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by Wendy Gabriel

GREEN TIP:  Take daily walks.  Not only will it improve your physical fitness Baby Greek goddess and Papabut, according to a UCLA study, it has been  found to increase life expectancy and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Today is my Papa’s 89th birthday.  He is a smart, strong, hard-working, kind man.  He was a Marine who fought in World War II, was shot down and received the Purple Heart.  I was his first grandchild and am his favorite.  I know this because he used to tell me every time we visited him. He has a very special way of making everyone feel like they are his favorite.

I have a lifetime of fond memories of my Papa:  The times he would show me his old stamps and coin collections; the stories he would tell about my Mom and Uncles; the soft, kind voice he would use when talking to me and my three sisters; his strong embrace and gentle kiss on my cheek. 

I also remember the first time my Papa had no idea who I was.  I was pregnant with my second child.  My then 3-year-old daughter and I met my Papa, my Nana and my Mom for lunch.  They were in town looking at sheep… that’s another story for another post. 

We were seated when they walked in.  We enthusiastically stood and there were hugs all around.  My Papa looked confused and there wasn’t an iota of recognition in his eyes.  At one point during the meal he quietly asked my Nana if he should know us.  My heart broke and it brings tears to my eyes now just thinking about that moment.  A lifetime of loving memories not remembered.

Since then, which was about two years ago, he has deteriorated considerably.  After some rough moments, my Mom had to make the unbelievably tough decision to put him in a nursing home.  Sometimes he forgets how to chew, sometimes he thinks he’s back in the Marines, sometimes he thinks he’s a young boy back in Indiana, sometimes he’s violent.

And sometimes he wonders aloud when he can go home.

I often wonder how my Mom feels about the man she’s called Daddy for 63 years.  She visits him regularly and listens patiently as he tells her stories of a life they shared.  I hope she knows how strong and brave I think she is.

I wonder, too, how my Nana feels.  They’ve been married 65 years, weathered the depression and had three children together.  Their lives have been filled with highs and lows, disappointments and successes.  My Nana visits him almost daily but he doesn’t know who she is.

Mostly I wonder how he feels.  Does he miss his wife of 65 years?  Does he even remember he has three children let-alone eight grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren?  Is he lonely?  Is he sad?  Is he confused by his surroundings and his fellow “inmates.” 

I read The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks many years ago, before my Papa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and thought it was such a lovely yet sad story. 

I wondered how I would feel in a similar situation.  Now I know.

Happy Birthday Papa.  I love you.   

UPDATE: My Papa died on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 just 8 days before his 90th birthday… now he has all his memories back.

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 By Wendy Gabriel

GREEN TIP:  Use 1/4 to 1 cup of white vinegar to soften your clothes instead of commercial fabric softener.

It is unbelievable the chemicals contained in the products we are supposed to know and trust.  The cuddly, fabric softeners and dryer sheets you use to make your family’s clothes smell nice and feel soft are full of chemicals that could make everyone in your home very sick. 

When I was pregnant with our first baby, I began to use a non-toxic, bio-degradable laundry detergent.  And when she was born, I never used dryer sheets on her clothes.  I thought I was being good to her skin and to the environment. 

But by using dryer sheets with all the other laundry, I might as well have made a blanket of them and wrapped her in it because they have a chemical that makes them spew their “fresh” scent over and over again! 

According to the Allergy and Environmental Health Association (AEHA), the “product is designed to impregnate fibres and slowly re-release for an extended period of time.  That re-releasing affects the health not only of users, but those around them.”  Wonderful.  And apparently the fabric softener/dryer sheet-makers took a page out of the cigarette makers’ playbook and made sure to add “neurostimulant/irritants and central nervous system toxins”; they are added to produce “an addictive-type response that may cause the user to experience a feeling of pleasure when the product is directly inhaled.” 

The nicotine of the laundry industry. 

This wouldn’t be so terrible if the potential health effects of the chemicals used to make these products weren’t unbelievably awful.  I will list just a few:  Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), Alzheimer’s, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Dementia, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis.  And, incredibly, there are even more. 

Health warns that “most of the dangerous chemicals in fabric softeners are most dangerous when inhaled.”  Does anyone test these products before they are beautifully packaged and mercilessly marketed?  I did find a test performed by Anderson JH Anderson Laboratories, Inc.  Their findings conclude that “the results provide a toxicological basis to explain some of the human complaints of adverse reactions to fabric softener emissions.”  Apparently not enough of a deterrent to the companies selling these delightful products!

Be good, beware and shop smart.

For additional safe alternatives to common household products, the AEHA’s website has a great list for you to check out.

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