Archive for November, 2011

Goodbye to the Dragonlady

It was a lovely funeral, or as lovely as a funeral can be in the circumstances.

The service was in Collier’s Funeral home in Bray. Alec and Todd met people as they went in, and you could go into a room where Anne was lying in an open coffin. She looked very like herself, perhaps a bit thinner.

The service was in a big white and cream room with a huge skylight, and cream seats, so everything was very light. Naturally, all the seats were filled and there were crowds standing around the walls. Anne’s coffin was wheeled in, and Celine Byrne sang “How Great Thou Art”. Jim Carson, a small grey-haired minister with a bit of a Northern Irish accent, conducted the informal service.

Alec got up and talked about his mother, and

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how the real warmth of Dragonhold wasn’t in the fireplaces, it was in Anne’s heart. Richard Woods from Chicago described himself as “were chaplin to Dragonhold” and talked about Anne’s cup overflowing (with good Chardonnay) and her donations to charity, and the stick she got for not having religion in the Pern books. He said that when she met God, she would be having words with him about the poor quality of his staff. Celine sang “It’s a Wonderful World” and “Morning has broken”. Gigi said later that Anne had picked out all the music, including the rousing Academic Overture at the end.

Then we headed for the graveyard at Kilquade, and got lost on the way. Even with directions, it was hard to find. It was very windy, but bright and dry. The service at the grave was simple and informal, no incense or rosary, just friends saying goodbye to a loved one.

Afterwards, we went to the Graduate for lunch. There was an amazing big screen slide show of photos on Anne’s life, from when she was a young girl on. There were pictures of her with her babies, getting awards, with Issac Asimov, riding, swimming with dolphins, mother of the bride, mother of
the groom, eating breakfast. It was almost hypnotic, everytime you watched, you saw photos you hadn’t seen before.

Anne’s family are thinking about having some sort of memorial in afew months, perhaps with internet streaming, so that people who can’t come in person can still join in.

Bone Basics – for men too

Why Osteoporosis matters to you.

Osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease, is not just something that old women have to worry about. You do too, and here’s why. One in three women, and one in ten men will get it, and it will destroy your quality of life far more devastatingly than heart disease or cancer. There’s no point in having a perfect heart, a well planned early retirement and an excellent pension, if you are scared to move from your armchair in case your hips break.

Risk Factors

1. Being female. Your chances of getting osteoporosis are higher if you are female, both because you can expect to live longer, and because you have smaller bones in the first place. However, men are more likely to die within six months of breaking a hip.

2. Family history. If anyone in your immediate family has osteoporosis, or has lost a significant amount of height, pay close attention.

3. Being of European or Asian decent.

4. Losing weight. If you have dropped a significant amount of weight as an adult, your bones will not thank you for it. The effect is worse if you have lost, regained and lost it again. A recent study of Irish jockeys found that many of them had compromised their bone health through over-strict dieting.

5. Missed periods, unless due to pregnancy or breastfeeding.

6. Medication, particularly corticosteroids or thyroid medication.

7. Poor diet, especially if it is based on acid-forming food like sugar and grains. Your body has to leech calcium from your bones to neutralise the acid.

8. Coffee and Coke are not bone friendly!

9. Lifestyle: lack of exercise gives bones no reason to maintain density, but too much (as in the case of marathon runners or ballet dancers) reduces bone density as well.

You can’t tell by looking how dense your bones are. The commonest test is a DEXA scan, which is usually arranged by your doctor and carried out in hospital, involving a form of x-ray at hip and spine. You can also get a quicker and cheaper DEXA scan on a heel bone. However, unless you get it done regularly, this only gives a snapshot of your bone density, and gives you a very general idea of your risk of future fractures.

A Bone turnover test is done on blood and can be done every six months or so. It is often used to determine if the drugs are working.

The good news is that there is a home test which appears to be just as accurate as the hospital tests, and which you can do yourself. Just jump. Experiments have found (yes, they really do tests on stuff like this) that your ability to do a vertical leap is directly related to your bone density.

Reach up as high as you can and make a mark on the wall. Then jump straight up and see how much higher you can touch. Do best out of three and see what the difference is between standing and jumping. 12 inches for a female or 18 for a male is considered average, but since you know your own fitness level best, you should be the best judge of your jump. If your vertical leap is not as high as you expected it would be, it may be time to start considering your bone health.

If you have doubts about your bone density, do not go rushing off looking for a prescription for Fosamax or anything similar. These drugs work by trying to prevent the breakdown of bone tissue. Unfortunately that also prevents the bones rebuilding themselves. And there are all the side-effects….

While HRT has been shown to have a slight protective effect on bones, it only lasts while you are taking it, and as soon as you stop, your bones play catch-up. And again, those side-effects….

The good news is that there is a lot you can do to improve the state of your bones.

1. Breastfeed. This is the single best thing you can do for your bones. Women who breastfeed for six months or longer have a quarter of the risk of hip fractures of those who bottle feed. When you breastfeed, your bones become metabolically active again Calcium for the baby’s milk is taken from your bones, and calcium from your diet goes back into your bones, and this process continues for six months after you wean. Even women who only eat an adequate diet have stronger bones after breastfeeding. Women who consciously plan and eat a good diet have much stronger bones.

2. Weight bearing exercise. Your bones operate on the principle of “Use it or lose it”. If you regularly overload your bones by weight training, they will respond by becoming stronger. The big compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull ups) are the ones which will benefit your bones. Slow negatives have been found to stress bones most.
Also, high impact sports like martial arts, which involve lots of kicking and punching are bone-friendly (as long as you don’t break any). Running and skipping are also good. Jump in bursts of 20 for maximum impact.

3. Diet. Believe it or not, there are still doctors telling people that a high protein diet rots your bones, in spite of all the research showing that a high protein diet, especially combined with enough calcium, tends to remineralise bones. A bone-friendly diet needs plenty of fat in it, particularly saturated fat. It also needs plenty of vegetables, mostly green ones.

4. Drink lots of water, and cups of tea. Even discounting the effect of the milk in their cups, tea drinking tends to be protective.

5. Get out into the sun. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, and the best source is sunlight. Do your cardio outside. Cod liver oil contains extra Vitamin D, fish oil doesn’t.

6. Supplement sensibly. Bodybuilding is a sport that creates a drain on calcium reserves, so it makes sense to take a good calcium/magnesium supplement. Crush it and put it into your PWO shake for maximum absorption. Vitamin K is one that is usually not included in multi-vits, but is essential to bone health. Make sure you are getting enough boron as well.

7. For men, keep your testosterone levels high. For women, don’t drop body fat to the point where your periods stop.

Laid Back Nursing

Laid Back Nursing

There’s some great news in breastfeeding. For years, we’ve been doing it wrong.

Okay, not wrong – there is no wrong way to breastfeed. But we’ve been doing it the hard way. And along the way, an awful lot of women have decided that breastfeeding is just too much hardship, and stopped before they really wanted to.

The good news is that there is a much easier way. It works, it involves far less hassle and anxiety, and everyone gets to enjoy life a lot more.

Remember all those instructions about sitting up straight, with a cushion under your elbow, and your foot raised, and a pillow under the baby, then lining everything up, nose to nipple, and finally worrying about the shape of the baby’s mouth? All that stuff is gone.

Instead, take all those pillows, put them behind your back and shoulders, so that you are lying back comfortably, as if you are going to watch television on the couch or read in bed. Then put the baby face down on your stomach or between your breasts, and just leave her to it.

Suzanne Colson’s remarkable work on Biological Nurturing discovered that babies, even new born babies, are well able to find their own way to the breast, and then latch themselves on perfectly. All those flailing hand and leg movements that we tried to curtail are necessary for the baby to find the nipple, and then make her way onto it.

So put your baby down, allow her to feel and sniff her way to your nipple, and let her latch herself on. You can support her feet if necessary, and provide a soothing voice or back rub, but don’t try to force her along. She’ll get there on her own.

This is also great news for anyone who has had a Caesarian section. You can arrange yourself comfortably, and let the baby approach from the side or even over your shoulder.

With this approach, women find that they don’t have to make the baby latch on properly. She does it herself quite naturally, so there is none of the anxiety about checking the latch or

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the Special K mouth.

Obviously, this is not the only way to breastfeed, and you might get a cool reception if you tried a bit of laid back nursing in your local coffee shop. It works best when you have somewhere private and comfortable and there are no time constraints. But for the early days, you can’t beat it.

This video shows a new born baby finding his own way to the breast and latching on. And if that poor mother had a bit of support under her, it would have been even easier.


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