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I have chronic daily migraines. I have been treating them with various things — Sphenocath, Botox, beta blockers, and hypnotherapy. (I will post reviews of all of the above one of these days.) One of my other less invasive treatments has been drinking 8-ounces of tart cherry juice twice daily.

Why? Montmorency tart cherries in particular contain anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that reduce inflammation. Sort of like ibuprofen but without the risks to your stomach and liver. I got the idea to drink the juice after reading a bunch of studies that looked at the effects of tart cherries on the human body — 21 studies in total.

The results are impressive. In one study, scientists looked at how people recovered after long distance running and cycling, for instance, found that those athletes had less pain and a faster recovery time than those who didn’t imbibe. T

From the cycling study: “Cyclists who drank Montmorency tart cherry juice concentrate before a three-day simulated race experienced less inflammation and oxidative stress compared to those who drank another beverage, according to… [the] U.K. study published in the journal Nutrients.”

From a study about gout sufferers: “In the study, Montmorency tart cherry juice reduced blood levels of uric acid and C-reactive protein, a measure of inflammation. High levels of uric acid are linked to gout, a form of arthritis that can cause severe attacks of intense pain and swelling (inflammation) in various joints, including the big toe and other joints in the legs and arms.”

Another study looked at the link between sleep and tart cherry juice since tart cherries are the only food in the world that contain melatonin. Again, tart cherry juice came out a winner, with insomniacs reporting longer sleep and better sleep when they drank the stuff.

After reading all these studies, I figured I’d give it a shot. Since migraines happen due to inflammation in the circulatory system, why wouldn’t tart cherries be beneficial for someone with migraines?

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Costume, Who Needs a Costume?

Little Girl is 7. She loves dressing up and costumes so when it came time to plan for Halloween I expected her to ask for a store-bought option. She did, but when I nixed her choice (No, baby, I refuse to dress my beautiful little girl up as a dead cheerleader) and *she* nixed all the options I had up in the attic, she came up with Plan B. She decided to go out on her own. She would make her costume, she told me. And she did.

She pulled it together from boxes and closets and her sister’s memory box. A pair of jeans I earmarked for charity. A cowboy hat and vest that were in the dress-up box before she was born. A handkerchief that was her sister’s. A white shirt from her closet. The tie from a yoga mat as a lasso. Her brown boots tucked under her jeans. Combined, they turn her into an adorable, homespun cowgirl.

I never cease to amaze at how self-sufficient and strong willed this child is. I hope she won’t feel bad about her homemade costume as she walks among the store-bought Disney Mals and Minnons, but I have a feeling she won’t.

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Big Girl had a bunch of kids over a week or two ago. She invited them into her room and announced, “I have a lot of dolls in my room.” I knew she said it because she was afraid that people would make fun of a child of 12 who still played dolls. Her friends either told her they knew or that they didn’t care.

Yes, she still has dolls out and still plays with them, but her room recently got a re-do and many of the accessories went up on tables off the floor. I praised her for cleaning up her room and making it so neat, but I actually felt a little tug on my heart. In doing so, she signaled that her days of playing dolls may soon come to an end. It also made me wonder if that means my little one will play dolls for a shorter period of time. Big Girl and Little Girl always played dolls together. Without a built-in playmate will Little Girl still want to break out her AGs? I’m not so sure.

Spirulina and Milk? Maybe!

I have heard about the benefits of spirulina for a while now, but never had the guts to try it out. Recently, a company that makes spirulina-enriched cookies offered to send some my way. The cookies haven’t arrived yet, but in the meantime, I figured I’d post a Q&A with Brittany Riggs, COO of Everyoung Natural Foods,which makes the cookies.

She and I discussed some of my question about the nutrient-dense plant. Her answers are below.

And this is what it looks like!

And this is what it looks like!

Q: I’ve heard of spirulina, but am not sure what it is. What is it?

A: Spirulina is blue-green algae, which are one of the oldest life forms on the planet and one of the most nutrient-dense. We like to call it a perfect food rather than a super food.

Q: Is it important to consume only organic spirulina? It isn’t on the dirty dozen list.

A: We feel that it is important to source our spirulina from the US in a controlled environment. Because it is grown organically, we don’t have to worry about the purity of it. We want to provide cookies that not only taste great, but are also sustainable and healthy.

Q: Why is it so good for you?

A: Spirulina can range between 55 to 70 percent protein and our spirulina is at 70 percent protein, which is three times more than beef! People consume fish because they think it’s healthy, but fish get their nutrients from algae! We have a direct effect on our bodies and on the planet when we put food in our mouths, so we feel that it’s best to go straight to the source to get the most nutrients possible with out harming anyone in the process. Spirulina has a long list of vitamins, minerals, as well as B-12, which is found in meat.

4. You said it has anti-inflammatory properties and contains phocyanin. Can you tell me more about phocyanin? Is it found in other foods?

A: Phycocyanin is one of many pigments that can be extracted from natural blue-green algae or other seaweed. There are peer reviewed papers showing that it can aid cancer patients by its impact on cancer cells without effecting the healthy cells. By including it in the diet, it provides a moderate level of protection for the healthy consumer. By extracting it from spirulina, it can be concentrated to provide dose levels that may even aid a cancer patient with increased survivability and quality of life.

Q: Does it contain DHA?

A: DHA is extracted from microalgae and concentrated for more immediate neurological benefits in maintaining brain health. (It is extracted from a eukaryote, a green algae with the scientific name of H. pluvialis.) Spirulina has small amounts in the form of medium-chain triglycerides.

Q: What does it taste like?

A: Our taste buds are not equipped for spirulina in our part of the world, so in other words, by itself it tastes (and smells) pretty gross. But, what does our cookie taste like? A soft oatmeal raisin cookie with the added bonus of pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds for some crunch. We’re pretty proud that we accomplished that.

Q: Is it good for kids and adults?

A: Definitely! The idea of consuming spirulina in a cookie came from (the company’s founder) Jerry’s patent of an algae blend called Diet Enhance that you can sprinkle in recipes to make them healthier. We saw that spirulina was primarily found in raw bars and shakes that don’t necessarily attract the attention of the average consumer, so we really wanted to come up with a product that everyone could enjoy to experience spirulina’s amazing benefits. Spirulina can be cooked without losing nutrients, so why put it in a raw bar? We hope that our cookie fills a gap in the diet of kids and adults that might be lacking in phytonutrients, because everyone loves cookies!

Q: I saw the cookies are vegan. Are they gluten-free, too?

A: They are NOT gluten free. We believe that there is a whole other world out there that isn’t being catered too. Those are the people that are wheat intolerant; I’m one of them. It’s either traditional or gluten-free choices, and I do not care for gluten-free most of the time. There are some misconceptions with spelt as the FDA has a new mandate that it be labeled as wheat. However, spelt is only a distant cousin of wheat, and there is a huge difference in the way our bodies process wheat gluten and spelt gluten. For those that aren’t familiar with spelt, it is an ancient grain and processed and stored entirely different than wheat. Another bonus is that spelt has more protein!

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Ahhh, you are all probably so sick of hearing about the concussion, but indulge me once again. I promise: I will stop blogging about concussions soon!

When you have a concussion — especially if you are dizzy — it’s all you think about. When you stop being miserable, you start thinking about other things. That’s exactly what happened to me. One of the things I realized was that I needed to start doing regular, routine maintenance of my body. I knew I was due for a yearly gynecologist appointment. And I was probably due for a mammogram, I thought. I called the radiology place first. After all, it can take a while to get a mammo slot. The woman on the phone asked me my date of birth and all that junk. Then she asked me if I had been anyplace else for my 2014 mammo. No, I said. “Well, you haven’t been here since February 2013.” I couldn’t believe it. I was so busy worrying about being dizzy, I forgot to take care of my female parts. Sigh.

I scheduled the mammo for last Friday. I went in, donned the gown and did my thing. Mammo and sono. Ugh. And blech. But I figured at least it was done for another year. Except then this happened:

Ugh, a mass.

Ugh, a mass.

They took me back into the room and did another sono. Then the radiologist came to talk to me. I had a 9 mm oval-shaped mass with slightly bumpy outside. The shape was good, she said, but the bumpy borders meant it was suspicious, she said. In fact, in her opinion it had a 50/50 chance of being malignant. They needed to do a biopsy right away.

I was scheduled for the core needle biopsy on Monday. I did it. Without anesthesia, I may add. I was the first person in the doctor’s 20 year career who did it that way. I swear it didn’t hurt. The doctor nicked my skin with a scalpel, put the needle inside, hit the plunger to activate the vacuum and then did that four more times. In between swearing it didn’t hurt, I asked her if she agreed with the first doctor’s assessment of my chances. She did.

I won’t bore you with the stuff that went through my mind. Well, maybe I will. What would I do if it was malignant? Would I lose my hair? Would I need a lumpectomy or a total mastectomy? Why was this happening to me? Wasn’t dizzy enough?

Cut to the chase: They called yesterday with my results. It was benign. A fibroadenoma. A condition that most often occurs in younger women. So why did I get it? I have no idea. I will ask my doctor when I go to follow up.

The point of this long, drawn out saga: Write down on your calendar and in your phone and on your computer when you are due for a mammo. And — I don’t care if the world is rocking, you’ve got the flu, or you win $1 million — make sure you get it. My story had a decent ending. It could have been a very different one. Very.

So…when was the last time you had a mammogram? Never had one? Are you over 35 with cancer in your family? Over 40? Go get one. Most insurance companies will cover one in full. Can’t afford it? There are foundations out there that will provide free or low-cost mammograms. (And here’s another.) They may suck. They may not be comfortable, but they are worth the time to prevent a bigger problem.

As for me, I will be following up with a doctor and doing a repeat sono in six months. I already put it on my calendar.

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This time last year I was working on a story about noise and how it affects the body, mind and soul. I loved writing it because it was personal for me, which is why I originally pitched it! This was pre-concussion, but my husband and I spent most nights fighting over the remote. I would turn the volume down. He would turn it up. I realized I was sound-sensitive and started doing research. There was so much out there I knew I needed to write about it! For example, did you know that noise has an adverse affect on health, productivity, stress levels? Pretty much every part of your body and mind suffers when you are exposed to too much noise. I included this in my original query.

My editor loved the idea and asked me to write 2,000 words on the topic. The resulting story was assigned in March, filed in May and published in the November issue of Experience Life. Then I got a concussion and I found out how truly debilitating sound could be. All through this journey I have struggled with noise to the point that I ended up having custom-made earplugs made. Even today I sleep with cotton in my ears at night so I don’t wake up.

I was really proud of the story, and hoped people liked it. Yesterday, I found out that — for some people — the story was life-changing. I actually got an email via this blog. The author of the email gave me permission to publish it, so here it is:

Dear Ms. Bannan,

You wrote an article for the November 2014 issue of Experience Life magazine. I was fascinated with the ideas in your article and that started me thinking about how to share this information with others.

Your article served as inspiration for a project I wrote for my sixth graders at Clarendon School in Phoenix, Arizona. The project was submitted in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow 2015 contest and was chosen as the state winner for Arizona. The students then got to work in class and around campus. Our video was chosen as one of fifteen national finalists.

Below is a link to our video. We hope you like it and we wanted you to know that your article was the catalyst. We have been invited to New York City to give a live pitch to Samsung about our project. Two teachers and two students will be presenting at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on Wednesday, March 18th. We would love to meet you if you are in town that day and available.

Thank you, Jill

I was floored and humbled. I shed a tear or two. I posted it to my Facebook page and my friends made me feel even more humbled as one by one they added little notes of encouragement and love.

I have been a journalist for a very long time. I have written for some of the best publications out there — The Wall Street Journal, Time, Scientific American, The New York Times, Health, Redbook, Fitness, Woman’s Day. However, this note and this story is probably one of the things I am proudest of. (Maybe my Parents Magazine story about miscarriage comes in a close second…)

Anyway, please watch Jill’s video and please vote for her! I would love to see her team win this contest! And in the meantime, think about sound and noise. It can change your life!

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Making the Switch to Glass

Today I posted a link to a new study on my Facebook page. (Did you like my page yet? If not, please do!) Anyway, the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study, which was covered by ScienceDaily, detailed the fact that phthalates found in plastic products can disrupt pregnancy hormones. Here’s the summary:

Exposure to hormone-altering chemicals called phthalates — which are found in many plastics, foods and personal care products — early in pregnancy is associated with a disruption in an essential pregnancy hormone and adversely affects the masculinization of male genitals in the baby, according to new research. The findings focus on the role of the placenta in responding to these chemicals and altering levels of a key pregnancy hormone.

The big problem with this was for mothers carrying male babies. More phthalates exposure meant smaller genital regions.

As I mentioned on Facebook, we have been pretty much plastic-free here in our house for more than a decade. We use glass containers to store food, drinking glasses and plates, and glass water bottles from LifeFactory. When my kids were babies they drank out of glass bottles. It isn’t — and wasn’t — that big a deal, actually.

Glass food containers are about the same price or less than equivalent high-quality plastic food containers. Glass water bottles are actually cheaper than some of the aluminum ones out there. Yes, I could get a cheap plastic water bottle for $4 or $5, but the glass ones last longer and are so easy to clean. I just throw them into the dishwasher. And when we are done with them we can recycle them — something you can’t say about that many plastics.

You don’t have to do things the way we did it and toss everything out. You can start small. Look for glass packaging instead of plastic at the supermarket. Replace old plastic food storage containers when they wear out with glass options. There are so many wonderful containers out there! As for water bottles: I’d make the move sooner rather than later since plastic water bottles are in heavy use for most of us and again, it’s really not that expensive. And in the end, aren’t you worth a few extra dollars?

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Watch What You Say

One of the old adages I’ve always believed is the one about little pitchers having big ears. Basically, that kids hear and understand a lot more than we give them credit for. However, I didn’t realize how much they hear and how long the things we stay get stuck in their brains until last night.

I was lying down next to Big Girl. I’ve been doing that more lately. Anyway, she was drifting off to sleep when all of a sudden she said, “Do you remember when you said Daddy should take me and live somewhere else for a little while?”

My cheeks burned and my heart ached. Yes, I remembered saying that. Not my finest hour. (I used to have a lot more of those un-fine hours before the concussion.) It was in a middle of an argument with my husband. He was yelling at me, telling me I wasn’t reacting to my daughter the right way. He was saying I was screwing her up. That if I kept fighting with her I would push her away from me — and him.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was so upset. I gave everything to my girls, I thought, and his statements felt like he was questioning my worth as a mother. I lashed out at him in anger. I told him if he thought I was such a crappy mother maybe he should take my daughter and go live somewhere else with her if he thought he could do a better job. Even typing those words makes me ashamed. I can’t believe I said them out loud. Even worse, I can’t believe my daughter — with her big ears — heard me say them.

When she repeated them back to me last night I instantly told her that I didn’t mean it. That I had said them in anger. That it had nothing to do with her and everything to do with me and not handling my feelings well enough. I told her I wouldn’t give her up for a zillion dollars. That my heart would break if anyone even tried to take her away. And then I said I was sorry and held her close. She let me squeeze her tightly and soon fell asleep. I went to bed, lying there for a while thinking about my mistakes.

I know, although she forgives me, those words are still in her head. I can’t make them go away even though I didn’t mean them. It’s another lesson. A reminder that words hurt more than anything sometimes. One I won’t soon forget.

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Is She Disappearing?

During the summer of 2013 I sat in the library reading a beautiful essay published in Brain, Child. It was a story about a woman with three kids ages five, nine and 12. The 12-year-old, she wrote, started pulling away from the family as she got closer to turning 13. The story was poignant and haunting. Thee I was. In library with tears streaming down my face. My older daughter was only 9 at the time so I was crying for what I knew might come.

Big Girl is 11 and she’s starting to show signs of pulling away. She doesn’t want her sister in her room all the time. She asks for time, “so I can just relax and be by myself.” She fights more with her sister. She tells me I am so mean. She’s starting to pull away, I think and yet she’s also trying to hold me close.

It’s so hard to watch. Like the author of the essay I am having a hard time dealing with how my little one is handling all of this. She loves her sister so much. Idolizes her. Up until recently they played together for hours and hours. American Girl dolls. Puzzles. Art projects. Pretend play. They could spend 12 hours just with each other. Now, Big Girl wants time alone. She doesn’t want to be with her sister all the time. She wants her space.

How do I explain to a 6-year-old that her sister may pull away even more as she gets older? How do I take that in, too?

I know that eventually my girls will come full circle. They will hopefully become inseparable again. Until then we’ll just have to deal with my big girl’s slow disappearance. It won’t be easy, but I know it’s just another natural phase. Like teething and potty training we’ll get through it. Hopefully with few tears — mine and theirs.

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Olives — Yum

A few months ago (before I was dizzy!) the folks at Olives from Spain offered up their expert, Annie Sibonney, the Cooking Network star, for an interview. They let me ask her questions and recorded her answers. Here, find that video with plenty of interesting olive facts as well as some recipes that sound delicious. The best part: They are offering one NaPM reader a nice gift — some free olives and olive-related items. Want them to come to your house? Comment below and tell me one thing you like about olives.

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