June 28, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Computer Problems and My OCD

For the first half of the cruise, I tried to keep  a daily photo journal on my laptop. I had paid for unlimited wi-fi, but I wasn't happy with the service.

I could understand not getting a connection via the ship's satellite antenna while we were at sea. But even when we were in port, the connection was spotty and slow. I figured I needed to schlep the laptop into town and find a hot spot. If there were none, I'd look for an internet cafe or public library with available computers.

The connection issue was only part of the problem. At home, I use a desktop Windows PC. My laptop is an Apple.  And teaching this old dog new tricks on the Apple has not gone smoothly.  So I was spending too much cruise time trouble-shooting computer dilemmas.

June 27, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Juneau -- Warm, Sunny, a Bit Boring

On our day in Juneau, the temperature hit 83 degrees -- a new record high for that day.

We arrived at 1pm Saturday and weren't scheduled to depart until 11pm -- our longest port stop. A lifelong city dweller who loves living in our nation's capital, I was looking forward to a full day in Alaska's capital city. I also thought it would be fun to go to a local restaurant, a break from the meals on the ship.

Here's downtown Juneau at 8 o'clock on Saturday night:

Most shops were closed. The streets were pretty deserted. The only sounds of life were coming from the Red Dog Saloon. I asked the nice lady at a tourist information booth for a restaurant recommendation -- someplace simple, casual, popular with locals. She recommended Tracy's King Crab Shack -- another of the town's few lively spots -- hidden behind a parking lot near the public library.

June 26, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Ketchikan, First Port on Inner Passage Heading North

After our first cold and rainy day at sea, we docked in the morning at our first landfall, the town of Ketchikan. It was cool and cloudy at first, but it turned warm and sunny.

Sometime during the night we had sailed across the Canada/U.S.border and picked up an extra hour of sleep. Frommer's guidebook says Alaska spans five time zones. I keep forgetting that the Aleutian Islands extend so far out into the Pacific that "you can see Russia." I seem to remember some politician saying that.

To keep most of the state in the same time zone, officials came up with "Alaska time" -- one hour earlier than Pacific time, and four hours earlier than my Eastern time.

Ketchikan in Brief
Ketchikan is the first port of call for most cruise ships heading north to Alaska. As they disembark, passengers see the "Liquid Sunshine Gauge" that records each year's total rainfall. The annual average here?  Over 13 feet!

On this day and for the rest of the cruise, we lucked out. Locals told us it had been raining for several days. But the sun came out and we had a fine day.

June 25, 2013

Alaska Cruise: First Day at Sea -- Cold, Rain and Fun

We spent the first day out of Vancouver at sea, heading for Alaska and the Inner Passage. The day was too cold and rainy to spend on my balcony or the ship's deck. No problem . . . as long as this weather wasn't an omen of things to come. Fortunately, it wasn't.

When I entered my cabin, I found an ice bucket with a bottle of champagne, which I happily passed along to my neighbors across the hall.

Every afternoon, anyone looking to play cards could show up in the card room for a pickup game. I had a most enjoyable bridge game with three women. They were all good players, but -- more important to me -- they were relaxed and not too serious about the game.

June 24, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Off to a Good Start

My journey began on Tuesday, July 11, with a morning flight from Washington to Vancouver. Regent Seven Seas Cruises include several features I liked: the package price includes airfare; they arrange the flights; they also provide hotel reservations for the night before departure.

First Class (?) Flight to Vancouver
I've usually chosen business class for long flights, like my many trips to Nepal. United's Washington-Vancouver flight offered only coach and first class, so I was looking forward to my first class breakfast on the 8am flight to Chicago. Soon after reaching cruising altitude, the stewardess handed me a paper bag with a scone! OK, this was a short flight, so I was willing to cut United some slack. I thought about the full first class treatment I'd enjoy on the four-hour flight from Chicago to Vancouver. Ha! I had the choice: chicken salad or sandwich.

This was my first meal experience on today's domestic first class service. It's more like the food in coach used to be, and nothing like meals on long international flights.

This was also my first flight since the airport security change allowed those of us over age 75 to keep our shoes on. Great!

June 21, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Mine Just Ended. Yours Is Just Beginning

Here I am, on a glacier. You can see the helicopter that brought me here -- and returned me safely to Skagway -- in the background. This pic is a preview of coming attractions.

I got home Thursday morning from my Alaska cruise. While away, I'd hoped to blog a photo travelogue in real time, but the ship's spotty wi-fi -- combined with my own stupidity -- made that impossible. I'll spend this next week reliving -- and sharing -- my travels. I'll warn you in advance: my photos won't do it justice.

The week was incredible. My cabin steward said she's been working on Alaska cruise lines since 1997 and had never seen weather so good.

Home Sweet Home

The post directly above will begin the photo journal of my week on Regent Cruise Line's Vancouver-Anchorage trip. But first . . . .

As I prepared for bed on the last night of the cruise, I took this photo:

As much as I enjoy traveling, it's always great to return home. Yesterday's homecoming was particularly sweet.

Nimesh and Bhawana came out to "namaste" me as my cab pulled up to the house. When I entered the kitchen, this watermelon greeted me:

June 20, 2013

Missed Exit = Unplanned Delight

As I head home from my Alaska adventure, I'm recalling a mini-excursion last month with Nimesh and Bhawana to Frederick, Maryland.

The pleasure of visiting new places, near and far . . . .

#  #  #  #  #

Late Saturday morning, my housemates and I made a snap decision: “Let’s go out into the country for lunch!”

It was a spectacular day – bright, cool, green and blue – and we were all ready for a little adventure.

Initially, we intended to drive to Shepherdstown, WV, a charming town -- about 90 miles from Washington -- with Revolutionary and Civil War connections. Today, with about 15 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s a beautifully kept small town with an active arts and dining scene.

Off we went. Perhaps mesmerized by the beautiful day, we missed the cut-off that would take us west to Shepherdstown. Instead of turning around, we decided to continue north, and find a place to eat in Frederick, MD.

Our “mistake” turned into yet another serendipity. I feel like my life has been full of them, especially the kind when something “bad” (like our highway error) turns into something great.

Enter: the Wine Kitchen
We stumbled upon The Wine Kitchen. We’re so glad we did.

We sat outside, since the day was perfect. Here’s our view.

June 19, 2013

Smelling Essential Oil of Rosemary to Improve Memory?

A study reported on June 3 in the World Health Net Forum for Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine found that smelling the essential oil from the herb rosemary improved memory by 75%.

I don’t have rosemary in the house – I don’t cook, and feel triumphant when I get the microwave to work – but trying this cheap therapy might be worth a shot.

Here’s what happened: psychologists at Northumbria University in Newcastle, England, randomly sent 66 people into two rooms -- one regular, the other scented with rosemary. To create that fragrance, scientists put four drops of the essential rosemary oil on an aroma stream fan diffuser for several minutes before the study subjects entered the room.

The memory tests weren’t exactly rigorous. Volunteers were asked to find objects that had been concealed earlier while they watched, and to pass objects to study leaders at particular times. The subjects were instructed to complete the tasks without prompting; if they failed to complete the tasks, researchers prompted them.

June 18, 2013

Could "Feeling Hungry" Protect Against Alzheimer's?

Can the simple condition of “feeling hungry” protect the brain against Alzheimer’s disease?

Previous studies have suggested that caloric restriction – eating less – has two effects on mammals:
  • Reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disorders, and
  • Extending lifespan
Those findings may sounds important, but (here we go again) they have never been confirmed by carefully controlled, randomized tests on humans. I wouldn’t be surprised if those same results could be shown for humans when they eat less. Thinner people aren’t as prone to the host of metabolic problems that plague heavier people: diabetes, coronary and cardiovascular disease. The same dangerous plaques that clog arteries are also associated with Alzheimer’s.

Really? Just the Sensation of Feeling Hungry?

June 17, 2013

Music, Dopamine and Parkinson's

Yes, I'm on a cruise ship in Alaska, having a ball . . . and some issues with my photos. So, I'll wait to share my travel experiences here until I can get those images to cooperate, which may take a few days -- until I'm back on dry land. In the meantime, I'll dip into the reserve post "queue."

#   #   #   #   #

On June 9, I saw an op-ed piece in The New York Times titled “Why Music Makes Our Brain Sing.”

The article describes the way music we love bathes a deep part of our brain – the striatum – with dopamine, the same neurotransmitter whose gradual unnatural depletion is linked to Parkinson’s disease and depression. It’s that same part of the brain that responds to the natural pleasures of food and sex, and the same part that drugs like cocaine and amphetamines artificially please.

Since dopamine is critical to my well-being, particularly as a person with Parkinson’s, I had to wonder: do I need more pleasurable music in my life?

The Pleasure of Anticipation
Years ago, the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University studied the effect of music on the release of dopamine. Researchers discovered that dopamine didn’t just flood the brain during those special, exquisite moments of musical enjoyment, but even BEFORE they arrived, as if anticipating them.

June 14, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Picking the Ship. Thank You, Uncle Mike!

I had already decided to cruise up the coast of Alaska. Selecting the right ship for me was the next most important choice, and key to my enjoyment.

I choose to explore the Inside Passage and the Gulf of Alaska after I had already booked an August Mediterranean cruise for four generations of Schappis. Before I made any decisions on that European adventure, I did LOTS of homework.

I consulted a neighborhood couple -- cruise veterans – who are my age. I searched the web. I sought Frommer’s and Rick Steves’ travel advice.

So many choices. Big ship or small? Casual or luxury? Focus on education, entertainment or adventure? Did I want “resort-like ambience”?

An Introvert's Peculiarities

June 13, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Choosing the Route

You've got two choices:

The Inside Passage 

The Inside Passage runs through the area of Alaska known as Southeast, which the locals also call "the Panhandle." It's the narrow strip of the state -- islands, coastal towns, mountains -- that runs from the Canadian Border in the south to the Gulf of Alaska in the north, just above the Juneau-Skagway area. Because of the sheltering effect of the outer islands, you reach the port towns with less rocking and rolling... and less risk of sea sickness.

Sitka isn't on the protected Inside Passage, but on the open Pacific Ocean side. Still, it's included on most Inside Passage tours because it's a beautiful little port that apparently best reflects the history and architecture of our 49th state’s Russian past. 

Inside Passage tours leave from and return to the same city, usually Seattle or Vancouver.

The Gulf of Alaska

June 12, 2013

As I Head for Alaska Here's a Video Celebrating Travel

I'll confess upfront: I need a holiday from blog posting as I head to Vancouver for the Alaska cruise. So I was delighted to see a video yesterday that relates to this week's travel theme. It also ties in with another love of my life -- biking. OK, it's a bit hokey but then so am I. 

June 11, 2013

Traveling Before Parkinson's: A Love of Independent Adventure

My first cruise ship trip this week opens a new chapter in my personal travelogue. Until now, one theme has run through all of my travels -- a decided preference for solo independence. But these days, I need to make some accommodation for my age and afflictions.

So, as I get ready to do a test drive down the new road, I decided to look back. Here's what I find:

Chapter 1.  Home Alone  -- 1929-1951
A shrink would probably say my travel addiction has its roots in my early years. From birth (1929) to age 22, I rarely traveled more than 10 miles from home. My family wasn't poor, but we couldn't afford a car or out-of-town vacations.

I can remember one family trip in 1939 to see my aunt in New York City and visit the World's Fair. We also had several bus trips to see my grandfather in Patterson, NJ.

June 10, 2013

Get Set for a Vancouver-to-Anchorage Cruise

After decades of enjoying very independent travels all over the world, I'm about to try something new this week -- a cruise from Vancouver to Alaska. I celebrated my 84th birthday in May, and this fall it'll be four years since my Parkinson's diagnosis. So, it's time for a new travel adventure.
I'll post some thoughts about this major new chapter in my life soon. But for now, here's the plan. I booked the cruise on the the Regent Cruise Line's Seven Seas Navigator.

Correction on Forgetfulness Video But with a Nice Bonus

Last week I ran out of time to finish a planned blog post, so I dipped into my backup queue and came up with a  video I identified as former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins reading and singing his poem "Ode to Forgetfulness." 

I got lots of responses from readers telling me how much they enjoyed the video. I am very embarrassed to report that one astute reader checked for the video on YouTube and found that what I had posted was actually written and performed by humorist Mack Dryden!

But she also found that Billy Collins has written a poem titled "Forgetfulness," which has a lovely animated reading on video. Here it is:

I forget how I managed to create this confusion. My apologies. But it did produce this added bonus.

June 7, 2013

Clinical Trial of "Coconut Oil for Alzheimer's" to Start June 13

The University of South Florida's Byrd Alzheimer's Institute has received a $250,000 grant from a private foundation to study the effects of coconut oil on mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. This study is the first such scientific clinical trial.

This upcoming test is the result of efforts by Dr. Mary Newport, a Tampa area neonatolotist whose positive experience feeding coconut oil to her AD-afflicted husband generated a worldwide sensation over the past five years. The news of this upcoming trial appeared on June 3 in her hometown newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, the same media outlet that first published Newport’s story in 2008.

I know about this global phenomenon from personal experience; the posts I’ve published on this blog about the coconut-oil-for-Alzheimer’s story have garnered more “hits” than any others. It’s clear the issue holds gigantic interest for millions of sufferers and caregivers.

So Far, No Scientific Evidence
I’ve questioned the scientific validity of Newport’s claims, which have been based principally on anecdotal reports concerning her husband. She says she's heard from about 275 people who have had favorable results from using coconut oil with an Alzheimer's patient. I've remarked before that this seems like a small number given the five years of major publicity for this claim and the placebo effect that can be expected when people are desperate for hope.

 As Jodie Tillman reported in her Tampa Bay newspaper article:
The Alzheimer's Association, the nation's largest advocacy group, won't endorse the use of therapies, including coconut oil, without rigorous scientific studies. "Our people are desperate," said Chuck Albrecht, chief operating officer of the Gulf Coast chapter. "The last thing we want to do is give them false hope."

June 6, 2013

Ode to Forgetfulness

On Wednesday my treasured friends Helen, Vola and Marty came over for one of our potluck lunches, followed by an afternoon of bridge. It was a perfect day for playing on the screened-in back porch.  

After the bridge game, I had time for a quick nap before heading out for supper with my pal Mano before seeing The Winter's Tale, the last of our season subscription performances at the Shakespeare Theatre. Loved the first act. Didn't care much for the silly peasant shenanigans in act two.

Got home about 11:30pm, having done nothing about the blog all day. But I usually have something in the "queue" for times like this.

I predict you'll enjoy this music video more than my musings. Here's former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins reading/singing his poem, Forgetfulness.

June 5, 2013

Monitoring Blood Pressure: The Best Way . . . and My Way

About 67 million Americans -- a third of all adults -- have hypertension, a symptomless disease and major contributor to heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. But the traditional cuff is no longer considered the best way to monitor your blood pressure, according to a recent report in the Washington Post.

The Old Way
We're tracking this silent killer with random readings from a device invented in the 1890s, the report says. A better solution is out there. Will we use it?

Sporadic checks with a cuff monitor in a doctor's office don't detect hypertension very well. About 20 percent of patients who are consistently hypertensive in the doctor's office or the clinic don't have high blood pressure the rest of the day. On the flip side, about 10 percent of patients whose blood pressure readings are normal in the doctor's office actually have hypertension, and their disease goes undetected.

And then there are folks with "resistant hypertension" -- people who can't get their office blood pressure under control even with a fistful of medications. Studies have shown that 30 percent or more of these patients are actually well controlled or even over controlled. They don't need more medications and may even need less.

The Better Way
Home blood pressure monitors are more reliable if readings are taken several times a day. One of the problems with readings in your doctor's office is that the systolic (upper) readings can vary 10-30 points even when taken within a few minutes of each other. Those variations can be particularly evident for people using acetaminophen, antidepressants, decongestants, NSAIDs, caffeine, and even herbal supplements, as I found out with my 5-HTP.

June 4, 2013

Same Generic Drug: Many Different Prices

On May 21, I discussed how hospitals – even just miles apart in the same city – charged wildly varying amounts for the same medical procedures.

Today, I want to share a similar story: that pharmacies – even neighboring facilities – charge very different amounts for the same generic drugs.

As reported in the May issue of Consumer Reports (CR), their secret shoppers contacted over 200 pharmacies nationwide to obtain prices for a month’s supply of five “blockbuster” drugs now available as generics:
  • Actos (pioglitazone) for diabetes 
  • Lexapro (escitalopram) for depression 
  • Lipitor (atorvastatin) for high cholesterol 
  • Plavix (clopidogrel), a blood thinner 
  • Singulair (montelukast) for asthma 
The differences were eye-popping: $749 (or 447%) between lowest and highest.

June 3, 2013

Azilect and 5-HTP and Addiction-Prone Me

Last Friday, I recounted the lessons learned last week after checking the prescription drugs and over-the-counter supplements I take for possible adverse interactions. It's an important issue for seniors, especially since most of us take several medications often prescribed by different doctors, plus OTC supplements.

Today's post concerns the interaction warning I received for two of the pills I take:

  • Azilect, which my neurologist prescribed for my Parkinson's disease, and 
  • 5-HTP, the OTC serotonin booster I've been using for several years to help with sleep, mood, and bowels.

Rasagiline (brand name Azilect) is often prescribed either alone or in combination with carbidopa/levodopa to treat Parkinson's. When I was diagnosed with PD four years ago, my neurologist prescribed 1mg of Azilect and 25/100mg of carbidopa/levodopa, the gold medal PD med.