What a Trip. . .

I’m taking a bit of a sabbatical from Hump Day House stuff for the next couple of weeks. While I work on reviewing the first round of edits to the first draft of the book I’m writing about this adventure, I thought I’d share a few photos of “the bigger picture” to provide some scope, or maybe scale, to the adventure we’ve been on for the past 9 years.

If you’re a Gen-Xer, cue the tune for the theme from “The Odd Couple:” How can two grown adults (and 2 kids) survive a 9 year renovation without driving each other crazy?

Stay tuned. . . and meanwhile, enjoy a few visuals of the journey!

Where we Began

Sometime in 2008, maybe?

The Demolition

The Build

When it Starts to Look Like a House Again

Details, Details. . .

Eventually. . .

In Honor of Memorial Day

This week, I’m deferring my Mom & Dad Monday post until tomorrow, in honor of Memorial Day.

Today, with profound gratitude, I thank the generations of families and friends of all the fallen service members who’ve given their lives during armed conflicts in support of the ideals of freedom for all.

Build Yourself a Merry Microbiome

One of the earlier elements that drew me to “the magical microbiome” was that both of my sons have food allergies, which I never had to endure, but which puts them squarely in the mainstream for the past 15 years or so (one has an all-too-common peanut and tree-nut allergy; both are allergic to mollusks). Both, by the way, were born by c-section, so they “missed out” on the transfer of natural microbiota that occurs with natural birth (I shared a link about that in last week’s post.) I also have inflammatory arthritis – an autoimmune disorder – so that threw a little lighter fluid on the charcoal, too.

As for our own ability to control, or at least influence, our microbiomes, diet is a key factor (see Sections 4 – 10 in the linked article). To be fair, so are other facets of lifestyle, such as smoking and exercise, but since I post about food’s impact on health, I’m going to stay focused there. While there is still a need for much further study, so far it is clear that diet has a significant effect, and specific nutrients and compounds have greater and lesser impacts, promoting or suppressing either the levels or functions of certain organisms. There are also suggestions (same article linked above) that a greater variety of beneficial microbiota is linked with improved immune function and overall health.

I promised last week that I’d share some more practical information about things that can promote a healthier microbiome. First, it’s important, in order to get everyone on the same page, that I define a couple of key terms.

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics

I think it’s a fairly safe bet that you’ve heard the term “probiotic;” and I’d wager 50/50 odds that, with the increase in awareness of the importance of “gut health” as many call it, you may have heard the term “prebiotic” as well. But do you really know what they are, what the difference is, and why each one is important?

First, their definitions, according to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP):

A “prebiotic” is a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit; and,

A “probiotic” is live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.

So, prebiotics are, essentially, foods that our bodies can’t necessarily fully break down on their own, but which feed beneficial microorganisms (I’ll share some examples of these in a minute) and thus promote their presence and function, while probiotics are the beneficial organisms themselves. Each is important, and neither stands effectively on its own.

Prebiotics. . . Yummm . . .        

You probably think I’m kidding with that heading, but I’m not. Many foods containing key prebiotic compounds fall on my list of “things I love to eat,” and maybe they’re on yours, too. This, by the way, is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it will get you started!

Chicory root is the runaway winner for food with the highest concentration of prebiotic compounds content by weight (in this case, the compound is called inulin), at 64.6%. It gets processed into prebiotic supplements and fiber supplements all over the place, but given how I feel about supplements, I’m not inclined to go there. It’s barely a food, but I’m including it anyway. The most common way to consume it is roasted, ground, and made into a beverage. It can be a coffee substitute, or added in equal parts to coffee when brewing (New Orleans-style); however, the volume consumed in that manner is relatively low, so realistically, though its prebiotic concentration is high, the amounts one would be likely to consume on a daily basis probably bring it about level with the rest of the foods on this list. Acacia powder has a higher concentration of prebiotic compounds, but it’s not an actual food, so it’s off my list.

Other prebiotic-containing foods include Jerusalem artichoke, a.k.a. sunchoke; dandelion greens; garlic; leek; onion (I can barely cook anything that doesn’t have at least one, if not all 3 of these members of the allium family at its base); asparagus; wheat bran; wheat flour; banana; cocoa (unsweetened!!); cruciferous veggies (broccoli; cauliflower; kale; brussels sprouts); legumes; unrefined barley; oats; apples; flax seed; jicama root; seaweed. If you have no idea what some of these things are or how to eat them, don’t worry – I was in the same boat with a few of them too, and below I’ll tell you where you can learn more about them, including sources for a whole bunch of recipes.

Beware the Probiotic Craze

No matter what, it just seems that we’re doomed in this culture (sorry – no pun intended, but now that it’s on the page, I’m going with it) to seeking a magic bullet for everything, and we are obsessed with breaking everything down into components to try to figure out that one mystical thing that’s creating a benefit; for example, the compound resveratrol in red wine. Remember when everyone went nuts over that for a while? God knows how many $ millions were, and still may be, being made off resveratrol supplements, and just about every other discovery of the latest “miracle compound.” Unfortunately, it has never been, and never will be that simple, and it will always be the case that our bodies are much better at synthesizing all the beneficial elements (vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, etc.) of *real food* rather than processed supplements.

Therefore, we shouldn’t all go crazy running to the supplements aisle for the latest probiotic concoction, expecting some kind of health miracle, most especially if we aren’t making other lifestyle & diet changes to support it. Nor should we fall into the marketing trap of spending a ton on specially engineered probiotic foods. Humans have been making things like sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt for thousands of years. Over-engineering and over-marketing them doesn’t make them any better. It just makes them more expensive.

. . . But They *Can* Still be Helpful

As I mentioned briefly in my post last week, however, there are some cases where studies have shown that probiotics do confer meaningful benefits, and more studies are underway for various others. So far, probiotic supplements have been shown to have benefits:

  1. When taken to offset the side effects of antibiotic treatment;
  2. In preterm infants, to prevent the development of necrotizing enterocolitis, which is otherwise not well-understood, but is often fatal;
  3. To help relieve the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

In addition, there’s enough anecdotal evidence for benefits from regular consumption of probiotic foods (mostly fermented foods) that further studies continue, and in the meantime, consuming them isn’t harmful, provided the benefits aren’t offset through the addition of sweeteners and other unnecessary additives.

Some Probiotic Goodies

Some examples of fermented foods & beverages (I’ve already mentioned a few above): yogurt (be sure it has live, active cultures and best to go with plain. Add your own fruit, and, if you must, sweetener, but really, try to wean yourself off that stuff. Cut it out for a couple of weeks and before you know it, you’ll wonder how it ever owned you like it did); sauerkraut; miso; kimchi; kombucha; fresh, sour pickles and other pickled vegetables; tempeh (as long as you don’t cook it too long/at temps that are too high and kill the active cultures); natto (made from fermented soybeans – I’ve never tried it); kefir; traditional buttermilk (not cultured).

It’s easy to add these things into your diet. For things like kimchi and sauerkraut, go easy at first if you aren’t used to them – maybe just a tablespoon or 2 along with a meal to add a little zing. My experience is that it can take a couple of weeks for your body to acclimate to what, in some cases, may be new strains of beneficial microbes. . .

Getting Practical

One of the first books I read on this subject was The Microbiome Diet by Raphael Kellman, M.D. As I mentioned last week, weight loss was not my quest. Self-education, and just maybe, a practical solution for some of the health challenges I and my family were experiencing, was the goal. I’ve included the link to the book on Amazon here because I still think it’s a great primer on the microbiome: what it is, why it’s important, and how to keep it “healthy.” That was where I first learned about prebiotic foods, and as the title of the book promises, a guided approach to incorporating them, and a microbiome-supporting diet, into your life, including recipes galore.

You can choose to follow the stepped diet in his book if you really want to go hardcore, but you can, I believe, still derive a lot of benefit even if you don’t pull out all the stops. He also markets a line of probiotic supplements; he tells you himself in the book that you don’t need them, but claims that you get a bigger bang for your dietary buck if you do. I’m skeptical of anything that requires me to spend exorbitant amounts of money on supplements, but since he doesn’t require it, he gets a pass.

Other Resources

A quick google search for “prebiotic recipes” or “probiotic eating” should yield a pretty sizable collection of sources to review for recipes and eating ideas. Here are a few good ones: MakeSauerkraut!; Paleo Hacks Gut Health Recipes; Clean Eating.

Anything you do to incorporate more of the foods that support the microbiome is likely to be helpful, as long as you aren’t drowning out the benefits with processed garbage and too much sweet stuff. It works for me. Just ask my arthritic elbow.

Happy Food Friday!

Bathroom Homestretch

A Different Perspective

Normally I’m writing this blog perched at my desk with my view of that one stubborn backyard oak and the occasional visit from one of our friendly neighborhood birds of prey.* (The oak, by the way, has now given up the last of its dead, brown leaves and, in their wake, is throwing off gobs of catkins and curtains of yellow pollen. Welcome, Spring!)

This week, rather than enjoying that view, I’m sitting down at So-G, our local coffee roaster/hangout, sponging off their WiFi. That’s because this morning, while I had quickly popped down the hill with Tim to set my dad upright from where he’d fallen on my parents’ thickly carpeted bedroom floor (he was fine, and this is getting to be alarmingly routine), I got a group text from one of our neighbors asking if anyone else’s power was out. Of course we weren’t home and couldn’t say, but minutes later, we attempted to open the garage doors with the remote as we returned. When we were met with steadfastly closed doors, it was clear we were in the same boat.

*This week’s birds of prey sightings, as some of you may have seen on my Facebook and Instagram posts, included a particularly perseverant Barred Owl (who ended up with a baby bird for dinner) and a majestic, and very determined-looking Red-Tailed Hawk, who was clearly on a lunch hunt. Bummed I didn’t get any photos of that one.

Luckily, the coffee had been made 90 minutes before the outage, via the “program” function on the coffee machine, so I’m sitting at So-G, ironically not even drinking coffee, but enjoying one of their awesome, full-fat Greek yogurt, granola & strawberry parfaits – just exactly as if I’d made it myself at home. Not the worst way to be suffering a power outage.

But, Progress! Relatively Speaking.

We made a lot of progress on the finish work this week, even if the bathroom door isn’t here yet. Sheetrocking, trim, painting, (even the front door!!) and electrical – all done.** There’s finally a switch again governing the ceiling light in the hallway so it isn’t on 24/7 because I’m too lazy every night before bed to unscrew the wire nut keeping it connected.

Even those pesky switchplate covers are now in place, which nearly always proves to be a short, but patience-challenging job (those infernal, tiny screws need to line up nearly perfectly in those infernal, tiny holes, and, as sure as I’m sitting here breathing, each screw gets dropped no fewer than 3 times, rolls across the floor and disappears – sometimes just for a few seconds, other times completely, seemingly sucked into a space-time wormhole, never to be found. I’m sure in some far reach of the universe, some poor alien guy keeps getting hit in the head by tiny screws falling out of the sky. I doubt, however, he’s cursing as loudly about it as Tim is here).  

**Except for the filling of the nail holes on one piece of trim that I’m about to describe; and the final coat of paint on that piece of trim; and the final touch-up of the paint all around the bathroom door opening, which was a bit compromised by the painting of the trim; and a new round of touch up on the wall paint around the upper part of the door opening, thanks to that same new piece of trim; and a re-sweat of one of the plumbing joints behind the shower valve that stubbornly persists in dripping . . . See why this whole house project has taken 9 years??

The Latest

Yesterday Tim worked on installing the hanging hardware for the barn-style sliding door. He began that process on Friday, but the lack of a stud where we needed one behind the wall precipitated the hanging of a nailer (this is the new piece of trim I alluded to above). That meant extra work: ripping one down from the extra trim stock we have, sanding, it, priming it, hanging it, filling the nail holes, sanding again, and painting it – not a huge time commitment, but enough to make an excellent excuse to call a moratorium on all work for the week by early Friday afternoon.

Of course there’s always an unforeseen complication, and it’s never discovered in the early part of installation, so when he got back to it yesterday and had made it all the way to the stage of testing the slide action of the “dummy” door (one of the cheapos we used upstairs temporarily a couple of years ago before the real doors arrived so we could get our Certificate of Occupancy), we found a couple of issues that required the whole thing, including the nailer, to come down again. And now we have no power, so. . . dump run!

No, Really, the Real Latest

Power came back on around 10:00 a.m. Issues with nailer and hardware were fully resolved, and the temporary, dummy door is in place, warming up for the real door, whenever it arrives.

With that effort under the bridge, and a perfect, breezy, pollen-filled spring day in full bloom, we dedicated the rest of the day to . . . yardwork. Everything looks trimmed and tidy: even the driveway, front walk, and front porch are clean and free of oak catkins, which have been piling up like lumpy golden-brown snowdrifts for the past several days. So, I think I’m going to venture outside now to listen to the evening birdsong and enjoy my catkin-free driveway view, because by tomorrow morning, like all the rest of the work around here, they’ll be back.

Mom & Dad, Inc. (Guest Blog by Nancy May)

I’ve always joked with friends about how my parents have been preparing me for their death since I was five.  In fact, as a little girl, my mom and aunt would playact that Mom had fallen ill and couldn’t get up.  While Mom lay on the living room floor, my aunt would yell “Help, Help!  Nancy call the doctor: Mom needs help!” 

Using my trusty red plastic dialup telephone strategically placed on the coffee table by where Mom was lying, I’d dial 911 and tell the make-believe doctor to come quickly as Mom was dead on the floor and needed help, NOW!  My aunt would run to the front door and clang the long brass tubes that were our doorbell, alerting me that the doctor had magically arrived at our front door for me to let in so he could revive Mom.  Of course, I’d get praised for a great job while they went off to laugh, relax, and share a smoke together. 

As I got older, I was told where critical documents were kept in file cabinets; names, phone numbers, business cards, what local banks we used, even personal introductions to the family attorney, accountant, financial advisor – and what was in each account. I got pop quizzes on all of this.  At the time I thought this was a bit overkill.  Looking back, I understand how life’s tragedies, such as the passing of their parents, and later my sister at age four made it imperative to them that I be able to carry the torch, on my own, if necessary.  As the eldest daughter, I was prepared at an early age to become the caregiver they now need.  

Over the last nine years my sister and I have gone through a steep learning curve.  We’ve learned that nothing can totally prepare you for what’s needed to physically, mentally, or financially to take over the care of a parent or loved one. 

I first wrapped my head, heart, and hands around this idea (which later became a substantial and complex project) after my husband drew my attention to small changes in Mom’s conversations.   Later, after utilities were cut off for failure to pay bills – which was always Mom’s responsibility, while Dad ran the business – reality and the need for action kicked in fast.  

With their first move into Assisted Living (this move was their choice as they both said  “we don’t want to be a burden on you kids), Dad called me in a panic five days from their move-in date.  He’d been blindsided by Mom, thinking they had two more months to go.  I jumped into the deep end,  learned to swim, and have been doing laps ever since.  Doing the backstroking has become much easier with practice.

We who care for our parents have learned to manage in our own way – often only with subtle differences.  My approach is to take charge of ‘Mom & Dad, Inc.’, complete with a team of caregivers who are with them 24/7.  Doing this work long-distance isn’t easy, and Mom, Dad, and our amazing ladies are always on my mind, and in my heart.  There have been some bumps and bruises along the way for all of us, but I managed to acquire some life and business lessons along the way. 

I’ve shared my journey with friends, family, and strangers.  Having heard my story and faced similar situations, many have asked themselves: “What would Nancy do?”  As an entrepreneur I’ve learned much from walking alongside Dad at his factory and getting to know his employees, customers, and industry colleagues.  Without knowing it, he and Mom have been the cartographers for my own exploration and learning.  Watching them flourish (or sometimes deteriorate, but they always spring back) from my decisions, I manage Mom & Dad Inc. like a well-oiled enterprise: overseeing their welfare; hiring and firing various ‘’professionals;’’ identifying vulnerabilities; and removing the weakest links quickly, in medical, legal, financial, daily care, and even supply chain services.  All the while, I’m keeping a focus that this is personal for them, as well as for my sister and me.   

This has become my nature.  Running a business and advising large company leaders, CEOs, and boards is a walk in the park compared to managing the business of being a caregiver.  Working this way has helped me keep everything in perspective without becoming an emotional wreck – although I’ve had those moments too. 

My commitment to doing what’s good, healthy, and right for Mom and Dad has become an obsession.  Like the service that I deliver to my corporate clients, I give the best guidance and support to others who become overwhelmed by what it takes to be a caregiver: courage, character, and confidence to keep your head high when the day presents dark clouds and fears creep into your mind. 

This is a tough road for anyone. Society shuns the elder caregiver, not knowing what to do with and for us.  It’s why I’ve started sharing options, opportunities, and positive outcomes that have helped others in a new Facebook group called Eldercare Success

Through this group, we caregivers come together, confidentially, to help, support and take some of the emotional, physical, and financial fear out of our own hearts. That’s the mission for me and others in our Eldercare Success group.   We’ve grown over these few short months, now that word has spread that this  is a safe and trusted space. In fact, we just launched, Eldercare Success UK.  There are no borders when it comes to the challenges we face as caregivers.   I expect that there will be many more Eldercare Success Groups in the near future. 

If you, a friend, or family member needs a safe, trusted, empathetic and valued place to ask for and give support to others, come on over and join us.  You’ll find joy in the little things, and a way to relieve stress and frustrations as we work to provide the best for those we love.  As I say in the group:  “Together We Are Stronger!”

Walking at your side!

About Nancy May:

Nancy May, CEO, The BoardBench Companies, and noted in Forbes as one America’s governance experts, knows the ins and outs of challenging board environments. Nancy hosts the Boardroom’s Best podcast, which was recognized among the top 25 business podcasts to listen to in 2018.  She is a regularly featured contributor to the CEO Forum Magazine, and is a frequent guest speaker on corporate boards, governance trends, and how candidates can “crack the code” that gets you to a seat at the table. She has been a guest lecturer and presenter for numerous national and international business and professional organizations and universities.

Ms. May  has been recognized by clients for her innate ability to quickly identify key action points and resolve complicated boardroom and business challenges impacting corporate governance and performance.  Her skill and insight into many different industry environments comes from her long-term, diverse experience with many companies from rapid-paced start ups and IPOs, to broad complex corporations and institution.

She also freely applies her skills to the needs of others like herself. In addition to her work in the boardroom, she has been the primary guardian and caregiver for her elderly parents for more than 10 years.  Openly sharing some of the most challenging issues that caregivers confront, she has become a “go to” for many executives and friends who find themselves physically, emotionally, and professionally overwhelmed.  Nancy’s strength and advice, has been a grounding force for many, includng that of her own family and an ever-expanding group of caregivers.  



Coming up Tomorrow: A New Guest Post!

Hello readers! Check in tomorrow morning (Tuesday, May 21st) for my next guest blogger post on the “Light My Fire” page of Fire Over Fifty! It’s a story that may be of interest to “Mom & Dad Monday” followers, too.

This week’s post is by someone I’m honored to call a friend, Nancy May. Nancy has built an amazing career advising corporate boards through The BoardBench Companies. Now, driven by her own personal journey coordinating care for her aging parents, she’s developing her next big channel, and she starts here with sharing her story.

Parenting the Parents, Part XIV. Thyroid Nodules and Escape Acts.

Time for some positive energy for a couple of reasons: 1) Mom’s thyroid ultrasound was Wednesday. She has a 3cm nodule (medical code for a tumor, and 3cm isn’t a tiny one) that is defined as “complex.” While that doesn’t necessarily mean cancer, it could. I should be getting a call from the doctor’s office today or tomorrow to schedule a needle biopsy. 2) On Tuesday night, sometime around 3 a.m., for the first time, dad wandered out of the house.

Not the worst thing. . . maybe

Let me take these one at a time. First, mom’s thyroid: I suspected things might begin to unfold like this when the doctor called me last Tuesday evening while we were on vacation, filling me in on what he was seeing from the CT scan mom had had the previous Friday, and letting me know that the thyroid ultrasound was in order. If there were nothing concerning in that CT scan, I’m pretty sure a follow up call might not have come at all, or wouldn’t have been quite so soon. So, when the doctor called last night, on the same day as the ultrasound, I was certain it wasn’t just to convey an all-clear.

Now, I do realize that of all the vast array of cancer possibilities that exist, thyroid cancer isn’t the worst. The majority of thyroid cancers are highly treatable and, overall, have a 98% 5-year survival rate. I also know this survival rate can be quite different depending upon the specific type of cancer, stage, and the age of the patient. No matter what, all we can do is take this one step at a time. I decided not to tell mom about it last night so she wouldn’t stress out and keep herself awake. (I’ll tell her as soon as I hear from the doctor’s office and have the biopsy appointment set up. I did prepare her for this possibility after the ultrasound, so hopefully it won’t come as a shock).

Secret Houdini

As for dad and his . . . expedition, Mom slept right through it, and only discovered it when, in the morning, she looked out the front window to see if the newspaper was on the stoop and saw his walker, sitting on the sidewalk, dripping from the rain and mist that had persisted all night. He had come back in and by then was snoozing in bed, but immediate action was clearly in order to prevent another such incident, possibly with a much worse outcome. When mom asked him why the walker was outside, he told her, in full detail, how he’d gone out and exactly where he’d gone (farther than he’s probably walked cumulatively over the past month). The one thing he couldn’t tell her: why he decided that he simply had to go for a walk, outside, in the cold drizzle, at 3 a.m. I think he was bored.

How someone with very limited agility managed to Houdini himself – and his walker – out the door, down the (thankfully only 2) steps to the sidewalk, then on a downhill trek with an uphill return that spanned about 400 yards round trip, unaided, is beyond me. I forgot to ask him what he had on his feet!

The Solution, for Now

There are two exit doors on their main floor (and a bank of sliders in the walk-out basement, but we keep the basement door locked with a two-sided, keyed lock so dad doesn’t accidentally open it and fall, thinking it’s a door to somewhere else). The front door has a deadbolt with a flip lock on the inside, and the garage door has a regular knob-lock, like one you’d find on most bedroom or bathroom doors, but with a keyed entry on the outside. I thought at first that we’d change the front door deadbolt to one that’s keyed on both sides, along with switching out the garage door with one similar to the one on the basement door. Mom could wear the keys on her fall-alert pendant.

Upon further thought (and a conversation with the lockset guy at Home Depot), we concluded that having 2 keyed locks could be a hazard if there were ever a fire and mom wasn’t able to find the keys (even though, in theory, she’d be wearing them; if she ever took the pendant off and forgot to put it back on, the panic of an emergency would surely obliterate her ability to think clearly about where she put the pendant and the keys). So as at stop-gap solution, we bought 2 magnetically activated, stick-up door alarms that go off when the door is opened and the magnetic field between the 2 contacts is broken.

Disarm Alarm

We “installed” the alarms on both doors last night, with the intention of going out today to pick up the double-keyed deadbolt for the front door. We tested the alarms, showed mom how they worked, made sure they were set, and said our goodnights. At 8:50 this morning, my phone rang. It was mom. I picked up with my usual upbeat, “Hey! What’s up?” It took her a good 20 seconds to communicate that she didn’t know how to turn off the door alarm, and she was not happy. Oh boy. It wasn’t shrieking in the background as we talked, so obviously she at least remembered that you just need to close the door to make it stop. I couldn’t initially determine why simply closing the door was so distasteful, but when I offered that as my first solution to the problem, it riled her up even more than she already had been. Oops. I realized later it was because she wanted to leave it open as she stepped outside and down the stairs to pick up the newspaper.

Her frustration built as she sputtered through what she thought she was supposed to do to disarm the device, none of which was making a shred of sense to me. I thought she was standing in front of the alarm and trying to figure out how to disable it. It took another minute or two of attempting, and failing, to guide her through how to turn off the switch for me to figure out that was what was happening:

“Are you at the actual door looking at the alarm, or reading off the instructions?”

“Both, but I’m looking at the paper.”

“OK. Put down the paper and just look at the alarm itself and I’ll tell you how to shut it off.”

After another 2 minutes of me trying to walk her through the process, step-by-step, it was clear that absolutely nothing I was saying to her was landing – the circuits were shorting. I told her I’d be down in a couple of minutes.

She was in rare form when I got there – upset and mean-spirited, saying she didn’t care if he just went out the door and never came back. I let that bounce off and said I understood – which took a lot of energy – then showed her (again) how to slide the cover off the alarm (even though she thought we didn’t show her last night), how to move the switch to turn it off, or to switch it to “beep” mode (so it would just beep once if someone opened it). Hugging her, I apologized (I felt for her in her confusion, even if her anger was really getting to me this time), but her dark mood relented only slightly. I told her we’d be back later after we picked up the new deadbolt, and beat a hasty retreat back home to finish my coffee and to steam quietly in my own annoyance.

The Solution, Part II

Tim had taken his niece to the airport, and when he returned, much to my delight, he announced that he’d bought the deadbolt on the way home. After he finished his coffee and got in a round of post-primer sanding on the trim in the hallway-under-renovation, we rolled back down the hill. Hannah, their caregiver, was there by then, and dad was up and sitting at the kitchen table, finishing his breakfast. Mom was nowhere to be found (Tim thinks she was hiding in the bedroom, feeling a little sheepish over her earlier behavior – he may be right).

By the time we completed the installation of the new deadbolt, she’d made an appearance, though with only slight mood improvements. Tim and I left to have copies of the key made at the hardware store and picked up a lanyard for one copy that would stay in the door during the day and be worn with her fall button at night. I had one of the copies made with a specialty head design in the shape of a little house, with the word “Home” on it, for her regular keychain, to make it easy to differentiate between that one and the one for the garage. When we got back, I tested both of her keys to be sure they worked, and she seemed to get a little lift from the “home” key – small victories – though we were still far from “normal.”

I’m considering whether I need to go over there every night to set the alarm on the garage door for her, then go back every morning to turn it off. For dad to get out of the garage and into the world would take a lot more (relative) Houdini-ing than slipping out the front door, so for now I’m content to see how it goes over the next day or so, and look into an alarm mat!

The Magical Microbiome

If you haven’t noticed yet, I read a lot about food and nutrition. 20 years ago it was cookbooks and cooking magazines, but about 10 years ago it shifted to books focused on the nutritional aspects of food and various diets. I wasn’t drawn to any of them on a quest to lose weight; it was more out of curiosity, and a desire to understand whether there were links between the things I (and my family) were consuming and a couple of chronic health issues we were experiencing.

Along the way, I started paying attention – really close attention – to how my body reacted after I ate certain things. Sometimes a reaction was immediate (I’ll spare you the details of what happens to me when I attempt a milkshake); sometimes it was considerably more delayed (big flare-ups of the nagging inflammatory arthritis in my left elbow a day or two after too much sugar – often in the form of . . . ahem, and boohoo . . . wine).


At one point in the early 2000s I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis when my PCP was feeling around my neck and throat after a 5th or 6th bout with strep in the course of just over a year. (I had gotten to the point where I could count on the sandpapery-throat feeling that accompanied its onset at least once a quarter. I called them “strepisodes.”) He discovered that my thyroid was enlarged, sent me off for bloodwork and bang – the Hashimoto’s diagnosis. I’d never heard of it, and had no outward symptoms, but we (some me, a lot my husband, who gets like a bulldog with research) started reading more about it. In his more in-depth exploration, my husband discovered a link between excess fluoride consumption and thyroid problems, which would otherwise have been a finding that would have elicited a shoulder shrug. BUT, we had discovered not long before that time that our well water was naturally, and exceedingly, high in fluoride. Like, thousands of times higher than recommended levels. So I stopped drinking it. We installed a reverse-osmosis filter under our kitchen sink and a 2.5 gallon bottle of water took up permanent residence on the top shelf of the refrigerator.

Additionally, with each of the “strepisodes” I’d experienced up to the time of my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, I was given “Z-Packs” of azithromycin antibiotics. This PCP was new to the practice, so he hadn’t been a party to those earlier treatment decisions, but he concluded that the strep I had was systemic, and opted for a scorched earth course of treatment to knock it out once and for all, before it did real damage. He put me on a much stronger, and much higher-dose course of antibiotic (wish I could remember which one), which consisted of 3 “horse-pills,” 3 times a day, for 2 full weeks. I haven’t had a “strepisode” since, and I think I’ve been on antibiotics 3 times in total in the intervening 16 – 18 years.

I also started practicing yoga shortly after that diagnosis, not because of it, but for reasons I can’t quite articulate (a whole other story, which I shared in a non-Food Friday post several weeks ago). My lifestyle began shifting rather dramatically as a result, and when I went back to the doctor for my physical the next year (to another new PCP in the practice), having dutifully done my bloodwork the week before, she was surprised that all evidence of Hashimoto’s was absent. She said she’d never seen a case of Hashimoto’s being reversed. She asked me what I’d done. I told her I stopped drinking my super-heavily fluoridated water, and started doing yoga. It wasn’t until many years later, when I became intrigued with, and began learning more about the microbiome, that I recalled that third variable: the cessation of routine rounds of antibiotics.

Enter the Microbiome

The microbiome fascinates me. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it refers to the natural bacteria that live, by necessity, inside of us (sorry germaphobes – that’s just how it is). In most healthy people, the “good” or beneficial bacteria outnumber the bad/harmful ones. We aren’t born with a microbiome – we acquire it, first through natural birth (or not, if natural birth doesn’t occur, e.g., birth by caesarean section); second, and continuing throughout our lives, through exposure – what we consume – consciously or unconsciously. That’s the boring part (though it’s far from static and can, and does, absolutely change as we change what we consume).

The fascination begins for me here: about 70% of the immune system lies in the gut. If you have an autoimmune disease and you aren’t actively aware of the potential impact of your microbiome on your condition, it could be worthwhile to learn more about it. Equally important (and utterly absorbing to me, if you’ll forgive the pun) is the interaction of the brain and the microbiome, one of the major components of which is the vagus nerve. Lots of things fell together for me once I learned about all of this: 1) how it’s possible for my body to react as quickly as it does when I attempt to enjoy that milkshake; 2) why I often experience a similar bodily response when I’m extra-anxious or nervous; 3) why it’s so important to eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly – something I’ve heard for years and kind of accepted, and now understand why: it’s the chewing that kicks off and sends the signals to your gut about what enzymes to release to properly deal with what’s in your mouth, and if you don’t chew enough, there isn’t enough time for the body to recognize what you’re eating; 4) maybe the reason my Hashimoto’s appeared was that the recurring use of the Z-packs was killing my microbiome! As I mentioned above, I absolutely experience flare-ups of the inflammatory arthritis (an autoimmune condition) in my left elbow when I eat too much sugar (or drink too much alcohol). It all made sense.

That’s a no-go(gurt); and Flunkin-Dunkin

What you eat and drink serves to promote certain types of gut flora, both “good” and “bad.” Sugars of all kinds appear to hinder the balance of beneficial organisms. Though it’s unclear how direct that link is in humans (not enough studies yet), there’s enough evidence in studies of mice that, if you ask me, we should be aware and paying close attention to our sugar intake. Similarly, artificial sweeteners may not be a good alternative, either. And when I’m talking about sugar intake, I mean not just what you get from cake or candy or other, obviously sweet things, but also the byproducts of refined carbohydrates (white bread, etc.). So, if you’re thinking that “Gogurt” spiked with processed fruit and loaded with sweetener is going to help your kid’s microbiome, it’s pretty much guaranteed to not be as good as a cup of plain yogurt with fresh fruit.

It took me some time to “retrain” my tastebuds away from sweet things, but now that I have, it’s amazing how crazy-sweet I find the contents of most boxes, bottles, and containers of things on the shelves at the supermarket. I even gave up my previously favorite guilty-pleasure: a Starbucks mocha. Yikes. Just the thought of one of those now makes my teeth hurt, and I absolutely *cringe* at the idea of what might be in garbage like those Dunkin COOLATTAS® or “signature lattes.” I genuinely believe this kind of junk is slowly killing us.

Supplement Snag

There’s a mountain of information out there about the microbiome now, and sure to be more as attention and interest increase in the public and in scientific research, but a word of caution: often the information you’ll find is part of the sites of people trying to sell you supplements, and there’s pretty much zero evidence that probiotic supplements are beneficial, other than for people with very specific conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. As is the case with supplements in general, the body is much better at synthesizing what it needs from real food than from extracted or manufactured vitamins, minerals, etc. Even one of my favorite books on the subject is authored by a doctor who has studied and experimented with diets to alter/improve the microbiome, and while he says supplements are not necessary, he claims that *his* supplements can improve the effects of a microbiome-supporting diet. What a load of crap.

In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about what I’ve learned *can* help develop a healthier microbiome and point you to more sources you might find useful if you’re interested. The good news: none of this is difficult to achieve once you understand more about the types of foods that benefit the microbiome, and most of them are not exotic or hard to find.

Until then, happy Food Friday!!

ICYMI: “Love a Tree Day” is Today

In case you missed it, in honor of Love a Tree Day, I’m sharing a link to the article I wrote for Herself360 on the subject, and which is a pretty significant milestone for me – my first published piece in the “real world!!” (If you already saw it/read it when I posted about it a couple of weeks ago, thank you – apologies for the repeat.) If you love nature, or had an awkward-pre-adolescent phase when you sometimes wished you could just disappear, or spent a lot of time playing outside as a kid, or just feel like taking a 5-minute break to read something that isn’t political or work-related, I’m happy to share this. I hope you love it as much as I loved writing it.

Here’s this year’s version of the dogwood I talk about at the end. It wasn’t in bloom in time for publication, so I had to revert to a photo from a couple of years ago. This was taken this past Monday. 🙂