Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Poetry Surprise

For those who don't know, we publish a Poetry Surprise in our newsletter each week.

This week’s Poem Pick features Wallace Stevens, insurance man, twentieth century poet. He worked at The Hartford Insurance Company in Hartford, CT. He would walk at lunch, gathering images and ideas for the poems he would write at the end of the day. I worked at The Travelers Insurance Company for a number of years in my early career and took great inspiration from Wallace Stevens, hoping my muse would visit once in while as I toiled over indemnities and coverage.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Be sure to visit the poetry ring on our Web site. Start here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wear Close: Ostomy Wear That Lets You Feel Attractive

As a young man and a newlywed, Tom Dunlap was confronted with a life-changing event at the ripe old age of 25. Just over a year after marrying, he was diagnosed with acute ulcerative colitis, a life threatening disease that required removal of a portion of his small intestine, leaving him with a stoma and an ostomy bag on his belly. He survived. He and his wife, Sue, addressed the many challenges facing them then, and since. Both committed to getting back to life as usual, they found ways to incorporate the new parts of him in most of their activities. They both struggled, though, with intimacy. How to be close and not have the ostomy appliance be the main event?

They both had a mission of finding the right clothing or covering that would help them both with the intimacy they cherished in their relationship. Tom tried everything that came onto the market, never fully satisfied that manufacturers were “getting it.” Of course, comfort is important. So is practicality when it comes to caring for an ostomy. But the number one issue that he and his peers confronted every day was how to feel attractive and desirable with a partner. It’s the great secret, he says, among ostomy wearers. Many won’t talk about it, but when he and Sue go on the road with Wear Close, the product they have created, the crowd opens up right away.

For years, Tom and Sue kept fiddling with their own ideas. One day, Wear Close was born. On one of their many traveling adventures, Tom found the perfect fabric. He sent it home and they made some prototypes. He tried them out. Sue says they sure had fun experimenting with just “how close” they could get without feeling intruded upon by the cover. They realized it was the first product that felt invisible to them.

One of my brothers died from colon cancer ten years ago. He was diagnosed too late, after the cancer had already metastasized, so he died within six months. The doctors did try surgery early in the diagnosis to see what they could remove before treating him with chemotherapy. They left him with a colostomy, a reality that my brother had great difficulties accepting. He worried all the time about the rustling sound of the bag against his skin, the potential for odor (which was never present, but he worried nonetheless), and the fact that his body was changed forever. I remember sitting with him at the hospital after the surgery as the nurse wheeled him into a conference room to watch a video, “Caring for Your Ostomy.” It was too soon. He looked out the window instead of at the video. He would not speak. He ignored it, hoping it would go away.

When I discovered Wear Close I wished so much that my brother could have tried it then. To have found something so unobtrusive to have bundled the bag in, holding it close against his skin, would have relieved him greatly in those days when he focused on “returning his life to normal.”

Wear Close comes in sizes (S, M, L,XL) in beige and black. The whole idea is to have it blend with skin tone. It’s soft and minimalist in its profile. The soft breathable elastic polymer fiber material stretches for comfort and a close fit. The patented construction techniques used allow for the entire garment to be manufactured with minimal stitching for a smooth finish. The waistband has a three-position adjustment allowing for a perfect personal fit. The user feels confident, comfortable, and attractive in all situations, especially intimate ones.

And, Wear Close is getting a lot of attention. Tom and Sue recently showed their product at the semi-annual trade show for medical equipment providers and suppliers and Wear Close was selected as one of the innovative new products of the year. We now have this product on display at our location in Westminster. You can see it and buy it here, too.

We featured this product in our new products showcase in September. Our “testers” found it unique and interesting, although we did not have anyone in the testing group at the time who actually has a stoma and wears an ostomy bag. If you are interested in learning more about Wear Close, or would like to give us your thoughts and impressions, please contact us or come by and visit. Take a closer look at this product and share your thoughts with us.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Birthday Countdown

A colleague of mine mentioned the other day that she was pondering “going blond.” “Have you ever considered this?” she asked me. Well, I like to think that my nearly white hair is really platinum instead of gray, so answered easily, “no.” After a bit more conversation she said a big birthday was approaching and she was sure this desire to fiddle a bit with nature had something to do with it.

I remembered birthdays past, especially the ones that I had to pause over a minute to let in the passing of years. I recall that 27 gave me chills for some reason. I breezed through 30, though, without missing a beat. The 40s brought mega-doses of joy and sorrow as they do for many in mid-life, and change, change, change. As I approached my 50th birthday (already a few years ago now), I became possessed with ways to celebrate that half-century mark. I wanted it, looked forward to it, told everyone. So, I planned a birthday countdown unlike no other up to that point in my life.

For the fifty days leading up to the day I planned something unique, special, unusual, and in some cases, usual, but too infrequent (like time with the grandkids). I had as much fun planning those days as I did enjoying them once they arrived. And so did everyone else in my life. It was a great thing to talk about at parties or over dinner with friends. Try it. Everyone has an idea of what to do. I added everything to my list, even the things I knew would not make it to the final 50. It’s fun to look back on some of those crazy ideas (like toilet papering the neighborhood, offered by an acquaintance who, like me, had never done this as a teenager and thought it was high time).

Three of my favorites from that list still live large in my memory. I rented a Jaguar for a weekend and drove through the mountains. I had always fantasized about this car. It was great. And, once I got it out of my system, I have not thought about owning once since. So, I got a double gift from that one. I also tried Dom Perignon for the first time on day 45. The best gift, however, without a doubt was signing up for an art class.

As a seventh-grader I had an experience that I have since learned was not that uncommon in my generation. I had a teacher who was a wonderful artist (or so it seemed to me). Her idea of art class was to draw elaborate scenes on the chalkboard and have us draw the same scene. One Friday afternoon we returned from lunch to find a most magnificent farm scene complete with horses, cows, barns, people. It was our job to recreate this scene in a 45 minute art period with no further instruction. I was already fairly intimidated by the whole art thing anyway and had just squeezed my way through other art days, but on this day, I felt my heart sink. I simply had no idea how to tackle this project, so I did what I knew and drew stick figures – stick horses, stick cows, stick people, a barn with four lines. When it was time to turn in our work, I tried sliding my paper to the bottom, but she saw me and pulled it out. Amazed, she held it out and said in an evil voice, “Well, look what we have here! Stick cows! Who on earth has ever heard of stick cows?” She and the class had a good laugh. I sunk deeply that day and never picked up a pencil or paint brush again.

And, so it was in the days before that birthday that I remembered how much I loved art. I had spent time in museums here and abroad, I had collected books of famous art, I loved doodling and playing with color. But that trauma of Friday afternoon art had cast an anchor inside me. What a fantastic thing it was to find so many options! The research gave me so much pleasure, I almost hated to make a decision. But, I settled on a basic painting class at the Denver Art Museum. How incredible it was to show up the first night and find paints and a paper and brushes that would be mine! I pulled out those early drawings earlier as I thought about writing this blog. What a wave of delight passed through me!

I went on to take a few more art classes, basic drawing and color. And, then, life got crazy and the years have passed. It was one of those decisions, though, that forever changed me. Who could have guessed that turning 50 is one of my most cherished memories! Bringing curiosity and a sense of adventure not only released the hurt and embarrassed seventh grader finally, but invited in skills and ideas I would not have guessed lived inside me. I can only imagine my brain got bigger that year!

So, I say to my friend whose birthday is creeping up, go blond for sure if you want to. And come up with dozens of other things you always wanted to do and start working that list. If you hurry, you can make a big dent by the actual day!

How do you feel about birthdays? Are there a couple that stand out for you as being turning points? Feel free to reminisce a bit here with us. And if you’ve got some ideas for how my friend can make the most of this particular birthday, post them here. I’ll be sure she gets them.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Grateful for Common Ground

At a time when divisions seem to be the rule in our culture, I find myself this Thanksgiving season thinking about how Capabilities has helped me focus on just how similar we all are. Yes, life comes at each of us differently, and we must never blur the marvelous qualities and talents that distinguish us as individuals; it is the richness of our differences that makes for such a curious and interesting life, without a doubt. I note, however, that as methods for communicating proliferate – talk radio, 24 hour cable news and talk shows, web logging, just to name a few of the more prominent means – the discourse seems to be rougher and rougher, the language parsing and pummeling, the sentiments expressed angry and demeaning. And all in the name of debate and dialogue.

Hmmm. What is this all about? I know we are a funny species, we humans. We love to find ways to disagree and prove our points. And debate, discussion, disagreement are critical to a free society. So, let’s not stop that. But what about adding some civility, politeness, listening to varied perspectives? And what would happen if we tried to find common ground occasionally when we discuss and debate our politics, our religions, our cultural and personal preferences? Could we find our way out of gridlock then? Could the essential changes that must happen actually begin?

All this musing lately led me to my own life, of course, as reflection always does. This is when it occurred to me just how even more wonderful the Capabilities experience is for me. I am so grateful for the chance to work with so many individuals and families, helping to explore solutions and alternatives to some of life’s hardest challenges. What I found myself focusing on this week was just how level the playing field is when it comes to our feelings about health and well-being, illness and injury, fear and anxiety, relief and respite.

I’m finding as I work with hundreds of people every month that the nearly universal reaction to illness and injury is the same, regardless of age, economics, ability levels, geography. Oh, surely, individuals express those emotions and reactions differently (but not so much, it turns out). In all cases the common ground is also the sacred ground of seeking a helping and friendly hand to face whatever it is we have to face. Common ground feels good to walk on. For those moments, we are all the same and it’s a fairly amazing sensation.

While it’s true that many of us who interact at the store won’t be friends or agree politically or share the same perspectives on many things, it feels good and honest to welcome everyone who comes into Capabilities, or contacts us by phone or the internet, with the same enthusiasm and gratitude that they found us. It feels good to listen for a change to someone else’s story. It feels good to try to think about ways of helping, regardless of whether it’s a product we sell, or a referral we can make, or a brainstorm we have just in that moment. It feels great when we do help. We are all the more appreciative when someone sends us a note or calls us later to confirm that what they got from us is working and has made all the difference.

As I look back over this year, there are so many individual stories I remember. I love knowing that for a few moments (and sometimes longer) I have been part of the fiber that joins families, of the worry that heaps on when something goes wrong, of the relief when there is a tool or a person or a place to go that will help. Thank goodness this life’s work causes me to listen more intently, to focus more specifically, to care more passionately. I appreciate, too, the mistakes and snafus of building a business. When these mistakes involve people and their comfort, I find the motivation to correct them is so powerful. It’s another place of commonality, facing mistakes and fixing them. There is not a one of us alive who has not felt that dread. And, the great relief of resolution when it’s done.

Thanks to each of you who have been a part of Capabilities this year. Pam and I have found common ground we won’t forget about for the rest of our lives. You have brought us more joy than we can express; you have sharpened us, tested us, believed in us beyond our wildest dreams. You have let us be part of some of the most difficult moments of your lives, trusted us to help you, and expressed your gratitude for having such a place.

We are ever mindful that Capabilities can only exist because of all of you. Thank you for being there! Thank you, too, for making our business even better with your suggestions and ideas. Thank you most of all for reminding us of just how much common ground there really is among us.

May you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ahhh, Chocolate!

If you were not at our Chocolate Tasting event last week, too bad for you! What a great – and delicious – time we had with Julie Pech, author of The Chocolate Therapist. Julie spoke about her journey of finding the right combination of topics for her book, as she transitioned from one career to another. Combining her background in psychology with her interests in travel and finally with one of the things she loved best, chocolate, ended up being the magic formula for her. She researched and traveled over a period of 18 months to be sure she understood everything there is to know about chocolate. And we were convinced!

Her book focuses each chapter on a particular health area, menopause, headaches, depression, high blood sugar to name just a few. She then “prescribes” the type of chocolate that might best work for that condition in the proper amounts. The secret, of course, is dark chocolate. The darker, the better, Julie says. In fact, she uses her own story to explain how her unhealthy cravings and habits for chocolate disappeared once she began eating small amounts of organic dark chocolate on a daily basis. She lost weight, got more energy and stopped having headaches. She gets her few ounces of chocolate in the mornings, she explained, so she can ride the healthful benefits all day. I was most struck by the fact that dark chocolate is higher in antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables. How satisfying a victory is that over all those fights you had about eating your vegetables?

She brought about 10 different types of chocolate for sampling, the essential difference among them the content level of cacao powder in each. At one point in the evening she asked us to choose one or two nibs for sampling. “Pop one in your mouth, but do not swallow until I tell you,” she directed. As with many of life’s pleasures, slowing down to enjoy them truly does enhance the satisfaction. So it was with this exercise. Holding that small bit of dark chocolate, letting it melt naturally, swirling the liquid chocolate around, having each taste bud react to the sweetness and bitterness was truly a wonderful treat. Experimenting with the different types provoked interesting conversation, too. We tried chocolate from Ecuador, Venezuela, Central America. Some was naturally rich with the taste of raspberries, others with vanilla. All of it was natural and organic... and yummy!

Just so you won’t feel too badly about missing this event, we have Gift Sets available. They include a signed copy of Julie’s book and three delicious samples of chocolate. This is a perfect host or hostess gift during this holiday season, or for that special someone who has everything. Or, what about a treat for you? It’s the perfect way to start the healthy plan you were planning for the New Year anyway. You can get an early start and enjoy the holidays, too. You can purchase her book, The Chocolate Therapist, separately, too.

See some photos of the fun we were having at this event. Check our Events section for more great things to do at Capabilities. Here’s to your health!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Titanic Revisited

We wrote a blog this summer about the exhibit of Titanic artifacts currently on display at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We had the chance to go back again this week with the great folks from the Foundation Fighting Blindness. As always, I am so grateful for the many affiliations Pam and I have through our business. I noticed how dimly lit most of the exhibit is, much of it on purpose, as the curator tries to recreate the experience of being on the ship in 1912. All senses are heightened, I believe, when one of them is challenged. I noticed during this visit how much I heard the sounds of the exhibit, the auditory clues that add to the experience – the Ragtime piano, the clanking of dishes, the roar of the coal-fired engines as we make our way to the boiler room. I had completely missed these sounds on my first visit.

This time, too, I paid more attention to the stories of so many of the 2,200 people who were on the Titanic for its maiden voyage. Each visitor gets a boarding pass with information about an actual passenger. I held the boarding pass for a young Finnish woman. She and her husband booked passage in third class, the only way they could afford the journey away from Finland which at the time was part of the Russian empire. Her husband was to have been drafted into the Russian army and sent to war. They escaped for the American Dream. She survived. He did not.

And so it was for everyone on that boat. Only 707 survived. The last of the survivors, Elisabeth Dean, just died a week or so ago. She had been only two months old when the ship went down. One fellow was so unhappy that he had to leave on the Titanic when he had thought he had booked a later trip that he wrote a friend that he would rather see this ship sink to the bottom of the ocean! Imagining these people in their everyday lives has caused me since to spend a bit more time thinking about the idea of “fate” or “destiny,” as some might call it. Are we inevitably always where we are supposed to be? And is it in that place that we exercise our will and create meaning? The line seems so fine between belief in our ability to make our own destiny and the mystery of being in the right (or wrong) place at the exact time history is made. Did the ones who chose to stay on board the Titanic have more of a say in making their own fate? Did the survivors escape a destiny meant for them, too? Or were they meant to survive all along?

We don’t ever know. It’s all about belief in the end, I guess. And so, as I scoured the huge wall of names at the end of the exhibit, looking for Elin’s name, my name while I walked through the Titanic, I felt a shudder of relief when I saw “myself” listed under “Third Class Survivors.” And, a quiet moment as I noted “my” husband’s name under “Third Class Lost.” I wonder what Elin believed as she floated away from the final “great silence” that was left when the Titanic slipped below the waves. And, later, when it was time to keep on living.

If you are in the Denver Metro area and have not yet taken a moment to visit the exhibit, we think it’s worth the couple of hours’ investment. And, if it comes on tour to your city, don’t miss the chance to be touched in a very personal way by this amazing part of American history. If you have visited the exhibit and have your own reflections, please share them with us and our readers.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Clothesline Comeback

I was delighted recently as I walked through the neighborhood to see clothes flapping in the backyard of a young couple with children. The wind was chilly; I could almost feel the scratchy texture of the big towels nearly dry at day’s end. And the scent, fresh, cold, the perfect pitch of fragrance impossible to replicate. You don’t know when laundry day is for most of us these days, unless you see the blow of dryer air behind the fence.

Like most girls of my time, I learned about laundry at my mother’s heels, handing her the clothespins. We first only had the push type with the tiny round head. I don’t remember how it happened, but the clothespin with the spring appeared, finally replacing those early versions. Mom liked the spring-loaded ones a lot, she told me. “They don’t slip as much in a big wind.”

We carried the laundry in a big basket up the basement stairs, then, and into the yard. Even in winter, my mother made the trek, shoveling a small path first, then tamping down the snow with her rubber boots as she made her way left to right along the stretch of rope strung from the house to the tall post of the chain link fence. As I got older, I would sometimes relieve her. But she worked the clothesline until well into her 80s. She only used the dryer my brother bought her on bad weather days and for towels. She did not mind giving up the scratchiness of line-dried towels.

After I left home to pursue my career and life, I always loved so many things about going home for visits. The clothes on the line are among those memories I cherish. Slipping into sheets just washed and dried outside, I could drift off to sleep feeling as safe and sound as I had all those years growing up. I’d get one final treat when I returned from one of these visits. As I unpacked my suitcase, that unforgettable scent would burst out from my own clothes that my mother had always washed just before I left.

With all this recent musing, imagine my surprise just last week when I saw a story in the newspaper about a return to clotheslines. With a focus on being “green,” many young folks are rethinking our modern dependence on dryers. Clotheslines are popping up across America again. Some people are running into trouble with their Home Owners’ Associations, though, which don’t permit anything “unsightly” on their properties. Clotheslines with their revealing contents don’t fit the image of these neighborhoods. The bylaws don’t approve of knowing when your neighbor’s wash day is. But discussions are underway, the article said, challenging these bylaws even in some of the fanciest areas of town.

Have you seen any clothes flapping on a line lately? Do you remember wash day and that inimitable fragrance? If this stirs some memories, share them here.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

And The Music Never Ends...

Oliver Sacks, the famous neurologist who has studied the mysterious ways of the brain and their effects on individuals in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and The Awakening (later made into a movie staring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro), has a new book, Musicophilia. He explores his own fascination with music, how the brain makes and understands music, and, of course, the aberrations that can occur in the brain involving music.

Some of more astonishing facts he outlines in the book include the following:
  • We all have absolute or perfect pitch the first year of life.
  • Twenty to thirty parts of the brain are involved in making and processing music, making music a more complex function than language in the brain.
  • The brains of musicians are more distinct (and bigger in certain parts) than with any other group, including artists and scientists.
  • The anatomy of the brain changes even after a short period of what are called “hand practices” in the study of music.
  • Only humans have in an innate sense of rhythm demonstrated by swaying and keeping of tempo, even by very young children.
I was most struck by his analysis of a phenomenon that affected my own mother in her later years, the repetition of songs playing inside the brain, making it seem for all the world to the individual as if s/he is actually hearing music. He distinguishes these “musical hallucinations” clearly from “vocal hallucinations,” hearing voices in one’s head, which he says is often a sign of mental illness. Musical hallucinations, however, are often temporary and occur often in someone who is deaf or is becoming deaf. Sacks’ mother experienced several episodes when she was 75. My mother was just around 80 when she spoke of hearing “Twinkle, twinkle little star” and several other childhood songs. Work with a neurologist isolated some scar tissue from a TIA, or mini-stroke as they are sometimes called, leaning on one of the auditory centers in the brain. Medication alleviated the sounds, although the dosage ultimately created other issues for her. Sacks says that there is still plenty of research to do on musical hallucinations as he continues to investigate the brain’s plasticity and many mysteries.

We write a lot about the brain. We also offer a new brain tip every week. If you have not yet taken a close look at the Brain Fitness Program, please note that we are offering a free demonstration of the program on December 6 in our community room at Capabilities flagship store in Westminster, Colorado. We are doing it twice, once at 1:30 p.m. and again at 6:30 p.m. so you can choose the best time for yourself. For more details and to RSVP, see our Events page. You can also make an appointment with us for a personal test drive of the program if the date and time does not work for you.

For the music lover in you, check out Songs of Faith, a collection by Denver local, Dawn Wooderson. With a Ph.D. in Music, Dawn undertook as one of her many projects, the transcription of classic hymns in keys more suited to the aging voice. Her work with senior populations convinced her that the outcome would be worthwhile and it is. So many of us grew up on traditional hymns so they are etched in our brains. However, as we age, so, too, do our vocal chords, making it virtually impossible to reach some of those high notes. With Dawn’s transcriptions you can sing along easily and happily without screeching. Dawn periodically offers seminars and sing-a-longs at Capabilities. We’ll be sure to let you know when she is on the calendar again in 2008.

See our Poem Pick this week, too, for a poetic rendition of music by the 19th century French poet, Charles Baudelaire.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Taking Care of the Caregiver

In the past week and a half I have had the opportunity to be part of several events honoring caregivers. It’s a fairly new phenomenon, focusing on the caregiver. For eons caregiving has just happened as part of familial responsibilities, friendship or obligation. And if the caregiver was lucky enough to have a loving and caring circle around him or her, all the better. Now, it is more frequent that caregivers can find comfort and solace at conferences focusing on the caregiver, pampering events, or socials designed to bring caregivers together to share their stories, get some attention, and find additional resources to help fortify them for the hard work ahead.

One of the events was a conference sponsored by Grupo VIDA, an organization for families of disabled children. This was their tenth year honoring families and caregivers. They ask participants to leave their children with other caregivers for the weekend, so they can attend sessions, have good food, and dance. This organization targets Spanish-speaking families.

I’ve described this feeling before, I know, but I am always surprised and thrilled when I realize that what we are doing at Capabilities reaches deeply into the lives of so many, bringing ideas, solutions, and comfort. I gave a presentation on our theme, Be Unlimited, reviewing products and services for both the disabled individual and the caregiver. The two-pronged approach, many told me later, was unique, combining valuable information on products for their children, and ideas and reminders about taking care of themselves, too. Kudos to Grupo VIDA for this annual conference that brings together families, offering rejuvenation and renewal. It was clear to me how valuable a resource they are to so many members of our Colorado community, as people came from all corners of the state to spend the weekend.

Earlier in the week, I participated in the Caregivers’ Brunch co-sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association. Caregivers sat on a panel and shared some aspect of the caregiving experience with the audience, comprised of dozens of people caring for loved ones, parents, siblings, children. One spoke about how difficult it was to accept the fact that her husband had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 60. It had been seven years and she said that she still struggles with the acceptance part. She said a book, “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, offered her some of the most powerful tools to cope. She said by focusing on the moment she is in, she can often find the peace and joy that eludes her when she looks ahead or back on the past seven years. She also shared some of the practical things she does to help ward off depression, including taking St. John’s Wort, a natural supplement, instead of antidepressants, which affected her poorly when she first took them. She also writes, by profession and as a means of chronicling her journey through this most difficult of roles, caregiver.

Another panelist, a mother of a 10-year old boy, Jacob, who suffered a significant trauma at birth and requires complete care. She created an anagram of ideas, using each letter of CAREGIVING to highlight a trait or message she finds useful. I was struck, for example, by her choice of “celebration” for the letter C. She said that initially she had forgotten to celebrate anything, so despairing was she of Jacob’s condition. Now she makes a point of celebrating even the tiniest of his movements, his recognition of a color or a shape, getting through the morning rituals that take up to two hours to prepare him for school. I was also moved by her choice for R, respect. She spoke about how hard it is to make choices for someone who cannot communicate, being the voice for someone else. So, she focuses on trying to imagine being him, wondering what goes on inside him and how he might react to the choices and voice she gives to him on so many issues. It’s one of her biggest challenges, she admitted. I also liked E, extreme. Not unlike extreme sports, extreme caregiving requires iron will, training and persistence. This alphabet approach worked, I thought, offering small meditations of sorts on the many qualities, challenges and aspects of caregiving that resonate for those who offer so much of themselves in the care of others.

I found myself thinking about the last six weeks of my brother’s life when I stayed at home and cared for him. During some of the more challenging times towards the end, I remember feeling as close to crazy as I had ever experienced (or have experienced since). The lack of sleep, exercise and regular meals wore on me. The anxiety about his impending death – would I actually be at his side when he passed as I wanted to be, could I face the emptiness of that moment when it actually arrived, what about my mother for whom he had been primary caregiver for years – grew as each day passed. I wanted to meet every need and yet he was slipping away, fear often in his eyes, as he reached and tried to get out of bed. I cracked one day. I just cried and cried, then I slept for hours, awaking in a fit of worry that he had died without me holding his hand. There were more days to come, though. I had moved through that worst day relatively intact, ready for more. My brother died two days before Christmas with many of us in the family at his side, holding him, easing him into whatever is next.

If you are one of the 15 million in this country who are caregivers, please share your caregiving story. As I participated in these recent events, I realized again the power of telling stories and uncovering common experiences. I witnessed how important it is to be able to recognize one’s self in someone else, to feel a sense of camaraderie in the toughest profession around, and to get ideas when it seems as if you’ve run dry of your own. Send us your questions, too, and your inquiries about products and services you know would help if only you could find them.

Read more in a previous blog on the Caregiving Conundrum.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

More on Sleep

Some months ago we did a series of blogs on sleep. It’s a topic so rich, you can hardly pick up a magazine or newspaper these days without reading about some other study or thoughts on the matter. And with clocks “falling” back this past weekend, I know many of us used that extra hour to catch up on some sleep.

Ralph Downey III, chief of sleep medicine at Loma Linda University in California (pictured right in an interview on campus) writes about sleep deprivation and its ill effects on Americans. He suggested in an article recently that it’s a good idea to use that hour to “pay off your sleep debt.” He describes sleep debt as the difference between our pure physical need for sleep and the actual amount of sleep we get. You know if you are among the sleep impoverished. But, he says, many are and don’t realize it.

We’ve written here before about the toll lack of sleep creates, including grumpiness. Did you know that more and more studies are demonstrating that sleep deprivation also contributes to obesity? The body loses its ability to metabolize accurately when there is chronic lack of sleep. Research has also uncovered a greater risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease among those who do not sleep well.

Developing healthy rituals during the day, and calming rituals at night can contribute to better sleep habits. Try a soothing bath with Nuwati Bath Salts or Bath Bags. I have also discovered that a foot massage early in the evening contributes greatly to relaxation and falling asleep more easily. I am truly enjoying Caren Foot Treatment. And it comes in delicious fragrances or fragrance free. Lately, I prefer the original Caren in blue packaging. If you are in town, stop by and try it. These lotions make for wonderful gifts, too, now that we (well, some of us) are kicking into holiday mode.

Dreams, too, continue to capture the imagination of writers. Robert Moss, author of “The Three ‘Only’ Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence & Imagination,” posits that dreams do provide us with material to sort through things. Using our dreams to overlay on the real day-to-day issues and questions we grapple with, he says, gives us yet another set of tools for solving problems and finding alternatives. He offers three ways to use our dreams. “Record your dreams,” he says. Take a few minutes to jot down key themes or images in the morning, or feelings and thoughts if you cannot actually remember your dreams. He also suggests finding a “dream friend.” This is someone who is open and who will consider working through the dream with you without imposing his or her own life onto the dream. Offering ways to consider the dream, though, is a great way for you both to bring the imagery to life. You can then listen to his or her dreams, too. Thirdly, Mr. Moss suggests taking action. Think of practical steps, he insists, on bringing your dreams to life, especially those that seem to be pointing in certain directions.

How are you sleeping lately? And do you remember your dreams? Share your thoughts about sleep and dreaming, along with helpful remedies for sleep difficulties here.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Algae for Your Brain

Yummy! That sounds about as good as eating liver and organ meats to me. And why would anyone want to eat algae anyway? It turns out that it’s algae that makes fish such a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, building blocks of the brain. Fish eat algae and bigger fish eat smaller fish and on it goes until there are abundant levels of these fatty acids in many kinds of fish. The gottcha is, however, that there is also a fair amount of contamination in many of the fish with high levels of omega-3s. We have all been sufficiently warned about mercury levels in swordfish and shark, for example.

So, an innovative U.S. company, The Martek Biosciences Corporation, has taken on the task of manufacturing algae! How’s that for an idea! Their senior scientist, J. Casey Lippmeier (definitely not pictured right), said in an interview on NPR this week that they were impressed by the studies a few years ago of how much improvement there was in brain development of children on formula with added DHA, one of the omega-3s. Previously, formula-fed babies always tested slightly lower in brain function and development than breast-fed babies. This finding motivated scientists to work on producing algae in laboratories as way to avoid the contamination worry of harvesting omega-3 fats from fish. Their success is admirable. They are now helping fortify foods of all kinds with the addition of their product.

I just love how creative we all can be. This is a story worth reading more about. You can go to for the whole story and for links to other research on omega-3 fatty acids and their positive impact on health. The good news is that taking omega-3 supplements seems to have similar effects. The omega-3 is metabolized the same way with supplements as with foods that contain them. Or so the early research seems to be saying. As always, you should talk with people you trust, including your doctor, before making any big dramatic changes to your diet or lifestyle that could impact your health.

I’m for anything that helps with brain fitness, as you know. We put together a brain fact this week that highlights just how helpful omega-3 fatty acids are on brain health. Be sure to also check out Brain Fitness, the software we write so much about and sell at Capabilities. The popularity of the program is growing daily. We are even working with a number of local organizations who are investigating how they can use the Brain Fitness program in the communities they oversee. Contact us if you would like more information about considering implementing the program at your retirement community, library, community center or other organization.

And let us know what you are doing to keep your brain healthy. Post your thoughts here.