Tuesday, December 15, 2009


The tradition of the evergreen tree can be traced back to the Ancient Egyptians. Centuries ago in Great Britain, Druids used evergreens at winter solstice to symbolize the return of life in the Spring.

Bob and I have two traditions that without fail we adhere to on Christmas Eve.

Someone once said that the English love tradition and Americans love a parade. Bob gets his parade at Thanksgiving; now it’s my turn to enjoy some tradition. That’s why I’m insisting this year on verbalizing, “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” Chanukah’s almost over, after all, and Christmas isn’t. Besides, I’m really OK about it if someone wishes me a Happy Chanukah in response – even delighted.

Sharing holidays with each other should become a new tradition.

I digress. The first tradition Bob and I observe on Christmas Eve is to join friends in a tiny church on a hill surrounded by woods. It only gets used once in winter and Christmas Eve is it. It couldn’t be more picture-post-card if it tried – complete with a potbellied stove to keep us warm and red candles in red apples at the windows.

Snow is usually falling outside.

The service consists of adults and children sharing something special from their lives, a favorite poem, an observation, anything really that contributes to the sense of community. There are some carols and then we all light candles, link hands and sing Silent Night.

You have to be dead not to be wiping away a tear.

The service is followed by a party at my friend Bobbie’s house – and yes, we sing carols around the piano. I suppose this is a chance to tell her that all the effort she makes with food, decorations and seasonal cheer is and has been appreciated by all her friends for many years. For me, she recaptured the magic of Christmas that I knew as a child and I will always treasure it.

Everyone leaves feeling closer and happier than when we went in which I think is the point.

Then Bob and I rush home and do some last-minute gift wrapping and tease ourselves by delaying the moment that we find the DVD and put it in the machine. Because this is what we’ve been looking forward to all year. We wouldn’t dream of spoiling things by being tempted to play this sacred DVD any other time.

We cuddle up, yes, even at our age we cuddle up – our dog is invited, of course – and we push the play button. We’ve done this every year since 2003 when Love Actually was first released. We laugh, cry, comment on the brilliant writing and ensemble acting and hope that it won’t end. It does, of course. It ends with the words “… because love, actually, is all around.”

So in an act of pure plagiarism, that’s what I wish for all of us this holiday season. I wish that we can all experience, in spite of what we read, see and even sometimes feel, that love, actually, is all around.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What's in a Word?

I love thinking about words. From Dan Brown’s latest great read, The Lost Symbol, I’ve just learned about how the word sincerely is thought to have come into the language. When marble workers during the Roman Republic wanted to cover an imperfection, they would fill it with wax and press marble dust into it. The mistake disappeared. This was considered dishonest.

In Latin, sine means without; cere means wax. So sincerely means without wax. Every time you sign a letter with Sincerely or Yours sincerely, you’re really saying “this letter is written honestly -- without wax.” Isn’t that wonderful?! I love stuff like that.

English is so alive and organic. It’s not easy to keep up with it all. Just think, ten years ago no one would have understood the verb to google. As recently as a year ago, no one would have understood the verb to tweet.

It’s especially not easy to keep up with the changes in English when one has to learn American as well. As a born and bred English person, I work hard at being bilingual. For example, in stead of saying turn right I now say take a right without even thinking of asking “take a right where and in what?” I’ve even mastered hang a left without being tempted to look for a clothes line.

But there are some words that I still can’t get my tongue around, for example, utilize. It’s three syllables after all. It’s a lot of work! I’m going to stick with its more efficient cousin use because otherwise the utilization of utilize takes way too much breath and sounds as if I’m trying to be something I’m not.

And how about the word robust? This fine word used to be savored about once a year to describe a hearty red wine at the holidays. Now it’s used, with the appropriate hand-speak, to describe anything from an idea to a budget. I like the word robust; it feels good in the mouth which may be why it’s become the word of the moment. But it’s on the way to losing its power from over utilization. I’ve had complaints from other words who are beginning to feel neglected.

However, not all is lost, because in the cosmetic world we have a language that doesn’t go in and out of fashion but remains the same whether you’re in New Zealand or Norway and anywhere in between. It’s called INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients). The majority of ingredient labels use INCI. This doesn’t mean you’ll be able to understand it because most of it will be in Latin -- that universal language with which we’re all so conversant.

The United States doesn’t require this international language, although almost every other country does. So, if you ship overseas, this has led to some interesting problems for us manufacturers not the least of which is the word water.

Yes, water. This two syllable word that heads many ingredient lists has been the subject of more meetings, more angst, more high-level discussion than any ingredient anywhere on earth. The Latin word for water is aqua. However, the FDA feels that not enough Americans know what aqua means so they want water to be called water, which would give us water/aqua on our labels.

Not so fast. To comply internationally, manufacturers must list the INCI word first which gives us aqua/water (with the FDA looking on with robust disapproval). Then the French weigh in and insist that if French translations are used on the package (an absolute requirement if you ship to Canada) that everything in English must be translated into French. This leaves us with Aqua/Water/Eau on our labels, that are already griping about all the information they have to carry.

And you thought being a cosmetic manufacture just meant deciding which new lipstick colors to bring out.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m going to grab a shower (round the waist), fix my hair (I’ve just found a fabulous new glue), and take in a movie (I’m tired of watching them. It’s more exciting to inhale them). After that, I’ll probably become a couch potato and catch a few zzzz’s (in my butterfly net) because I’ve been working 24/7!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Memory and Your Nose

Ceilidh, front center, with her focus group

Mmmm! Just the whiff of Old Spice Aftershave and I’m back dancing on the top of a table to the Beatles’ She Loves Me and spotting a mysterious stranger soon to be my first love.

Or the smell of wet grass and I’m poking my head out of our family tent wondering if it’s dry enough to forage for mushrooms.

What is it about a smell that in a nano-second vividly recalls memories decades old and with all the attendant emotions? No other sense packs such a punch because it’s the only sense that goes directly to the brain. At the top of our nasal passages behind our nose is a patch of special neurons about the size of a postage stamp. These neurons are unique because they’re out in the open where they can come into contact with the air. Humans have about five million neurons. Dogs have more than 220 million.

My dog thinks that humans have a puny sense of smell. Her smell is a thousand times more sensitive than ours. Could you smell a stick of celery through the walls of a closed suitcase surrounded by dirty socks? And medical tests have recently shown that specially trained dogs can detect certain types of tumors in humans. Beat that!

In order for you to smell something, molecules from that thing have to make it to your nose. Everything you smell, therefore, is giving off molecules - whether it’s aftershave, celery or wet grass. Those molecules are generally light and float through the air into your nose. Inert substances such as minerals don’t give off molecules which is why they are “fragrance free.”

Humans can distinguish more than 10,000 different smells. My dog isn’t impressed. She can smell the urine of another of her brethren and tell you the sex and what it ate for breakfast. She does this quite often. “Hey, let’s go this way. He’s a nice looking stud and there’s a chance he didn’t eat all the sirloin they gave him for breakfast!”

Regardless of our limitations, smell is incredibly important to us. What’s the first thing you do when you’re assessing a new cosmetic? I bet you put it on your hand and smell it. If it doesn’t appeal, it doesn’t matter what miracles the cream could produce, you won’t use it; I know you.

So wait until you try our special holiday product, . Four beautiful lip glosses with my favorite chocolate flavors - truffle, orange, strawberry and caramel. Yes, they really taste like chocolate and just as importantly…they smell like it. That’s because we’ve used organic food-grade flavors. From the moment you open the box all your senses are stimulated and when you put them on your lips, I promise you a truly sensual experience.

As soon as I open the lid to and release the smell, I’m opening the door to my first Belgian chocolatier and swooning from the aroma - real cocoa beans and butter fat, no compromises just pure decadence.

Unfortunately, chocolate is poisonous for dogs so in spite of pulling out the big guns - tail waving rhythmically, the “see what a good girl I am sitting here in front of you and not moving an inch,” posture and moist eyes fixing mine, I’m hanging tough and keeping these delectable goodies for myself. Pass the chocolate orange, please.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Anyone Can Wear Red

Jane on the ocean floor

Sand Pipers in flight

I think I’m in love with iron oxides.

I used to be in love with the man who introduced me to them, my geology professor at NYU. It was he who unlocked the mystery of tectonic plates for his devoted students and led us to marvel further at the wonders of this planet. I used to leave his class and dance up Fifth Avenue. He gave me an A on my first test and then I knew it was for real. I have a terrible memory for names but I never forgot the names he taught us – metamorphic, sedimentary, igneous, gneiss, conglomerate, obsidian, scoria.… And he informed us that anything red in the earth is the result of iron oxides.

This lapse into the dull was unlike him. What’s so fascinating about rusted iron liberally sprinkled with heavy metals? Give me underwater volcanoes any day.

But then I saw a dramatic demonstration of the beauty of this simple mineral when, years ago, I was on a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. The river was green when we first began to run the rapids but as the week wore on the weather changed from dry to saturating. This created a certain amount of discomfort for a city girl who was trying not to whine about spending the night on beaches with nothing but a sleeping bag and ground sheet. Good that the ground sheet was transparent because I used to pull it over me and watch the lightening flash off the canyon walls while the rain beat on my face. (Why didn’t you sleep under a tree, you ask? That’s because scorpions drop from trees, and then there are other beasts that were using the beach first who also like to stay out of the rain. Ignore my warning at your peril.)

It rained for so long that waterfalls that didn’t exist before poured over the red canyon walls washing off the iron oxides into the river which turned from green to red in front of our eyes. When we reached the Little Colorado River, its aquamarine water joined the red Colorado in a kaleidoscope of colors that defy description. I was hooked.

Just recently I had a trip to the Bay of Fundy, that wondrous place in Nova Scotia that enjoys fifty-foot tides and is so full of iron oxides that even the massive cliffs are red. We stayed at a motel on the shore of the Minas Basin and watched as the tide came in and the tide went out. When it was in, it lapped at our feet; out, it disappeared over the horizon. What was left were miles of red mud – the ocean floor – with a rich mixture of small critters for the thousands of migrating sand pipers to fatten up on before their long trip south. (More on that later.) There is something primeval about walking on mud millions of years old as it squelches between your toes and slips and slides under your feet. And the iron oxides stain your toes and prolong your pedicure.

In the evening, we cooked up vegetables from the local farmers’ market, grilled some just-caught fish and ate at a picnic table watching the sun set. Why am I giving you this piece of off-topic information? Because the sunset intensified the color of the red mud so that it looked as though it were boiling. It looked like lava. Really, it did. Iron oxides have never looked so beautiful.

And the thousands of sand pipers used this beauty as a back-drop to their ancient dance that left us breathless. Do they have a choreographer? How is it that they can all turn at the same exact second going 35 miles an hour? One instant they’re a silver flying saucer; the next second they’re a black funnel, and the next they disappear altogether only to reappear as Japanese calligraphy. I’d be watching them still if I hadn’t had a plane to catch and they hadn’t left for South America.

I brought some red iron oxide back on my brand-new white tennis sneakers and was quite annoyed at how impossible it is to get off once it’s made its mark. (If only lip stains worked as well!) In spite of this minor character flaw, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m still in love with iron oxides. But what really breaks my heart is how much I love this glorious planet.

Note: To learn more about the ocean floor, the creatures that inhabit it and how a healthy ocean is crucial for all life on earth, visit http://www.teamorca.org/.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Different Perspective

Jane on the left...hanging on!

Isn’t it wonderful when something happens out of the blue that just blows you away?! Literally.

Last week our management team held a retreat so we could concentrate on thinking ahead for the next five years. On the final day we were told to bring warm clothes and soft-soled shoes. I thought we were going for a hike – you know, an orchestrated bonding experience. Instead, we were marched to a meadow where two hot air balloons were waiting for us.

I’ve never been in a hot air balloon.

It was a perfect evening to see our beautiful Berkshire Hills in all their late summer glory. At least, that’s what I repeated to myself as the balloons were inflated and my knees shook. Did I tell you I’m a nervous flier? I’ve been in all kinds of planes from two-seaters over the African jungle to jumbo jets around the world. I’ve even been in a glider. I’ve sat in 747 cockpits with jet pilots while they expressed their adoration for all those dials. I’ve taken the joystick of a two-seater in an effort by the pilot to have me “feel her soul.” I’ve read all the books and I understand why planes stay up there. As a friend of mine says, “Planes fly because of the laws of physics, not in spite of them.”

Nothing’s worked. I still experience at least one moment of abject terror every time I fly and that’s if there are no bumps. It comes down to this - I just don’t trust those engines and I don’t like knowing that I’m 30,000 feet in the air with no way out. (I always choose an aisle seat because looking down reminds me that we’re not on the ground.)

So, riding in a hot air balloon powered by a propane flame thrower, with a pilot dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt and being told that it would be better if my partner and I didn’t travel in the same balloon together wasn’t my idea of must-have recreation no matter how glorious the early evening light was!

And then we had to sign those releases. You know, the ones that tell you that you can’t hold the pilot responsible if you impale on a church steeple or the balloon goes up in flames. I made light of it, of course, because everyone else was being so carefree and also because I knew they were watching me. Gaily, I jumped into the basket and fell into deep prayer wishing I’d taken a seasick pill.

It makes a lot of noise when they pump that blow torch to keep the air in the balloon warmer than the ambient temperature. “Heat rises, cold sinks” became my mantra as we floated gently away. When the blow torch wasn’t in operation and singeing the top of my head, things were blissfully quiet and serene. The hills revealed their secrets, unfathomable from the ground. We discovered grand houses tucked into hillsides; formal gardens; lakes and ponds. We floated over trees so close we picked leaves from their very top branches. We looked for bear and deer in usually impenetrable woodland.

Our beautiful Berkshires Hills – the roots of mountains that used to be higher than the Rockies – spread out all around us in a shimmering blue light. Yes, this was worth it. This was actually fun.

Oh, I forgot to tell you that balloons can be made to go up and down but not sideways, so when I asked the pilot, “Where are we going to land?” His answer was, “I haven’t got a clue.” He did reveal that he planned to fly over the upcoming ridge. A slightly frantic, I thought, pumping of the Bunsen burner gave us enough lift to float over the ridge with not much to spare. And we did bump into our sister balloon as they got caught up in an air current that drove them backwards and into us. We have handprints on our balloon to prove it.

It eventually occurred to me that perhaps we were running out of propane since we had switched to the second tank and there’d been quite a bit of flame pumping going on. Sure enough our pilot started to make noises about looking for a field. In case he missed them, we were happy to help and pointed to several large, green, soft spaces close at hand. Remember I said that a balloon can’t go sideways? This is when I fully appreciated the phrase, “So near and yet so far,” as we had to leave a number of tantalizingly close meadows behind.

I have no sense of direction so trying to figure out where we were was impossible and everything looks so different from a hot air balloon. However, I did know that we were dangerously close to heading for the State of New York and hundreds of acres of dense woodland. But those puckish air currents just wouldn’t cooperate. Then, suddenly we were headed for a lush alfalfa field – the last green space before we hit NY. We were instructed to bend our knees and hold on tight. No problem. We bounced a few times and were down, exhilarated, congratulating each other and talking about when we could do it again. Now here comes the good part.

This unpredictable, uncontrollable balloon had landed in a field next to the house where I started the company fifteen years ago! It’s true. (My neighbors came running out to welcome us.) I know this sounds ridiculous, but it’s almost as if the balloon had deliberately taken us back to the beginning to show us how far we’d come. Lots of hugs and tears.

Our fifteen years since we started the company have been a soaring balloon ride with risk, unpredictability, adventure and quite a bit of hot air thrown in. But more than anything else it has been a ride full of beauty and discovery and connection.

Who needs to go sideways when you can go up?

Monday, August 31, 2009

We Are What We Eat

We rescued our dog, Benjie, five years ago now. He was found on the streets of a nearby-town, so matted that he couldn’t defecate. He became completely devoted to my mother and her to him - he was soon living with her. Their mutual devotion manifested itself in many ways but particularly with food.

I’ve long been an advocate of the raw food diet for our dogs. I know it saved my beloved Labrador’s life. I thought I was feeding her the best pet food money could buy but when she was one year old she developed a terrible allergy that was so agonizing it even changed her personality. After many, many vet visits, I finally found wonderful Pat McKay*, who diagnosed Ceilidh (kay-lee) as having an out-of-control yeast infection fed by all the starch in her food. Under Pat’s guidance, we stopped the vicious cycle of steroids and antibiotics and built up Ceilidh’s immune system with supplements and raw food. Soon the constant scratching and itching stopped; her ears that looked like red cracked mud went back to their beautiful creamy softness; her hair re-grew (she was almost hairless) and most importantly the yeast let go of its grip on her internal system.

I learned that pet food is full of starch and processed food, completely alien to a dog’s natural diet, but the favorite of yeast and parasites. Nobody bakes cookies for dogs in the wild.

So our habit for the past 11 years is for her to lie beside me in the kitchen while I spend ten minutes in the morning putting together a mixture of raw meat mixed with organic vegetables and vitamins. What takes me ten minutes, takes her ten seconds to eat. This diet is more expensive than commercial dog food but, believe me, the vet bills have shrunk to nothing. Better yet, she’s almost 12 and still leads the pack of her Labrador buddies on the daily walk together. She’s a running, jumping anti-aging commercial.

Benjie (our little rescue) has been more of a problem. He has been so lavished with treats and nibbles to “make up for the terrible time he had on the streets, dear” – a regular rationalization from my mother - that he grew obese and lethargic. (He’s a terrier mix so lethargy is unusual, but he has this adorable way of sitting on his hind legs and lifting his front paws up and down as if he were saying, “please, please, please!” Even I, with my purist heart, find it difficult to resist him – but I do.) So, eventually we took him to the vet for a check-up to find that he has diabetes.

My initial reaction was, “Oh, no! How on earth are we going to manage this? Two insulin shots a day after meals 12 hours apart.” It’s still a major challenge but there’s no doubt that his energy is better and he’s a happier dog – always good to see. In order for me to give him the insulin, he has to eat a certain amount of raw food twice a day – no treats! This took an enormous concession on my mother’s part who is convinced that Benjie thinks that she doesn’t love him any more. That hasn’t been my problem. My problem has been getting him to eat my raw food. I have to hand-feed him to get anything passed his lips because he would much rather have a piece of toast – preferably with marmalade. I’ve come to realize that he’s addicted to starch. He literally had the shakes one night. This addiction means that I can spend up to 45 minutes a session getting enough food into him in order to give him the insulin. There have, of course, been many trips to the vet to monitor blood sugar levels. Now he has a urinary tract infection – common with diabetes, I’m told.

All this, of course, has led me to think in the larger terms of what diabetes means to humans and the strain on the country and the world of this epidemic. There’s nothing like having it in your own backyard to get a real sense of how complicated, dangerous and time-consuming this disease is. Apart from those truly unfortunate people who become diabetic at an early age (Type 1 diabetes), so much of diabetes is avoidable. Benjie didn’t have to be diabetic; it was the result of those around him not understanding the consequences of what seemed like small, harmless actions – expressions of love – like the mailperson who used to slip him a biscuit every day. From Benjie’s point of view, I suppose the moral to this story is that looking cute and getting what you want, isn’t always best for your health.

*http://www.patmckay.com/ Pat gives free consultations on any aspect of your companion’s health. She also offers homeopathy for animals.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My First Wrinkle

I vividly remember my first wrinkle. I was in Austria getting ready to go out to dinner after a day of filming Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger. I was kind of excited about some time away from the grind of a film set and really looking forward to getting to know our Austrian producer/Olympic athlete who was taking me to a local restaurant.

I was putting on some mascara when I noticed what I thought was a smudge under my eye. I casually flicked it away – it didn’t move. I flicked again and again and peered closer. Why was it being so stubborn? It took a few seconds and then the shocking realization: I had a wrinkle and it wasn’t going anywhere but deeper.

It somewhat took the edge off the evening because now, of course, I was an old woman and invisible to men. (I’ve grown up a bit since then.)

The worst part of the appearance of this creature was that there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing except anticipate the appearance of more of the same. Today, I would have run for a cosmeceutical – that wonderful hybrid of cosmetic and drug – that would have promised an increase in collagen and elastin production and vanished my wrinkle. But, cosmeceuticals didn’t exist then.

Aren’t we fortunate to live in an age when science has made it possible to have skincare products that are actually effective? What isn’t so fortunate are the restrictions on what manufacturers can say about them. Even though the products work, they aren’t allowed to say so for fear of upsetting the FDA by making drug claims. To understand what the FDA defines as a cosmetic, this is taken from its Web site.

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) defines cosmetics by their intended use, as "articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body...for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance"

In other words, it can look pretty but can’t claim to effect physiological change.

This is the FDA definition of a drug:

The FD&C Act defines drugs, in part, by their intended use, as "articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease" and "articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals"

In other words, if you claim that the product creates physiological change then it’s a drug. So if you say, “our product prevents wrinkles,” you are making a drug claim. If you say, “our product prevents the appearance of wrinkles,” you are making a cosmetic claim. A cosmetic manufacturer does not want to be marketing a drug, even though some of us have to endure the strictures if we produce sunscreens. So we try to say what the product does without really saying it. This is why we hedge our statements with words such as “appears,” “seems” “illusion” and “looks” and leave the consumer to try to figure it out.

I hope there will come a day when companies who have done their research, gone through their testing phases and documented the results are allowed to let the consumer know what the product can really do. Anything else is not only a disservice to the consumer but also to the well-intentioned scientists, chemists and formulators who are trying to give us what we want.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Jane’s mum assembling Magic Mitts with tender loving care.

I’ve written about vitamin D before and I feel that it’s worth writing about it again. More and more studies are showing what a major part it plays in our health. Consider this, if we have enough vitamin D in our system, it acts as a much more efficient deterrent to the flu than questionable vaccinations. For example, research has shown that infections peak when vitamin D levels are at their lowest – usually March and April – and infections are lowest during the months when vitamin D levels peak because of our exposure to the sun.

Dr. David G. Williams in his newsletter “Alternatives for the Health-Conscious Individual” cites studies that suggest that this “seasonality” associated with flu can be abolished by supplementing the diet with just an additional 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day. For someone without the flu, the following are the recommended daily doses:

1,000 IU for children under two years old
2,000 IU for children over two years old
3,000 IU for individuals weighing 80 – 130 lbs.
4,000 IU for individuals weighing 130 – 170 lbs.
5,000 IU for individuals weighing over 170 lbs.

For an adult who contracts the flu, the dosage can be increased to 50,000 IU for three days and then reduced back to the above dosage.

Concerned about overdoing it? Studies have shown that taking 50,000 IU of vitamin D a day for six weeks resulted in no signs of toxicity whatsoever.

Why does vitamin D work? It is crucial in fighting infections and keeping our immune systems strong. Vitamin D is an essential element in producing NK (natural killer) cells. These killer cells are our first line of defense against invading pathogens. If you’d like more in-depth information on this please refer to Dr. Williams Web site, http://www.drdavidwilliams.com/.

I started taking vitamin D in larger doses at the beginning of the winter and I can honestly say that I’ve gone through it without so much as a sniffle which says a lot given that my dog’s desire for walkies increases as the temperature reaches sub-zero. This can be any time of the day or night. I take 50,000 IU twice a month in one convenient little pill, http://www.lifespannutrition.com/, and now I’m giving it to my mum because I know it’s going to help her bones, as well. I’m doing this even though I know it’s going to increase her killer cells and she definitely doesn’t need any more of those. Believe me, she has plenty!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I read with some amazement in the Spring issue of Cosmetics International that a study run by the University of St. Etienne in France and backed by L’Oreal, found that older women who put on makeup in the morning are less likely to have accidents than those who have the bare-faced cheek to venture outside without wearing cosmetics.

The study included one hundred women aged 65-85 and found that those wearing makeup stood straighter and were more stable on their feet. Researchers believe that applying makeup could serve as a form of stretching exercise, improving balance and coordination. So let it be said with emphasis that you’re never too old to wear makeup especially if you don’t want to end up on a walker.

And there’s more interesting news flowing in from Japan by way of cosmeticsdesign.com. (Those Japanese scientists are really busy with all kinds of studies to do with skin and health.) This time they’ve discovered, by using brain scanning equipment, that women experience a wave of euphoria and optimism as they prepare for their makeup routine. Isn’t that interesting! So, it isn’t just about feeling good after we’ve put on our makeup, we feel good before. Just imagining how we’re going to look sends us into paroxysms of joy.

The optimism bit was interesting. Perhaps makeup is all we need to turn the economy around. More female bankers, please!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I was gifted with a book recently called The Essential Green You! – Easy ways to detox your diet, your body, and your life written by Deirdre Imus. The book begins with an African proverb which says: If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.

I wish we could eat, sleep and dream this sentiment. I wish that every time anyone threw anything away he/she thought about where it was going and what it was doing to us and the environment. I wish that every time we fed something to our children or pets we thought about its effect on their health and the larger consequences. I wish that every time we used a product – personal or household – we read the label to see what the toxicity was. I wish that every time we were tempted to say something mean or condescending we thought about its impact. I wish we all understood that we really can do something to improve our health, our future, our country and the planet by being conscious of the power we have.

Deirdre’s book is the clear result of someone who’s conscious of her power and how to use it. From what we eat to what we put on our bodies to what we wear, she points out the positive and negative impact of the multiple choices we make all the time and without thinking.

And she puts her money where her convictions are. For example, The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology. The mission is to enhance health by educating our children, their parents and the public-at-large about the carcinogens and other environmental factors that occur all too commonly in our lives. For example, do you know what cleaning products your child’s school uses? The Center wants to be a voice that can realistically help shape policy decisions that impact the environment and our well being.

Like a mosquito in your bedroom, Deidre is hard to ignore. Except, instead of wanting to swat her, you’re going to want to read and hear every word she says.

Monday, April 27, 2009


There’s no doubt about it, spring is my favorite season. Legend has it that the day I was born (at home) my grandmother wrapped me in a blanket and took me into the garden to look at the pear blossoms. I think that’s called imprinting.

Every year since, I experience a feeling of euphoria as I see life returning. It’s worth going through the winter to see spirited little flowers lifting their heads while the rest of us are still wearing boots and scarves. It’s been a cold, damp spring so far but here they come, the early spring flowers, cheering us up with their brilliance.

The person who related the seasons to the human color palette was so right. Just look around you and see what spring has to offer – clear yellows, aqua blues, peach and bright greens – all colors that flatter yellow-undertoned spring women and men. And then summer with its dusty blues, mauves, pinks, blue reds and sage greens, perfect for cool undertones. Fall takes the spring colors and deepens them into golds, burnt oranges, rich blues and greens. Winter around here is famous for its white off-set with dark tree trunks. Truly, winter people are the only ones who are flattered by black or white. They wear it – for the rest, it wears us.

I know having your colors done is considered old fashioned now but I am still a firm believer in it. It works. It really does. And it works just as well for makeup as for clothing.

Funny that I was born in the spring, love the spring and, in the season color system, I’m a spring. Oh, yes, I’d sometimes love to be one of those women whose wardrobe is nothing but black with some crisp white blouses (travelling is a breeze) but the truth is that my skin looks better wearing a yellow-undertoned color next to it. And if I try to wear anything but a warm or neutral color on my lips, I look as if I’m ready for the morgue.

We have a nest of pine siskin’s on our porch. Mamma has produced five babies – something that she and her mate marvel at quite a bit as they perch on the side of the nest for a breather. As the babies poke up their heads, all I can see are their bright yellow beaks, the same color as my daffodils. Isn’t nature amazing?!

For all of you springs out there, enjoy your season.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I love fish. I like to look at them in aquariums; I like to swim with them, and I enjoy them on my plate. Poaching a sea bass with ginger and shiitake mushrooms is a sublime experience. Oh, yes, and I love sushi!

It probably has roots in my childhood when we would fish in the English Channel behind the chalet my parents rented for two weeks on the Isle of White. We always rented the chalet called Mine and ‘Ers right next to the one called ‘Ers and Mine. The highlight of each day – weather permitting – was to paddle in the shallow water with fishing nets and then examine our catch – small flat fish, crabs, strangers, seaweed and best of all shrimp. Not the steroid variety that I’ve become accustomed to here, but small brown ones packed with flavor. After jumping and shimmering in our nets, they were rewarded with the cooking pot. There was nothing like the satisfaction of feeding ourselves from the bountiful ocean.

Problem is the ocean isn’t so bountiful now. I recently experienced an environmental conference in Eleuthera at The Island School, www.islandschool.org, where marine scientists gathered to discuss the state of the oceans and climate change – it wasn’t pretty. Even the scientists were depressed.

Now I can’t look at or order fish without going through a litany of questions: Is it endangered? Is it farmed? If so, how? Are the farms damaging to the environment – other species? What are they fed – antibiotics? Dyes? If they’re wild caught – how? What damage to ocean biodiversity do the fishing methods cause? The shrimp I loved so much are now off limits to me. There simply isn’t a way – wild or farmed – that doesn’t drastically damage the environment. For example, here are two pictures showing what happens to healthy coral when the bottom-trawling boats have been through harvesting animals like shrimp. It could be the surface of the moon. It will take hundreds of years to return to the way it was.

Picture courtesy of http://www.marbef.org/

How much of an effect has over-fishing had? Consider this, the biomass in the North Atlantic fell by 90% during the 20th century. I don’t want to turn you into someone who waiters run away from when you open the menu, but if you want an easy way to know what your best choices for fish are then there’s a very handy guide put out by Seafood Watch published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (a fabulous place, by the way) http://www.seafoodwatch.org/. It lists fish in three ways: Best Choices, Good Alternatives and Avoid.

Good luck. It isn’t easy being green!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The products used to cover our model's Vitiligo
include Amazing Base and D2O

I sometimes find interesting research that I want to share with you. This happens to be about vitiligo. I’ve been touched so many times by the psychological misery of this condition and so it seemed worthwhile passing on something that might have some hope. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this new procedure really could do something meaningful?

Vitiligo phototherapy: Effectiveness of UV Vitiligo treatment
American Academy of Dermatology. Study Confirms Effectiveness of Revolutionary Vitiligo Treatment SCHAUMBURG, IL (July 12, 2001) – Imagine feeling perfectly healthy on the inside, but on the outside something looks wrong.

For millions of people who suffer from vitiligo, a disease in which patients experience a complete loss of pigment in localized areas of the skin, this feeling is one they know all too well. In a new study by dermatologist Henry W. Lim, MD, chairman of the department of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, Mich., the effectiveness of narrow-band UVB (NB-UVB) phototherapy as treatment for vitiligo was examined in a small sampling of patients. The results of the study are promising for this often hard-to-treat skin condition. After completing an average of 19 treatments with NB-UVB phototherapy, five of the seven vitiligo patients that participated in the study showed greater than 75 percent repigmentation. Additionally, one patient has remained repigmented 11 months after phototherapy was discontinued. "The successful repigmentation that these patients experienced is quite remarkable," explained Dr. Lim, co-author of "Narrow-Band Ultraviolet B is a Useful and Well-Tolerated Treatment for Vitiligo" published in the June 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. "Vitiligo is a difficult skin condition to treat, and patients are often frustrated because results from some of the other current treatments are not nearly as favourable."

Vitiligo is a disease in which patients have a complete loss of pigment in localized areas of the skin. These areas, often around the mouth and eyes, become completely white. As a result, vitiligo can be cosmetically disfiguring, especially for dark-skinned people. Vitiligo affects 1 percent to 2 percent of the worldwide population and about half of the people who develop it do so before the age of 20. About one fifth of those with vitiligo have a family member with this condition. Vitiligo usually affects both sides of the body, and although the cause is generally not known, it is believed to be an autoimmune process. During the twelve-month trial period, 11 patients participated in Dr. Lim’s study. Therapy was administered three times a week and affected segments of the body were treated with NB-UVB, a light source that emits a very narrow spectrum of UVB, the portion of sunlight that causes sunburn. The dose of radiation was increased by 15 percent for each treatment. If mild burning, pain or blistering developed, the irradiation dose was decreased. Once the desirable 75 percent repigmentation was achieved, the frequency of treatments was tapered to twice a week for four weeks, then weekly for an additional four weeks.

NB-UVB therapy has several advantages over other therapies for vitiligo. While topical corticosteroid therapy has a success rate of 56 percent, long-term use of corticosteroids can result in thinning of the skin, stretch marks, and dilation of blood vessels. Another treatment option is oral or topical psoralen plus UVA (PUVA), the latter which has a success rate of 51 percent. However, patients need to ingest or apply psoralen before getting the light treatment, and long term use of oral PUVA for another skin disease, psoriasis, has been associated with an increased incidence of skin cancer. presently, there are only a few centers in the United States that have the capabilities for NB-UVB therapy; therefore patients undergoing this therapy have long distances to commute. While NB-UVB therapy has been used in Europe since the mid-1980s, there has not been any evidence that it causes an increase in skin cancer.

"Our findings confirmed that narrow-band UVB therapy is a useful and well-tolerated treatment option for patients with vitiligo," says Dr. Lim. "Although more research needs to be conducted, the successes thus far are promising to those who suffer from the psychological and physical effects of vitiligo."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

One of the joys of living in New England is that you get to feed the birds in the winter. It really makes you feel good to see them happily fluttering around the feeders. The more feeders you put out, the more birds you get. It’s as if they regulate their number.

We’re inundated right now with gold finches and pine siskins. I mean inundated. My mother and I have counted at least two hundred at one time. Obviously, it’s hard to get an accurate count because they’re always on the move. However, she and I are both firm in our opinion that it’s got to be in that region. We fill up the feeders but we also scatter seed on the ground and that’s where the crowd gathers.

One of the things I’ve noticed about the birds is that all goes swimmingly as long as there’s enough food for everyone. The trouble begins if I’ve been lazy and resisted donning coat, gloves, scarf and boots for the trek outside through snow and ice with the heavy seed bags.

A bickering begins – gentle at first and then raucous evolving into unmitigated quarreling. Larger birds start scaring off smaller birds who fly off to a safe perch in the crab trees waiting for an opportunity to return. They gather in conspiring groups while the bullies fill their bellies. Peace returns when I’ve braved the outdoors once more.

It got me wondering if we could solve a few of the world’s problems that way. Make sure everybody had a full belly and a place to perch.