This blog chronicles my life as I try to balance healthy lifestyle habits with my husband's penchant for pizza rolls and my daughter's desire to watch iCarly 8 hours a day. It contains a mostly humorous, kind, and somewhat spiritual look at everyday life and the people who live it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Alternatives to the car

Yesterday we took my visiting mother-in-law into "the city" (I mean Boston, of course!) for the day.  We did what many people do when they go into Boston: we parked our car at the Alewife garage and took the subway the rest of the way.  We walked poor Grandma's legs off as we went on the Freedom Trail, to Faneuil Hall, on a Duck Tour, to the public garden, to Boston Commons, the Prudential Center, to the North End for a fabulous Italian Dinner, and finally back to Alewife.

If you know anything about Boston you know that we criss-crossed that entire city.  We walked a lot of it, but we also took a lot of subways, in fact we took all the subway lines except the silver line which only goes to the airport.  Even our Boston Duck Boat was retro-fitted to run on vegetable oil.  It was a Green Day.

Now as a Midwestern girl up until 2 years ago, I didn't even know mass transit like this existed except on TV.  I didn't know anything about subways, trains, or buses.  In fact my only experience with the public bus was getting on the wrong one to go home from the mall when I was 12 and ending up in the "wrong part of town", trying to find a pay phone, and having a tearful conversation with my mom as I begged her to come get me.  Since I've moved to Massachusetts it's a whole different story. 

First of all I live in town which means I can walk or bike to the library, post office, dry cleaner, pretty much anywhere I want except the grocery store which is too far away and on a wicked busy street.

Secondly I now regularly go into a big city with an advanced, practical, easy, cheap, and reliable mass transit system.

Thirdly I live in an area of teeny tiny little towns that have to be self sufficient because they are so small and so scattered and so walking and biking is more common as opposed to the midwestern suburban sprawl I was used to.

All of this has me wondering if all of this dependance upon mass transit, my own legs, or my bike are a result of my new geography or of a growing shift in perception about the way we travel?

What do you think? In your area are there viable alternatives to your car?  Have you considered alternatives to your car in the past, oh say 2 years or so?  If you have considered alternatives, is it because of gas prices?  Car prices?  The environment?  All of the above?

My legs are t-i-r-e-d tired from yesterday's jaunt, but my heart is happy.  We spent 10 hours traipsing around Boston leaving lots of footprints on the old bricks.  But our carbon footprint?  Pretty small.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Too much time on bleachers means I need to get out the castor oil!

This is not my idea of comfortable seating

Softball season is finally over.  20 games.  Each game lasted about 2 hours.  20 practices.  Each practice lasted 2.5-3 hours.  I spent nearly 100 hours this spring sitting on bleachers.  This would not have been such a problem had I been faithfully practicing yoga and therefore stretching my hamstrings, lower back, and shoulders appropriately.  Unfortunately the words "faithful" and "yoga" cannot be used in the same sentence right now.  "Sporadic" and "rushed" are more accurate descriptions which is why I'm paying for it now with a sore lower back, hamstring pain, and shoulder pain.  The hours spent sitting hunched forward, hands on knees and neck craned upward have really taken their toll and now I'm having to play catch-up to stretch my muscles.

Castor oil can be found in most pharmacies and all natural food stores

So that brings me to castor oil... (I really do have strange segues, don't I?)  I love castor oil packs to relieve sore muscles.  Castor oil combined with heat will increase circulation, relieve pain, and reduce inflammation.  I learned this technique from the naturopathic doctor I consulted to help me heal after brain surgery.  This is what you do: soak a piece of flannel (I used a scrap from an old pair of pajamas) in castor oil and place it on your skin where you need pain relief.  Cover the flannel with a towel and then put a heat source over the towel (I use a heated up sock filled with rice, but you can use a heating pad, hot water bottle, whatever).  Keep this compress in place for 20 minutes.  The great thing is that you can place the castor oil soaked flannel wherever you need it, it works quickly and lasts a long time, it's dirt cheap to make, it's completely "green", you can't possibly overdose on it, and it's safe for children and pets.  You can even re-use the flannel again and again if you put it in the refrigerator between uses!  (In addition to lemon peels and cream of tartar in odd places around the house my family has also gotten used to strange objects wrapped in wax paper in our may want to warn your family should you choose to do this).

After you remove the pack your skin may be a little red from increased circulation and heat and it will definitely smell like castor oil so you may want to gently wash the area with cool water.  Use this treatment as many times as needed and I guarantee you will feel relief.  I've read a couple of places that pregnant women should consult a doctor before doing this so you may want to check with your physician if you're not sure if you qualify as a pregnant woman (ha ha ha I crack myself up, I really do!)  Remember: I'm not a doctor (though I did play one once at the gym, but that's a whole 'nother story...)

I'm experimenting with rubbing a little eucalyptus essential oil mixed with almond oil on sore muscles and will let you know how that works once I have the amounts figured out.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Snack TAXI

School is out, the sun is actually shining today and the air is warm!  For this Midwestern girl turned New Englander this change of season can mean only one thing: it's BEACH TIME!  Most of the beaches we tend to frequent do not have boardwalks so I spend a lot of time packing up a cooler so we can stay for the day.  Recently my friend Chellie turned me on to snack TAXI, a Massachusetts based company that makes adorable reusable bags for sandwiches and snacks.

Okay, how cute are these bags??

A sandwich bag with happy veggies?  Adorable!

Their sports-themed sandwich bags are sure to be a hit

Snack TAXI meets all of my criteria for being "green": they use local labor and materials, the bags are washable made of 100% cotton on the outside and phthalate-free nylon on the inside, and the aim of the company is to reduce waste produced by millions of baggies each year by producing a safe, viable alternative.  The bags are now being carried at many retailers around the U.S. or you can order online at

I like them because they are a great alternative to (petroleum based!) baggies, they are sturdy enough to keep your sandwich from being mushed but flexible enough to fit in a lunch box (unlike rigid-petroleum-based-plastic containers), and they are so darn cute even my what-will-my-friends-think? 11 yr old will use them. 

As always, my opinion is completely my own and I have not been compensated by snack TAXI in any way. 

Reduce your exposure to petroleum, your waste, and up the cuteness factor all in one bag, what a great way to go green this summer!

Monday, June 14, 2010

What it's like to have a brain tumor

Recently a friend of mine suggested that I blog about what it's like to have a brain tumor.  She was suggesting this because I was telling her that the most frequent question I am asked by anyone who discovers my medical history is "how did you know you had  a tumor?  What were your symptoms?"  I completely understand this line of questioning because let's face it, if I say "well I had a weird blue rash on my stomach" we all know that every single person will look at their stomach for a blue rash as soon as they can.  It's human nature.

I try not to dwell on "the tumor" in this blog because I (hopefully) have a lot more dimension to me than just a 5 yr old diagnosis but I certainly don't mind talking about it, so here goes.

Five years ago my left eye began to twitch.  The twitch didn't go away after a week or a month or even 2 months.   Steve and I thought it was stress.  Finally it was bugging me so much that I went to a neurologist who prescribed 5 mg of valium to see if the twitch would decrease or even go away.  I took the valium for 3 days.  During those 3 days the twitch didn't stop.  In fact I was starting to feel an odd "pulling" sensation on the left side of my face, as if the muscles were pulled down just for a second and then released.  The neurologist ordered an MRI for the following week.  By the time the MRI came around I was experiencing a "zapping" sensation in my face.  Have you ever walked across carpet in socks and then gotten a shock when you touched a light switch or another person?  It felt exactly like that.

The MRI revealed a squash-shaped mass that was wrapped all around my brain stem and extending toward my left ear.  They gave me an injection of dye to check for cancer.  The center of the tumor lit up with the dye (which is bad) so my initial diagnosis was of an inoperable cancerous mass surrounded by necrotic (dead) brain tissue.

That was not a good day.

Later testing and evaluation revealed that what was originally thought to be cancer was actually an artery that had been completely surrounded by the tumor.  The tumor was thought to be benign and the diagnosis was an epidermoid brain tumor.  Very rare.  No known cure.  Surgery is best treatment.  Because I was exhibiting symptoms but was in overall excellent health I was considered an excellent candidate for surgery.  I had a brain tumor, but at least it was benign!

That was a good day.

By this time the left side of my face was mostly paralyzed.  It took massive effort on my part to talk, blink, eat, drink, and swallow.  Our family took a trip to Chicago and we ate at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant.  The paralysis was so bad I was unable to chew my food because I couldn't make my mouth work properly and the food kept falling out.  I was embarrassed, scared, sad, and angry.

That was not a good day.

Three months after diagnosis the decision to have surgery was made and the date set.  I was terrified because I knew going in that the surgeon wouldn't be able to remove the tumor, just "deflate" it because of its proximity to and wrapping around of the brain stem and a major artery.  At that time I wasn't worried about living with the tumor long term, I was just worried about surviving the surgery.

That was not a good day either (I threw up a lot from the anesthesia, which is hard to do while not moving your head).

Well survive I did and so here I am today with what you could call a chronic condition.  I believe that I have complete control over whether or not the tumor grows because I believe that diet and exercise play a significant part in abnormal cell division and our bodies' abilities to control cellular overgrowth (which is all a tumor is when you think about it).  I have not yet met a brain surgeon who agrees with me about this, but I know deep in my bones that I am right.  When I discovered the "cure" for everything is a mixture of diet, exercise, and attitude I felt empowered.  Strong.  Able to defeat all obstacles.

That was a good day.

Life is made up of many days, however, so sometimes my diet is pristine and I am a model for healthy eating, exercise, and stress management.  Sometimes my diet is a mess (as you well know), exercise is sporadic, and stress is managed by consuming sugar.  I have to be very careful to limit the bad times because I don't want to promote abnormal cell growth.

So what is it like to have a brain tumor?  Well, it's like life always is: there are good days and bad days.  I feel a strong sense of being on the right path and have tremendous faith in my game plan: research what causes abnormal cell growth (ummm...SUGAR causes abnormal cell growth), limit my exposure to as much junk food, chemicals, toxins as possible, and exercise to keep the lymph circulating and my overall level of health high.  But isn't that life?  Call it a brain tumor or high blood pressure or diabetes or a heart murmur or arthritis or depression or whatever else ails you.  Everybody has something that scares them, challenges them, reminds them that life is precious, sacred, and brief.

So much of what you read in this blog is my continual search for balance, health, laughter, and love and I know how critical the search is because I remember how I felt in those early days after diagnosis when I thought my life would be numbered in months, not years.

I love my life.  I wouldn't change a single thing, not even the brain tumor because I have learned so much from the experience and it continually grounds me, helps me to re-focus on what is really important.  I recently celebrated my 40th birthday, a milestone I didn't think I'd make just a few short years ago.  Along the way I think I'm gaining a little wisdom:

Every day that I am alive, my family and friends are alive, the sun rises and the stars shine is a good day.

My wish for you: Have a great day! 
With Love, Beth

Sunday, June 13, 2010

TMPP vs. Mother Nature

Have you ever started a project and been really excited, energized, enthused, and ready to go?  That was Steve and I 2 weeks ago when The Monster Paint Project began.  We knocked out the garage with no problem.  The front of the house under the porch was a breeze.  Then the rain began.

And it rained.

And rained.

And it is raining still.

Now I live in a shabby-chic-half-sanded-half-peeling-house.  I am the bane of the neighborhood.  The eyesore.  The house everyone talks about: "aren't they ever going to finish painting that house?"  I have complained about houses in neighborhoods where they didn't finish the paint job in what I considered to be a timely fashion.  Now I'm that house.

So this week I'm going to try something new.  I'm not going to plan to do any painting.  I am going to focus on everything but house painting hoping to fool the gods of exterior painting into thinking I no longer care.

We began the TMPP with my confident statement: "yeah, it'll take about a month.  We should be done by end of June."  Mother Nature had a bit of a different schedule.  She always wins.

Cost of paints and supplies so far: $500.
Cost of professional painter to do the work for me: $5000.
Ability to actually perform said work because the weather cooperates: priceless.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Can your iPad save your life?

Recently my husband brought home his new favorite toy: an iPad.  It is his job to be on the cutting edge of all things new and interesting in the technology world and of course the iPad was no exception.  He handed it to me with the instructions "play with it, see how you like it."  I ignored it long enough that our 11 year old picked it up and immediately began using it to maximum functionality and capacity.  I love how each generation becomes increasingly tech savvy.  My grandchildren will be able to program their TiVos before they can walk.

Finally after using the iPad as a coaster for a few days I decided to try and do one of the simplest daily tasks I perform on my PC: blog.  No go on an iPad.  It's keyboard is too similar to that of my iPhone (which I adore) and without the sensation of striking a key I tend to have a lot of typos.  So I wondered...what is this oversized, overpriced piece of equipment good for?  Could it save my life?

It can't make a phone call, so I can't use it to dial 911.
It's too small to be effectively slammed into my solar plexus if I'm alone and choking.
It's too big to put in my mouth to bite down on to keep me from biting my tongue if I'm having a seizure.
It's too light to use for chest compressions, should my heart stop beating.
It's too heavy to use to bang myself in the head to keep me awake should I already be concussed.
I could use it to search the web to diagnose and hopefully get treatment for whatever ails me, but with the oversized-yet-still-too-small-keyboard I might end up getting a misdiagnosis.
I could also use it to watch life-saving-technique movies.
Or youtube videos.
Or read life-saving-how-to books online.

Verdict: I don't think the iPad is going to save my life, but I think it may change it.  As I watched my daughter instantly take to the latest technology gadget I realized that for her, as for many in her generation, it's not about what the latest gadget can do, it's about the constant quest to make things bigger, better, smaller, more advanced, less costly, and have more functionality. 

I don't think the iPad represents all that big of an advantage over the iPhone, but I do think it represents what is best about our society's consumerism: the push to invent, create, push the boundaries, think outside the box, and create an instant "need" for something that was unknown just a few months earlier.  Statisticians constantly warn that our students aren't ranking high enough in math and science.  Critics predict dire consequences for the problem-solving abilities of our youth.  Politicians get elected on platforms that promise more focus on education.  I'm not saying they are all wrong, I'm just saying that in order to sell over 2 million expensive oversized iPhones that can't make a call you have to have a population of people who are curious and in the famous words of Albert Einstein:

"It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for what this delicate little plant needs more than anything, besides stimulation, is freedom. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty."

And that, my friends, is what every single one of those 2 million iPads is doing for our country.  Inspiring curiosity.  Inspiring new ideas.  New apps.  New ways to use this piece of equipment about which so much is heralded yet not a lot is yet discovered.  If you are worried that your kids can't think.  Can't dream.  Can't imagine, create, or learn, buy them an iPad.  Leave them alone.  Let them explore.

Let them be curious.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Oh American Express, how you disappoint me...

Guess what I found on my AmEx bill this month?  A charge from AEPC for $89.90.  An unauthorized charge.  A charge I didn't ask for, want, or know about.  I immediately contacted American Express to let them know about this fraudulent charge.  I was concerned: was my credit card number compromised?  Who put on this charge?  American Express assured me, all is well, Beth, WE ARE THE ONES WHO PUT ON THE FRAUDULENT CHARGE!


Why would AmEx be defrauding me?  I'm their customer!   Heck, I've been a huge spokesperson for how much I enjoy my card and its benefits.  So I search back statements.  I am able to go back online to May 2, 2008.  Well, well, well, isn't this interesting?  In May of 2008 AEPC for 79.90 appears.  May of 2009 AEPC for 89.90, and May 0f 2010 AEPC for 89.90.  Guess what I would probably find if I could search back to 2007, 2006, and 2005 when I first got the card? 

And now for the kicker: AmEx agreed to refund the 2010 charge, which they did on June 2, but they are deciding whether or not they want to refund the ones in 2009 and 2008!  They said it would take them about 30 days to decide whether or not they would give me back my money that they, without my permission, fraudulently took.  I can't even search back far enough online to see how much money they have really stolen and here they are deciding if they will give back the money they stole that I can prove?  Are they kidding?  Then they emailed me an online survey to rate the customer service I received.  Customer service?  I'm sorry where in the words 'customer service' do they feel that 'defrauding', 'stealing', 'lying', and 'underhanded' fit in? 

American Express I was always so proud to carry your card.  I have faithfully paid my bills, used your card whenever possible, touted its virtues, priveleges, and rewards to all who would listen, and, most of all, trusted the good reputation your name carries.  Now I find out you've been fleecing me every year for the past 3 years (probably more) and you didn't even have the courtesy to show remorse when I called you on it.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What is a dairy allergy anyway? (Let's talk about leukotrienes!)

It's not just the dairy that can make you sick

As I've mentioned before I am allergic to dairy.  Being allergic to dairy is not the same as being lactose intolerant but unlike other food allergies, it can be very similar to "seasonal" allergies.  Lactose intolerance occurs when a person's digestive tract does not secrete enough of the enzyme lactase which is necessary to digest the protein lactose.   Symptoms that you are lactose intolerant include stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and/or gas after eating foods containing lactose (milk sugar).

That's not what happens to me.  When I first consume dairy nothing much happens.  This is probably why I went until about the age of 33 with no idea I was allergic to dairy.  My entire childhood was spent with my throat feeling itchy, my tongue feeling "funny", hives mysteriously appearing and disappearing on my face and upper body, and oh yeah, my stomach cramping and lots of diarrhea too.  I drank milk with at least 2 meals a day, frequently ate ice cream, and loved cheese.  Because dairy was such a big part of my diet it never occurred to me that what I was feeling wasn't normal.  I also had strep throat and tonsillitis at least 4 times a year and tonsil stones all year long. And constant sinus congestion.   Inflammation was my middle name.  Oh, and even my acne had acne.  More inflammation.

As the years went by I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and seasonal allergies.  Sinusitis and rhinitis.  Things got worse.  My seasonal allergies went all year long, my face was always broken out, my lower abdomen bulged even in high school and college when I thought I looked best when I weighed under 100 pounds.  Believe it or not, the bad skin, bad bowels, and bad sinuses weren't the worst part: it was the endless itching.   Hives would appear in waves from my scalp to my stomach.  That is what it feels like to have a dairy allergy.  Does this sound like you?

So let's talk about leukotrienes (I swear I don't make these names up!)   Leukotrienes are fatty molecules that are part of the immune system and are usually accompanied by histamine and contribute to inflammation.  The production or overproduction of leukotrienes is directly influenced by arichidonic acid, a molecule found exclusively in animal products.  In other words, it wasn't just the dairy products contributing to my overall poor health, it was probably the dairy products, the meat products, and the egg products!  When I decided to become vegan every single "allergy" symptom disappeared and my face cleared up.  Hmmmm...

Over the years I have become a very lax vegan.  I got tired of preparing 2 dinners: one for me and one for Steve and our daughter.  I got tired of being "high maintenance" at restaurants.  I got tired of never being able to just "stop for a burger" -- it seemed like everything took so much planning.  I still don't eat dairy products (mostly because of the hives that I still get, even inside my mouth and throat!) but I've noticed a gradual but persistent return of "seasonal" allergies as more and more animal products have crept into my diet.  I have a feeling I know the culprits: it's those darn leukotrienes!

Now I have absolutely nothing against becoming a dedicated vegan again, but in case you do I have some other suggestions: Omega-3 fatty acids are the most effective at keeping those pesky leukotriene levels in check.  You know the sources of Omega-3s: salmon, walnuts, olive oil, supplements, etc. but did you know about the connection between sugar and leukotriene levels?  Ah yes, the evil warlord sugar rears its ugly head again.  Apparently sugar is so effective at causing inflammation in the body that it puts the immune system into overdrive and kicks those leukotriene and histamine levels waaaaaaay up.  Thus even if you eliminate all animal products and take truckloads of Omega-3 supplements if you also knock back a  few completely vegan Cokes, you're undoing all the good you've done.  Imagine what my former ice cream consumption did to me?  No wonder I spent a week every 3 months suffering from tonisillitis!

It just doesn't seem fair, does it?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Natural Citrus Solvent

In the world of cleaning up after using oil based primers or paints there are really only 2 products that are going to do the job.  Traditional mineral spirits and the new generation of citrus oil solvents.
This is the product I have been using to clean my brushes and skin

Mineral spirits, developed in the early 1920s for the dry cleaning industry, are the product of gasoline refining.   As far as toxicity goes, they are as dangerous as any petroleum based products for skin irritation and allergic reaction, but they have the added bonus of being a lung and mucus irritant when inhaled.  Petroleum products are nerve agents, long-term, repeated exposure will probably cause some level of irritation and/or nerve damage and in cases of extreme exposure: organ damage.  You may recall that I warned against using petroleum products in this post and again, it all comes down to quantifying your exposure.  If I'm using a petroleum lip balm and a petroleum lotion on my heels and petroleum based detergents to wash my clothes and I get some clothes dry cleaned and then I do a big paint project and use a petroleum cleaner to clean my brushes how well can I really quantify my exposure to that toxic chemical?  Luckily, there is another option.

Citrus oil solvents are safer than mineral spirits

There are a group of solvents called citrus solvents.  Not unlike their popular cousins Orange Glo, Fast Orange, and Citrus Magic, these cleaners use the oil extracted from pressed orange peel to cut grease, dissolve oils, and remove oil residue.  They should still be treated with caution as they are powerful cleaners and many have "helper" detergents added during processing, but they are not petroleum based, they do not contain lung and mucus membrane irritants, and they won't damage your nerves or organs.  The orange smell is actually pretty pleasant.  I have just found out about these cleaners so I can't give a testimonial as to their effectiveness on removing oil based primer from paintbrushes, rollers, and skin, but I will keep you updated.

'Cause believe me, I've got a lot of primer that needs removin'...especially from  my driveway...