Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Take Two, They're Small.

My S.O. and I have talked about getting a cat or dog for a long time. At first it was vague discussions about what we'd want, where we'd look, and how we'd fit them into our lifestyles -- cat or dog? One or two? How would we divvy up walking and litter-scooping? Things gradually became more and more concrete, until we finally decided, "Okay. After graduation, maybe we can get one for our anniversary."

We've still got a month to go before our soft deadline, but this past weekend seemed like as good a time as any to visit a local shelter, talk to the staff, and get a better idea of what we were prepared for.
If you follow me on Instagram, you probably already know how that trip went.

We stopped by the Humane Rescue Alliance shelter Saturday afternoon, "just to look." I figured we'd end up seeing who was available, filling out paperwork, and waiting while they decided whether or not we'd be suitable pet parents. At least, that was the plan.

In reality, I fell hard for this big, sweet 11 month old orange tabby. My S.O. was smitten with this tiny, super friendly three year old other orange tabby. When we asked about filing an application, the staff asked us if we'd be ready to take them home that day.

I looked at my S.O. for confirmation. Welp, I figured, I guess we are now.

So, meet Kiko Lapushka and Pyewacket Poose:

[caption id="attachment_3457" align="aligncenter" width="513"] Kiko's default state. (Don't worry -- the oily spot's just flea preventative.)[/caption]

Kiko is from Circumstances. She's about the size of a four or five month old kitten, though she's full grown. When she was found/surrendered, she'd recently had kittens -- no kittens were found, though. She also had a large, necrotic wound on her hind leg that needed some pretty serious surgery, so she's got a lot of healing to do. In spite of all she's been through, she's otherwise healthy, extremely friendly, and very curious about her surroundings. She's missing a lot of fur where she had to be shaved for her operations, but she rocks an asymmetric haircut like nobody else.

 

[caption id="attachment_3469" align="aligncenter" width="513"] Those pink toebeans though.[/caption]

Pye is a Special Boy. He's a huge, oafy baby, and probably solidly three times Kiko's size. He chirped at me to get my attention, and reached through the bars to us for extra petting. He runs up to headbutt and talk to you if you so much as look at him. Everything is toys, though he's particularly enthralled by a blue mouse and this "Games for Cats" app on my phone. (He gets frustrated trying to catch the animated mice through the screen, so he shoves his paws under my phone to reach beneath it. I keep trying to tell him it doesn't work like that, but teenagers never listen to anyone.) He kept me up until 7:30 AM because he napped all day and wanted to play all night.

Introducing two strange cats to each other is tricky at the best of times, and Kiko has some considerable health challenges right now. We're concerned about the added stress she might experience from handling an introduction to a strange cat right now -- though they were at the same shelter, they were in different areas and therefore don't know each other's scents. We're also concerned that leaving them completely separate until she's fully healed might give them a chance to become a little too used to being alone in their respective areas. So far, we've been letting Kiko explore a little bit on her own time, and observing both cats' body language when they catch glimpses or smells of each other.

She couldn't care less about him after an initial sniff or two, and he rolls over on his back and tries to play the second he sees her. Go figure.

So, for now, she's staying in the bathroom for most of the day to continue resting up, and we give them little bits of brief interaction (mostly sniffing and allogrooming so far) a couple of times a day. There haven't been any growls, hisses, raised hackles, puffy tails, or pinned-back ears -- our main concern now is less hostility than it is that Pye is a rambunctious fifteen pound kitten who doesn't know his own strength and has paws like oven mitts.

The staff at the shelter were very courteous, friendly, and professional, and really made the entire adoption process a breeze. I'm still heartbroken that I couldn't give every animal there a home (visiting an animal shelter is rough), but I'm ecstatically happy that we were able to bring home these two lovable goofballs.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Waging the UTI War (Or: D-Mannose: The Sugar of Fate)

Note: I didn't receive any compensation for writing this post, but it does contain a couple of affiliate links to products that I found helpful. Thank you for supporting this site!

Okay, so, this is almost definitely going to veer into "TMI" territory, but bear with me.

I've been prone to recurring urinary tract infections since I was about fourteen. I've seen every type of doctor that exists for it, and nobody can really pin down why -- it's not a hygiene or habit problem, it's not due to a structural defect, it just happens. (A lot.) Unfortunately for me and others like me, sometimes that's just how it is. We get UTIs like it's our job, and nobody can really tell us why. You get handed yet another prescription for some Bactrim, and your doctor tells you to drink a lot of water and take a povidone iodine sitz bath.

Rewind to a couple of years ago, when I was still living in California. I developed a UTI to the surprise of probably no one, but, unlike the ones before that, it turned into pyelonephritis. I can't really adequately describe what having pyelonephritis feels like without being able to accurately type the onomatopoeia for tearing your hair out and screaming incoherently. I would need to develop a new branch of advanced mathematics just to be able to properly quantify how much it completely sucked.

I went to the ER, and, a couple of tests later, they handed be a prescription for Cipro. Cipro isn't great for you if you have intracranial hypertension -- as anyone with IH can tell you, the list of medications that either raise your intracranial pressure or just straight-up cause IH is stupidly long. Antibiotics, along with corticosteroids and hormonal birth control, are one of the most common culprits. That said, my round of Cipro was pretty uneventful and cleared everything up just fine. Great!

Flash forward to about three months after that, and my next UTI. (I wasn't kidding when I said I get them a lot.) Now deathly afraid of pyelonephritis, I motor to my doctor to get another prescription. He also prescribes me Cipro. Confident that this will handle everything just like last time, I head home and start taking it.

And nothing happens.

Panicked, I go back to the doctor. He orders a urine culture, and it comes back a few days later. Somehow, this UTI managed to be resistant to Cipro, Bactrim, and a host of other antibiotics I've never even taken. He prescribes nitrofurantoin, which makes me wheeze and feel sick as a dog. I can't finish the prescription, so I just kind of had to... live with this outrageous UTI and hope I didn't lose a kidney or two from it, more or less. I drank a lot of water and cranberry juice, and dealt with the urinary pain, stomach aches, and other symptoms. Some days were worse than others.

A couple of months ago, I spoke to my new doctor about it. Unable to isolate enough bacteria for a culture, she gave me a prescription for Bactrim. Nothing happened. We tried Cipro again. Nada. Now consigned to living with this UTI like some kind of awful room mate, I took matters into my own hands.

UTI Battle, Round 1: Uva Ursi


I tried using Nature's Answer uva ursi, which helped a lot. It's not good to take for long periods of time (it's not great for your liver), but it's very effective in very specific circumstances. I took it because I was already taking Diamox for my intracranial hypertension, and the combination of uva ursi and acetazolamide has specifically been shown to kill the bacteria responsible for UTIs (PDF). This mostly has to do with the active compounds in uva ursi -- the herb works best when your urine is alkaline, and, if there's one thing Diamox does well, it's alkalinize your urine. This is bad news normally, unless you're a fan of kidney stones and urinary tract infections, but helpful in this particular situation.

On the flip side, uva ursi can really irritate your stomach. It also shouldn't be used for long periods of time, or by pregnant or lactating women. It probably would have cleared up my issue entirely, but I have a pretty sensitive stomach and couldn't quite tough it out long enough to take care of everything.


UTI Battle, Round 2: A Whole Lot of Cranberry Juice


Do you know how hard it is to find real cranberry juice? I know, I know -- every guide to home remedies for UTIs says "Drink lots of cranberry juice!", but there are some things I don't think the writers really appreciate. To wit:

  1. Real cranberry juice is hard to find. Cranberry juice cocktail won't work, because it's really mostly apple, pear, or white grape juice with some cranberry added. Even "no sugar added" cranberry juice is mostly blends of other juices. The stuff that claims to be just cranberry usually isn't, because you have to add a ton of water and sugar to cranberry to make it remotely palatable. This is because:

  2. Real cranberry juice is disgusting. I'm talking about tartness that will taint everything you taste for the rest of the day. Astringency that will completely chap the inside of your mouth. Bitterness that will make you wonder what kind of depraved person ate a cranberry and decided it was a suitable food source, and not some kind of horrible practical joke.

  3. Real cranberry juice is hard to drink. I can get past something not tasting good, especially if it's healthy for me or has medicinal value. I had a much tougher time getting past the indigestion and heartburn it gave me.

  4. Real cranberry juice is expensive. Have you ever felt a cranberry? They're hard, kind of waxy. If you squeeze them, they feel like dense packing peanuts. There's not a lot of juice to them. It takes a lot of berries to make enough juice to be worth the effort. To treat a UTI, you have to drink about 6-8 ounces of cranberry juice three times a day. It cost us about eight bucks for enough cranberry juice for maybe two days.


 

This isn't to say that cranberry juice isn't effective. It contains naturally occurring compounds that inhibit bacteria from adhering to the walls of the bladder. This is super important, because a big part of the reason that UTIs aren't always easy to treat is that the bacteria form a biofilm within the body. Getting the little buggers to let go is part of the battle. Unfortunately, it wasn't that effective for me.

 

UTI Battle, Round 3: D-Mannose (Plus Some Other Stuff)


This brings us to the star of the show, and the whole reason I decided to write this post. After uva ursi, cranberry juice, and drinking so much water my back teeth were floating ("Keep your bladder flushed out!" the guides always say) I did some more Googling and picked up this stuff:



(I swear I'm not a Nature's Answer evangelist, the brand was a coincidence.)

D-mannose is a type of sugar, and I'm not sure exactly how it works. Some sources I've read suggest that it attracts bacteria off of the walls of the bladder, so, coupled with cranberry, gets rid of the biofilm. Most things say it's only for preventing UTIs, which I understand -- an ounce of prevention and all. With my options running out and wooed by the words "FAST ACTING," I decided to try this brand's three day regimen and see how it did.

As it turns out, it did really, really, weirdly well.

Each 4 ounce bottle contains enough for the three day regimen, or about two weeks of prevention. For the first day of the regimen, you take four tablespoons of the mixture spaced throughout the day. For the second and third, you cut back to two tablespoons. For prevention, you take a teaspoon once or twice a day. By the second day, I was pain-free. My stomach was a little upset, but I've accepted that that's par for the course for me and most herbal remedies at this point. In fact, I liked it so much, I picked up some lower dose capsules to take every day.

 

If you're struggling with UTIs like I do, or if you're stuck with one that's resistant to conventional treatment, ask your doctor about d-mannose. Seriously, it works. It's easy to take. The side effects are minimal. It's not too expensive. Bacteria won't become resistant to it. I can't say enough good things about it without sounding like some kind of weird MLM bot.

Do you have any home remedies or preventatives for UTI? Post a comment and tell me what you use!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Whirlwind Graduation Weekend.

Not mine, my S.O.'s. He's been part of one of George Washington University's masters degree programs, and is now finally done with school forever (unless he changes his mind later on -- but, if you were to ask him right now, he'd say forever). Between going to school, working, and helping to take care of me when I was really sick about a year ago, it's been very rough on him. I'm really proud of and happy for him.

Some of his family members came to visit this weekend, which made for a pretty hectic schedule of lunches, dinners, and graduation ceremonies. It was nice getting to see everyone, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worn out by the end of it!

The ceremony itself was kind of the highlight of the weekend, from my perspective. Senator Duckworth gave a speech, and I've admired her ever since she came on my radar. She embodies so much strength and toughness, tempered with a real sense of humility and humor. Actual news outlets have covered her speech better than I can, but I can say that her encouragement to "get involved, not discouraged" was something I needed to hear right now. I don't think anybody really needs to be told that getting involved is better than doing nothing, but her words were encouraging -- especially now that I'm at a time where I'm feeling discouraged and withdrawing to focus on my own life (and business licensing paperwork, and my health, and my financial situation...) is sorely tempting.

I would have liked to have been able to take some pictures, but a) I don't really post much about my S.O. for his privacy's sake, so I likely wouldn't put them up if I had, and b) I wasn't feeling very well, so I sat in the very back so I could leave early if I needed to without disrupting other people. I did get several pictures of him from people who snagged better seats, which was really nice of them. After the ceremony, he, his mother, and I went to Dangerously Delicious for a quick lunch, then he and I headed home for a nap before going out to dinner with his father and his aunt. I think I have enough restaurant leftovers in the fridge right now to feed us for a week!

 

 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

I Rubbed My Face With Fruit Garbage for Science Reasons.

If you've been here for a little bit, you probably know that I am all about three things:

  • Customizing my skin care products.

  • Practicing sustainability whenever possible.

  • Not spending money that I could be spending on plants, fancy rocks, and things with crows on them instead.


 

And that's why I decided to rub banana peels on my face for several days to see what happened.

Why Banana Peels?


In my defense, using bananas on skin isn't just a me thing. Bananas are a pretty popular ingredient in DIY skin care products, because they're moisturizing, soothing, and abundant in some important nutrients. The inside of banana peels has the same properties as the banana part (pulp, I guess? Do bananas have pulp?) so there's no reason you can't have your banana and eat it, too -- just save the peel.

The Experiment.


Using a banana peel for skin care is pretty simple:

  1. Peel the banana.

  2. Eat the banana.

  3. Rub the inside of the peel on your face for a minute or so (about as long as it takes to begin oxidizing and turning brown).

  4. Let it sit for a few minutes on your skin before rinsing.


 

Minimal effort, right? I figured I'd give it a shot for a week and see how I felt about it.

To test this out, I decided I'd snap a before pic, try the banana peels twice a day for at least five days, then snap an after pic. I know that pictures don't necessarily capture everything, so I also kept tabs on how my skin felt. Tight? Itchy? Soft? Oily? Even without a visual change, it'd be worth keeping up as long as it improves the way my skin feels.

Because I have no sense of decorum, I also chose not to limit this to times when I was at home. I didn't want to jeopardize anything by skipping a treatment, so, if I ended up eating breakfast on the go, my skin was probably going to get bananafied in public.

It is but one of the sacrifices I make to bring you quality content about the effects of rubbing yourself with garbage.

The Good.


A lot of skin care products contain ingredients that really aren't great for your skin. The same things that help it go on smoothly, smell nice, and last for months in your medicine cabinet or makeup bag can be irritating or even damaging. My skin's pretty sensitive, so I have to be on the lookout for things like mineral oil, alcohol, fragrance, artificial colors, and citrus derivatives to keep from peeling, turning red, or breaking out.

[caption id="attachment_3423" align="aligncenter" width="513"]A pic of me before using banana peels on my skin. The before, with no filters or anything. I've got pores, some mild scarring, and a bit of redness. I do get told I don't look my age pretty often, though, so I don't completely hate my skin.[/caption]

 

Luckily for me, none of those things happened! I didn't notice a huge visual difference (I probably need something a little more hardcore than bananas for that) but it does make my skin feel softer. I could go longer between exfoliating, too, which was pretty sweet. I eventually let the experiment run longer than five days, because why not? All told, since I'm gonna be eating bananas anyway, I can see this being something I keep doing.

I mean... Not in public anymore or anything, but yeah.

[caption id="attachment_3422" align="aligncenter" width="513"]A pic of me after using banana peels on my skin. The after! As you can see (despite the sympathetic lighting), not an enormous difference visually. My skin does feel a lot comfier, though, so I'm pretty pleased overall.[/caption]

The Bad.


The bad stuff here has less to do with skin care, and more to do with how bananas are produced:

 

The Ugly.


Nothing, really. They're just banana peels, so they're pretty innocuous. The smell of oxidized banana does become kind of gross after awhile, but you don't smell it after rinsing. Unlike the onion experiment, this didn't even involve wasting food -- post skin care banana peels can still be composted once you're done rubbing your face with them.

Conclusion.


I'm completely down for this and would recommend that others try it, I just really wish bananas had fewer ethical and sustainability issues (or that ethically-sourced and sustainable bananas were more widely available). I like how my skin felt, even if it didn't look very different, and obtaining banana peels is pretty much just a byproduct of ever eating bananas. Score.