Category Archives: Health

Love Your Children Well

For the past few years, I’ve been struck by intermittent doubts about whether we’re raising our children “right.” Our house is filled with a gaggle of teenagers. As our eldest nears university, his upbringing is a done deal, the question a moot point. As for the others, it is said that parents have a diminishing influence over their children around the age of 12, when peers take the upper hand.  Continue reading Love Your Children Well

The Place We Put Our People

It is the remarkable uniformity – the sameness –  that slaps me in the face.

Pleasant. Clean. Spacious. Orderly. Middle class. Nice. A place you walk into and believe that your dad, mom or grandpa will be safe and taken care of, that everything will be okay, that you’re doing The Right Thing.

These buildings, like clusters of townhomes, neatly clad in grey and blue vinyl siding with generous windows and covered walkways through courtyard gardens filled with low-maintenance shrubberies and perennials, could be anywhere in Canada. If I didn’t feel the wicked midday dry-heat or see the summer-brown hills, I could be anywhere but where I am. I could be standing in my own father’s care facility.

“So you haven’t seen her for awhile?” the front desk administrator asks/comments. I think she is preparing me for what to expect. “It’s okay,” I say, to put her at ease, to prepare myself. “I lost my father to Alzheimer’s a year and a half ago. I know how this works.”

I’m prepared for the frequent napping, the dull eyes, the slack jaw, the searching hands, the low, slow speech and the beautiful flashes of momentary recognition I saw with my dad. Watch, listen carefully and stay in the moment, I remind myself. I’m not required to do anything except be present, to witness, to hold her hand, to stroke her face, to be. Hard, it is to do so little, to do so much.

But for all my imprinted memory, there are a couple of key things I’ve forgotten: How much my Auntie and my father look alike and the volume of kleenex required for a visit. Tomorrow I will bring the whole box.

In a family of ten children my Auntie is next in line to my father and, for the first time, I realize how much they look alike. I gasp when I see her asleep in the oversized recliner. She is as gorgeous as ever with her thick, stylishly-cut hair, girlish figure and red-striped Gallic boatman’s shirt. It is equally the eyes, the round nose, and distinctive mouth that contain my father and traces of our entire genetic pool. I see him before me even more profoundly than I see him in my youngest child.

I will bring my kids along tomorrow, to these buildings of kind strangers. I want them to see their Auntie and the vestiges of their grandfather and to learn the rituals. We will scoop ice cream (her diet permitting) and walk around the gardens. We will hold her hand and then we will kiss her good-bye knowing we live far away and that this will likely be the last time we meet.

It is a blessing to be here, a gift not a punishment. There is the inevitability of loss but it is nothing compared to our extraordinary gain.

A Reasonable Expectation of Undisturbed Rest

I am awake, but ’tis not time to rise, neither have I slept enough…I am awake, yet not in paine, anguish or feare, as thousands are.  ~ 17th Century religious meditation for the dead of night

With winter darkness falling at 5:00pm, I’m lucky to remain vertically upright until nine. After a hard day’s labour, a hot bath and two fingers of wine, I struggle to make it to eight.

I don’t mind the pseudo-narcolepsy as much as the psychological loss I feel for the interrupted sleep that follows. Two a.m. is my new six, and I lie awake for a couple of anxious hours. I try to remain still so as not to disturb Husband.  But at some point I muddle in the pile of clothes on the floor, trolling the gloom for familiar textures – fleece, flannel, wool – then laptop, charging cord, and slippers. I squeak my way downstairs to the couch, fighting the anxiety of unintentional wakefulness. Some reading, some writing, some panic and, at some point, I doze off for a couple of more hours. I’ve coined it my Two Sleeps and feel a modicum of gratitude that the cat has ceased trampling my head for the trifecta.

Eight hours of restful sleep, we are repeatedly told, is optimal for health and performance. But the sleep pattern that is so new – and startling – to me is hardly new to human history.  E. Roger Ekirch argues in his book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, that segmented, or bifurcated, sleep was the norm for pre-industrialized society, “that awakening naturally was routine, not the consequence of disturbed or fitful slumber.”

Segmented sleep is described as two major intervals of sleep, of similar duration, bridged by a prolonged period of quiet wakefulness. Historically, the First Sleep generally ended around midnight and was considered the superior sleep cycle, one’s “beauty rest.” Second Sleep followed the prolonged period of “watch,” ending with morning light. Ekirch discovered more than 700 references to First and Second Sleep in literature and oral history, extending back to Plutarch, Virgil and Homer, through St. Benedict and John Locke, to The Tiv of modern Nigeria.

Western Europeans, and later North American settlers, below the “middling orders” took to their beds soon after nightfall for a variety of reasons: lack of central lighting; to conserve costly fuel and light; concerns for personal safety; winter cold; fatigue from manual labour; illness; and crowded housing conditions with little personal space or furniture. They always had bedmates, sometimes multiples, of family or strangers. The wealthy also shared their beds, but by the late 17th century, artificial lighting and the growth of “nightlife” extended their days into the small hours of the morning, permanently shifting their sleep habits. All of the first world eventually followed suit.

Just after midnight, the common people awoke to urinate, begin domestic duties, meditate, interpret dreams, converse with their bedmates and make love.  Falling into bed exhausted, couples would wake after first sleep refreshed, “when they have more enjoyment” and “do it better.”  16th Century physician Laurent Joubert advised those wishing to conceive to “get back to sleep again if possible. If not, at least to remain in bed and relax while talking together joyfully.” Students studied, poets wrote, thieves committed petty crimes, monks prayed, witches practiced magic and tribal members communed with one another.  Mid-night wakefulness offered a surprising variety of rewards, including staving off loneliness and anxiety.

I can think of more than a few seasonal things I’ve always wanted to do in the middle of the night (happily, petty thieving and witchery aren’t amongst them). Swim in the river on a hot summer’s night. Fire up the sauna. Snowshoe under a star-filled sky. Wander the village in pajamas and drink tea on the park benches. Skate on the frozen river by lamplight. Paddle by the light of the moon. I joke with friends about flashing a Bat-Signal in the sky to alert others to my wakefulness, but I know there are simpler – if not as cool – technological solutions to making contact.

So why, I wonder, must this sleep disruption be a solitary, anxious endeavour? Why must it be a curse and not a creative, soulful blessing?

At Day's Close: Night in Times Past

The Consequences of Living With Animals

I don’t know how to say this delicately so I’m just going to say it:  my kid has pinworms. Continue reading The Consequences of Living With Animals

CurioCabinet: Anatomy of a House















Ma’a’seh Toviyah

Venice, 1708. Woodcut. National Library of Medicine.

Toviyah Kats
(ca. 1652-1729)

This illustration from a Hebrew encyclopedia pairs the interior of a human interior with the interior of a house, a visual metaphor: the organs, like rooms in a house, have different functions. Kats, one of the first Jews to study medicine at a German university, completed his degree at Padua and served as court physician to the Ottoman Sultan.

Mr. Toilet’s Big Squat

A funny, bold short film about Mr. Toilet, a social entrepreneur who, as his nickname suggests, has issues with poop.

Jack Sim most specifically has a problem with 40% of the world’s population not having access to toilets in their homes and communities.  No toilets = contaminated drinking water = unnecessary death and suffering.  His goal is to make the common toilet sexy,  an “object of desire” in the third world.

Join the conversation and tweet #MrToilet to have your tweet featured on the Focus Forward website. Go to to see the discussion.



The Bed Bug Registry

Looking for me? Source: HealthCanada

Bedbugs.    Say that word in a crowd and watch everyone take two giant steps backwards.   While I’ve not experienced a bedbug infestation, I did unknowingly introduce a nasty case of fleas into a friend’s apartment once while travelling overseas.  Not good.

Obsessing about bedbugs seems like a terrific way to ruin a holiday.  Would you rather know about the potential for bedbugs in a hotel?  Or do you think ignorance is bliss?  At, you have the option to check for bed bug alerts in both hotels and apartments in select cities across North America and Europe.

The Bed Bug Registry is a free, public database of user-submitted bed bug reports from across the United States and Canada. Founded in 2006, the site has collected about 20,000 reports covering 12,000 locations

For help in identifying or treating bedbugs, check out the comprehensive Bedbugger website at

Sweet dreams!