Category Archives: Ask the Hippie

Ask the Hippie: Controlling Hot Flashes

Q. You had your ovaries removed during your hysterectomy. How bad are the hot flashes, and what are you doing about them?

A. For about a week after surgery, I kept the hot flashes to three or four a day, but the frequency (12 to 15 a day) and intensity spiked as I started feeling better and drifted away from the carefully planned, phytoestrogen-heavy meals I’d prefabbed before my surgery. When I started eating right again, the hot flashes settled back down to manageable levels.

Phytoestrogens occur naturally in most plants. Soybeans are among the richest sources; other good sources include black beans, peanuts, ground flaxseed, oats, tree nuts, and sweet potatoes.

Here are five easy ways to boost your phytoestrogen intake:

Source 1: Smoothies. Blend together half a frozen banana, a cup of frozen berries, two tablespoons of powdered peanut butter, two tablespoons of ground flaxseed, orange juice (I freeze mine in ice-cube trays and throw a few cubes in a smoothie), a cup of soymilk, and a little water. These are loaded with protein, fiber, and phytoestrogens and make quick breakfasts, especially if you assemble the frozen ingredients in advance and freeze them in individual containers.

Source 2: Oatmeal. Microwave half a cup of old-fashioned oatmeal with a quarter-cup each of nuts and dried cranberries, a pinch of cinnamon, and as much water as needed to reach the consistency you like. Sweeten with honey, brown sugar, or — for an extra dose of phytoestrogens — a half-cup of applesauce. Rich in protein, fiber, and phytoestrogens and nice on mornings that are too cool for smoothies.

Source 3: Soynut butter. Made for little kids with peanut allergies, soynut butter looks and sort of tastes like peanut butter. I spread some on a whole-wheat mini-bagel and add a tablespoon or so of marshmallow creme to make a soy-based Fluffernutter for breakfast.

Source 4: Baked sweet potatoes. Bake ’em in a slow cooker for a few hours. Top with butter and either brown sugar and cinnamon (for a sweet treat) or salsa and a little lime juice (for a savory snack).

Source 5: Veggie corn dogs. Morningstar Farms makes these. They’re 150 calories apiece take a minute and a half to nuke, and taste like regular corn dogs. Easy lunch on busy days.

Beyond that, I try to drink plenty of water, eat popsicles, and wear a cooling scarf in warm surroundings.


Ask the Hippie: Surviving a Hysterectomy without Opioids

Q. A hysterectomy is major surgery. How did you get through yours without opioids, and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

A. Opioids are magnificent painkillers, but I can’t keep them down, and the last thing I wanted was to have my stomach acting up immediately after abdominal surgery, so my doctor prescribed 800 mg of ibuprofen every 8 hours instead.

The medicine worked pretty well when I remembered to take it. More helpful than the ibuprofen, I think, were two tips I picked up from HysterSisters, which is a pretty good resource.

Tip 1: Use an abdominal binder to support the incisions and keep your internal organs from squirming around too much. I didn’t have a binder, but the extra-wide Ace bandage I’d used to support a ribcage injury years ago made a serviceable substitute.

Tip 2: Get a couple of those flat ice packs that are designed to go in lunchboxes. Keep one in the freezer, tuck the other between the top and bottom layers of your bandage, and rotate them out as needed. Instant relief.

At its worst, my pain really wasn’t any worse than moderate cramps, and by skipping the opioids, I avoided the constipation and mental fog that come with prescription painkillers. The former does not play well with abdominal incisions, and the latter makes me nervous, so I was just as happy to dodge those bullets.

I was a little concerned about the risk of inflammation, so the week before my surgery, I made myself a big batch of those frozen fruit bars I use to cool down after a workout. To make them, you just puree frozen berries, which have anti-inflammatory properties, with enough cranberry juice to make a pourable liquid, pour it into molds, and freeze it. I figured the cranberry juice would also reduce my risk of catheter-induced bladder infections. Bonus: The frozen treats made a pleasant antidote to hot flashes.

Hope that’s useful to somebody.


Ask the hippie: Henna

I haven’t done an “Ask the Hippie” in ages, but I’ve gotten several questions about henna lately.

Q. What is henna, and how do you use it?

A. Henna is an exotic plant whose leaves contain a naturally occurring red dye that I’ve used on my hair for the better end of 20 years, because it produces a consistently rich, natural-looking color, doesn’t contain any scary chemicals, and is an excellent conditioner.

Its only drawback is that it’s more labor-intensive than other methods, especially if you don’t have access to commercial salon equipment. If you can find a stylist willing to work with henna, praise God and tip well. If you can’t, here’s a quick DIY lesson:

1. Assemble your ingredients.

At a minimum, you need henna, distilled water, and a non-reactive bowl and spoon. NEVER let henna come into contact with metal, as this can turn it green.

2. Put the henna in your non-reactive mixing bowl.

powdered henna
I use a big Pyrex measuring cup because it can handle boiling liquids and won’t stain.

3. Boil a cup of distilled water, red wine or coffee.

I like to use roughly equal parts red wine and coffee. Whatever you use, make sure it’s boiling when you add it to the henna.

4. Mix it up. I start with a cup of red wine, mix to a thick paste, then add coffee to thin it down to a workable consistency.

Mixed henna
If you use coffee, make it with distilled water. Henna and chlorine do not play well together.

5. Use Vaseline to prevent stains.

Apply to your ears, upper forehead, etc.

6. Guard your silver.

Gray streak
I love my gray streak too much to dye it, so before I apply henna, I coat my streak with Vaseline and mask it off with plastic wrap.

7. Put on gloves.

Medical-type gloves are awesome for this.

8. Make sure your hair is clean, dry and free of styling products. When the henna is cool enough to handle, begin applying it.

Start with the roots and work your way out.

9. Keep applying.

All applied
If you’re just touching up roots, apply most of the henna to the new growth, then coat a few random sections of hair with the rest so the new and old colors will blend nicely. Freshen up the overall color every few months.

10. Cover to hold in heat.

A cheap shower cap works well. If your glasses have metal frames, leave them off.

11. Heat-set.

Heat-set for at least 45 minutes. I put the dryer on the highest setting. You can use a handheld dryer, but a tabletop bonnet dryer (about $60) works better and leaves your hands free to play Angry Birds while you wait.

12. Rinse. This is the worst part, because the henna thickens as it heats. Under running water, comb out the tangles, starting at the ends and literally inching your way up. Don’t worry about getting all the henna out at this point; just detangle. Work in plenty of conditioner, rinse, and repeat until the grit is gone. Conditioner and a comb will save you a good 15 minutes if your hair is long and/or thick.

The finished product
The finished product.

Yes, it really turns out that shiny.


Ask the Hippie: FAQs about our upcoming move

OK … I’ve gotten all manner of questions about our upcoming move, and instead of answering the same ones over and over and over while I’m trying to pack everything I own (mission about 85 percent accomplished), say my goodbyes, and tie up loose ends at work, I’m just going to answer them here.

Q. Why are you moving?
A. Journalism.

Q. What’s going to happen to your bees?
A. This:

A beekeeper from Owasso came and picked up the hives Saturday morning. We’ll miss our girls, but they’re in very good hands, and of course we’re looking forward to setting up a new hive at our new house next spring.

Q. What’s going to happen to your chickens?
A. Some ol’ boy is coming by this evening to pick them up.

Q. Is Ron going with you?
A. As soon as the house sells, yes. If you’re in the market for a great little house with ridiculously low power bills, I’ve got you covered. Asking $74,900. Three bedrooms, solar panels on the roof, woodburning stove, and all appliances included.

Q. When are you moving?
A. This weekend.

Q. Aren’t you stressed out?
A. No. Ain’t nobody got time for that. If I stressed out over deadline pressure, I’d be a pretty pathetic excuse for a journalist.

Q. You’ve already seen Judy Collins in concert three times. Why would you drive all the way to Kansas and back to see her again less than 24 hours before the movers show up?
A. You’re not a folkie, are you?

Q. How are you going to survive in Rush Limbaugh’s Cardinal-fan-infested hometown?
A. Same way I survived nine years in Oklahoma. Cardinal fans may be insufferable, but at least they can tell a balk from a ground-rule double, which is more than I can say for the average Okie.

Ask the Hippie: Artisanal Honey

Q. I saw an ad for something called “artisanal honey.” What is it, and is it worth an extra $15 to $20 a pound?

A. “Artisanal honey” is a misleading term that a handful of beekeepers with questionable scruples are using to take advantage of ignorant snobs who spend way too much time watching the Food Network and way too little time watching the Discovery Channel.

The term artisanal refers to monofloral honey (that is, honey made from the nectar of a single plant species), which is produced by placing a beehive in an area where a particular plant is blooming, then harvesting the honey as soon as the nectar flow ends.

While this practice gives the beekeeper a measure of control over the flavor of the honey — for instance, tupelo honey is very light and mild-tasting, while buckwheat honey is dark and intense — it does not make the beekeeper in question an “artisan.”

The word artisan refers to someone who is skilled at some type of handicraft: baskteweaving, pottery, metalsmithing, cooking, etc. People who render beeswax and use it to make soap or candles are artisans. People who take honey out of a hive and sell it are not artisans. They are simply beekeepers. There is no “art” involved in picking up a hive, putting it on a truck, and driving somewhere. If moving heavy objects made one an artisan, Mayflower Trucking would set up booths at craft shows and Ren fairs.

I hate it when monofloral honey is labeled as “artisanal,” because the term reinforces the false perception that beekeepers make honey. We don’t. We just give our bees a comfortable place to live, try to protect them from predators and parasites, and swipe a little of their honey now and then in exchange for our services.

I don’t have a problem with beekeepers charging more for better honey. If I end up with a frame or two of unusually flavorful honey, I want it to end up in a good home where it will be savored and enjoyed and not just poured over some toddler’s Chicken McNuggets, so I’ll probably charge an extra dollar a pound for it.

I will not, however, attempt to convince the buyer that I am an “artisan” just so I can overinflate the price. Local honey should cost about $4 to $8 a pound, depending on the kind and quality. Any more than that, and you’re probably getting ripped off, no matter how artistic the beekeeper claims to be.


Home improvement

After six years of service, our $20 discount-store showerhead started leaking like a sieve, so I picked up a replacement at the hardware store down the street. The new model was fairly elaborate and significantly more expensive than the old one, and Ron told me I could have it if and only if I was absolutely sure I could install it myself.

Upon hearing this, the hardware-store owner was incredulous (he said he had some female customers who did their own household repairs, but I didn’t look like “the type”) and wanted to see a picture of my handiwork when I got done, so Ron got out his camera and documented the project for posterity this afternoon.

I’ll go ahead and file this post under “Ask the Hippie,” since it does answer a question.

Q. How do you install a showerhead?

A. Like this:

Step 1: Remove the old one.

Step 2: Peel off the old teflon tape and replace it with new tape to prevent leaks.

Step 3: Install the valve for the new showerhead. If it has flat sides, use a crescent wrench to tighten it. If it has smooth sides, a faucet wrench (shown below) comes in handy.

Step 4: Connect tube for handheld showerhead. (The model we bought has two heads — one handheld and one stationary. On a simple, single-head model, you obviously won’t have to mess with so many steps.)

Step 5: Tape the threads for the wall-mounted showerhead to prevent leaks.

Step 6: Install wall-mounted showerhead.

Step 7: Connect hose to tube for handheld showerhead.

Step 8: Tighten.

Step 9: Tape threads on handheld showerhead and connect to other end of hose.

Step 10: Brandish handheld showerhead menancingly, lest husband get any bright ideas about trying to commandeer the shower before you’ve had a chance to try out your handiwork.

Plumbing is pretty easy. You just have to remember to tape all the threads and get everything good and tight to prevent leaks. If you don’t have a handheld showerhead, I highly recommend getting one. They’re relatively cheap ($15 to $20 for the simplest models) and easy to install, and they come in very handy for bathing pets.

Hope your Saturday afternoon is productive, wherever you are.



Ask the Hippie, Vol. 3, Issue 1

Q. How do I prepare for a long trip?

A. You know how I love to travel. I’m the queen of the 2,000-plus-mile weekend (just got back from one last night and am headed out on another this Friday). I often travel solo. I never get scared by myself on the road. And I always follow three simple rules to ensure a good experience:

1. Travel light. Here are my summer basics: toothpaste; toothbrush; deodorant; comb; all-in-one shampoo/conditioner; razor; extra pair of glasses; Croc knockoffs; jeans; tank tops with built-in bras; underwear; one pair of comfortable shorts for sleeping or jogging; socks; broomstick skirt and slip; sweater to match the skirt; light jacket; ponytail holders and barrettes; can of Aussie 2-in-1 mousse; baseball cap; camera; iPod Touch; Flip video camera; notebook; pen; cell phone; wallet; quarters; keys; LED flashlight; various paper products; gum. For a longer trip, I might add running shoes and an extra pair of jeans.

2. Reject fear. I don’t do fear. At all. It doesn’t deserve space in my thought, so I refuse to give it any. If you’re scared of strangers, take a self-defense class. Four years of combat karate training did wonders for my confidence. If you don’t have time or money for lessons, I can sum up the most important lesson in three words: TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS.

3. Don’t overplan. If a particular restaurant, motel or attraction is enormously important to you, call ahead to make reservations or confirm that it’s going to be open when you’re there. Otherwise, just follow your instincts and let the road show you what it will. Detailed itineraries stress me out. When I’m on vacation, I want freedom to linger over coffee, visit with a friend, or set up the perfect shot with three different cameras.

Travel should always be fun. It only becomes stressful when you overthink it and allow the Whatifs to muck it up.


Ask the Hippie, Vol. 2, Issue 5

Q. How do I slow down my electric meter? (Search term: “How to slow down my electric meter.”)

A. I suspect this person was looking for ways to cheat the power company, but I’ve got a better idea:

Use less electricity.

I could go into a million details about how to accomplish this, but instead, I will simply refer the querent to the House of the Lifted Lorax blog, which Ron set up to share our adventures in energy efficiency and solar living. Specifically, those looking to reduce their power bills might be interested in these posts:

CFLs: Yes, they work

A black or white situation (about roof color)
Think small
A big energy saver (about water heaters)
A radiant glow (about attic improvements)

Also, you might be interested in this riff I did last year on preparing your home for winter. It includes some links and good advice from other sources as well.


Ask the Hippie, Vol. 2, Issue 4

Q. Is there an organic way to get rid of ants?

A. Yes.

I discovered an infestation of ants in our kitchen just before we left for Clinton a couple of weeks ago, but I didn’t have a chance to do anything about them before we went out of town. Of course my negligence gave them a chance to multiply, and by the time we got back, they were all over the counter and sink.

I sort of like ants. Like honeybees, they’re hard-working, single-minded little critters who understand the importance of sacrificing self-interest for the greater good. I appreciate the lessons they offer, and I’m loathe to kill a teacher, however small it might be.

That said, I didn’t want a colony of ants marching across my counters, tromping through my food, and stealing anything that wasn’t hermetically sealed, so I decided to let them know it was time to leave.

Ants hate the smell of peppermint. I think it messes up their sense of smell and makes it hard for them to detect the trails of formic acid that they lay down to help each other find food sources.

I had some peppermint essential oil and an empty spray bottle on hand, so I mixed about a teaspoon of the oil with about a quart of water and spritzed down the sink and countertop with it.

Two treatments, spaced a couple of hours apart, took care of the entire problem literally overnight.


Ask the Hippie, Vol. 2, Issue 2

From a search term used to find this blog today:

Q. Where are the best places to take st louis snow photos?

A. Tower Grove Park. It looks like something out of a postcard. Especially the Shakespeare statue. I took some stunning snow photos out there about eight or nine years ago.

Also, I would suggest a quartet of snow-covered concrete animals:
1. The Turtle Playground (on Oakland, just off I-64, across from a little Irish pub in Dogtown; I want to say you take the Kingshighway exit south and then hang a right on Oakland)
2. The Bevo Fox (at the A-B brewery; I think it’s on Arsenal, but if not, Arsenal will get you to the brewery, and you can wander around from there — or just go take the tour, which will also get you close to the Clydesdales and several other photogenic parts of the complex)
3. The bears in front of Kiel Opera House (just down Market Street from Union Station, as I recall … and while you’re at it, the Mermaid Fountain in front of Union Station would make a cool snow photo)
4. The sea serpent at the City Museum (the museum is on Washington Avenue; I forget the cross-street you turn on to get to the parking lot surrounded by the serpent fence, but there are usually banners all over Washington Avenue to let you know when you’re getting warm)

A trip up the Arch would give you a nice vantage point for an aerial view of the city during a snowfall (or any other time), and City Hall (on Tucker, I think) would be gorgeous in the snow, as would those water intake towers that are visible from the middle of the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge in North St. Louis County.