Monday, December 1, 2014

Take-aways from My Trip to Europe

Winkie, me, Pat at le Château de Gruyères, Switzerland
It's been almost two months since I returned from my big European adventure with my Aunt Winkie, and three things that I discovered on that trip have become part of my everyday life.

1. Be obstinately independent.

Winkie is 75 years old, has serious osteoarthritis (including a couple of artificial joints), and lupus. This is a woman who manages her pain on a daily basis. She also is a nurse who has decades of experience working with Huntington's patients -- people whose mobility gradually deteriorates.

She has watched friends and relatives gradually decline, and she knows that she must fight for her mobility and health if she hopes to remain independent.

Sometimes, it was frustrating to witness her struggle. On the day we saw La Poya, we had to find a way around a crowd of spectators who had stopped to watch a dance performance. The clearest path required us to step up a 2-foot garden wall to skirt behind some trees. It is the wall the man is standing on in this picture.

The path available to us was behind the tree at the back in this photo.
At that time, we could not reach this lower portion at the front.
On our first attempt, Winkie had difficulty, but refused to accept the hand I held out to her. We stepped away and began looking for an alternative route. But Winkie tried again and this time grabbed onto one of the tree branches.

At first it irritated me, but then I reflected on how active she still was, despite illness and age, and realized that she must be doing something right: not just exercise -- though she does daily exercises for her shoulder and she routinely walks to do her errands and shopping, in a hilly part of Toronto -- but refusal to accept any crutches.

It dawned on me recently that, as my joints had worsened over the last couple of years, the hip and knee pain had me holding onto railings not just for peace of mind, but I was actually using them to help bear my weight. I've stopped using that "crutch." I was astonished, at first, at how awkward I was at descending stairs -- thump thump thump. How could my strength and balance have deteriorated so much so fast? But it comes back steadily.

To move things along, I've started intentionally working gentle hills into my walks. Sometimes, I will go up and down the same slope several times, just to work those muscles that support balance and the knees and hips. It's slightly aerobic, but for me it's mostly for joint health.

It would be so easy for Winkie to be dependent on a walker or cane by now, but she knows, I think, that once you accept that support, it's really hard to come back from it. I've decided to take her as my role model.

Moral: If you don't use it, you will lose it.

2. Arnica Montana

This herbal supplement is amazing. Winkie introduced me to it, and within two weeks of daily use, I noticed less pain in my joints. Unlike Naproxen, or other NSAIDs which also relieve pain, this does not cause explosive diarrhea or other critical side effects. It comes in a sub-lingual form that dissolves under the tongue so I don't even need to search for a glass of water. 

I keep a vial in my bedside table and in my purse and take five beads at a time, about three times a day. Arnica is perhaps best known for help with bruising, which is also a problem for me, given my liver problems. But I would not have considered taking any medication for that symptom.

Note: There are conflicting reports in research, some indicating that arnica has a placebo effect. That may be the case, but if it is, then I swear by this placebo. (Incidentally, I use the Boiron brand, as I found that the no-name brand did not seem to have the same benefits for me.)

3. A milk heater/frother

Before this trip, I had only seen milk steamers associated with espresso machines, and had no desire to work a big machine into my morning routine, but the heated and gently frothed milk in my coffee? Just a little bit heavenly. The friends we stayed with in Holland and my sister in Switzerland both had separate milk heater/frothers. 

This little gadget doesn't steam the milk, but it does heat it and whip it so there is a nice head of froth.

Good morning!
I bought one that can heat enough milk for a single cup of coffee, but is large enough to make three cups of hot chocolate as well. It's faster than heating milk on a stove, it stops once the drink is at the right temperature, and it's far less noisy than the microwave (I often make hot chocolate after Steve is in bed).

UPDATE: I bought the frother when I got back home. It is available at Best Buy and Linen Chest in Canada.

Those are the three things, from most important to least, that I've taken away from that trip. 


  1. Trip to Europe still on my bucket list! Sounds like yours was a fabulous experience, thanks for sharing . xo

    1. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip that would never have happened if my sister had not moved to Switzerland. You can read more about it here.

  2. Sounds like you all had a great trip! I want to look into that Arnica Montana too, thanks for that!

  3. I'd like to get my hands on that steamer!! What a great find! I'm always dragging stuff home with me when I travel, some trips I need a whole extra checked bag to bring it home!

    1. I actually bought the steamer when I got back to Canada. It's available at Best Buy (of all places) and Linen Chest.

  4. my dad has had knee replacement - about 13 years ago - and he has the same philosophy: keep moving! They are starting to bother him again now, but at 76 I think it's to be expected. He really likes to swim, he finds that eases the joint pain.
    I had one bad knee and sometimes it can swell when I am exercising hard. I should try that supplement - because I hated taking the Naproxen too.
    The milk frother is definitely going on my Christmas list! :)

    1. Definitely try the Arnica. I'm really curious to hear other people's results with it. And enjoy your steamy, frothy milk!


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