Get Happy

My morning routine: laptop, coffee and my Happy Light.

We’ve heard about tropical parties in the winter, but have you ever heard of inviting people over to bask in your “Happy Light?”

Over the past few days, I’ve invited my neighbor Jim and friend Wendy to come over and sit next to my Verilux* “Happy Light,” which emits broad spectrum white light that mimics the sun. This is about the best I can do in late January in Connecticut, which still feels like the dark side of the moon.

Wendy asked if she should wear her bathing suit, but I reminded her that this is a therapeutic light – not a sun lamp like the one I used in the ’70s to tan before heading south every spring. That light is probably part of the reason I got skin cancer in my mid-40s, and still avoid the sun today.

My doctor prescribed the $40 light box that fights Seasonal Affective Disorder after I complained that I’ve been feeling tired and sluggish since the time change Nov. 1st. He said I should feel more energetic after using the light designed to increase energy, well-being, focus and relaxation. (For more on the Happy Light, visit https://verilux.com)

About the size of an I-pad, the $40 Happy Light sits on a table in my family room and is the first thing I turn on every morning. I can do other tasks like reading, watching TV or writing while it’s on. I don’t stare at the light, which is about 12 to 24 inches from my face. I just occasionally glance over at it as if to say, “Oh yes, I see you’re there. And I’m very happy that you are.”

Jim snagged his Happy Light invitation after he made the mistake of texting me: “Making it through this winter? It’s been mild but long.” He probably sees the glow of the light emanating from my family room every morning and is wondering what’s going on in here.

Wendy got her invite after a clutch of women discussed their problem with afternoon fatigue, and I mentioned my Happy Light. It seems unfair to keep it to myself.

I’ve never been a fan of winter and diminished light, but this year has been particularly tough for me. Like most things these days from flagging libido to crepey skin, I suspect I can chalk some of it up to age. As we get older, we secrete less of our “feel good” hormone serotonin and become more sensitive to cold. At the same time, we become more prone to Vitamin D deficiency.

Years ago, I remember my mother-in-law talking about diminished Vitamin B levels among her friends, hearing tales of them ponying up for mega-shots of Vitamin B12 shots to get more energy. Today, nearly everyone I talk to has a Vitamin D deficiency and takes daily supplements to bring it into normal range.

Vitamin D deficiency is rare in children because most drink plenty of milk and other fortified dairy products. But it’s considered a “worldwide epidemic” among adults, with an estimated 1 billion people suffering from insufficient levels across the globe.https://www.medicinenet.com/vitamin_d_deficiency/article.htm

In the United States, about 40 percent of the population suffers from Vitamin D deficiency, which can cause everything from chronic fatigue syndrome to depression. Since Vitamin D plays a crucial role in immunity, low levels have also been linked to an increase in autoimmune diseases and certain types of cancer.

The Happy Light is part of my doctor’s two-prong approach to fighting my winter blues. In addition to light therapy, I learned my Vitamin D level is woefully low and could be causing my seasonal lethargy and joint pain.

I had no idea my Vitamin D level was so low until I went to my doctor and complained about my joints. He suggested testing my Vitamin D level, noting many of his patients with arthritis had low Vitamin D levels and saw a marked improvement after taking supplements.

It should be noted that my Vitamin D level was not checked during a routine blood test for my annual physical. The doctor didn’t order the test until I mentioned achy joints. If you suspect your level is low or haven’t had it checked for awhile, you might ask your doctor for a blood test to check it.

I was prescribed 1.25 mg (50,000 units) of Vitamin D2 once a week to bring my Vitamin D level into the normal range. After that, I’ll take a 2,000 daily supplement to maintain a healthy level. Always check with your doctor before taking any supplements.

I’ve only taken one Vitamin D supplement, so it’s way too early to tell if it’s going to be a game changer. But learning that my Vitamin D level was low was validating in a way: there was a viable reason for my sluggishness, which reared its ugly head most afternoons.

As for the Happy Light, I’m quite content sitting near it, and am always a little sad to turn it off. I’m a creature of the light, and nothing makes me happier than looking out and seeing a sunny day. But for now, the Happy Light will have to do. It’s not the sun, but it’s something. And right now, I’ll take what I can get.

*I have received no compensation from Verilux for this piece.

Mother Knows Best

Necessity is the mother of invention: ice bags held in place with an old thermal shirt.

I got a FaceTime call from my son in the next room.

“My laptop needs to be recharged and I need you to get the plug,” he said. I went into the family room and fished around before I discovered he was sitting on it.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” I asked.

I don’t ordinarily wait hand and foot on my kids, who are both young adults and capable of doing things for themselves. But my son had his wisdom teeth removed and is taking his oral surgeon’s advice as gospel: lay low for at least two days to prevent dreaded “dry sockets.”

I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone undergoing wisdom teeth extraction because I still remember the procedure and recovery at age 16. My oral surgeon said it would be helpful if I stayed awake during the removal of my four wisdom teeth so I could assist him by turning my head in different directions.

He failed to mention that staying awake involved eight shots of Novocaine in the roof, bottom and sides of my mouth. I remember thinking the shots to my upper and lower palates were the most painful thing I’d ever experienced. Looking back on it now, it’s right up there with an endometrial biopsy, in which a piece of uterine lining is removed without anesthesia. Yea, that smarts.

Extraction day came at the tail end of my son’s final winter break from college. He graduates in May, and would like to move to Boston. I don’t mind too much, but it’s not something I want to dwell on. I like the rhythm of having a kid in college – away much of the year, but still technically living at home – and I know it will take some adjustment. Did I mention that I don’t do too well with adjustments?

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I forgot how demanding my son could be until we began driving home on Interstate 95, and I decided to take an earlier exit to avoid a traffic jam we’d seen on the way to the oral surgeon’s office.

“What are you doing?” he mumbled, sounding a lot like Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” with all the gauze in his mouth. “The doctor said I’m supposed to take it easy. Why aren’t you taking the fastest route home possible?”

I flashed back to when he was four and demanded that I turn the car around every time we passed his favorite playground. He was a little tyrant: he once got so mad at me when I told him we had to leave the playground that he bit my upper inner thigh with all his might. Yes, I saw stars.

Truth be told, I’d sort of been looking forward to Wisdom Teeth Extraction Day because it was a chance to really take care of him like I did when he was a little boy. I wasn’t relishing the procedure, face swelling or intense pain he’d suffer, but it was nice to know that he still needed me, if only for a day. At the very least, he needed me to drive him home – something he hasn’t wanted or needed for six years.

At first he tried to affix the ice bags with a belt, but it was a failure on many levels.

Wisdom Teeth Extraction Day puts us in full-on Mommy mode, sending us to the store for soft foods like pudding, Cream of Rice and Greek yogurt. It forces us to clear our calendars: sorry, I can’t work or do anything today because my kid is undergoing surgery and needs me. It’s like when they’re little and running a fever, or have a stomach bug. You’re at their beck and call, counting your blessings that they’re usually so healthy.

Most importantly, WTED puts us squarely in the driver’s seat in terms of our young adult’s well-being: yes, you can brush your teeth, but don’t rinse vigorously; yes, you can have homemade butternut squash soup, but wait until it cools off; no, you can’t go bowling with your friends 48 hours after the procedure. You’re still healing and look like a chipmunk.

I was doing remarkably well ordering my son around for his own good. It was nice to be in control because he’s the kind of kid who’s been disagreeing with me since he was 13. Overnight, we went from best buddies to adversaries, and there were times when I thought he detested me (and he probably did).

I was assured by my Mom friends that this stage was normal and would pass. But it seemed to go on forever, or until about age 20. Slowly, steadily he wanted to talk to me again and hear what I had to say. But the kid still has his own mind and can be stubborn as an ox.

We reached an impasse over bowling. I said no. The last thing I wanted was dry sockets, which develop three to five days after surgery and are legendarily painful. My niece recently had her wisdom teeth removed and was in agony when a dry socket developed. I wanted to avoid that complication, particularly since he’s leaving soon for second semester.

My son wasn’t swayed. He Googled bowling after oral surgery. Apparently, this is a common question among kids having wisdom teeth removed. There were a variety of answers, but apparently it’s not recommended on the same day as surgery. No big surprise there.

He then called and texted everyone he knew with a connection to dentistry, including his friend Drew.

“Drew says it’s fine,” he said.

“What does Drew know about dentistry?” I asked.

“His Grandpa is an oral surgeon.”

“Oh, so I guess that makes him an authority,” I said.

We battled back and forth all day. And then I realized that there’s only so much a parent can say or do. You can kick, scream and threaten to take the car keys away, but ultimately they’re adults and have to make their own decisions.

I told him he could go bowling if that’s what he really wanted to do. But I said I wanted him home by midnight. I wanted to play the Mom card for as long as possible, and hadn’t successfully imposed a curfew in years.

He went bowling and didn’t score well that night, no real surprise given his compromised physical condition. But he did come home a half-hour before curfew, making a point to stop into my room to show that he was home. And though we never agreed on the bowling issue, I think he learned an important lesson: sometimes, mothers know best.

Our New Corolla

Every once in awhile, I fear I’ve got a tiny problem with impulse control.

It manifests itself in different ways, but usually involves shopping and money. I’m usually pretty good at watching my spending – 36 years being married to the Curmudgeon will do that – but there are times when I just want to let loose and buy something without agonizing over it.

Our family room couch is 30 years old, and no longer practical. A 6-foot-long camel back, it’s a glorified love seat, big enough to accommodate three seated souls or one person (usually me) stretched out to watch TV. I realized its limitations when my son’s friend came over to watch a football game: we needed to haul in a chair from the living room so he could sit down.

It’s well made, solid and comfortable enough that we reupholstered it once, swapping its original flame stitch for a more neutral blue chenille. But it’s served it purpose, or should I say time? It’s tired and worn, flecked with fabric pills that I remove with a disposable shaver before company arrives. It’s also sheathed in dog hair, proof that yellow Labrador retrievers shed all year and no amount of vacuuming or lint rolling removes some fur.

I mentioned the need for a new couch and a flurry of post-holiday furniture sales to the Curmudgeon, and was told to forget it. But then I began to make mental notes of times that he’s splurged without telling me: the night he pranced in wearing a new tuxedo that he never mentioned he bought, or the expensive tennis stringer he bought for our son.

It took my son about a minute to break in the new sectional. Ignore the mess on the coffee table.

I then considered a few major home improvement projects that were entirely his idea: the kitchen remodel and the conversion of our screened porch into a year-round sun room. He initiated both projects, which have made our place much more comfortable. But I was supportive. I had no objection to overseeing both projects and supervising contractors.

So I gave his objection to a new couch very little thought. In fact, I ignored it. Sometimes, a wife must take matters into her own hands for the good of the family room.

I enlisted the help of my son to measure the room and the existing couch – a mere 6 feet from arm to arm. And then we measured one side of the room where two striped over-sized club chairs currently sit – about 8 feet. I planned to replace the couch and chairs with an L-shaped sectional to accommodate more people, or as my friend Beth would say, to facilitate “flopping.”

I don’t love sectionals – they’re big, bulky and tend to dominate rooms. But they’re practical when it comes to seating large numbers of people. My mom has a half-circle sectional that seats about eight or nine people and still has room for her dog Maggie. She got it about 35 years ago, long before the dawning of the sectional craze, and it’s served her well.

We have an L-shaped sectional in our sun room that comfortably accommodates my son and about six or seven friends who come over to watch football games. Guys never seem to mind piling together, no matter how old they get.

I went to Raymour & Flanigan, stepping into the furniture giant for the very first time and tried to get my bearings. I quickly asked to be pointed to the sectionals and began inspecting them for style and comfort. Regrettably, most were leather or microfiber behemoths, reminding me of why I don’t really love sectionals.

Our old couch has seen better days.

But then, over in the distance, I spotted the Corolla, a sectional sharing the name with a Toyota and a comedian named Adam. Low slung, sleek and modern, the Corolla is a modular sectional that allows you to pull it apart and arrange pieces any way you want. This is a nice feature for someone who has trouble with commitment in the best of circumstances.

I sat in the corner of the Corolla and put my feet up, asking my salesman Chase about various options. As we chatted, I asked Chase about his weirdest customers, thinking I might be among them. Not even close, he resassured me.

His oddest customers were a couple in their 40s who insisted on making out on every couch that they tried out. They’d sit on the couch, start snuggling and then got busy, trying to reenact what they do on their couch at home. I guess Chase was lucky that they weren’t shopping for beds.

I wanted a chaise at one end of the sectional, but it was impossible because of the small space. So I decided on a large ottoman that could be moved around, or entirely out of the way if need be.

Chase crunched numbers, and then told me to take a seat. He told me he wanted to see if he could get more off the price, disappearing behind a glass wall. I was suddenly reminded why everyone hates furniture shopping: it’s one step removed from car shopping with the negotiating, haggling and promise: “Let me see what my manager can do.”

Chase and his manager Bruce came over and slashed an additional $300 off the price of the sectional, and then Bruce said he could take $20 off the ottoman. I told him to forget it. The nearly $400 cost would put me in the danger zone with the Curmudgeon. I could get away with a certain amount of craziness, but even I know when I’m pushing it.

I’d watched my Dad use this strategy with car dealers – replace the cloth seats with leather at no cost and we’ve got a deal. A seasoned negotiator from Brooklyn, he relished bargaining and was usually pretty successful. But Bruce just stared blankly at me when I said to forget the ottoman.

“OK, then just get the couch,” he said. “You can order the ottoman at some other time and just take it home in your car.”

So much for my negotiation skills. I guess it’s apparent to everyone that I don’t buy big ticket items too often and am a pushover when it comes to deal-making. But that’s OK.

The Curmudgeon is thrilled with the new sectional, proclaiming it perfect after settling on it for the first time. Even better, he didn’t have to spend time furniture shopping, something he deplores more than most people.

Let’s Just Bag It

Some of my many reusable shopping bags. Now, I just have to remember them.

I’m in favor of Connecticut’s new law aimed at banning single-use shopping bags, but now I’ve got another problem: I’m swimming in canvas, insulated and compartmentalized shopping bags, which are taking over every corner of my kitchen and pantry.

The local hardware store handed out bags emblazoned with its name at the town’s annual parade in October. Our church gave out two reusable bags bearing its name as our holiday gift. And one of the local physical therapists has a stack of red bags bearing its logo in the waiting room with a sign encouraging patients to take one.

It’s a wonderful embarrassment of riches and we’re all very appreciative, but here’s the rub: most of us still forget our bags at home, or fail to bring enough bags to the store. Or, we remember to bring our bags to the grocery store, but forget them when we go to department stores or Home Depot.

“I walked out of Kohl’s the other day holding two bras,” said my friend Michele, shaking her head. “I forgot my bag, and refused to pay 10 cents for a bag. I’m not doing it.”

Connecticut began charging 10 cents for single-use plastic bags on Aug. 1, and will enact an all-out ban on July 1, 2021. The gap between the fee and the actual ban is allowing us to get used to the idea of bringing our own bags to the store.

But it’s all terribly confusing because some stores still give out free paper shopping bags, the thick kind with the handles. Others don’t charge senior citizens for bags. Still others, like Wal-mart, operate on the honor system, asking customers how many bags they’re using at the self-checkout line.

One friend told me he circumvents the charge by saying he didn’t take any bags. But I can’t do that. I’d rather just put my stuff in the cart, and unload it into my car like many other customers do when they forget their bags. I’m not going to lie about 10 cents at this stage of the game.

I think the most revealing aspect of the new bag law is how forgetful we can be, and how stubborn we are about paying the state 10 cents for our stupidity. Ten cents isn’t much, but I refuse to pay for a single-use plastic bag. Let me clarify that: I don’t want to pay 10 cents for any bag because I have a pile of reusable bags at home and don’t need any more.

I didn’t realize how attached I’d become to certain bags until a grocery bagger overloaded my favorite square insulated bag with top zipper last week, tearing it as I tried to heave it into the car. After inspecting the damage – it tore near a handle and stripped the outer layer – I realized I had to toss it. A part of me wanted to show the store manager the damage and get a new snazzy bag to replace it.

How do we all end up with so many bags? Here’s what happens:

You’re in Fresh Market and you realize you’ve forgotten your bags. Rather than pay 10 cents per bag, you shell out $2.79 for a fancy Fresh Market bag with a separate compartment for holding milk and other beverages. As you saunter out to your car, you think: “Take that (Gov.) Ned Lamont.”

Or you’re in the supermarket with an order that’s much bigger than you thought when you grabbed three canvas bags and hopped into your car. You begin telling the bagger not to bag the orange juice, milk and apple cider, or the large bag of tortilla chips.

As you prattle on, the customer in back of you gives you a pitying look.

“Do you need an extra bag?” he asks, offering up a crumbled Aldi bag. And you’ve never been more grateful for anything in your life, thanking him repeatedly for his kindness.

“Hey, no one wants to give the state 10 cents,” he says. “We’ve got to stick together.”

He’s right about that, but for me it’s more about paying for something because I couldn’t get my act together. So the next time I head out, I’m going to throw in a couple of extra bags for the poor soul who forgot her bags at home or in the car. Someone came to my rescue, and now it’s my turn to do a fellow shopper a favor. At the very least, I’ll get rid of a few of my extra bags.

Esprit De Corps

I’ve been out of the workforce for a very long time.

One of the things I miss most is the feeling of camaraderie and being part of a team. Over the years, I’ve worked with some great people who’ve become lasting friends. One special co-worker even became my husband.

I had no idea a workplace could feel like family until I got my first newspaper job in 1981. My co-workers at the mighty Milford Citizen were straight from central casting: dreamy photographer John in his corner darkroom, city editor Tim with the best sources in town and a knack for predicting murders, and managing editor Linda D, who ran the place like a mother hen.

My brother-in-law Matt

And then of course there was Kay in the society department, who was known as much for her quick wit as her heavenly blueberry buckle. Kay walked to work every day, and possessed the sturdiest pair of calves I’ve ever seen.

The Citizen crew threw me a surprise bridal shower, and the editorial department attended my wedding. Our crew regularly went out to lunch and happy hours, commanding our own table at the Bull ‘N Bear bar conveniently located right next door.

Things started to change when people left for new jobs or adventures. Once someone leaves a tight knit group, the dynamics change forever. They’re replaced, but it’s never the same. The missing worker leaves a void that can’t be completely filled. At least that’s been my experience.

I was reminded of all of this as I sat at my brother-in-law Matt’s wake. His co-workers from Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, CT., began filling the funeral home before the official start, and continued to pay their respects to my sister and her family for three hours.

Matt’s passing is devastating for his family, but it’s clear that it’s also had a tremendous impact on his co-workers, who described him as a great guy and an awesome person. If the measure of a man is how well he’s liked and respected by his co-workers, it’s clear Matt will be remembered at Sikorsky, where he worked as an engineer for 27 years.

Matt never discussed his job at Sikorsky, the famed military helicopter manufacturer founded in 1923 by Igor Sikorsky, which today employs about 15,000. But he was a part of a prestigious team working to build the new $1.24 billion fleet of presidential helicopters.

Many of his team members attended his wake wearing brown leather bomber jackets emblazoned with presidential team lettering. Matt had a jacket too, but unfortunately I never saw him wear it. Though he had plenty to brag about, he was a humble person. I had no idea he held two master’s degrees or was working on such a prestigious project until after his sudden death.

Matt loved working at Sikorsky. His enthusiasm for his work is the main reason his son Nick applied for a job there after graduating from college a few years ago. As Nick told us during his stirring eulogy, his father loved helicopters, saying they were the most complex pieces of machinery ever invented.

I first met Matt when he was a teen-ager. He’s pictured here at my 1983 wedding with my sister Nancy.

Matt, 55, died unexpectedly early Dec. 28th. He was a part of our family for nearly 40 years, and we all loved him. But what was truly impressive during this tragedy was the outpouring of support and sympathy from his Sikorsky co-workers.

I’ve never visited Sikorsky, which is one of Connecticut’s largest employers. But it’s clear by the number of Sikorsky employees who turned out to honor and remember Matt that a strong sense of esprit de corps runs through the corporation. Sikorsky officials should be very proud of their workers because instilling that sense of pride and loyalty isn’t easy, particularly in today’s bottom line corporate environment.

I’m not surprised Matt was loved by his co-workers. He was that kind of guy: easy, funny and a pleasure to be around. But his most memorable gift was an ability to roll with the punches. His mom Gladys told me that he never complained about anything, even as a child.

Matt was always a pleasure to be around, and we’ll miss him terribly. But he’s left a lasting impression, and we can learn from his example. Be kind and humble, and don’t wear your accomplishments on your sleeve. And when in doubt, smile, be pleasant and stop complaining so much.