Friday, December 31, 2010

Recalling 2010 at the Co-op

I rang in the New Year of 2010 in Miami Beach with Flemming--on the beach, with fireworks and a sea of people under a lovely Blue Moon. We'll be ringing in the New Year of 2011 in a quieter fashion, in Lantana at a sweet little Italian restaurant--with a jazz chanteuse singing and playing piano. My new life with Flemming is a big part of what I will always remember about 2010.

In February, I headed over to Copenhagen with my two cats, Damon and Diva, to explore dating the (then) new man in my life, Flemming Christensen. I had an apartment for four months (which I mostly used as an office). I learned to navigate downtown Copenhagen (Centrum). We figured out how to fit me and my stuff into Flemming's 200 year-old European-sized condo home, which he picked as a place for himself and his son, Philip. We all got along quite beautifully. Things worked out in Copenhagen, and Flemming proposed, right after celebrating my 50th birthday (in Istanbul, in a room with a view of the Bosphorus). We shared the story with Teri and Harley last night (how I was sure Flemming would propose while we were in Istanbul celebrating my birthday).

On a sadder note, just a little over a week ago we lost our little female cat, Diva. Damon is 11 years old now and alone, and we are debating whether we will need to get another kitten for him. While Flemming and I are in Florida, Philip is taking care of Damon. They have bonded quite deeply already with Philip writing to me yesterday that "I love that he's this social. I would feel so lonely without him and absolutely love having him around me. So even though he is a bit more needy now that Diva is gone you don't have to worry that he isn't getting enough love and attention :)"  Sweet. 
Diva - Remembered with love

Damon - One of my best buddies since he was a kitten
and loved by many (even people who don't like cats!)

Other things that I remember with appreciation about 2010 include:

  • Stephen Fason-- for being not only a good business partner but a brother whom I love and admire. We took time this year to talk about new and important things and found ways to laugh at ourselves at times when others might have gotten stuck. Stephen acts as a marvelous counterbalance for me (e.g., if I am too wildly enthusiastic or impulsive, he helps me check my assumptions and we can then integrate the best of both of our contributions). 
  • Teri Edgell -- for boldly venturing into the world of writing and trusting that she has a voice worthy of sharing.   I have enjoyed witnessing Teri's growth in confidence as she blogs about the things she notices in the world. I also continuously marvel at her joyous spirit, which helps so many in need of a kind word, a sense of optimism, or even a smile during hard times.  I also respect her journey into personal development and increased awareness. 
  • Chris Harding -- for joining our team and bringing a natural enthusiasm for our mission. Chris has a shaman's spirit, communing deeply with nature and people alike and valuing all things that bring health and healing. I have felt honored to have someone who is so incredibly competent, so gets the Co-op's ethos, and so loves our community. It's like he has always been with us. 
Stephen, Teri, and Chris are at the center of what makes our little Co-op hum and I feel grateful to be associated with such a fine team.

For those of you wondering when Flemming and I  will get married, we're not saying just yet. Stay tuned in the New Year! 

Love and good wishes for your own health, healing, and wholeness! 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Secret to Weight Loss Success -- A Journal

We act on what we pay attention to. That's the starting point, at least. With Americans increasingly worrying about weight and associated maladies, the search for weight loss tips that don't cost an arm and a leg is never-ending. Not everyone can go to Canyon Ranch for a week of organic light fare and vigorous exercise.

However, there's a secret that most people don't take advantage of--namely keeping a journal of what they eat and when. According to Greenwich Hospital's press release on December 20th:
Putting a pen to paper and keeping a daily journal of meals and snacks is one of the best strategies of successful dieters, says Dr. Christopher J. Mosunic, a specialist in weight management and diabetes at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut.
“Keeping a food diary is like exercise, it will always help you lose if you do it consistently,” says Mosunic, a licensed clinical psychologist and registered dietitian who trained at Duke University’s famed weight loss clinic. More importantly, the writing habit “is one of the top predictors of weight loss success,” Mosunic adds. No wonder some of the country’s major commercial diet plans strongly recommend the write-what-you-eat journaling practice to their clients.
The secret's secret? Mindfulness. Becoming mindful of what we eat is the path to more conscious eating. As a teacher of mine, Richard Strozzi-Heckler, says, "Energy follows attention, and choice follows awareness." Richard has a Ph.D. in psychology with a focus on what creates excellence. So true, so true. 

So, back to weight loss. Think about buying yourself a journal and enrolling a couple of friends in a food journaling practice (it's not cheating to start before New Year's). Write and write--everything you eat, when you eat, what you feel, what you think about. Just write. If you decide to gather your friends to talk about what you're noticing, drop a line and let me know how you're doing. 

If there is enough interest, I would be happy to support a group of our members in doing some basic mindfulness exercises (centering, breathing deeply, reconnecting to bodily experience) to help ring in the New Year with more support for greater wellness.

Please leave a comment below if you are interested in such support. 

Here's to a truly healthy New Year for you and yours. Warmest best wishes!

Giant Microbes -- Weird Gift of the Year?

When you spend the kind of time that I do browsing research findings, you inevitably end up on weird sites with weird stuff at times.

The site Giant Microbes takes first prize in offering weird gifts for biology nerds (who else would be interested in a stuffed animal representing the common cold, a bed bug or mange?!).  Some of the microbes are animated for our entertainment. Select "White Blood Cell" (a "leukocyte" in Latin) and check out the little fellow doing the happy dance.

Okay, enough on this silly site. You'll know you have too much time on your hands (or that you are a closet biology nerd with a warped sense of humor) if you explore the Giant Microbes site in any detail. If you buy anything on this site, you'll have to let me know what you bought and why. :-)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rats & Dogs & Disease Detection

I just love learning about low-cost, non-toxic means of detecting and treating disease, hence my interest in nutrition and understanding the nature of, for example, common food allergies--and hence my intrigue when I saw this headline today: "Giant African Rats Successfully Detect Tuberculosis More Accurately Than Commonly Used Techniques."

The phrase "giant African rats" paints a picture all by itself. Add in tuburculosis detection and I couldn't resist clicking through. Here's a snippet from the press release:

“Using sniffer rats to detect TB seems medieval but our study shows it works, providing an inexpensive, accurate, quick diagnostic,” said lead investigator Alan Poling, PhD., Western Michigan University. “This could have a huge impact in developing countries where TB accounts for one-fourth of all preventable adult deaths and high-tech screening methods aren’t readily available.”

Very impressive.

Reminds me of the stories about dogs sniffing out cancer.  If someone could train their dog to reliably sniff out breast cancer, I think a lot of women would be lining up for the dog's nose over those dreaded mammograms. What do you think? :-)

Probiotics Essential to Combat Holiday Excess

We tend to think of probiotics as delicate creatures, requiring refrigeration and protection from heat and light and even overly-active stomach acids. Yet, all the research keeps showing how important friendly bacteria are for intestinal health--from breaking down bile and removing excess cholesterol to digesting holiday foods well enough to relieve bloating, probiotics are incredibly important to your health. Given the holiday season upon us, you may want to scan the following facts and boost your own consumption of friendly bacteria this season:
  1. Probiotics help your body metabolize foods and absorb nutrients (holiday foods, high in sugar, promote growth of unfriendly and even pathogenic bacteria, making the need for friendly bacteria even greater)
  2. Probiotics prevent colonization by pathogenic bacteria.  Healthy bacteria (bifidobacterium) disappear from the feces within two weeks of discontinuing oral supplementation, thus continued supplementation is recommended during cold and flu season especially. Of note, children in daycare suffered less fever, fewer bouts of diarrhea, and fewer needs for antibiotics when taking probiotics
  3. Probiotics have been shown to increase immune function, including improving phagocyte function and natural killer cell activity and increasing production of interferon-alpha.    
We have long offered a shelf-stable probiotic formulation, Probiotics 16, in which we take exceptional pride because:
  1. We produce small batches (this means we keep our inventory consistently fresh) 
  2. We manufacture with more live culture than we claim on our labels (unheard of in this industry, which is always looking to eek out bigger profits by skrimping)
  3. We have optimized our formulation to support shelf stability (we know what we're doing is working as our Probiotics 16 routinely tests out above our label claim even after we have sold out of all our inventory)
Probiotics 16, with its combination of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, is a regular member of our Top 10 products list for these reasons. Our members know they can count on our Probiotics 16 to be fresh and active, and some even make old-fashioned buttermilk with them (a feat younger folks are less likely to attempt!).

My dear friend, Dr. Hugo Rodier, is such a big fan of probiotics that he often recommends that people start their first few weeks of supplementation taking up to 10-fold over the recommendations on product labels. 

It never hurts to be reminded that if bacteria in our bodies were to be weighed, they would account for the largest "organ" in our bodies. Best to have preponderantly friendly agents in that mix!

P.S. I just love the posting on the use of our Probiotics 16 by one of our customers for her 10 cats (read her comment below for more). :-)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Skin Rashes? Consider Eliminating Dairy

I'm no genius but one thing continues to be abundantly clear. People with problems with dairy have problems with their skin. Call it dandruff. Call it eczema. Call it flaky skin (on arms, legs, backs, anywhere). It's a signal that something is wrong because the skin is the body's last ditch effort to rid itself of toxins that it cannot otherwise process or eliminate effectively.

It's not rocket science even though with all the money to be made on ointments and shampoos that take the itch out of skin rashes you would think curing dandruff and eczema was complicated. Baby doctors tell breastfeeding mothers to eliminate dairy if their babies have skin rashes and sinus stuffiness and other not-so-nice symptoms. Natural medicine doctors recommend that their patients eliminate dairy (along with gluten) whenever chronic symptoms appear, including diagnoses like psoriasis.

Me? I have recommended that my mother eliminate dairy. She has rosacea, which causes problems with the texture and coloring of the skin on her face. With dairy, she ends up with itchy peeling skin exacerbating her skin problems. Within a few days of eliminating dairy, my mom's itchy skin disappears. It has taken such endless encouragement to help my mom make the dairy/skin rash connection and also to be motivated enough to "throw away the cheese." She prefers rice milk now, so the next big step is staying away from cheese. Fingers crossed, as she has much more self esteem when her face is not so so blotchy and itchy.

If you have a family member who depends on dandruff shampoo or has itchy skin or a recurring skin rash, consider helping them "Ditch the Dairy" for a week and see what changes. Leave a comment if you take up a "Ditch the Dairy" challenge of your own.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Macadamia Nuts & Lowering Bad Cholesterol

I love macadamia nuts. I know they are super high in fat but they are a favorite treat. When you are allergic to gluten, a lot of fun foods are out. When you try to watch your sugar intake, more fun foods are out. While scanning one of my favorite research references, I came across an entry on macadamia nuts.

Here's what I learned. According to a Journal of Nutrition study, a handful of macadamia nuts (40-90 grams or 17-35 nuts) daily for 4 weeks helps reduce bad cholesterol (LDL down for 5.3%)and boost good cholesterol (HDL up 7.9%). Pretty good news, eh?

Alas, macadamia nuts, while offering some health benefits, as long as you don't overdo and rack up too many calories, produced "less convincing results" than other nuts, such as almonds, pecans, walnuts, and peanuts.

I'm not dissuaded from enjoying my little ivory-colored treasures dusted with salt. And, I enjoyed learning that while macadamia nuts are native to Australia and known for being cultivated in Hawaii, smaller farms have cropped up in California and Florida.

Hmm. Now I'm curious where my favorite macadamia nuts are from (some are sweeter tasting than others).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Magnesium Deficiencies, High Blood Pressure & More

Stress and hypertension are related, right? Most physicians would agree. Sodium is usually seen as the bad guy. Dr. David Brownstein, a leading integrative physician, thinks sodium gets a bad rap, and that low-sodium diets are not helpful for hypertension. You see, magnesium deficiencies cause intracellular sodium and potassium levels to rise, which interferes with blood pressure regulation, so the magnesium deficiency appears to be the problem rather than the sodium intake.

Dr. Brownstein talks quite frankly about addressing high blood pressure with magnesium and other nutrients in his blog:

"Natural therapies such as magnesium, unrefined sea salt, B-vitamins, vitamin C and cleaning up the diet of refined foods should be the initial treatment regimen in a patient with elevated blood pressure.  Finally, drink enough water.  In my experience, dehydration is the number one cause of elevated blood pressure."

What most people don't know is that stress can triple (yes, triple) your need for not only vitamin C but also magnesium. Adequate magnesium levels relax muscles, including the heart muscle but you need more than you may think, even when you're not under particular stress. According to Dr. Rodier, "adequate" magnesium levels should be 1:1 ratio with calcium (in contrast with the conventional ratio of 3:1 favoring calcium).

Here are a few other important things to remember about magnesium deficiencies:
  1. Alcohol impairs the ability of the kidney to conserve magnesium. 
  2. Diabetes increases the risk for magnesium deficiency, and magnesium deficiency negatively affects insulin sensitivity and metabolic control in type 2 diabetes.
  3. Migraines are associated with low levels of magnesium, which may contribute to cerebral arterial constriction.
  4. Heart arrhythmias are associated with low magnesium levels. 
  5. Intestinal problems reduce the body's ability to absorb magnesium.
  6. Restless leg syndrome may be related to magnesium imbalances.
  7. Adequate vitamin D is required for magnesium absorption (and most people are deficient in vitamin D).
  8. Boron appears to increase serum levels of magnesium. 
  9. Calcium can inhibit magnesium absorption from foods, so some recommend taking calcium supplements at bedtime and magnesium supplements with meals to optimize magnesium uptake.
Now for the other news about magnesium: when your body gets enough to , magnesium can act as a laxative. That's a great thing for folks who get constipated (you can achieve the same effect with vitamin C).

Magnesium is considered non-toxic at levels most people take in the form of supplements; and, just like hitting bowel tolerance with vitamin C, to return to normal, you just back down to the level of magnesium you were taking before getting loose stools.

Magnesium is a marvelous little mineral, one of my favorites. Are you getting enough magnesium? Drop a line if you have a magnesium story to share.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Business Lessons from a Kat?

Here's an article I wrote that I've been encouraged to share. Feel free to pass along to your friends, even if they are "dog people." :-)
Business Lessons from a Kat?!
by Cindy Marteney, CEO, Our Health Co-op

It’s a legitimate question. Why should you buy anything from a “kat?”

Why would anyone bother to subscribe to a health newsletter that greets you with a “Meow,” takes an irreverent tone, and closes with “Purringly Yours, Guido Housemouser.” It’s totally weird, right?

Snicker if you wish, but thousands of subscribers have done just that, and a large number have become ridiculously fond of the kat, no matter how silly they say the charade is in the weekly newsletters.

I’ll never forget the survey we ran in 2002, the year we started Our Health Co-op. I’ve had a lifelong interest in alternative medicine, so diving into the world of botanicals and nutritional science was a big draw. However, I’ll confess. I was embarrassed by the kat, which was created by an imaginative yet eccentric entrepreneur, who also happened to be my father

I lamented privately, “How can we be taken seriously with a cartoon character writing our customers?” I wanted to get rid of the kat. Don’t get me wrong, I love (love, love) cats and all things feline. I just thought the mascot stuff was cuckoo. Dad was the narcissistic sort so I was suspicious of his certainty that our customers really cared about the kat.

With a quick survey drafted and instant access to our customer community, I was confident that the kat would be history by the end of the week. No such luck. I was stunned when, overnight, we received thousands of enthusiastic responses. More than 97% of them said, “Keep the kat!”

It was clearly an emotional topic, as we’ve never again had such a big response to a survey again.  I remember two comments grabbing my attention:

“Keep the kat!  The world is too serious. Why not have a little fun?”

“I delete all those boring newsletters I receive. The kat makes me laugh, so I keep reading. Please keep the kat.”

Have a little fun. Continue to make ‘em laugh. That was my new mission. It was uncharted territory, as my dad had owned the “funny” in our family.

I was always the serious one. I wasn’t funny. So, I had to channel my dad’s humor at times, as I was interested in keeping my dad out of the business itself (we disagreed, sometimes quite strenuously, but that’s another story, one that I've been telling in chapters in this blog!). 

Having sold the business to us, Dad was limited to being an outside observer (and newsletter subscriber). It made him endlessly happy that we “kept the kat.”

In February 2008, we chose to do a survey during our anniversary sale (also around Valentine’s Day), and a sweet 90% of our members endorsed our use of humor. Many sent special love notes to the kat, including:

“I totally LOVE the kat!”

“Roses are red 
The Kat is Kool 
If you don't use the Co-op 
You're just a darn fool”

“Kat, you are my hero. 
Love, Ted the cat.”

“The kat is perhaps the most important member of the staff. Without the kat it would be just another regular business, but the kat enlivens it, and I look forward to all of kat's complaints and satire. More please!!!”

“You're all terrific and as long as the kat remains the Chairman of the Board, I'm more than happy!”

“I love you kat…have for years.

A few PR professionals along the way have admiringly said that we have created a clever “micro-brand.” That's a lot better than creating a fuzzy brand I suppose. 

In our anniversary survey this last winter, we didn’t solicit feedback on the kat but still received fan-club comments, including:

I like to think of the kat as a very benevolent feline, sort of like a kitty god up in the sky.  :-)”

“Don't mess with the Kat >^..^< “

“The Kat is just super kool”

Who knew that the kat would outlive its creator (my dad died during the summer of 2007) or that the kat and I would be friends almost a decade later after such an inauspicious beginning (I wanted to “kill the kat” after all)?

While I am most proud of what we are doing with quality programs and how we are taking care of our members at the Co-op, I am most touched by the things I have learned from the kat, including:

  1. Be real. Like it or not, cats are endlessly content just being themselves. We're a little different (silly at times, irreverent at others) but it's a lot more fun to be us than trying to be like others.
  2. Don’t take life so seriously. Be serious about the hunt, then pursue pleasure in whatever form presents itself. Laughter, good humor, pets, and close relationships all promote health too. 
  3. Curiosity can get you just about anywhere. Bat at or pounce on things that behave strangely and you'll learn something new, ready or not!
  4. Do the unexpected.  Sit in the lap of the person most skeptical of your presence and start purring.
  5. When all else fails, take a nap. Things will all be different when you wake up.
  6. Memorable characters make money. Just ask our own Guido (and the guys at Geico). So glad we didn't kill the kat! 
So, little by little, my heart has opened to “the kat.”  May our favorite kat (^..^) touch your life at some point too! 

Our Health Co-op provides scientifically-promising nutritional supplements with an emphasis on healthy aging. Our Health Co-op emphasizes old-fashioned values through a chatty kind of e-mail newsletter written by the Co-op's mascot, a "kat" named Guido. In addition to covering products and health news with a sense of fun, the "kat" loves to spotlight members with interesting health stories and favorite pets and cute critters of all kinds.
If you would like to share what you've learned from the kat, please write a note below!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Labels: Why We're Changing 'Em

We are in the process of doing some updates -- for our web site and with our branding (many of you were kind enough to support our logo design final decision in our recent survey).  After much discussion, we decided to integrate all of our products under the "Cell Nutritionals" brand.

Here's the scoop. We will keep "Our Health Co-op" as our company brand (folksy, personal, and at times goofy) and the Our Health Co-op brand will play a prominent role on our new web site. When you call, you will still hear Teri cheerfully answer, "Co-op, may I help you?" Nothing will change about our company.

The change will be on our packaging, as "Cell Nutritionals" will become our new product brand. Here's what we see as the upside:
  1. Cell Nutritionals is easier to say, spell, and Google and will help friends and family find us and remember us.
  2. The Cell Nutritionals tagline, "Nourishing cells for life" communicates our mission of delivering nutritional products that support both wellness and longevity.
  3. The Cell Nutritionals logo mark is an iconic version of the "Sun" and symbolizes energy and the source of life as we know it.
  4. Cell Nutritionals more directly conveys our exceedingly high quality standards, of which we and our members are exceedingly proud.
  5. We have trademarked Cell Nutritionals and thus our product line will have more commercial protection.
When thinking about the design of new product labels, we opted to blend the best of historic Our Health Co-op labels and Cell Nutritionals labels. Here's how the two very different looks came together as one:
  1. Our signature red tops are keepers (we can't get them for large jars yet...but will keep searching).
  2. The Co-op's clean style stays (light background with product names in easy-to-read capital letters).
  3. Cell Nutritionals logo has been added at the top (with a dark purple vs. black background).
  4. A thin red bar has been added (under the Cell Nutritional logo at the top).
I am sitting in front of a jar of Constant Health with one of the new labels and, while it looks very different without the stylized photo of the sun's rays behind the text, I think it is much easier to read and understand. The first product to hit the market with our new labels will be Resveratrol (only $7.95), a product our members and Dr. Hugo Rodier have long asked us to carry.

If you're wondering about the kat's face (big sigh here), it will no longer appear on our labels. I remember drawing that face, inspired by a white silk scarf of mine with little black cat faces. I remember my ex, Steve Marteney, seeing my sketch on a piece of paper and saying, "Use that!" and Teri enthusiastically supporting this idea. I will always remember the drawing and its life on our original labels.

For those of you die-hard kat fans, don't despair. The kat will still be writing our newsletter, which will get its own facelift before too long and give the kat due respect. Stay tuned. To keep our costs characteristically low, we will continue to sell inventory with the old labels until we hit our re-order points. This means the Co-op bottles with the kat's face will become collectors' items. :-)

Finally, thanks to all of our members who voted on our updated "Our Health Co-op" logo. We have just loved reading the responses and appreciate the enthusiastic response. Chris Harding, our new Chief Community Officer, has been blown away by the response, actually, as it has been dramatically larger than he would have guessed.

All I can say is, "Go team! We're all in this together." Love feeling connected to you all.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Another Chapter: T'was My Birthday & Dad Wrote a Poem

For those of you following my memories and musings on life with my unusual/difficult/weird/funny dad, here's a truly sweet poem he sent to me when I turned 45 (I just had my 50th birthday yesterday).

I left a typo in ("fourty" vs. "forty"), the math that didn't add up ("35 years" ago should have been "30 years" ago) and the "K.F." sign-off at the end (which stands for the "Kingfish," a moniker my dad quite fancied). Dad's PC Systems team once made a wooden plaque inscribed with "Kingfish" and he kept it with him always.

We often referred to my dad not as "Dad" but as the "Kingfish." Even Tess, who met my dad only at the end of his life, enjoys her striking memories of the "Kingfish." :-)

'Twas 35 years ago
    like yesterday it seems,
when I became a Father
    to a Daughter of fifteen.

I had no experience
    in parenting and such.
Something wonderful did happen
    so it didn't matter much.

We became close friends
    as the months rolled by,
and it surely will last
    'till the seas run dry.

My love for this girl
   (which at times I do hide)
is boundless for sure
   as it involves great pride

in a kid who has made it
   through times good and bad.
She's slayed all the dragons
   and guess what, I'm her Dad.

Now I am old.
   but feeling so alive.
My Gawd, can it be?
   My girl is fourty five!

I love you Cindy.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Chapter 5: When Dad Started PC Systems

Here's the next installment of my memories of my dad. Enough of my readers keep reading these posts and keep asking for more, so I will continue writing. :-)
After only a year with my dad, I went back to California, finished high school, went to U.C. Santa Barbara and studied geology and physical geography, and then, on a whim, signed up for the U.S. Navy. My older brother, Jim, went into the Navy and it sounded like an interesting adventure. Life with my father receded, although we did write the occasional old-fashioned letter, his always filled with amusing stories and sarcastic humor.

The Navy sent me to Monterey to study Russian (what a fabulous year, studying with Russian émigrés in a beautiful place!). I married a delightful New Englander, Jonathan Hilyard, and we moved to Rota, Spain for our first tour of duty. Dad had no interest in coming for a visit. If a casino didn’t “comp” him, travel didn’t appeal to him.

It was the mid-1980s, and my dad abruptly left the lecture circuit, where he had promoted his investment advice and his book, A License to Steal.  He traded the world of stocks and bonds--and troubling SEC oversight and penalties for his ways of trading--to start a fledgling computer business.  An early computer enthusiast, my dad fancied himself a nerd and programmer extraordinaire. He got excited, saying, “Computers are where cars were when the Model T came out!”  He saw nothing but dollar signs and talked about making millions. He took his passion for computers to market as PC Systems. 

My brothers joined PC Systems, with Dad leading sales and marketing and my brothers handling customer service, building and repairing computers and networks with the utmost care.  My brothers' bonuses in the early days gave me a twinge of envy, but I was never really tempted to join the family business.  I'll never forget hearing that my dad sometimes ate his employees’ lunches, without asking them, just because he saw something in the refrigerator that he wanted. Impulse control was not one of his strong suits. He could also get incredibly snippy when he sensed disrespect (think: someone forgot something he wanted--anything, no matter how trivial--and he could make the most rude comments). These things, and the story of how he administered lie detector tests to all the store managers at one point, including my brothers and step-sister, made me cringe. Trust, like impulse control, was not my dad's thing.

With PC Systems taking off like a bottle rocket, my dad suddenly needed help. He placed a Help Wanted ad for a “secretary to organize three messy men.”  Teri Cherry (our own Teri Edgell today), was then an upbeat blond who called it like she saw it and wasn't so sure about this guy, my dad, who she thought was a bit weird. Teri ultimately took the job supporting my dad and brothers, and she became the “voice” of PC Systems—answering phones, greeting customers, sending out bills, and making people, including Dad, laugh. Teri, to this day, has incredibly fond memories of the old man, who also made her laugh, pretty much every day. 

When I was leaving the Navy in 1987, Dad offered me a job at PC Systems. I  was on my way back to the States, with no other job offers and no clue what would be next (I passed on the Navy's offer to send me to a remote post in Sinop, Turkey). Nevertheless, I wasn’t that interested in computers (an understatement if there ever was one) and declined. Dad  accepted my decision with a shrug and a quip about his offer being "too good for me" anyway. I didn’t tell him I thought we would might kill each other if we ever worked together. 

Writing letters to my dad soon was replaced by email. He found his medium when he discovered email and then the Internet. Asynchronous, no complaints about his smoking, and no requirements to make small talk when he was cranky. He loved to be online in a way he never liked to hang out. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chapter 4: Scrabble, Competition & Humor Transmission

Here you go, more memories of my dad:
     Off the tennis courts, Scrabble games also brought our competitive spirits out. We both studied the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, memorizing the list of two-letter words. My dad preferred to play with his 1950s college version of Merriam Webster’s Dictionary as it had words or spellings that 1970s dictionaries no longer carried. We argued about dictionaries but mostly it didn’t matter, unless he was making up a word and I had to figure out whether to challenge him. We played a 10 point penalty for challenges that were wrong, and he was as likely to have made up a word to get out of a tight spot as to have played a perfectly legitimate word, so it was a guessing game when I didn’t know the word. When it came to tiles, we both angled for the seven-letter word set up, hoarding s’s and blanks and letters that made common endings like “ing” or “ion.” 
I trusted myself in Scrabble, it was me against my dad, wit against wit, both of us consistently making big scores and playing close games. We both liked to compete even though I cared more about the means and he was largely preoccupied with ends. We both liked to rely on ourselves and to be in control.  We both were quick studies and enjoyed mastering something new. We both loved words and language, although I was more literal in my young days and he was a born storyteller. I had begun to understand why I used to hear my mom say, “You’re just like your father.”
Still, there were some major differences. I count my friends as my greatest allies and supreme blessings, and I enjoy all sorts of people and their stories. My dad was an elitist and loner socially. Dad had many fans but didn't have real friends, as in none. Sure, he always had women to date (it didn't hurt that he bragged about being rich), but he trusted few, and none unconditionally, not even his kids.  
While I am a pretty straight-forward person (sometimes overly so), Dad frequently lived behind smoke and mirrors. He got lost in his own fantasies about the future and sometimes had trouble remembering what he had said or promised (it was never a good idea to challenge his revisionist histories though).  
On the other hand, when it came to numbers, Dad was pretty much a genius. In college, a math professor gave Dad's class a riddle that took ages for even the brightest students to solve. My dad loved numbers, lived to compete, and this was the kind of situation that allowed him to have Jedi-like concentration. Dad solved the problem in hours, flabbergasting his Southern Methodist University (SMU) professor. 
Me? I was always good enough at math but certainly not a math genius. When I took the GREs to get into grad school, my English and Logic scores brought honor to my family name; however, sigh, my math scores were merely "good enough."  
Meanwhile, an important difference between us was our basic temperament. I've had to work to free my sense of humor; alas, I was always dubbed the "serious" one in the family. Dad's irrepressible humor--ever-present, even in the most dire circumstances, such as when he went to jail for tax evasion--was the entertaining antidote that made up for his more anti-social side.  The Danish comedian, Victor Borges, perhaps said it best, "Laughter is the closest distance between two people."  So true! Humor was indeed how my dad connected in life. 
Over time, I got a kind of "transmission" of Dad's goofy, irreverent humor, talking in cartoon voices and using some of his signature phrases ("I always like a little blood in the street, even if some of it is my own"). These days, it's fun to see my dad's humor live on in the "kat's" writings (we have to channel my dad to get the kat's voice right). It's also fun to hear my dad's voice show up in my brother's, Teri's, and even Tess's language at times.   
Was he difficult at times? Good God, yes. More on that later. Was he also a true one of a kind? Yes, definitely that too. That’s why I can’t help but write about him and why you are here reading his story in chapters. J

Chapter 3: Turning 16 & Tennis with Dad

When I showed up in town, I had braces on my teeth and had that long, lean look of adolescence. It didn’t matter, my dad took me to a favorite bar of his with a little dance floor and live music. As I recall, a musician named Copeland Davis was playing that first night. My dad loved to dance and would teach me a little bit of swing dancing. I knew how to do the Hustle and so we traded dance steps. I have no idea why I wasn’t thrown out for being so obviously underage.  
For my birthday, Dad took me on my first cruise, to the Bahamas. The last day of our trip, I was walking with my dad when suddenly he said, “Wait!” He walked over to the roulette table and placed a bet on a number. Clueless about what he was doing, I watched the wheel slowly come to a stop—on his number. He had actually won! He said he sometimes just “got a feeling” and he always bet on those feelings.
My other birthday present involved tennis lessons. There were tennis courts on top of the parking structure where we lived, yet my dad preferred to play at the public courts, where he could pick up games near a little beachfront bar called The Greenhouse. He liked to challenge really good younger players to matches, knowing that they would consider him too old to be able to give them a workout. When they said “No thank you,” Dad would needle them, “Come on, just one set!” He would offer to wager a bet to get cocky players to play for easy money.  With his black socks and weird t-shirts (the Pink Panther and Superman themes were the tame ones), my dad looked anything but seriously competitive. 
My dad enjoyed helping me practice my strokes. Still, I was a beginner, and he grew bored whenever he wasn’t keeping score. With a sly look my way, he’d nod at the next court and say, “Let’s challenge them to a little doubles.”  I so didn't want to play. Dad never wore the proper tennis attire, said the most embarrassing things, and I also didn't really know how to play doubles. It didn’t matter, as Dad could be ridiculously persuasive. 
With lessons and Dad's coaching, I fast became a pretty good singles player (somehow I made the Santa Monica High School tennis team the next year when I returned to California). 
Doubles, however, never became my thing, perhaps because Dad drilled it into me to "stay out of the way" (so he could make heroic shots and win for two). The foreshadowing became clear only in retrospect: Dad liked to do things his way and collaboration would never be one of his favorite games.

Testing After Expiration Date: Constant Health Passes 2 Years Later!

Expiration dates are not all created equally. Not by a long shot. Many products don't meet label claims on the day of manufacture, much less some two or three years later at the so-called "expiration date."

We are a small company and independent laboratory testing adds costs to a quality control process, costs we consistently opt to make each time we produce a new batch of a products. We also opt to test when we want to resolve questions we have for ourselves--questions such as "How good is an 'expired' drink powder product?" We feel confident in our products because our manufacturers blend our formulas with about 5% more of each ingredient than our labels claim (to ensure they pass our independent laboratory tests). With our Constant Health product expiring this month, we decided to run a second test, two years later.

We sent a jar of Constant Health off to our independent laboratory testing director and asked him to suggest the best ingredients to analyze for oxidation or loss of potency. He recommended that we test the N-Acetyl-Cysteine, Vitamin E,  and Bioperine, the ingredients for which he would expect the highest rates of loss.

Here's what our independent laboratory test results for Constant Health on August 19, 2010 showed:

  • N-Acetyl-Cysteine at 151.6 mg / serving (still above label claim at 101%)
  • Vitamin E at 48.66 IU  /serving (a drop of only 2.68% over 2 years; this result would more than meet USP standards for even a newly manufactured product)
  • Bioperine at 10.82 mg / serving (still above label claim at 108%)

Proud. Proud. Proud. I could not be more proud. :-)

While our products consistently pass with flying colors at the time of manufacture, we (and you) can also trust that our products are still plenty potent even at the time of expiration!

Not all vitamin companies can say the same (just check out the latest news at and see how many big-name products regularly fail their independent lab testing program).

And tell your friends and family that they should catch on to the Co-op's great quality and great value. We have our big summer sale running right now, so it's a great time to stock up on our products and save a bunch (15% off orders and the Constant Health and Soothing Greens products are on clearance due to new inventory coming in next month).

We've gotta move the old stuff out to make room for the new batch. The products you buy have proven potency, so the savings you can get right now are really quite tremendous.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for the release of a small clinical study on Constant Health next month.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chapter 2 - You Can Call Me Dad

Here's the second chapter of my memories of my dad for my readers who knew the old man.
Dad was scarce in our lives when we were young. My mom used to fret that she would do all the hard work and, when we were old enough to become interesting to our dad, he would show up and seduce us with his wealth and charm and she would lose us. Clearly, there were some hard feelings on her side about my father.

Dad did indeed show up on occasion, when he was in town “for business,” meaning he had just been in Las Vegas gambling. It was easy to hop a commuter flight to Southern California to see his parents in Newport Beach and drop in to see how his gene pool was doing.  When he showed up, he seemed neither alien nor genuinely familiar, more like a character in a family story--or a cartoon strip.  As quickly as he appeared, he would be off again, often for years at a time. 

Fast forward to September of 1976: my mom, brothers, and I were living in a small house in Santa Monica, just south of Pico Boulevard. My mom and I got into it for some reason. Anyway, she said, “You’re just like your father.” I replied, “I’ve heard that all my life.” Going for a little more drama, she said, “I’m going to send you to live with your father.”  In a classic roll-the-eyes teenage fashion, I replied, “I’ve heard that all of my life too.”

I don’t remember what it was that made my mom so mad, but I’ll always remember her leaving my room abruptly and placing that fateful call to my dad.  She complained that I was “unmanageable” and asked my dad to take me. It didn’t really sink in that night though.  

I was almost 16. My friends were everything to me, and I was being sent away to live with my dad, a man I really didn't know, who lived on the other side of the country in Florida--he rather liked that Florida didn’t have income taxes and the year-round tennis weather sweetened the deal.  I had moved all my life, so change did not phase me. I was excited by a new adventure and the prospect of getting to know my dad finally.

Dad picked me up at the then small West Palm Beach airport in Levis and a Superman t-shirt. He was all smiles, blue eyes twinkling, gray hair standing out against his tan skin. He was handsome, and he was disarmingly funny.

Dad carried my suitcase to his brown Mercedes Benz, a car that I grew to associate with him and his life in Florida. He was newly single and seemed happy to have company. 

After a short drive from the airport, we arrived at his condominium complex, the Phoenix Towers, in Singer Island. When my dad opened his front door, I stepped into a small living room with some antiques he had bought at auctions and a view overlooking tennis courts below and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west. 

Since, I showed up rather unexpectedly, his second bedroom was a mess of a ham radio room and the first priority was to get a bed for me (he found a Drexel bedroom set at, you guessed it, an auction that week). The second priority was for me to get my driver’s license and a car, so my dad wouldn’t have to cart me around. Third priority was to get me a checking account, so Dad wouldn’t have to take me shopping. I went from being one of three kids with a working mom who took care of all these things to being more like my dad’s roommate. 

My dad was always an entrepreneur, an ideas guy, and he didn’t have much patience for details. Before giving me a set of "wheels," he gave me a couple of driving lessons and a driver's education booklet to study. After giving me a day to memorize answers, he took me to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get my driver's license. To him, driving wasn’t rocket science and any kid of his should be coordinated enough to drive an automatic transmission car.  No driving supervised for 6 months. No practice with parallel parking or backing out of narrow spots. Just go do it and learn from your mistakes. That was his philosophy about new things. He bought me a used white Vega (circa early '70's) and I was driving within days, fortunately not back in L.A. traffic. 

After three weeks in Florida, my dad turned to me with a grin, saying, “I have noticed you have never called me ‘Dad.’ You can call me ‘Dad.’ You can call me ‘Stewart.’ You can call me anything you want, but you have to call me something.”  My dad was raised in Texas and greetings were important to him, even if the small talk that followed was not. I started calling him “Dad” and a new bridge was built in our relationship.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Early Memories of My Dad in Chapters

I've spent a lifetime with a conflicted relationship with my father. I adored him and thought he was one of the smartest, funniest people ever. And...I also found him difficult in oh so many ways as well. 

Many of our members remember the old man, so I decided to share some memories with everyone. Summer was my dad's favorite season, and he died in the middle of summer, and so I think of him when the days are still long and until we head into October, his birthday month. So, here goes, some early memories of my dad, in chapters.

Chapter One - Cucamonga, California

Light filtered through the opaque windows in the back of my condo at the Broadway Lofts, where I had my first office in Utah and where I made that fateful decision to join with my brother, Stephen, to buy our dad’s supplement business in early 2002. I had never joined any of my dad’s businesses, as my brothers had, and had some strong opinions about any business my dad was involved in, namely that he had to be totally “out” for me to be “in.” In his late 60’s and “ready to retire,” I decided to partner with Stephen, and ultimately Teri as well, to buy what was then called “The Generic Co-op.”

My earliest memories of my dad include him talking to his glossy black Myna bird, which lived in a cage in our living room and repeated choice words my dad taught it in our two-story home in Cucamonga, California. I remember my dad’s signature gray hair with a bulky set of headphones in a messy ham radio room across from our basement playroom. My dad’s ham radio room was a place my dad escaped from the demands of a sensitive wife and four boisterous young children. In that funny little room, with wires and equipment, my dad seemed happiest, communicating unselfconsciously with sheiks and social outcasts alike from around the world, all in the quite strange-to-a-child’s-ears language of manual Morse.

As a kid, I remember my dad and mom playing bridge with friends around the dining room table, both of them smoking heavily. I remember frozen dinners and a special dinner my dad prepared the night my mom was at the hospital giving birth to Stephen. My dad made a kind of 1960s version of nachos, dumping a whole bag of Fritos on a cookie sheet, ladling out the contents of a can of chili, slicing some Velveeta cheese on top, and heating it all up in the then-novel microwave in our kitchen.

While we lived in Cucamonga, I remember my dad bringing home ducks one day (we had a large property but it was still a suburban development.). Next, he bought two goats, a Billy goat with a beard for my older brother, Jim, and a sleek black and white Nubian goat, ostensibly for me. With a dog named Julie, who gave birth to a ridiculously large litter of puppies under my brothers’ trundle bed, our suburbarn-country life gave us  a lot of room to play and plenty of companionship from four-legged friends, including a Siamese cat (and fabulous mouser) named Fritz and a Persian cat (not such a good mouser) named Pixie. 

Then, suddenly, when I was five years old and Stephen was only a few months old, my mom and dad split, with my mom packing the station wagon up and heading back to Texas, where she grew up (and where she met my dad, incidentally). We landed in Arlington, Texas, where we kids learned to talk with deep southern drawls, did battle with Copperhead nests, fished in a stocked pond with pieces of Oscar Meyer bologna, and, sadly, also where our brother, Joey, drowned at Lake Arlington one tragic April afternoon. My next memory of my dad was at Joey’s funeral, where he brought his second wife, Anne, and did his best to lighten the heavy mood, even though my mom was inconsolable. My dad didn’t do sadness, after all.

There were a couple of brief summer visits to my dad’s new house in Houston and introductions to my Uncle Fred and Aunt Rita and four Fason cousins, consisting similarly of three boys and one girl. It was nice to have cousins, but we really didn’t get to know each other, as our time in Texas was just about over.

My mom’s family was still back in Santa Monica, California. With Texas reminding my mom of the loss of her son and missing her grandmother in particular, she put a fresh coat of champagne white paint on the walls of our little tract house, called Bekins to pack up the house, put a “For Sale” sign in the front yard, and then loaded us up in that same station wagon to move back to California. We stayed in cheap motels as we journeyed west across the fantastic desert, learning about stalagtytes and stalagmites at the Kartchner Caverns in Arizona, taking turns walking our little Cocker-Spaniel mix dog while imagining where dinosaurs had walked, and looking after our three cats, who mostly hid in the car.

     It was to be a long time before I had much contact with my dad again but he lived large, almost mythically, in the family stories. And, my mom never missed an opportunity to say, "You're just like your father."  Hmm. My brother would probably agree that I had the "arguing" gene but I had years to go before I would understand what that less-than-musical refrain of my mom's really meant. I wasn't sure he would ever be back in my life but he would, of course. More in the next "chapter."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Antibiotic-Resistant Staph Bugs + Sweet Honey

A dear friend is on a 35-day course of IV antibiotics because he was exposed to the Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) germ (otherwise known as a staph infection). Staph germs live on our skin and in the nasal passages of healthy people. This antiobiotic resistant bug, however, is a particular problem. Death rates soar when this bug gets in and causes pneumonia or invades the bloodstream.

My friend is 58, the picture of health (does yoga, plays tennis and golf, eats healthily, takes supplements), but he scratched a red spot on his skin (an in-grown hair) and was stricken with a deadly explosion of staph germs in his bloodstream. He thought he just needed to rest when he came down with flu-like symptoms but when the chills and shortness of breath became more dramatic, he took a buddy's advice and went to the Emergency Room.

As someone who travels widely, frequently in Latin America, my friend said, "I thought my doctor was joking when he said I could have died. All I can say is that God must have more work for me to do in this life."  Phew. My friend is on the mend and it sounds like he is getting good care.

Meanwhile, I did a little research on the MRSA bug. One of the things I found most interesting is the use of a special honey, from the pollen of the Manuka shrub in New Zealand. This amazing pollen creates honey with especially powerful antibiotic properties. In addition to promising results against the pernicious MRSA bug, manuka honey fights other bad bugs, like Eschericihia coli (the food poisoning bug) and Helicobacter pylori (the peptic ulcer bug). Sweet, eh?

And, plain old supermarket honey is being evaluated for use in treating wounds. The ancients used honey to treat wounds and so do third-world country healthcare practitioners (pennies per treatment compared to other more "modern" interventions). Now researchers around the world--from the Waikato Honey Research Unit to the Wisconsin School of Medicine--are studying the use of honey as an antibacterial agent in treating hard-to-heal infections. Others continue to study the use of honey for calming cantankerous coughs. Sweet, indeed!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rigid, Flexible & "Kinky" Fats

It's summer. For some, the fat has melted away with greater time spent outdoors and active. For some, fat is the perennial foe and fat grams in food get counted like carefully evaluated ounces in a backpack on a long, tiring trek. No matter what size or shape we are, we are inundated with information about fats and getting rid of fat.

Here's the scoop on dietary fats:

  • Dietary fats enable absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
  • Fat provides a major source of metabolic energy.
  • Fat creates healthy cellular membranes, the part of the cell involved in regulating what comes in (nutrients) and what goes out (waste) of a cell. 
  • Fats thus are critical to regulating cellular function, including gene expression, inflammation, and cell growth through a process called "signaling" (the instructions for turning cellular functions "on" and "off").
So, fats are vital to health, with a few caveats: (1) know your fats and (2) understand that fat build up in organs like the liver, heart, and pancreas are far more worrisome than those love handles.

Fat Molecules - A Question of "Flexibility"
  • Saturated fats and Trans fats are considered "rigid" molecules, which makes cellular membranes more rigid and less able to self-regulate (similar to rigidity in we humans!).
  • Mono-Unsaturated and Poly-Unsaturated fats are considered more "flexible" molecules and thus support more fluid cellular communications and self-regulation.
My dear friend and pharmacist, Mike Ciell, talks about trans fats (rigid fats) acting like a "Saran wrap" around cell membranes. Not a nice picture (and another good reason for reading labels and avoiding packaged foods whenever possible). 

Interestingly, unsaturated fats have at least one double bond in their molecular structure, which causes a "kink" in their structure that makes them hard to "stack up" on top of one another. The poly-unsaturated fats have multiple double bonds that make them more "kinky" and thus more fluid, even with refrigeration. Omega 3 DHA molecules have six double bonds thus making them extremely fluid ("super kinky"). 

Funny, and most of you probably thought that flavored massage oils were the only "kinky oils." :-)

If you are interested in a few diagrams (and a further discussion on the evils of trans fats), check out this older-but-still-good little article on the Chemical and Physical Structure of Fatty Acids at by Wyn Snow.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cellular Iron Levels & Breast Cancer

A dear friend is worried about having breast cancer. Her doctors had an urgent sound in their voice when advising her to go in for a surgical biopsy. The picture they showed her of a suspicious spot near her armpit scared her. The story in my friend's head was that she had stepped on to the cancer "merry-go-round" and that, once diagnosed, cancer would recur until a traumatizing end, which would be forever in sight. My heart went out to her.

Stories are important. They affect our emotions. They affect neurotransmitters, hormone levels, and immune system cells. Stories affect not only the reactions we experience but also our outcomes in life. 

Last night, I invited my friend to step into a different story. Whatever the diagnosis, she could become educated on alternatives, begin to learn more about what her body needs, and take more proactive next steps with her diet, nutrition, and lifestyle. 

I referred my friend to Patrick Quillin's book "Beating Cancer with Nutrition" and Bill Henderson's books." I asked her to get educated on a half a dozen topics ranging from self care to diet and supplements to improving lymphatic drainage (the waste removal system in the body) to IV vitamin C treatments. 

I also forwarded today's news item on the role of cellular iron levels and cancer.  According to research reported today:

"A new study by researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (WFUBMC) may soon help to spare some women with breast cancer from having to undergo invasive and toxic treatments for their disease.

Investigators found that low levels of ferroportin, the only known protein to eliminate iron from cells, are associated with the most aggressive and recurring cancers. The finding suggests that testing for ferroportin levels in women with breast cancer may one day help doctors to more accurately predict whether their patients’ cancer will return. It may also help some women with high levels of the protein to avoid invasive or toxic treatments such as chemotherapy."

My friend wrote to me just now that the prospect of getting educated and taking new actions made a huge difference.  She wrote: "Today my outlook is more hopeful and optimistic...I also have a new way to think about this that isn't quite so dark and dismal."

My friend has her surgical biopsy next week. I am holding her in my prayers and heart.