Loneliness as an Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Loneliness and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Loneliness and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic

Although the COVID-19 pandemic (or Coronavirus, if you prefer) has caused abundant death, the toll in terms of depression and loneliness is even more widespread. Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy reffers to it as a “loneliness epidemic.” Spending so much time in isolation wreaks havoc on our emotions. When we do get out, it is increasingly harder to see the person behind the mask; it is essentially dehumanizing. It can cause what has become known as pandemic dreaming.

Our Brains Operate in Two Modes

Matthew Lieberman is a founder of the field of social cognitive neuroscience and he discovered that our brains operate in two distinct modes. He found that one is utilized for engaging with the physical world around us. Looking for shelter when a hurricane is blowing in, for example. The other for is utilized for considering mental states; it views other people in terms of being psychological entities with distinct thoughts and feelings of their own. He used MRI imaging to show that the second mode, what he called the social brain, is actually the default mode. That could explain our some of our current issues with isolation.

We are Wired to Mingle with Our Fellows

Some 2,348 years ago Aristotle told us that man is by nature a social animal. By in large that is true, although introverts are the chemical exception to the rule; they are more governed by a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which warms up as they turn their focus inward. Extroverts, on the other hand, are governed more by their dopamine reward network. This is triggered when external stimuli and sensory input happens. In other words, if you are a party animal or used to spend a lot of time at the office moving through the cubical farm gossiping or being a kvetcher, this lock-down is hurting you more that your more taciturn neighbors.

Social Media is a Poor Substitute for Real Interaction

We have all grown used to social media over the years, texts, emails, Facebook, etc. But are these really good substitutes? Not at all, although talking on the phone and Skyping may be marginally better. In fact, social media may make things worse. Just look at how bad and polarized things were even before the lock-down. Does Donald Trump bashing and BLM and Antifa ring a bell? Too many trolls, so little time.

One study conducted in 2018 of 18 – 30-year-olds concluded that the odds of depression were significantly decreased by face-to-face encounters, but significantly raised by interacting via social media. Yet another study discovered that lowering time spent on social media lowered feelings of loneliness in 18- to 22-year-olds.

According to Primack, using social media may be simply a way of projecting a version of ourselves out there or perhaps they’re fostering real social connections we otherwise wouldn’t be able to have. There is just no way to know at this point.

How Can You Cope with Pandemic Loneliness and Depression?

  • Maintain a Schedule. A consistent routine can make things feel more normal. Go to bed at a reasonable hour, use an alarm clock, lunch at noon, tea and scones in the afternoon if you are a subject of the Queen; you get the idea. If you are sick, try keeping a log to monitor your symptoms.
  • Keep Yourself Informed. Staying up to date on health information and advice on precautionary measures will make you feel more proactive and in control of your situation.
  • Learn lucid dreaming. If you are experiencing pandemic dreams, follow these techniques to learn lucid dreaming. I learned it long ago out of curiosity and I’ve been controlling and actively participating in my nocturnal adventures ever since. It is easier for some than others but well worth the effort.
  • Maintain an active lifestyle as much as possible. The authorities want you to stay indoors as much as possible. But, and then this is only my opinion, you can still get out to walk, bike, or run (if allowed where you live). If you must stay in, you can still do resistance exercises with household objects or get up and walk around. My Garmin 235 watch not only counts my steps but also alerts me when I have been sitting too long.
  • Indulge in some self-improvement. Take an online course. Pick up that instrument, dust it off, and start practicing. New Years resolutions are valid anytime. Myself, I’m learning Irish Gaelic. Ta go maith!
  • Stay connected. Use Skype. Watch a Netflix movie at the same time as one or more friends and critique it as it plays. If you have ever watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 you know what I mean! Write letters. Remember when that was a human function?
  • Cook some new comfort food. Here are some of my recipes. I like to experiment much to the chagrin of my wife.

In short, none of us is immune to loneliness as an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is just good to understand it, accept it, and mitigate it as much as possible.

References:

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

5 Ways to Form New Good Habits

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Old habits vs new habits
Old habits vs new habits

From Dictionary.com: Habit: an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. The hope here, of course, is that habits are good healthy ones. All though most of us focus on New Years resolutions to modify our habits, any time of the year is prime time. In fact, embracing behavior modification on a steady basis is commendable. Let’s look at 5 ways to form good new habits.

  • Use a system of cues and rewards. “We form a habit when we repeatedly do a certain action in the presence of a particular cue,” Benjamin Gardner who is a professor of psychology at King’s College in London. A cue can be anything as long as it is as specific as possible. When I so much as touch the leash that I keep on a side table in the living room, my dog, a Black-Mouth Cur, gets whacko. He knows a 5-mile walk is in our immediate future. The reward can be anything. A long shower at the gym after a workout was my reward before the COVID-19 pandemic shut it all down and turned us all into anchorites.
  • Learn the concept of if-then thinking. This can take the form of an affirmation. For example, you might say, “if I just fed the dogs, then it’s time to take my blood pressure medicine.” This one works for me every day.
  • Take your time, no pressure. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are new good habits. Just keep working on it and sooner or later the “involuntary” magic happens.
  • Learn to be a choice architect. This is a somewhat nebulous term but it simply means making things easy to do. For example, keep a bottle of Vitamin C and Zinc next to your water bottle on your desk during flu season. You are much more likely to take them than if they are on a kitchen shelf or in your medicine cabinet.
  • Check your progress and adjust your behavior accordingly. Make time each week to evaluate your goals. Are you having success? If not, try injecting some smaller, incremental goals. Developing new habits is not always going to be easy. If they were easy it wouldn’t take reinforcement.

Self help is a huge deal. That’s the reason there are so many books published on the topic. It’s right up there with weight loss. Following these 5 ways to form new good habits will get you on the road to a brand-new improved you. Start today and invest in yourself.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

CDC Urges Doctors to Mislead about COVID-19 Deaths

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COVID-19 as cause of death.
COVID-19 as cause of death

COVID-19 deaths are up here, and down there. Here a hotspot, there a hotspot. Such are the earmarks of a pandemic. The mainstream media is frantically relaying the most recent numbers to us and the deaths are going up, as are the confirmed cases. The number of confirmed cases might correlate with a greater number of people being tested. However, the number of fatalities is suspect because the CDC is urging doctors to mislead about COVID-19 deaths on death certificates.

Popular TV shows lead us to believe that the coroner, and doctors in general, are all Sherlock Holmes when it comes to diagnosing the cause of death. But as you will see in the following video that is not the case. Even when some other immune system issue caused a death, it is supposed to add another check on the Coronavirus side of the card.

Dr. Annie Bukacek Explains CDC “Suggestions”

Dr. Annie Bukacek explains CDC “suggestions”

Granted, if the good doctor hadn’t backed all this up with the CDC’s actual verbiage, the story would have all the makings of a good old conspiracy theory. But the only conspiracy theory that might be bandied about is this — why is the CDC urging doctors to mislead about COVID-19 deaths via death certificates? What is to be gained by doing so? Logic tells me that there is no more vested interest in generating hysteria than in minimizing it. The media certainly understands it as they minimize Antifa riots, going so far as to call them “peaceful protests.” Bottom line? Believe nothing. Sadly.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Growing Mint: An Herb Garden Staple

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Chocolate mint in the garden next to tomato plant
Chocolate mint in the garden next to tomato plant

Mint is a perennial herb with very fragrant, toothed leaves and tiny purple, pink, or white flowers. It has a fruity, aromatic taste and offers many health benefits. There are many varieties so you have a wide range to select from. One thing is certain — mint, grown organically, is an herb garden and kitchen staple, much as basil is.

The Many Varieties of Mint

The number of mint flavors can be a bit overwhelming; I like to keep at least two of them growing. An odd thing is the way you can identify it other than the smell. If you look close, the stem is actually square. The oddities of nature, yes? Anyway, pick your favorites from this list:

  • Chocolate. Yes, it really does look and taste like the real thing. My favorite additive to go into my dark-roast coffee grounds in the morning. None of those artificial chemical flavors for me.
  • Apple/Pineapple.
  • Spearmint. Was this your favorite chewing gum flavor as a kid?
  • Pennyroyal.
  • Citrus Mint. Just the thing for iced tea on a summer afternoon.
  • Corsican. This is one of the strongest tasting of mints and it is also the smallest; growing tight-knit it makes a good ground cover in semi-shady areas. Unlike most mints it can be difficult to grow. It likes to be well-watered. It makes a good companion plant for things like chives and tomatoes.
  • Peppermint. For adding a bit of candy flavor without all the sugar.
  • Banana.
  • Orange. Also good in tea and cold brew coffee.

Planting and Care of Mint

  • First, consider that mint spreads rapidly. This means growing it in a container or enclosed within some kind of root barricade to rein in the horizontal runners and underground rhizomes.
  • Mint likes light soil with good drainage; its native habitat is along stream banks.
  • Most varieties prefer some shade; check the exact requirements of your favorite variety/s.
  • It likes a thin layer of compost or organic fertilizer every few months.
  • Keep the area covered with a layer of hardwood mulch to retain moisture. Do NOT use any colored mulch. Those color chemicals and dyes are not your friends, especially if you intend to consume the leaves.
  • Other than watering, a light top-dressing with compost, some mulch, and occasional organic fertilizer, these are easy plants to grow.
  • Prune them back regularly. the smaller, younger leaves are the most flavorful… but, where you let them flower, the butterflies will thank you!

Nutritional Benefits

  • Aids in digestion.
  • Eases dizziness and nausea.
  • Helps with nasal congestion.
  • Boosts dental health.
  • Improves blood circulation.
  • Boosts immunity. That’s not a bad thing during the CORVID-19 pandemic.

By now you can see why growing mint in your garden or containers is a good idea. It’s healthy, tasty, nutritious, and importantly to many of us, easy to grow.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Roasted Beets with Herbs and Orange Recipe

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Roasted beets with herbs and goat cheese
Roasted beets with herbs and goat cheese

This is a very easy dish to make. Some people think they don’t like beets, but be forewarned, this is not that processed stuff that old Aunt Martha plops out on Thanksgiving and Christmas along with the turkey. As a bonus, beets are super-nutritious and can help to lower blood pressure.

Buy your beets in a bunch at the grocery store. They are actually the root of the plant and so will most likely have the green leaves attached. These are also edible. Or, throw them in your compost pile. You do have a compost pile, right? Compost is just as important as mulch and you’ve already paid for the food.

Roasted Beets Ingredient List

  • 1 dozen (preferably organic) beets
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 large cinnamon stick, crumbled
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped tarragon
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 – 4 oz. crumbled goat cheese (the pic above used about 3 oz. to give you an idea)
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives

Preparation

  • Preheat the oven to 375°. Cut the leaves and the roots from the beets, wash them, and arrange them in a roasting pan (I use an 8″ X 8″ Pyrex) and add the cinnamon and water. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour.
  • While it’s baking, make the dressing by pouring the vinegar in a bowl, mixing in the minced shallot, orange zest, tarragon, parsley, chives, and oil.
  • Let the beets cool a bit and cut in 1/4″ slices. Some people might want to peel the beets but I prefer to leave it alone and get the added nutrition. Arrange them overlapping on a serving plate or platter.
  • Spoon the dressing over the beet slices and sprinkle the top with the goat cheese.
  • Eat.

Health Benefits of Beets

With all the good things going on with beets, it is a wonder that people don’t eat more of them. Consider:

  • Beets can lower your blood pressure. This is because they are high in healthy nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide inside your body. Nitric oxide can help dilate blood vessels and lower your blood pressure.
  • Beets give your energy a boost. By dilating your blood vessels it delivers more oxygen to your muscles.
  • Lots of fiber. One cup of beets contains about 3.5 grams of fiber. Regularity is a good thing, even if we don’t talk about it much.
  • Many, many antioxidants. That is why beets have that vibrant red color. One in particular is betalain, higher in fighting off free radicals than vitamin C.
  • Good for your brain power. This, because of increased blood flow.

So there you have it. There’s no reason not to make roasted beets with herbs and orange for dinner today.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

List of Cold-Hardy Mexican Avocado Trees

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A Don Juan avocado tree; freshly-planted
Don Juan avocado tree; freshly-planted

There’s only one drawback to fresh avocados that I can think of — the price. That’s why planting your own tree is such a good idea. The image above is the Don Juan variety that I planted yesterday. I’m generally not a big fan of staking new trees but this time, as I was finishing my tree planting adventure, the wind was beginning to whip and a rain storm was blowing in. This afternoon I can follow up with a top-dressing of compost and some hardwood mulch. Which species is right for you? Here is a list of cold-hardy Mexican avocado trees in alphabetical order.

When planting avocado trees, keep in mind that they like well-drained soil. They do not tolerate overly-wet soil well. As with your other trees and plants they prefer the pH of rain to tap water. It is always a good time to put in a rainwater harvesting system.

List of Avocado Tree Species

  • Brazos Belle. This one tolerates cold in the mid to low teens. The fruit is large and purple-black.
  • Brogdon. A mature tree can reach as high as 30 feet tall. Expect the crop to ripen ripen late from mid-July to mid-September.
  • Day. If you are into container gardening, this is a good choice. It will grow to 6 to 8 feet and will produce when it reaches 3 to4 feet high.
  • Don Juan. The Don can handle temperatures down to the mid to high teens. In height it can reach 20 to 25 feet when fully grown.
  • Fantastic. It’s considered to have one of the creamiest textures of the flesh. It is very thin-skinned and is very freeze-resistant.
  • Joey. This variety boasts a dark, purple-black skin and an egg-shaped fruit.It is one of the most prolific producers of any of these species. It is right behind the Fantastic in cold hardiness.
  • Lila. Lila bears medium-sized pear-shaped fruits. It is cold-hardy variety down to 15 degrees and when mature maxes out at 10-15 feet high.
  • Mexicola. This one is cold-hardy down to the low 20s. It’s known for its creamy, smooth taste which makes it a natural in dishes such as Tuscan kale salad.
  • Mexicola Grande. It is known for nutty flavor and has the best reputation for consistent fruit size if that is important to you as a home-owner. That would be low on my priority list but it is what it is.
  • Opal. No, not a precious stone or European car brand, but a medium-sized, pear-shaped avocado that many consider to have the “richest” flavor of them all. It is also the greenest of all the soft-skinned varieties so be aware of that when judging harvesting time.
  • Poncho. It is also called the ‘Pancho’ and bears a medium-large green fruit. It can tolerate cold down to the low 20s and is the latest of the producers from mid-August through October. In that respect, it pairs nicely with and early producer if you want fruit for a long period. And who doesn’t?
  • Pryor. The Pryor is cold-hardy down into the high teens and is also listed as one of the green-skinned varieties.
  • Wilma. It was probably not named after Wilma Flintstone but is one of the largest avocados on this list. It is known for its great flavor. It is a black-skinned variety and has been around longer than most on this list.
Avocado nutritional facts
Avocado nutritional facts

Avocado Health Benefits

Although avocados are high in fat, don’t let that put you off. They contain the “good fat.” As far as health benefits go, the avocado is right up there with tart cherries. Check out these health benefits:

  • Healthy weight loss. They are high in fiber so they make you feel full.
  • Eye health. The nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin fight macular degeneration.
  • Helps to prevent type II diabetes. It does this by stabilizing blood sugar levels.
  • Increases nutrient absorption.
  • Bone strengthening. It does this by providing copper, folate, and vitamin K.

Well, there you have it. Choose your favorite one or two from this list of cold-hardy Mexican avocado trees; enjoy money-savings, shade, and good health.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Understanding the Basics of Medicare

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Medicare plan menu
Medicare plan menu

I’m quickly approaching that age where I have to sign up for Medicare. I’m not the only one that is aware of this fact. Our names, addresses, and dates of birth are out there in the public domain and insurance companies have their eyes glued to the clock, waiting until we reach the ripe old age of 64.5. Medicare is big business. For about 4 months now I’ve been getting junk mail from various insurance companies soliciting my business. Worse than that are the phone calls; I get at least 10 per week. I usually tell them, “Don’t you know I’m on both the national and the Texas no-call lists?” They generally say, “Oh…” CLICK. No-call is one of those programs with no cojones or substance and they know it. No-call is analogous to that button at the crosswalk; it’s not hooked up to anything but it makes us feel better.

And then there are the ubiquitous TV commercials. The one that always gets a chuckle from me is when Joe Namath tells me, “They even provide this-n’-that for no extra charge!” Sure, nice marketing ploy, but after all, this is Capitalism at its best; The charge has already been built into the base rate. In any event, I decided to do my own homework before I hold my nose and cast my lot with one of these enthusiastic insurance companies. And here’s what I found about the basics of Medicare in a nutshell.

What is Medicare?

Basic Medicare is is a national health insurance program in the U.S., unveiled in 1966 under the auspices of the Social Security Administration (SSA). Today It’s administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The prime objective is to provide health insurance for Americans 65 and older, but also is available for some younger people with disability status as determined by the Social Security Administration. People with end stage renal disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may also sign up.

Like most government programs, misconceptions abound. When one can obfuscate, do so, ye civil service power-trippers. First, let’s be clear — Medicare isn’t free (for the most part), and the costs involved are often surprising to those who aren’t familiar with the program. Medicare enrollees cough up a variety of charges, including co-payments, coinsurance percentages, and monthly premiums. Although many thought Bernie Sanders‘ Medicare-for-all would be “free,” Berniecare was really just Obamacare with lipstick. Beyond the basic Medicare program there are 4 add-on parts, A, B, C, and D.

Medicare Optional Parts

  • Medicare Part A. Medicare Part A is hospital health insurance offered by the federal government to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who have permanently lived in the U.S. without a break for at least five years. You usually don’t have pay a monthly premium to get Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) coverage if you or your spouse paid Medicare taxes for a certain amount of time while working. In this case it’s called called “premium-free Part A.” People who don’t qualify for premium-free Part A can purchase Part A. If you do, you’ll pay up to $458 each month according to Medicare.gov. If you paid Medicare taxes for fewer than 30 quarters, the standard Part A premium will set you back $458. But if you paid into Medicare taxes for 30-39 quarters, then the standard Part A premium is $252. Keep in mind that if purchase Part A, you must also have Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) and pay monthly premiums for both Part A and Part B.
  • Medicare Part B. Medicare Part B is medical insurance and is part of Original Medicare and covers medical services and supplies that are medically necessary to treat your health condition. This can include outpatient care, preventive services, ambulance services, and durable medical equipment. Specifically, doctor’s office visits, lab work, x-rays, and outpatient surgeries, and preventive services to keep you healthy, like cancer screenings and flu shots. In 2020 the standard premium amount is $144.60 per month for individuals who filed individual taxes up to $87,000 or less, and those that filed jointly for $174,000 or less.
  • Medicare Part C. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “A Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO) is another Medicare health plan choice you may have as part of Medicare. Medicare Advantage Plans, sometimes called “Part C” or “MA Plans,” are offered by private companies approved by Medicare. If you join a Medicare Advantage Plan, the plan will provide all of your Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) coverage. Medicare Advantage Plans may offer extra coverage, such as vision, hearing, dental, and/or health and wellness programs. Most include Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D). Medicare pays a fixed amount for your care every month to the companies offering Medicare Advantage Plans. These companies must follow rules set by Medicare. However, each Medicare Advantage Plan can charge different out-of-pocket costs and have different rules for how you get services (like whether you need a referral to see a specialist or if you have to go to only doctors, facilities, or suppliers that belong to the plan for non‑emergency or non-urgent care). These rules can change each year.” I suspect this is the type of plan Joe Namath hypes in his commercial. Obviously the price will vary depending on services.
  • Medicare Part D. Part D offers prescription drug coverage. Generally, you should only opt for this if you do not have employer or union drug coverage. Medicare.gov says, “If you join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, you, your spouse, or your dependents may lose your employer or union health coverage.” How much does it cost? The short answer is — it depends. Most Medicare Prescription Drug Plans charge a monthly fee that varies by plan. You pay this in addition to the Medicare Part B Premium. If you join a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) or Medicare Cost Plan that includes Medicare prescription drug coverage, the plan’s monthly premium may include an amount for drug coverage.

References

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Did this article clear up some confusion on the basics of Medicare? I hope so. They don’t make it easy, do they?

Types of Blood Pressure Medications

And How They Work to Lower Hypertension

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Blood pressure medication and monitor
Blood pressure medication and monitor

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is known as the “silent killer” because it exhibits no symptoms. Typically people first learn they have it when their doctor tells them during a routine visit. That’s how I found out. I was amazed. I’m an avid runner and walker, my weight is acceptable, and I eat well. But as the doc told me, “You’re doing the right things, but if it’s in your genes, it’s in your genes.” Oh crap.

So. Meds. Nobody likes them. Get over it. Blood pressure meds might be the worst; the one good thing is that even if you don’t have conventional insurance or Medicare Part D, generics are quite affordable. Here are the ones you need to be acquainted with if you are diagnosed with hypertension.

  • Diuretics. Also known as “water pills,” these meds cause your body to produce more urine which in turn causes you to eliminate more salt from your body (and most importantly, your bloodstream). Even if you don’t add salt to your food, most of your sodium intake comes from eating out and packaged foods. Salt’s effect is to act on your kidneys to make your body hold on to more water. Extra stored water raises your blood pressure and puts a strain on your kidneys, arteries, heart, and brain. If you are prescribed a diuretic, stay close to a bathroom.
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs). These meds block the effects of a hormone, you guessed it, called ­angiotensin II. This hormone is a peptide hormone that causes vasoconstriction, and consequently, a rise in your blood pressure. It’s part of the renin-angiotensin system. This system regulates blood pressure. Angiotensin also stimulates the release of aldosterone from the adrenal cortex to promote sodium retention by the kidneys. There’s that salt raising it’s ugly head again.
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. ACE inhibitors are a type of meds used primarily for the treatment of high blood pressure and heart failure. The way they work is by causing relaxation of your blood vessels as well as a decrease in blood volume, which leads to lower blood pressure and decreased oxygen demand from the heart. The brand I take is Lisinopril, which luckily, is a generic so it is inexpensive, especially with medical insurance. The main side effects are a persistent dry cough and a feeling of lethargy.
  • Beta-blockers. This type helps in reducing the heart rate thereby decreasing your blood pressure. Your doctor might call them beta-adrenergic blocking agents. Beta-blockers work by blocking the effects of the hormone epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. There are some beta-blockers that mainly affect your heart, while others affect both your heart and your blood vessels.
  • Calcium channel blockers. This type reduces the amount of calcium that enters your heart muscles thereby reducing the heart rate and controlling blood pressure.
  • Alpha-blockers: The muscles of your arteries and veins are relaxed with this type thus reducing the blood pressure.

General Considerations for Hypertension Medications

There are some things to know when you are prescribed hypertension meds. The first is that they all have side effects so you may have to work with your doctor to find the one that works best for your lifestyle. When I tried a calcium channel blocker it caused too much ankle swelling. When I switched to lisinopril I found that it affected my running, particularly any long run over 10 miles made me feel wonky and my vision to get weird… after I stopped. My solution? I now take it in the evening rather than in the morning. Despite the side effects, medication drastically lowers the chance of a stroke.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Basil: a Savory Addition to Your Herb Garden and Kitchen

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Fresh-cut basil
Fresh-cut basil from my garden

The basil pictured above is fresh-harvested from my garden in preparation for making pesto (yum). Believe it or not, it is a member of the mint family. It is also known as great basil, sweet basil, or for the scientifically-minded, Ocimum basilicum. Whatever you call it, it’s delicious and an essential part of any foodie’s herb garden.

All other things aside, consider the economics of the situation — you can buy a plant from the nursery, or even Walmart for crying out loud, for the same price or cheaper than a plastic-wrapped one-time-use bundle from the grocery store. Who knows where that came from? Mine is organic and two minutes from plant to recipe. Why is there even a comparison? I understand that even apartment-dwellers can grow it in the kitchen window or better yet, a balcony if you have one.

Health Benefits of Basil

Most of the studies that indicate that tulsi (holy basil) was used to determine benefits. Tulsi is traditionally used for religious and traditional medicine purposes, and for its essential oil. It is widely used as an herbal tea, commonly used in Ayurveda.

  • Supports liver health.
  • Fights cancer. This is due to the phytochemicals present by increasing antioxidant activity, changing gene expression, triggering cell death, and slowing cell division.
  • Supports liver health.
  • Protects against skin aging. This effect is from using basil extracts in topical skin creams to improve skin hydration and reduce roughness and wrinkling. Eating it will not provide the benefit.
  • Supports cardiovascular function. The theory is that it lowers blood pressure due to the plant’s eugenol content. This can block calcium channels in the body, lowering high blood pressure. Calcium channel blockers are a popular class of blood pressure medications.
  • Boosts mental health.
  • Reduces swelling and inflammation.
  • Fights infection. A study in 2013 as reported by the US National Library of Medicine showed that sweet basil oil was effective against E. coli bacteria. The researchers determined that certain preparations of basil oil could help treat or even prevent some varieties of infection.

Recipes for Basil

It goes without saying that basil can be added to almost any recipe but here are a few of my favorites. Try them all. These are recipes that I have either invented or morphed together from several traditional recipes and modified to my taste. When I get into the kitchen to experiment, my wife invariably says, “Oh no!” But never fear, she has approved all the ones below.

Obviously, basil can be added to a variety of dishes whether you are going for taste or the nutritional value. But to ensure freshness, availability, and organic quality, plant it in your herb garden.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Health Benefits of Tart Cherries

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Tart cherries harvested
Tart cherries harvested

Tart cherries which are also labeled as sour, dwarf or Montmorency cherries, have become increasingly popular over the last couple of years, and for good reason–their health benefits. It is most often consumed as a juice. Tart cherry juice is extracted from the ripe fruit of the Prunus cerasus tree. The tree is native to both southwest Asia and Europe.

Whether you purchase concentrate bottled juice, frozen, or concentrated liquid, it is important to note that the product can contain a substantial amount of added sugar because, well, they’re tart! Be a label-reading consumer. And as always, look for organic products. That being said, here are some health benefits.

How Your Health can Benefit from Tart Cherries

  • Reduce muscle soreness and optimize strength. If you’re a runner, walker, or indulge in another sport, this benefit is obvious. In one study, runners were given 16 ounces (480 ml) of cherry juice in the days before and immediately following a marathon. They were found to have less muscle damage, soreness, and inflammation than they had experienced in previous races. In addition, they also recovered faster. As for weight trainers, tart cherry juice and supplements may increase muscle strength. If your goal is weight loss, reducing muscle soreness means more productive workouts.
  • High in nutritional value. Even though an 8-ounce (240-ml) serving contains 119 calories, it’s packed with valuable nutrients. For example, offsetting the 28 grams of carbs are 5 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 7% of the RDI of vitamin K, 14% of the RDI of manganese, 62% of the RDI of vitamin A, 12% of the RDI of potassium, 12% of the RDI of copper, and 40% of the RDI of vitamin C.
  • Sleep better and longer. Not many people get the recommended amount of nightly sleep, do they? But tart cherries are naturally high in melatonin which is a hormone responsible for sleepiness. Many people are afflicted with insomnia as I have been for years. I have found that melatonin is a natural, safe, non-habit forming solution. Further, tart cherries contain a healthy helping of tryptophan and anthocyanins. These two compounds are thought to help the body create melatonin.
  • Strengthen your immune system. It is widely believed that that tart cherries’ high antioxidant content may help prevent infections. During flu season and the Coronavirus pandemic, who doesn’t need that to hedge their bets?
  • Control symptoms of gout and arthritis. Some studies have looked at the effect of tart cherry juice on gout. Gout is a specific type of arthritis accompanied by repeated attacks of swelling and intense pain. The thought is that tart cherry juice seems to reduce blood levels of uric acid which is a chemical that triggers gout when present in elevated concentrations. The juice is often claimed to reduce arthritis symptoms, such as joint pain and inflammation.
  • Improve your brain health. Degenerative brain disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are caused, at least to some extent, by oxidative stress. Tart cherries and their juice offer a large amount of antioxidants as well as other beneficial plant compounds that may have protective effects on brain cells.

Standard disclaimer: if you are considering going on a tart cherry regimen and you are on any type of medication, consult your doctor. For example, it contains quercetin which is a plant compound that may interact with certain meds, blood thinners in particular. But for most of us, the health benefits of tart cherries are well worth a look.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.