Sunday, February 27, 2011

When a Scientist Becomes an E-Stylist

If someone would pay me to play dress up, I'd say yes in a heart beat.  See what happened when The Succulent Wife asked me, and several other contributors, to dress the nominees for the Academy Awards!

As originally published in The Succulent Wife:

In honor of the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony, we thought we’d ask some of our favorite contributors to try their hand at styling their favorite nominated actress. They each created their looks on either or Who needs an overpaid Hollywood stylist when these succulent hausfraus provide these services at no cost?

Audrey van Petegem for Amy Adams: I am not sure if Amy Adams will win the Oscar (although she should) this year for her role in “The Fighter” but if she takes my advice she will be a winner on the red carpet (next year Amy, call me). I love the subtle style of the dress with the brightness of orange lips, earrings and clutch. With Amy’s auburn hair in an up-do she will shine, because we know, it is all about the accessories. Aiden Mattox ivory chiffon beaded strapless gown, Giuseppe Zanotti sandals, Joan Shepp Petal clutch.
Alex Purnell for Michelle Williams: Michelle is the hip ingenue. Her short ‘do reminds me of Mia Farrow, so I choose a mini with a 60′s feel yet with an ethereal quality. Her red shoes give it an edge. Dress by Hoss Intropia, clutch by Roberto Torretta, heels by Lanvin for H&M.
Natalie Greggain for Natalie Portman: I decided to dress Natalie P. with a sexy yet simple outfit. She’s never been much of a show-off and the neutrals in this outfit will allow her natural beauty to carry the look. The  gown provides room for her pregnant belly so she’ll be comfortable, but the cross front accent shows the perfect amount of skin to allow her to feel sexy while remaining classy. Nude pumps – because they’re understated, sexy, and even 5 inch CL’s are comfortable. A classic Chanel flap chain bag because it functions as a gorgeous clutch, but when you get tired of holding it, the gold chain creates such a magnificent accent. Even superstar mama’s get tired of holding purses all night. And an 18 Karat rose gold diamond wing ring as a tribute to Black Swan, of course. The vintage flower hair pins to add a bit a sweetness to her do. Comfortable, sexy, chic, all with mama in mind. Because who deserves to enjoy all of life’s succulent pleasures more than mothers? Gown by Gucci, heels by Christian Louboutin, handbag by Chanel, jewelry by Anita Ko.
Marjie Killeen for Nicole Kidman: Nicole is beautiful and regal but often appears inaccessible and uptight. I’d love to see her in something loose and free. She’d look gorgeous and accessible in this wild dramatic stunning purple dress with flowing hair and minimal accessories. Dress by Matthew Williamson, ring by Zanzlöza Zmycken.
Shari Bonnin for Hailee Steinfeld: Hailee Steinfeld is the youngest nominee and it was only fitting that she set a new precedent of FUN for Oscar fashion. Being young, she really should not be bogged down by a long gown but wear a fun, flirty shorter dress and if it be black, then add color with shoes and accessories. Elie Saab dress, Bianca pumps, Alexander McQueen Skull diamanté clutch.

Mrs/Dr. T for Helena Bonham-Carter: Still edgy, but with style, Helena’s look is a perfect fit for her irreverent attitude. Who needs to mis-match shoes when you pair up feathers with S&M gloves? And you can never go Hollywood glam without an iPhone and big-as-your-head hair piece. Dress by Tex Saverio, gloves by Vogue, iPhone by Apple.
Anne-Marie Kovacs for Melissa Leo: Melissa needs to move away from the generic “David’s Bridal” gowns styling and into something more sophisticated and original. For her, I like the casualness and comfort of these separate pieces. The ethnic flair belt adds color, whimsy and texture. Skirt by Lars Wallin, Blouse by Tommy Hilfiger, belt by Manoush.

Kristin Fast for Annette Benning: If I were Annette Bening, Best Actress Nominee Underdog and potential apple cart toppler of predicted winner Natalie, Black Swan Crazy Face, Portman, I would want to walk that red carpet in a look that kicks ass. And this look does just that. This form fitting and hand beaded sequined gown from Matthew Williamson will showcase Annette’s amazing shape and the unexpected back, so sexy without being tacky, is just the sort of surprise that will slap a nominee right on a Best Dressed list. The accessories, from the geode and diamond jewelry, to the Jimmy Choo sandals are understated, confident will compliment rather than overwhelm her. Joan Rivers, I defy you to snark this.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

With Change, Comes Opportunity...Fear...Excitement...and Blogging

My former colleague, now friend, got "the call" last week that changed her status from "employed" to "stay-at-home-mom".  Rather than pay a psychologist, she's self-administering therapy and chronicling her post-lay-off experiences at her new blog, The Fortuitous Haus Frau.  Here's an excerpt from her first posting.  Enjoy!

Last Tuesday I was summoned down to the small conference room with my manager for what turned out to be "The Talk".  Not the usual Talk, but the one about how my job had been eliminated and I was now unemployed.  While I must admit I did have a slight sinking feeling in my stomach, what I felt mostly was relief.  I now was free!  Now my first quandry.... do I pretend to be upset or do I graciously shake their hands and skip happily out of the room?

For whatever reason, perhaps it was professional instinct, I chose the first as they may have surely called the padded wagon for me with the second.  As I sat there watching the HR manager's head bob up and down as she take me line-by-line through my severance agreement all I could think of was.... I am Free! I am Free! I am Free! and oh crap I really need to call my husband. 

As luck would have it my husband didn't pick up and I returned to my desk only to find several voicemails from my child's school telling me she was sick and needed to be picked up.  At no other time in my career has "I am packing up right now and will be there as soon as I can" have such meaning.  

I decided to start this blog after that fateful meeting to share some of the most humorous and absurd adventures as I journey through this process, as truly no one in their wildest imagination or under any type of influence, could possibly make them up.

Turns out as part of my severance I now have access to an outplacement service... a what?  They do it all for you and they pride themselves being there with you through the end....  how long do they think this is going to take? 

But first things first I had to fill out a gazillion online forms telling them all about me.  Pretty typical stuff. Then they asked for my parents names, their occupations, city of residence, my children's name and ages, my personal values, my financial values, and what don't I like about people....which I was promised all have a tremendous impact on my next position.

If my parents live off the grid in a tee pee in the Arizona desert raising prickly pear cactus is that a good thing or a bad thing?  Does it signal that I come from hearty, adaptable stock or that I am more comfortable being closer to nature with no schedule and a sturdy pair of Birkenstocks?  Needless to say I declined to answer.

As a recruiter told me last week, I will go through all the stages of loss... which to this point have included....thank god I don't have to come here anymore, oh no how am I going to pay the bills, what do you mean I can't go shoe shopping, dictator-like energy conservation, to lastly (as of this morning), now that I am home I have tons of ideas of how to improve the house.

"The more you find out about the world, the more opportunities there are to laugh at it."- Bill Nye.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Few Other Things About Neti Pots...

There's a few more other points about neti pots that I should mention:

1. Ann-Marie at The Succulent Wife reminded me that there are different types of nasal irrigation systems available now.  She did a blog post about SinuSense, which sells a battery operated system that pumps water into the sinus cavity.  I have several friends that prefer this style for their irrigation needs.  I will say that I keep a neti pot in my shower when I'm sick so I can just integrate into my 'shower bidness' and I'm not sure you can do that with the battery-operated systems. (Does anyone know?)  Something to keep in mind if you're shopping for neti pots.  Also, I like to replace my neti pot every year, so I always buy the cheapest one out there (which is not the battery-operated kind).  

2. A research study presented at a conference in 2009 showed that people who used a neti pot every day ended up with MORE colds than those that only used them occasionally.  The Dr. Dorks hypothesize that daily nasal irrigation disrupts the normal mucus that accumulates in the sinuses which functions to keep bacteria and viruses out.  That said, I have friends that use their neti pot daily and never get sick.  Just something to keep in mind.

3. My kids all use a neti pot when they are sick (beginning at 8 years old).  They don't find the practice at all disgusting (perhaps because the rest of their world is so disgusting to begin with).  Like with adults, the trick is just making sure they are leaning way over the sink so the salt water doesn't go down their throat. 

4. Some people like to double up on the salt packets when they are really congested.  I think it's personal preference.  I have used two packets occasionally and it if you stuck a Q-tip with wasabi mustard in your nose.  

5. Not related to neti pots but related to colds...there was just a large review of the scientific evidence on zinc  lozenges and colds.  When taken with 24 hours of coming down with symptoms, zinc lozenges can reduce the severity and duration of a cold.  Every little bit helps, right? 


Sunday, February 20, 2011

3 Things More Disgusting Than a Neti Pot

Its cold and flu season.  Apparently this year, more people are coming down with colds and flu this year than the previous two years, making lots of men and women, boys and girls miserable.  

It's amazing to me that there are not better treatments for alleviating the symptoms of colds and flu.  Most of the over the counter cold medicines have side effects that are only slightly less unpleasant than the cold itself.  Then you have to carefully select the medicine based on the time of day so that you're not taking an upper when its bedtime or a downer when it's 10 a.m.  And then almost always, the virus will hop on over to others living in your house, making multiple sick people all living under one roof.  

If you are like me, a common head cold often results in a sinus infection that lasts for weeks.  Several years ago, I had sinus surgery to try to correct this.  That cut down the number of sinus infections from about 6 to not worth it, but whatever.  After some investigating, I finally stumbled upon "nasal irrigation" as a means to reduce the likelihood of a cold progressing to a sinus infection.  One flush of my sinus cavity, and I was sold.  I also find that it reduces the symptoms of my cold, making life a little more tolerable when sick.

If you're not familiar with nasal irrigation, here's the quick 101:  you make a warm salt and water mixture in a little pot (called a neti pot) and while leaning over the sink, stick the end of the teapot into one nostril and let the water flow through your sinus cavities and then out the other nostril.  I do this 5 times a day when I have a cold until the symptoms resolve.  

Since I'm so in love with my neti pot, I recommend it to EVERYONE!  Approximately half the time, people (especially SHE friends) bristle, say "Ewww", and tell me it is "disgusting".  So I've been starting a running list of all the things that I can think of that are more disgusting than a neti pot...just to have a quick comeback.  

Here are three things just from last week that I think most reasonable people would agree are more disgusting than a neti pot:  

 1. Children with gastrointestinal illness.  A week ago, when one of my twins started throwing up, I knew immediately that I was in for a week of hell.  Every third day, one of the other kids came down with the "barfing illness", culminating in an ER visit and at least one garbage bag full of sheets and towels that were not worth washing.  If you have children, you must agree that there are few things more disgusting than when they have a gastrointestinal illness involving "the attic" and "the basement"...if you catch my drift.

2. Coming down with a gastrointestinal illness yourself after a spicy meal of chicken curry.  True story...enough said.

3.  A collection of doggie "land mines" all over the sidewalk, driveway, and patio following a brief warm front that melts the 2 feet of snow camouflaging all that crap.  It doesn't even matter that it's my own dog, I still find it horribly disgusting in a way that makes me just want to move....and leave the dog behind.

Agree?  Anything else you would add to the list???  

Monday, February 14, 2011

Can Chocolate Really be Healthy?

In case you didn't see the original post on The Succulent Wife:

The media has done a pretty good job making sure EVERYONE knows that chocolate might be good for you. It’s hard to find a women’s magazine that hasn’t promoted this message, particularly this time of year when Valentine’s Day sends chocolate sales through the roof. Of course, we all want chocolate to be good for us, right? But is it really believable that chocolate, a member of the candy and other-naughty-foods category, is a health food?

 Cocoa wasn’t really on the “good-for-you” radar until scientists stumbled upon an island off the coast of Panama. The Kuna Indians that inhabit the island consume an enormous amount of cocoa, often laden with salt. [Note to self: consider vacation on said island.]   They also are one of the few cultures that have unusually low blood pressure and therefore, low rates of heart disease.  But if a Kuna Indian moves to urban Panama City and stops eating the cocoa, blood pressure goes up. This tipped off the scientists that perhaps it’s the cocoa keeping them healthy and not their genetic makeup.

But it’s not that surprising that chocolate might have health properties. Chocolate contains cocoa, cocoa comes from plants, plants contain antioxidants, and antioxidants keep humans healthy. It’s been shown time and time again…people that eat more plants are less likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.  And “plants” by definition, encompass a number of edible botanicals such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, tea, coffee and as the Incas used to call it, the “drink of the gods”, cocoa.  So perhaps the media reports about how chocolate does everything from preventing heart disease to increasing libido to relieving depression are true?


In the actual research studies, regular “chocolate” is not being tested. Scientists are not dolling out last year’s Halloween candy to subjects (although too bad, because I still have a lot of it laying around…not the good stuff, but the stuff no one wants to eat but I keep for emergencies). In most cases, scientists are using cocoa extracts or specially-prepared chocolate that contains a high concentration of antioxidants, because it’s those antioxidants that are the healthy component of chocolate. In far fewer studies, commercially-available dark chocolate is used, but only the good stuff (>70% cocoa). Milk chocolate, and the blasphemous white chocolate (which is technically not chocolate), do not contain enough of the antioxidants to do much of anything….other than fix a craving…and make a delectable cookie.

So with that in mind, here’s what we currently know about chocolate and health:
  • As little as 3 small squares per day (~40 g) of dark chocolate (>70% cocao) can lower blood pressure in people who have high blood pressure, making it almost as effective as some blood pressure-lowering medications! As we age, blood pressure creeps up which means there are a lot of people out there that could benefit from a small daily dose of dark chocolate.
  • By lowering blood pressure and improving other aspects of the circulatory system, dark chocolate protects against heart disease-related events like heart attacks and strokes. Hence, “Death by Chocolate” is really an oxymoron.
  • Dark chocolate seems to help with blood sugar regulation, which means it may prevent type 2 diabetes. If you’ve picked up a newspaper in the last 2 years, you know that doctors are FREAKING OUT over the increase in diabetes. Foods that help prevent diabetes are a good thing.
  • Unfortunately, even dark chocolate has calories and the biggest reason why people get type 2 diabetes is being overweight or obese. As such, doctors are a little reluctant to be prescribing chocolate as a means to reduce diabetes.
Now about the purported aphrodisiac-like qualities of chocolate…there is no scientific evidence that any type of chocolate (milk, dark or otherwise) simulates libido in women or men (ha, as if men need it). However, milk chocolate does stimulate “pleasure centers” within the brain as well as promote the release of neurotransmitters often called, “happiness hormones”. This can vary person to person, making the chocolate-brain link all the more interesting.

What does this all mean? First off, it is clear that eating dark chocolate can be a healthy habit, so long as it’s not expanding your waist line. That said, most unprocessed plant-based foods confer similar health benefits, so if you’re not a dark chocolate lover, no need to force it down…some leafy greens or tea will do the trick.
Finally, if you’re really looking for an aphrodisiac, might I suggest going old school….a glass of Cabernet while your husband does the laundry. According to my research, it’s much more effective than any box of chocolates.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why You Shouldn't Freak Out (yet) Over the Diet Soda Study

There's been panic amongst diet soda drinkers this week.  A new study that was presented at the American Stroke Association Meeting this week showed that individuals drinking diet soda daily had a 61% increased risk of having a vascular event (heart attack or stroke) versus those that did not drink diet soda.  

Scary stuff!  Or so the media wants you to believe.  I'm not saying this study isn't important or interesting, but it certainly is making people scared (including the entire beverage industry).  

Before you freak out, here are some things to consider regarding this new study:
  • This type of study does not prove that diet sodas cause heart attacks and strokes.  It merely identifies a connection between the two; that the two are somehow related.  It could very well be that people at high risk for having a heart attack (because of their genetics, underlying health conditions, lifestyle choices) happen to choose to drink diet sodas.  The diet sodas may have nothing to do with their risk.
  • There is no known reason why diet sodas would have this effect, especially one soda a day.  I'm sure a lot of Dr. Dorks will now starting looking for a reason, but as of right now, there's really no obvious way the two are connected, making it a dubious connection.
  • The subjects used in this study were 2,500 people living in the New York area, of which 75% were black or Hispanic.  Blacks and Hispanics have over a 2-fold higher incidence of stroke than Whites.  It may be because Blacks and Hispanics have a higher prevalence of high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which are risk factors for a heart attack and stroke.  As such, this research may be more applicable to Black or Hispanics or those at very high risk for having a heart attack or stroke (see note below).
  • Of the 2,500 subjects in the study, only 116 of them drank soda daily versus 901 that drank no soda.  That's not a whole heck of a lot of people drinking soda.  It would be nice to see if this same connection between diet soda and vascular events is observed in a larger population. 
At this point, I wouldn't lose sleep over this one study.  But if you are a heavy drinker of diet sodas, there are other reasons why you should consider cutting back:
  1. There are no redeeming nutritional qualities of diet soda.  Many other beverages at least have 1 or 2 nutritional factors: juice has vitamins/antioxidants, ice tea has antioxidants, coffee has antioxidants.  
  2. I'm sure my dentist friend (aka, Nena), would tell you that soda wreaks havoc on your pearly whites. 
  3. There is preliminary evidence (in our mouse friends) that the sweet taste of diet soda without any calories screws up the body's ability to regulate appetite.  That's not good.  I don't know anyone that wants to feel hungry more often than they do already. 
***At the end of the day, the best way to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke is to not smoke, exercise regularly, eat more vegetables and real food, maintain a normal body weight, have one cocktail a day, get enough sleep, and manage stress as much as possible.  If you have a family history of heart attacks or stroke, risk factors (high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol), or are Black or Hispanic, these suggestions are even more important and can significantly improve the quality and length of your life.

Now about that "one cocktail a day" recommendation....TGIF happy hour starts in just a few hours!  Cheers!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Is There No Sacred Territory for the Economists?

I'm fascinated by the study of economics.  Not the boring, 101 stuff from college, but the more recent offerings.  For example, I think the book Freakonomics is as entertaining as it is interesting.  Written by Steven D. Levitt (with Stephen J. Dubner), Freakonomics applies economic principles to all sorts of crazy stuff, like drug dealers and Roe vs. Wade and swimming pools.  

If you like Freakonomics, then you will also like the book by Steven E. Landsburg (see left).  It's along the same vein, starting off with a discussion about how the prevalence of sexually-transmitted diseases would decrease if more people "slept around".  You've got to read it to truly understand the concept.   

So when this article hit my favorite news site today, I was immediately intrigued:

(Newser) – Forget the usual advice on reawakening your love life: more foreplay, se* journals, role-playing. Instead, try economics. Today’s couples can’t afford “excess time and energy,” write Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson in the Daily Beast. Drop the cost, and you’ll increase demand, “as any economist will tell you.” Tell your partner when you’re up for it, and then “make it quick.”

Transparency is another key element of economics: it “keeps the wheels of the free market—and, coincidentally, your se* life—greased.” Szuchman and Anderson interview hundreds of couples, and found that those reporting the best sex lives were those who were clear about when they wanted to jump in bed. Boost your se* life, and you’ll develop a “rational addiction:” “Become a rabbit and you’re upping the odds that you’ll stay a rabbit.”

Of course, my first thought was that this cannot be credible because it was not written by someone named Steve...seems like all the great economists are named Steve.  My second thought was, can the concept of supply and demand really be applied to everything?  And my third thought was that we need more people coming down with a "rational addiction"...because most people I know have an "irrational addiction"...and that's a serious condition, only second in severity to "ignorance addiction", which plagues 4 out of 5 drivers during Chicago weather-related events.  It's a well known fact.

*Since many of my subscribers send this to a work e-mail address, I've "toned it down" by removing the "x".

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Post Blizzard Blog Post

Last night
After two days of shoveling snow
And entertaining kids who have been home from school
And weathering a horrendous sinus infection
One of my daughters walked in my bedroom at midnight
And proceeded to vomit in my sink
And in-between heaves shouted, "I told you I didn't like your soup!"
While at the same time
My beloved Pussy Willow Sanchez
Ate a glow stick
And was covered in blue glow-in-the-dark liquid
And was running around my bedroom
Which now looked like the set of Tron
And all I could think of
Was girls...


 (And no, I wasn't really thinking of the word "blizzard")

Pussy Willow Sanchez

After Blizzard 2011
Sledding into the street

Cold, wet stuff!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It is Easier to Ask for Forgiveness...

Our bedroom on the day my husband left for a 4-day ski trip with friends:

Our bedroom the day my husband returned from a 4-day ski trip with friends:

New duvet cover and shams, new side tables, removal of husband's clutter.  Not sure why the lamps look funky in this picture..they look the same in real life.  And yes, I realize that I need to iron the duvet. But after moving the end tables in my living room up a flight of stairs to act as my new bedside tables, it was hard to stand up and iron with my new hernia.  

How did my husband like the fresh, new look?  

I can sum that up with my favorite quote coined by the late Grace Hopper: "It is easier to ask forgiveness, than it is to get permission."  

I'm not 100% sure, but pretty positive that she coined this phrase while redecorating her house.  At least that's what I'm going with.  

And none of this would have been possible without inspiration from The Huntress.  Despite what my husband says, you are not a bad influence. 

Do you know what is a bad influence?  Winter in Chicago.  We're on the verge of a snowstorm of epic proportion.  The snow just started and now all I want to do is pour myself a glass and snuggle up in my new bedroom, which would be fine if it wasn't 3 pm.  

Here is the before from my back door.  
A squirrelsicle

Stay tuned for the after!