate, not together. When our eldest daughter turned three, I was taking her on weekly trips to Arizona, so she became a little road warrior. It was great—as long as Rog wasn’t with us, and in the same room. For seven years, he found, bought, used, and discarded every…single…snoring solution on the market, from the strips to nose sprays, along with various mouth pieces. The early products failed miserably (but some were great for cleaning out the nose pores), and the mouth guards pulled his lips or cheeks, and even some strapped around his ears. Rog thought he’d found the motherland when two fishing buddies told him they’d purchased the same “mouth-covering-oxygen-pushing,” device. The only catch with that was the size, the inconvenience (you must train yourself not to turn over during the night) and the non-sexy appeal of your husband sitting there, looking like he’s come back from the operating room table.

The ultimatum

In 2015, we’d had a sudden realization of our mortality when two friends unexpectedly die. We began to change our priorities, and that mean giving our family experiences, not things. The big catch was this: I could not, would not, travel with Rog if he didn’t fix the snoring issue. My max was three days without sleep, which limited our travels to four days. Further, I told him we needed a few shorter “test trips” before we launched off on a big journey.

Life changer

Armed with the carrot of a vacation, Rog applied his own stick: He arranged not one, but eight trips in a single year. He determined he wasn’t going to leave this life without being with himself and “his girls” as he calls us. I feared for my sleep (and my life) as he set about trying and testing the various types of snore guards, for he had shut down the oxygen-breathing-mask outright.

The Snore Guard Pro

Rog went to his vault of all wisdom: his hockey buddies. Some lacking critical teeth, many of a large girth, which makes rolling over (reducing snoring) challenging. They swore by the Snore Guard Pro. Rog goes out, buys not one, but two. They mold and meld to the teeth, holding the jaw open just enough to allow the air to pass through. This is all it takes to have a wonderful, blissful night of sleep.

The benefit is the cost. It’s about $90 bucks, easy to customize and use. The downside, according to Rog, is that it creates a soreness in the jaw muscles, which takes some time to get use to. It wasn’t uncommon for him to remove it half-way, or three-quarters of the way through the night because his jaw hurt. Nonetheless, on our 3-4 day trips from Alaska to Arizona, where the temperature varied and we were with and without kids, the result was consistent: snore-free until he removed the device. The device also comes with a small case so the notion of the guard and associated mouth juices and grunge isn’t foremost when you see it.

Avoid the non-molding versions

While cheaper, by 30-40 dollars, the versions that don’t allow molding not only hurt, according to Rog, but barely work. The size is also an issue, because the two primary versions are deeper and wider. “I threw away a hundred bucks trying to save forty,” was Rog’s conclusion.

Also, beware the “night guard,” phrase. This tends to imply a clear or colored teeth guard similar to what hockey players wear to protect their teeth. It’s designed for clenching and grinding, not snore prevention. This is another way to throw away good money (which Rog did on his search for sleeping nirvana).

Improving on Good

In search of the “ultimate” snore guard, Rog visited his dentist, convinced a better solution was available. Sure enough, for the bargain basement price of @$400, the dentist would create a custom version made for his teeth. Grateful for the advice, but unwilling to pay that type of premium, Rog did what just about every human with an Internet connect did: he went on-line and found a product for half the price, roughly $195. Once it stood the test of our next travel trip, he purchased another, “just in case.” A good thing too, because these little things are easy to make and misplace.

The key: After spending further hundreds of dollars, Rog determined that the BEST product is the one that is “upside down.” It holds the top four teeth (only) in place, resting the base on the lower teeth. Because he doesn’t want his mouth put out for public viewing, I’m willingly showing you examples in my own mouth, using his mouth piece. (Appreciate those choppers!)

The proof

Two days before we headed to Europe, sans kids, for two weeks, Rog tried out the new device. Perfection…and for two weeks, he snored not a single time. That was the beginning of emancipation from snoring purgatory. Four years later, our family is poster picture for mouth guards that work, because without them, we wouldn’t be traveling, at least not together.

Managing Migraines for travel and life

This piece is for anyone suffering from migraines, travelers or not. First, know that I have two proven solutions and a third possibility for you, one over the counter, the other prescription and the last involving diet. Second, this is my personal experience, and not a doctor’s recommendation. I write about what I know and what works so you can potentially benefit.

I have to state right up front I fell in to the doubting Thomas category regarding about migraines, as in, what were they, did they really exist or was it all in the person’s mind? As I write in my novel, In a Moment, Lindsey Gordon, the main character, realizes that she “mocks what she doesn’t understand, and then you get to experience it yourself.” This came from a place of knowledge, and it was migraines.

The background

In hindsight, I figured that God, in his infinite wisdom, finally decided forty years of ignorance was enough, blessing me with migraines starting at age 47. For three years, I’ve been a part of what I call the suffering club. Over this time, I’ve learned how to manage the headaches, and when I’m a really, really good girl regarding my eating, I can almost entirely eliminate them. But alas, I don’t always have that kind of discipline: I travel. I eat. I’m a slightly eccentric author, and succumb. Because of this, you, the reader, are going to get the deep dive so you can travel and potentially a life free of migraines. If this isn’t possible for whatever reason, you can manage (and ideally eliminate) your pain so you can experience all this world has to offer.

Migraine vs headache

Headaches (for me) were throbbing, dulling points of pain, which varied in location. I could always continue to work at the office, travel, sleep or exercise, and generally rid myself of the pain with a couple of Ibuprofen. (As a side note, Aspirin would make me nauseas. Ibuprofen didn’t give me that side effect). When the headaches increased in intensity, it moved to what qualifies as a migraine. Mine have always started with a jabbing point in my right eye, which progresses to a complete wash of over my forehead, left eye, then and down the base of my skull. I’d need to lay down, using cold ice packs on all areas , black out the room, then endure until it retreated.

Super fun.

Solution 1: Caffeine pills, specifically, Vivarin

The short-term, immediate and most cost-effective solution are caffeine pills. In particular, Vivarin. Now, before you shout at me that caffeine causes headaches, and that caffeine withdrawal can actually make the situation worse, I will agree with you, but only to a point, and here’s why. If you are traveling and you need to get rid of the pain, run right into the nearest grocery, convenience or drug store and pick up Vivarin. Full stop.

Vivarin strip- 8 per

This immediate solution was gifted to me by my husband on an overseas trip when I started to moan. Initially, he suggested an energy drink (which I hate), and I declined. Then he gave me a Vivrin, and within minutes, the headache eased up.

The benefit

Caffeine pills increase the size of the blood vessels and associated flow of blood to the brain. The increased circulation has an immediate effect (within 15 min). The was my solution for two years, prior to breaking down and seeing a doctor.

Why Vivarin?

I found that Vivarin worked better than any other brand available, and I’m not exactly sure why. I’d test out others when Vivarin wasn’t available, but found most made me nauseas. I have no explanation for this, only that my system wasn’t compatible with these other brands. Trust me, I’d love it if my head responded to all brands equally, but it just doesn’t. Also, it’s relatively inexpensive and over-the-counter, so you can freely travel with these pills across borders. Even today, I keep a handful of tablets in my purses and jackets just in case I run out of my prescription, haven’t been eating as healthy as I should, or both.

The downside

Sleep deprivation and “the bounce back headache.”

The first is obvious. The more caffeine you push ingest, the greater the jitters, irregular heartbeats and inability to sleep. This was intense for me because I haven’t ever consumed coffee or sodas, two primary sources of caffeine. I’d be up for hours (and hours and hours), but eventually addressed this by taking two Melatonin pills each night. After about thirty minutes, I’d start to wind down. For those unfamiliar with Melatonin, it’s a natural sleeping supplement. It’s a godsend.

The bounceback headache

This was an unfamiliar term to me until the day I filled my first migraine prescription medication. After the pharmacist heard my headache-to-migraine journey, he said, “You will really like these (the pills). All the benefits of removing the pain without the bounce back headache.” Users of caffeine pills can attest that the bounce back headache can be can be as bad, or worse than the original. Just as the caffeine pills work to immediately rid the headache, if you go off the pills just as immediately, (thereby constricting the blood vessels) the system goes into shock, and yes, the headache returns in full force.

The step-down approach

If you are going to use caffeine pills, plan on the step-down approach by gradually reducing your dependency on the pills. If you started with two pills, go to one, then a half, then a quarter. It may take a day or two (depending on the severity of what you started with), but you can still function. This is better than going cold-turkey and putting yourself in more danger (for irregular heartbeats—jacking your system sky-high, then dropping like a bomb is extremely unhealthy).

Caffeine withdrawal is akin to sugar withdrawal, which has been compared to withdrawal of serious drugs, such as heroine and meth. In fact, a dear friend who nearly died from a diabetic sugar withdrawal told me (from the hospital) that the doctors told him sugar withdrawal is 20 times greater than the closest drug. That said, I had surgery, used Oxycodone, and as soon as I could, went off it. In my haste, I ignored the doctor and went cold turkey (after about three weeks on the stuff). For two days I experienced headaches, cold sweats and fever-like symptoms. It’s the closest thing I can compare to going off caffeine.

Summary for the quick fix

If you need a quick fix, are on a budget or honestly don’t want to take the plunge with a prescription (which I don’t blame you, I resisted for over two years), then this is a solution that has worked for me, and may give you relief. Just use the pills properly and know what you are getting into.

Solution two: the prescription, Riztriptan Benzoate

The crossing point for me from Vivarin caffeine pills to prescription was when even three or four pills weren’t killing the pain. With that much caffeine in my system, I was having diarrhea (say it with me: awesome!) and I increasing worried about my irregular heart beat. Even so, I didn’t want to become “one of those people” who were dependent on a prescription. I tried every alternative I could: acupuncture, every natural remedy known to man, alternative healing…nothing worked, but even then, my obstinate, persistent self overruled my rational brain.

It was then that the Big Man pulled out the stops. One day, the migraine was so severe, I’d taken three or four caffeine pills, gone to bed, holding two ice packs, one against my eye, the other on my lower skull. It still felt like needles were going directly into my eye. All night I suffered and cried. When I woke, I was blurry, but functional, somewhat annoyed I seemed to have a dark spot on my right eye that wasn’t going away. Two days later, I finally got out of bed (this had occurred over a weekend), and the same black spot was present, everywhere I looked. My husband laid down the law: I was going to see a doctor.

The doctor listens, examines my eyes and explains the blood vessels were constricted to such extremes vessels that one literally popped in my eye. In other words, this “jelly” as it’s commonly referred to, won’t ever leave. It’s here to stay, in my vision, for the rest of my life.

Rizatriptan Benzoate
small, individual packets

This is the generic version of the brand name migraine drug Maxalt. Instead of paying $800 for Maxalt, I pay $10 for Rizatriptan with my insurance co-pay. However, when I’ve not had insurance, it’s $40 for 18 pills. Can we say massive savings?

I’ve never used another prescription, so can’t speak to alternatives. That said, I have friends who use other brand name pills but don’t seem to have the same result.

The benefit

The first benefit is the pills start to work in about fifteen minutes, almost the same as Vivrin. When I feel the onset of a migraine (again, usually over my right eye), I take one pill, which are chewable, tasting like mint. While the warning says it induces drowsiness, I’ve never experienced this side effect, nor have I noticed feelings of impairment. Sometimes, I’ve felt a little less energetic, but this hasn’t ever stopped me from exercising after an hour or two (unheard of, even with the Vivarin). For someone who went from a debilitating, two-day cycle of migraine to normalcy, this is nothing short of the Red Sea parting. Further, as promised by the pharmacist, I’ve never experienced the bounce back headache, nausea or other issues.

The downside
For international travel, this isn’t enough. You must have the prescription.

Quantity. Rizatriptan, and all drugs in this category, are in the same category as Oxycodone, so it’s regulated. That means doctors usually prescribe 8-12 pills per month, yet migraines can happen randomly, and in my case, 15-20 days per month. The pills worked great, I just needed more. The only (legal) way to do this was go back to my physician, which I did. But prior to that, I called my insurance company.

The right number

After a (long) discussion with the representative from Blue Cross Blue Shield, I learned the initial prescriptions are 8-12 is because: “Over the years, statistics have shown that if you need more than 12 pills a month, you have something seriously wrong.” It was explained to me that “seriously wrong,” meant some sort of brain ailment. Well, I wasn’t in that category, and the woman was sympathetic.

“My migraines were so bad,” she explained, “I had to get shots directly into my head once a month for three years.” Imagine my shock at hearing this. The representative told me I needed to visit with the doctor and request 18-24. If the doctor signed off, I could get my pills.

I figured 24 might be overkill, but 18 was nearly three weeks. That’s what I did, and what I’ve been doing for about 6 months now. Let me tell you this: By the end of the 30-day cycle, I am counting the pills and monitoring what I eat because I can only get the refill on the exact day noted by the doctor.

Summary for Rizatriptan

Excellent solution, has changed my life for the better, and in my case, zero side effects.


Solution three: manage your diet

While I was thrilled, overjoyed and beyond ecstatic to have my old life back, I have never been comfortable with the notion of being on pills for an extended period of time. So, for the last six months, I’ve continued to search for a way to naturally heal my body.

One day, my next door neighbor (she, a doctor, married to a doctor) asked me if I was “open-minded,” and would consider an alternative view of headache solutions. Of course I said yes, and she gave me a book that focused on healing through foods. When one is desperate, one will do pretty much anything, and I was at that point. To make a long story short, I read the book over the weekend, spending lots of time on migraines and the solutions therein. Very specific recommendations were made to reduce and/or eliminate migraines. Further, it listed the primary culprits of migraines, along with inflammatory culprits. The book is The Medical Medium by Anthony William, Chapter 10 is solely on migraines, and page 131 lists triggers.

Triggers

The list of potential triggers is long, and by process of elimination, I’ve narrowed down my personal “triggers” for migraines. This includes non-organic meats and sugar: more than a couple tablespoons, two days in a row overloads my system. Now this may sound like a lot, but it’s essentially one can of Coke, a bowl of cereal or cookie, or even some ketchup. Sugar is in pretty much everything. Regarding meats, when you are dining out, you can never, ever guarantee where/how the meat is sourced.

Nonetheless, I got culinary religion and started eating like a rabbit. While I continued to have dairy and eggs, I eliminated meat and sugar, which means most breads, unless I made it myself. Guess what? I’d still have one or two a month around my period, and that was it.

Food to kill the migraine, not just prevent it

The few times I did get a migraine, I held off taking the pill, and put a few of the recommendations to the test. I juiced up celery, cilantro, apple and cucumber. That’s all I drank/ate for the space of four hours. After the first hour, the migraine reduced to a headache. By hour three, it was a dull throbbing. Hour four, I felt like a million bucks. Seriously. That afternoon, I was walking the dog.

The downside

It’s not always possible to stop and juice up. On local trips, I take my juicer (which I purchased on sale for $125 vs $300), but honestly, it’s a real pain in the fanny to be trekking the juicer with me, going to the grocery store etc. so do my best not to eat trigger foods. Nonetheless, when I’m home, and I’m all stocked up on celery etc., this is my go-to solution.

Summary for dietary changes

A healthier lifestyle is nirvana, what we all strive to achieve. If you are searching for a natural route, I would definitely spend the money on the book 1 and 2 by Anthony William. They are worth it. For me personally, note I said “strive.” I’m not a no-sugar gal, or vegetables only, and because of this, I know that I’m making a choice to try certain foods, or live on the edge that may trigger a migraine. In the end, my lifestyle is probably 80% congruent with my body-chemistry, and 20% living on the edge. For that reason, I have my prescription handy, and as a fail-safe, the Vivarn. In addition to taking your camera and book on your next trip, include at least one of these items. Your head and traveling companions will thank you!

Overcoming fear of the water: Scuba certification

I’ve always loved the water, as long as I was on top of it, as in, on a boat, a water ski or a jetski. But get me in anything other than a pool or a foot of water in a stream so clear I could see the sandy bottom and I’d start hyperventilating.
This revelation came as a surprise to my family, because I grew up swimming in a lake with a sandy shore and murky bottom, going to and from the dock (or walking when the water was low). Once on the dock, I’d wait until I felt like a lick of heat on the surface of the sun before I’d jump in. Far be it from me to avoid participation in the ‘night swim’ where’d we take the boat out at eleven pm, turn off all the lights and test our courage by jumping in the frigid water, all for the reward of enjoying a hot shower and hot chocolate afterward.

It was all a front. The water freaked me out. Yes, I know, this coming from the dare-devil she, but it’s true. As a child, I knew that the Loch Ness monster was fiction and I’d never seen a freshwater lake-dwelling shark. Still. Anything below two feet was the great unknown, and it freaked me out.  I’d close my eyes, swim as fast as humanly possible, spending as little time in the water as I could manage so no one was the wiser. When it came to water skiing, I wasn’t the dare devil without a cause. I’d just found the way to spend the least amount of time in the water. When it came my turn to ski, I’d jump off the end of the boat, my ski boot on and strapped tightly, I’d gather the rope up as quickly as possible, scream ‘hit it’ and start to relax the moment I rose out of the water. I didn’t want that ever-elusive man-eating trout to snap off my leg.

It was irrational, and I knew it at the time. Didn’t matter. I wasn’t about to let on that it scared me to go underwater. Then fate intervened.

The Accidental, Glorious Cure: Scuba training

“Please will you come???” My younger brother was fourteen, I was 17, and he was begging me to accompany him to scuba diving lessons. Dad had signed up but couldn’t make it and the class was…that night.

No, ocean, no way. Not in a lake. I couldn’t even handle looking at the mushy bottom. “Where’s it at?” I asked.

He scrunched his eyebrows and cocked his head. “A pool, of course.”

Oh. Two hours later, we were learning the basics of scuba diving. The course was an accelerated two week course, the first five lessons all in the classroom (sooo boring until I started to appreciate the value of gauges that regulated oxygen flow whilst underwater), and then the last five lessons in the pool. We started in the shallow end, and couldn’t go below more than a foot of water. That was so inconceivably boring for a 17 year old, but it served a purpose. The steps of checking out the gear, testing and retesting, then staring at a little bit of water made me want more. We graduated to moving around in our little circle, and then were finally allowed to go in the deep end. All six feet of it. A 20×30 pool is awfully small when that’s all you have to explore.

Yet here again, it served a purpose. My fear of the unknown dissipated as I gained confidence in my equipment, and the power and confidence that came with knowing I controlled my time underneath the water. By the time we went on our certification dive, out in the Sound as it is known, I was ready.

The dive itself would be considered awful by the scuba-purist. The Sound is a body of water that is very cold (we wore wetsuits but the smart divers wore dry suits), it was cloudy (visibility 10 feet) and not full of exotic life. Rather, it was rocks and a few shellfish, except for….

The wall of death. But before I get to that, I’ll say that the first dive removed any and all fear of the water I’d ever had. There we were, diving along at 20 feet, and I was so comfortable the instructor was worried. “Aren’t you breathing?” he asked, worry clear on his face.

“Of course I’m breathing,” I said in my 17 year old trying-to-be-nice sort of way.

He lifted up my gauges to make sure they worked. “This shows you are hardly breathing. Are you stressed? Having anxiety?”

It was then I tried my best to explain to him I felt like I was floating on air, flying underneath with a quiet world all around me. The murky, freezing grey didn’t bother me at all. I was completely and utterly free. Diving was the most wonderful sensation I’d ever experienced.

He nodded and put my gauge down. “You must be relaxed. I’ve never seen a diver with such low figures for a gauge before.” I took that as a compliment, a sign that I’d overcome my issues.

“Time to get you to the wall,” he said, his eyes glinting. I had no idea what he was talking about. He told us that a wall of rock had a sheer drop off down several hundred feet. It would be the “underwater equivalent of looking over a 50 story building, straight down, and then stepping off.” It sounded freaky, and I figured this was going to be my make or break, poop in my pants moment.

The reality was nearly what I expected. We swam along at 30 feet and then came to the edge. Sure enough, we peered over it and look down in to the Abyss. Unfortunately, I’d actually seen “The Abyss,” and those of you who have as well, understand the nature of a huge drop off like the one in the movie (over a mile of straight down). In any case, my heart caught in my throat and I thought I was going to get dizzy. Yet, he swam out over it (and didn’t fall or get sucked in to the great vortex), my brother didn’t hesitate and swam over, so I had to follow. Then….we started to swim down the wall. That too, was altogether like the Matrix, running down the Empire State Building.

Then it happened. We stopped, and the instructor pointed to a dark crevice within the surface of the wall.  I gave him a look like “over my dead body.” I could just image an eel taking a chunk of my hand. He saw my fear and inserted his own hand. Out came a tentacle. It cautiously wrapped it’s limb around my instructors hand, reaching, retracting then extending again. I definitely wanted to try that, so I did. It was the first time I’d ever touched a sea animal.

I was hooked.

I went on to dive all over the place, Australia, the Cook Islands, Oregon, California and Mexico. These aren’t places that the ‘real’ divers I know even bother to mention. They go cave diving, ship diving (all require different certifications), night diving etc. I’m still happy to get under the water. In fact, being underneath the surface is the most relaxing place for me.

It’s not often that someone will voice a fear of the water, and I know why. It’s embarrassing and, speaking for myself, I never wanted to admit to a fear I considered completely irrational. I’m glad I got the opportunity to dive, and for the few hundred dollars it is to learn, it’s definitely worth the price of picking a new hobby (and probably a lot cheaper than a therapist).

Rapid Hair Loss

It started when our daughter Porsche was six. Her golden locks started falling out in quarter size clumps, what the doctors called alopecia, or hair loss. “Normal,” we were told, for girls starting around six years old. When the quarters turned to dollar-size swaths by the time she was seven, the doctors said it was “severe,” but still “normal.” Let me tell you this: nothing is normal about four inch strips of hair falling out. As Porsche reached her eighth birthday she was mostly bald, and with only some strands of hair left. Just before Christmas, we had the task of taking her to a wig store specializing in children, mostly those suffering from rare forms of cancer.

Porsche at 3

Porsche at 3

To shorten the reading time, suffice it to say that the dermatologists all said hair loss. The actual “hair doctors”- or those that typically do graphs, transplants and the like, said this was not normal. In fact, we became indebt to Dr. Robert Nebalski, one of the most successful hair specialists in the Northwest, for his work in tracking down and identifying the underlying cause of the loss was first connected to girls between 7-13. For years he’d been studying this in concert with another doctor in Italy. At the same time, a friend from church happened to stop by and mentioned that her neighbor’s daughter suffered from a similar condition and it had been linked to her well.

The well. This wasn’t the problem, for wells have been around for a millennium. It was the toxins–and specifically–the metals in the water. Those metals- and think of everything that’s in the ground. When I mentioned this to Dr. Nebalski, we had her metals checked and found her levels were off the charts. So high in fact, that she should have suffered brain damage. (At the time we were on a different well system).

Now, if you, or your daughter (or son, or wife) have had rapid hair loss that can’t be explained, look to the water. That’s the first take-away. Second, forget what the department of health says is actually ‘healthy.’ That’s general. Every person has a different chemical make-up, and some are more sensitive (e.g. susceptible) to metals than others.Progression over 3 years

The second take-away is that testing the water itself (for metals) is very expensive- as in, $35 per item, and for our full testing it was sub $400. It was a good thing to do, but as were preparing to drill our own well it was sort of after the fact.

I’m jumping ahead here and doing so on purpose, because if you are reading this page, you are probably desperately seeking a solution just like we were. What we learned was this:

  1. you can decrease the metals in your body (which actually reside mostly in your head, thus causing hair thinning and loss)
  2. the solution is Zeolite capsules by Omica. This brand in particular-no other. its basically ash that attracts and absorbs the metals. the body excretes it through bowel movements (pooping). Note: you must drink a lot of water
  3. keep the follicles open through topical steroids (and injections as necessary…more on the next topic

The last element of this is that we’d already been planning on drilling our own well, which we had started, and it was completed in several months. We immediately switched over (me as the guinea pig) and lo, my hair started to come in even thicker than it already is (and those who know me can attest to the thickness of my hair). I was on our own well for a solid month before Porsche started using it, and it’s now been two years+ of normalcy.

Get the Metal Out

Last March, my plants started dying, resembling my life in certain (morbid) ways, first turning brown (akin to my breaking toes), then limping over (breaks on left foot) then ultimately, hanging over dead like my deceased brother.

It was not good. The universal dark cloud of destruction was like this all-encompassing thing, causing even my plants to suffer.

New growth on a 10 yr old plant-wow. who knew?

“How could this be?” I wondered aloud, my plaintive question coming out as a half-wheeze, half-whine.

“Easy,” replied one of my older, and much wiser friends (Shari 65 to be exact). “You moved to a well in March, didn’t you?” I nodded, wondering what that had to do with anything. Our other friend, Holly, happened to be sitting there, nodding her head.

“Metals,” Holly intoned, saying it like she was revealing the ‘mother-of-all plant’ ailments. Of course I had no idea what they were talking about, and then I was schooled in the connection between wells and plants.

Wells, you see, have high metals, mainly iron. Long term solutions are available but I’m impatient and besides, for plants, it’s easy. The way to get rid of all metals, and the iron, is to “let it sit” for 24 hours in a container. Then it’s drinkable. Both these women have been on wells for the last 35 years, I was comforted by the fact that they both had gone through a period of mourning the plants they had inadvertently sent to the great plant farm in they sky.

This conversation was in September, and sure enough, I started using water that I’d left out for 24 hours, but most of the time, I cheat. I take bottled water each Saturday morning, look to my left and right to make sure Rog isn’t watching, pour it into the pitcher and then lovingly drench my plants, that are no longer stooping over or brown. In fact, each one has started sprouting new braches, a phenomena that is as close to the second-coming in this household.

“It’s a miracle,” I said one time within earshot of Rog.

“No,” he said drolly, “it’s the water.”

At least on that point, we can agree.

Preventing varicose veins

Back in Sept of 2010 when I wrote about remedies for reducing and eliminating ugly varicose veins, I should have written a section about prevention. Silly me. In my defense, I was trying to keep to She’s comment about the 5 paragraph blog which is the bane of my existence. I’m more writer than blogger, and not so good at that, but I digress on what my readers already know.

I had the uncommon good fortune to have a friend whose family was in the circus. Literally. Three generations of performing with Barnum & Bailey’s traveling circus. What, might you ask, does this have to do with vericose veins? Everything, for it was my friend’s mom bit-o-wisdom that I largely credit with keeping the snake-like demons of ugliness off my legs.

One afternoon, while we were inside their round house, which resembled a four-story high hobbit home (as in, hand-constructed and earthy, more like a mountain than a residence for humanoids, we were having a chat. I was watching my friend’s brother flying around in the trapeze in the center of the room, their practice space. The father was in his wheelchair (he fell without a net) years before I met the family, and my friend was harnessing the belts on her waist. As usual, I was in awe of the graceful, lithe bodies that swirled above me, commenting on keeping a beautiful physique. Somehow, the conversation turned to legs, the mom’s in particular.

“Just don’t cross your legs,” she said, something my mother had also told me. “It’s the most important thing you can do.” She went on to point out that men who cross their legs always have a lot of red marks and bumps above their knees. “And do you notice the women? They have red marks on the top of their thighs from the hours and days of weight on their legs.” She then lifted her calf to show where the pressure on the lower leg creates spider veins.

As a teenager, I took her words to heart, never, ever, crossing my legs. It was hard to sit sideways, knees touching, as the others looked far more compely, sitting with their gams crossing, ankles touching delicately in perfect posture form. As an adult, I struggled to look refined as men and women in business meetings crossed and uncrossed, as much to make a statement as to be comfortable. Not I. I kept the faith, just as I did for not wrinkling my nose, raising my eyebrows or raising my forehead in order to stave off deep lines (that worked!).

Years later, as women of my age started getting saline solution injections or having their veins removed, I have been fortunate to do neither, but have used the horse chestnut oil I mentioned in the earlier blog.

Is it the floors?

Quite a few women I now hang with are firm believes that the floors they stand on have assisted in the maturation of veins. Hard floors, particularly in the kitchen (slate, tile etc) are considered the culprit by many. I can’t say either way, since I have slate and have been standing on that for a dozen years now. Several women have ripped up their floors and put installed bamboo floors or cork. The bamboo is supposed to be quite soft, and the cork feels bouncy in a weird sort of way. It’s an interesting look (not for me) but works well in the right setting.

Teenagers reading this….don’t cross your legs, exercise, and adults, give your feet a rest and keep the horse chestnut oil handy.

PS the last time I saw my friend, she was getting shot out of a canon as I watched in Entertainment Weekly. Yes. people do live that life.

Dry Ear Remedies

One of the fringe benefits of taking up martial arts was the youngish, hot-looking instructor on staff during the times I found most convenient. I was married of course, he single, and about a decade and a half too young even if I had been of the four-legged, mountain-dwelling type of feline, but still the motivation of impressing the young man increased my determination to complete a V-sit up, learn to flawlessly execute rolling knuckle push-ups and stand in a lung poster longer than I thought humanly possible.

The impossible dream of him ever glancing my way for a comment other than to push in my hips or keep my elbow up higher when lifting a sword during a down thrust was dashed when, during a break, he asked if I’d been out in the sun. I responded that no, it was Seattle in the winter. Of course not. Why do you ask?

“Your ears are really dry.” With that, I slunk out of the studio as fast as decorum would allow, cursing my Swedish roots to the edge of the land from which we came. Why me? Why my dry ears?

It’s not like I hadn’t known about my dry ears for oh, say, twenty years already, since I’d hit puberty, nor had I used every method, tip, trick or remedy to rid myself of this evil malady. But no. It’s with me, like my long legs, thick hair and fat, cow milking hands, the progeny of my generations of Scottish cow farmers I’m sure (Vikings conjures a more flattering image, but I lack the prerequisite red hair).

Thankfully, I’d forgotten this ego-reducing incident until I had my hair back in a baseball cap and my 6 year old brought it up. “Mom, why do you have dry ears?” Off goes the cap, down falls the hair, covering my offensive, though perfectly shaped ears and I wonder…why can’t we all be perfect? Would it have been so hard for God to have extended his love from the outer edge of my ear to include the inside? It couldn’t have required more than a nudge fingertip to give my inner lob the moisture it needed.

Until this unanswered question of the universe is answered, I must rely on man to solve the problem. First, why?

Dry Skin on the Ear CanalSome common reasons include…bad hygene. People who don’t bathe more than a few times a week get the dry, crusty film. Over bathing can cause a similar result, since the oils on the skin get washed away and the surface becomes like the scalp–dry and flaky. The Mayo Clinic cites actinic keratosis which are lesions on the skin. I’ve never seen nor suffered from that. From all my research, ‘itchy’ is a common side effect, but I’ve never had a single ear ‘itch.’ This is attributed to Swimmers Ear or an ear infection and so on. All kinds of remedies are available for this, none of which apply to me.

Here’s what I’ve had and tried…(it comes and goes, like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons). During the spring and summer, my ears are mostly fine. Enough moisture, enough sun, the proper balance of both. Fall and winter, not so much. My mother hypothesized it was in line with the amount of water I consumed….

Natural remedy #1….more water and liquids. This certainly has helped, perhaps more than anything else. My scalp and skin produce similar results, why not my ears?

Natural Remedy #2… less moisture…in other words, when I shower, I must pull my hair back and get ALL the moisture off every surface of my ears. Just like my scalp, when the moisture isn’t 100% gone, my scalp goes berzerk.

Natural Remedy #3…the weekly ‘scrape.’ It sounds more disgusting than it is. We scrape our teeth two times a day (brush) we scrape our scalp by combing, we scrape our legs, faces (men) and armpits with blades, why not scrape our inner ear.

Here’s what you do. Take the end of a tweezer (mine is round and thin but not sharp) and gently run the flat edge along every area that is dry. This gets off the old, invigorates the new.

Natural Remedy #4….Along with the water, start taking Vitamin E or daily Omega 3 gelcaps. This is a long term solution–it won’t take effect for a few weeks. When I take one or both daily, my ears are nearly perfect on the inside, plus my hair is glossier and skin/nails much improved.

Natural Remedy #5 (quick fix-see tip)….Borage Oil.

Things that DON’T work. Lotions are terrible. It just turns the dry skin in to the ears version of pancake mix without the benefit. Oils are worse. The oils plus dry skin is a mushy goo, that still then needs to be scraped off. gross. The last thing that doesn’t work are Q-tips, or the soft removes. The marketing folks would have us believe pushing dry skin around is the same as getting rid of it or improving circulation. Not so.

Tip:

Now if you are completely desperate, getting ready to go out and you pull your hair back (or get your hair trimmed) and see the white dry skin, scrape it off (gently, so as to not make the skin red). Then apply a little bit of Borage oil from a gelcap. Borage is one of the beauty world’s best kept secrets. Years and years ago, I was told of a great concoction to use on my face: primrose oil, vitamin E and borage. You can find my recipe here). That’s fine for the face, but much too thick and heavy for the ears. Borage is light, and just the barest hint, when applied to the ears, will eliminate the dry and cracked look, allowing you to go out for hours and not worry about being embarrassed.

Spiritual Fitness

Today, whilst I was running on the treadmill, contemplating what topic to write about for ‘workout Wednesdays’ it struck me that I have thus far focused only on the physical aspect of health. That’s only half the equation, for what is the body without the spirit? (so said the Mrs. Steve Jobs in the bio I read over vaca). What indeed?

I’m no swami, but have a strong faith that serves to carry me forward through dark times, enlightens my mind and keeps me focused on family. I was taught at an early age that the spirit, and all aspects therein, must be exercised or else it grows weak, just like the flesh. Over the holiday, I read the Jobs bio on my Kindle (it was darn depressing, I tell you), yet it had a few redeeming qualities. One being the eternal search Jobs had on the Zen part of his existence, searching, striving, and seeking more. Of course, searching is not enough. One must apply what one learns. Through the school of hard knocks (e.g. choice and consequence), I’ve developed a few daily exercises or I grow weak spiritually–my energy ebbs, my outlook on life is grey rather than blue, I’m not listening (or receiving) promptings to help others etc.

1. daily prayer. Obvious, I know, but when I say daily, what I’m really saying is ‘meaningful’ in a way that requires me to verbalize my thoughts outloud. As a writer, I find it interesting that concocting words in my head is one thing. To say them outloud is another. Any good writer (and all books on becoming a better writer) council to speak the written word outloud. It’s requires thought. It carries meaning. The clarity quotient skyrockets.

Daily also means ‘whenever I want’, not just in the morning at night or at mealtimes. It means before a big meeting or presentation. I was seriously praying (silently however) backstage before I was to go on live TV with a movie producer from LA during the launch of my book last year. (I ramble, I get confused. I just asked for calm, peace and the ability the articulate my thoughts). My prayers were answered. My responses were short and concise (a miracle in itself). I smiled. I was calm.

2. Study-not just read-the scriptures. It’s strange. Sometimes I get nothing from reading the scriptures and other times I get a lot. Know the difference? Reading is just that–a straight through reading while on the treadmill or couch that I do. This is good (how can this activity ever be bad?), but not the best. About 2 years ago, I found my ability to truly learn and grow in the experience was found by following a 5-step process.
1) pray before hand that your mind will be enlightened while reading.
2) plan a specific time every day. Dedicate this time and have a routine.
3)have a pad of paper and pen to take notes, write down questions (therein is the studying part)
4) search/answer above questions. It doens’t have to be more than a verse (I used to set goals for reading–five chapters or 15 minutes type of a thing). Searching and answering can be much more or less.
5) pray upon completion that the words read (messages, meaning, understanding) can be remembered and applied.

Once I employed the above guidelines, I found the effort of scripture study much more enjoyable (and yes, it is still an effort), but interestingly enough, I began to look forward to it instead of dreading it like an obligation (like the treadmill).

3. Open your heart to being a help to another. This element of spiritual health brings benefits to others as well as yourself. Have you ever been inspired to call someone and done so, finding that the call was ‘just what was needed,’ to the person on the other end? What about writing a note of thanks for a job well done, then later learning your hand-written card (or email) was much appreciated? These little promptings are called ‘tender mercies,’ but also fall in the category of running God’s errands. Opening your heart to the prompting is the first step, but acting on the prompting is the fulfillment for both you and the recipient. I’ve found that the more I act on these promptings, the more I hear.

As with my own physical health, my spiritual workouts are stronger some days than other. The key is to keep moving forward, even if a bit at a time, to be as strong spiritually as one is physically. Ironically, the body will get weaker over time. The same cannot be said for the spirit.

Perfect Skin Secrets – Products & steps

Over the holiday, yet another layer of my rose-colored classes were scratched. I recently learned that many of the women in my circle have been using products for years, and I had no clue.

Sorry to do this-but you had to see the
skin results–no injections etc etc. a’course,
I’ve since gone back to blond, but the skin
remains the same…43 yrs old

 “No one reveals beauty secrets,” I was told by a female relative as she listened to my story, her voice including a bit of humor for my denseness. When I left San Fran for the netherlands of civilization, I didn’t have a need to apply facial products. Now that I’m older and have gotten a clue, that has all changed. A good moisturizer no longer suffices. From the articles on what men do for their faces, they’ve figured it out as well. Products help, especially those that get rid of the top layers of dead skin. Like every other non-sacred topic in my life, figure I might as well share what I’ve learned about facial products. Heck, I share everything else, so why hold back on the most important–or rather–most visible line of learning I’ve had??

Like other women, I paid a Dr a visit, got a slew of products, handed over my credit card, closed my eyes and followed this regimine precisely.

1.       Neova Herbal Wash, 8 oz. $24 w/out tax
2.       Neova Smooth Gel, (Glycolic 10%), 2 oz, $26.00
3.       Neova Complex HXplus, (Hydroquinone, 4%) Rx only, 2 oz $65.70 (includes tax)- this is the skin lightener for spots (the prescription version above can’t be had except from the Dr. This lower version is available on line).
4.       Neocutis Bio Crème, Bio restorative with PSP, Anti-aging. $109.00
5.       Neova TI-SILC GT SPF 60, 4 oz, $43.00
6.       Neova Retinol ME .30%, 1 fl oz, $49.00 (this is prescription only and I couldn’t find it on line)
7.       Vivite Replenishing Cream, 2 oz $79.00

For the 6 week regime, the routine was different than the one I am now on. During the 6 wk period, where I had dramatic results, I didn’t use the night cream (#7) nor did I use the Bio Crème at night (#4). The whole point of the intensive regime is to dramatically tighten and lift the skin, which it did. I noticed a huge difference after just 2 days. That’s because of the twice a day application of the smooth gel, and then retinol every 2nd evening. For my face now, I am on a maintenance program, and it’s a bit more laid back, and includes the moisturizer.

Here’s the starter program.

1.       Herbal wash (w/luke warm water), pat dry face
2.       Apply glycolic smoothing gel and leave on for 3 minutes
3.       Rinse off w/herbal wash. Apply the #3, skin lightener (if you have dark spots). Leave on.
4.       Apply #4 (restorative crème) then #5 (SPF 60).
5.       Put on make-up as desired.

For the evening:
1.       Herbal wash (w/luke warm water), pat dry face
2.       Apply glycolic smoothing gel and leave on for 3 minutes
3.       Rinse off with herbal wash.
4.       Apply retinol (avoiding the corner of the eyes and the corner of the mouth. It will burn and make wrinkles worse. Also, not on eyelids). Leave on overnight. Remember to rinse off first thing in the morning, as the skin will be ruined if the sun hits the skin and you have it on (burned red permanently).

When you are done w/the 6 wk routine, you modify by:
1.       Cutting back on the retinol to once a week (Saturday is best, since it leaves the skin a bit reddish). And replace with:
2.       #4 restorative lotion followed by
3.       Vivite night cream.

A few tips:

1.       when you use the smoothing gel, you also can put on the eyelids and around the eyes. It’s makes a huge difference.

2.       Go all the way down to mid-neck. If you limit it to just the jawline, it looks freaky. A smoother transition to the neckline is natural.