How to Find Trustworthy College Admissions Advice

Find Your Price

“In 20 years of experience, I have learned it is best to go directly to the source: the prospective college,” said Kathleen Glynn-Sparrow, co-director of college counseling at McLean School, a private K through 12 school in Potomac, Md. “Why? Because it is both accurate and free.” She said if you have a complex financial situation, reaching out to the college’s financial aid office is a safe, smart approach.

Each college site has a calculator you can find by searching the words “net price calculator” and the college’s name. The Department of Education requires this to make costs transparent. It calculates both need-based and merit-based aid.

Consider Paying for Help

Karyn Weiffenbach, a mother in Littleton, Colo., felt she wasn’t getting enough information from her son’s high school and hired a private counselor. She also joined a pioneering type of Facebook group: Instead of having free access to the thoughts of random strangers, this group requires payment to join, but the information comes from experts.

The group, called G&F Parents: College Admissions and Affordability, charges $29.99 a month for parents to ask experts questions about college admissions and financial aid. Ms. Weiffenbach said she planned to continue paying for access to the group until her son, now a senior, has decided on a college — he’s been accepted to five and is waiting to hear from six more — and is likely to use it for her younger children.

The paid group, which started in June, morphed out of the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook group, which has more than 100,000 members, many of them very active. It is part of a program testing the concept of paid subscription groups on Facebook.

Paying members can ask questions directly to a panel of 13 vetted business owners in the college admissions field. Each has a different area of expertise, from test prep to essay writing, financial aid and learning differences. They also cover niche topics like fine arts admissions. Lisa Heffernan, a co-founder of Grown and Flown, said the site can bridge the gap between free services and pricey consulting fees.

A 2018 report by the Independent Educational Consultants Association found that the average hourly fee for hiring a private counselor is $200, with packages ranging from $850 to $10,000 for counselors with five years or less of experience. Aviva Legatt, a college admissions strategist and executive coach, has found that students spend anywhere between five and 30 hours with a counselor, depending on their needs.


A Twin Inside a Twin: In Colombia, an Extraordinary Birth

A Colombian woman has given birth to a baby whose abdomen contained the tiny, half-formed — but still growing — body of her own twin sister.

This type of birth, an example of “fetus-in-fetu,” is very rare but not unprecedented.

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The condition was described in a British medical journal in 1808 and is thought to occur in about one in every 500,000 births. In recent years, similar births have occurred in India, in Indonesia and in Singapore.

The latest case was even more unusual, because doctors clearly identified the fetus-in-fetu during the pregnancy, said Dr. Miguel Parra-Saavedra, a high-risk pregnancy specialist in Baranquilla, Colombia, who oversaw the birth.

He first saw the mother, Monica Vega, when she was in her 35th week of pregnancy, five weeks short of a full-term birth. Her obstetrician believed her fetus had a liver cyst.

ImageBaby Itzamara, who had abdominal surgery shortly after birth.Creditvia Dr. Miguel Parra-Saavedra

But, using color Doppler and 3D/4D ultrasound imaging, Dr. Parra-Saavedra was able to see that the fluid-filled space actually contained a minuscule infant, supported by a separate umbilical cord drawing blood where it connected to the larger twin’s intestine.

“I told the mother, and she said, ‘What? No, doctor, this is impossible,’” Dr. Parra-Saavedra said. “But I explained step by step, and she understood.”

He alerted a local television news network, which followed Mrs. Vega, who is now 33, through the birth of her daughter, Itzamara, and the surgery to remove Itzamara’s partially formed twin.

(Dr. Parra-Saavedra had developed relationships with several journalists during Colombia’s Zika outbreak in 2016, because he treated mothers whose babies had microcephaly, or small heads, caused by the virus.)

On Feb. 22, when Itzamara was at 37 weeks and weighed about seven pounds, doctors decided to deliver her by cesarean section, because they feared the internal twin would crush her abdominal organs.

The next day, they removed the fetal twin by laparoscopic surgery. It was about two inches long and had a rudimentary head and limbs, but lacked a brain and heart, Dr. Parra-Saavedra said.

Fetus-in-fetu is sometimes misdiagnosed as a teratoma, a tumor that may contain bones, muscle tissue and hair. A DNA comparison is being done, but Dr. Parra-Saavedra has no doubt that the fetuses started out as identical twins from the same ovum.

Because the smaller fetus took nourishment from its sibling, it is called a heteropagus or parasitic twin.

Some heteropagus twins are born conjoined to their healthy siblings, while some grow partially inside and partially outside their twin’s body.

The fetus-in-fetu condition is believed to arise soon after the 17th day of gestation, when the embryo flattens out like a disc and then folds in on itself to form the elongated fetus.

Doctors believe that in exceedingly rare cases, the twin embryos only partially divide, and the larger one wraps around the smaller.

The condition may go undetected for many years. In 2015, a 45-year-old Englishwoman living in Cyprus underwent surgery for what appeared to be a four-inch tumor on her ovary.

On dissection, the growth turned out to have a partially formed face with an eye, a tooth and black hair. Doctors concluded that it was a twin she had absorbed while in her mother’s womb.

Itzamara is doing well, Dr. Parra-Saavedra said. “She has a little scar on her abdomen, but she is a normal baby now except that the whole world is talking about her.”


This Is Lupita Nyong’o. Hollywood, Please Keep Up.

AUSTIN, Tex. — When she was around 11, Lupita Nyong’o’s parents brought home a cassette tape that changed her life. It was of the song “Regulate” by the West Coast hip-hop dynasts Warren G and Nate Dogg. Nyong’o and her five siblings, then living in a suburb of Nairobi, could only partially savor the lyrics of the song — a hearty, slang-ridden narrative of a thwarted mugging, topped with a soupçon of ceremonial group sex. But the music was hypnotic and evocative, suggesting an absorbing pocket universe. Nyong’o remembers wearing the tape out, rewinding it over and over until she knew all of the words by heart.

Of the many apparently effortless but difficult-to-emulate things the 36-year-old star of “Us,” the new psychological horror film from Jordan Peele, has done in front of a camera, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the rapping. She’s done it twice, both times in videos filmed in the back seat of a car and posted on Instagram: the first to celebrate her three millionth follower and the second with her “Black Panther” co-star Letitia Wright, on the week of the film’s premiere.

No one would call Nyong’o the next Warren G, but something about watching her rap disturbs an inner accountant. Here is a person whose very first appearance in a feature film, as the unforgettable Patsey in “12 Years a Slave” (2013), made her the seventh black woman and first black African to win an Academy Award for acting; a person whose doll-like facial symmetry and frictionless skin has landed her four solo appearances on the cover of Vogue; a person who speaks four languages and holds a graduate degree from Yale.

And this same person, wearing dark sunglasses and facetiously calling herself Troublemaker, reveals that she also can rap, with appropriate levels of insouciance and conviction, and while remaining on beat. One suspects the divine dealer of dereliction of duty.

Nyong’o discussed her hip-hop hobby on an afternoon earlier this month in Austin, where she had come to the South by Southwest film festival to unveil “Us,” due March 22. Like the rap videos, her foray into horror represents both an abstention from, and an implicit critique of, the Hollywood playbook for stars of her pedigree. Though she has been deliberate about creating a space for herself in an industry that wasn’t built for her, inhabiting and defending that space is another matter. Nyong’o’s performance in “Us,” already earning ecstatic reviews, is a shot across the bow to anyone who would deny her her due.

It was overcast and humid. But we caught a breeze on a digressive walk around Lady Bird Lake on the edge of downtown. Nyong’o, who was dressed for an earlier panel discussion in a gray and black gingham pantsuit, black heels and matching round sunglasses, was trailed by two barrel-chested bodyguards, who kept a wide berth at their client’s polite but firm insistence. As we wound between naked trees down a semi-paved path, more than a few rubberneckers shot her adoring grins and sheepish waves.

Her normal life is much lower maintenance. She’s lived in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn for several years, having opted to stay on the East Coast after school, and spends quiet weekends going to the farmer’s market, or to local restaurants, where, she said with relief, “New Yorkers are too busy to recognize people.”

But such normalcy grows scarcer by the day. Nyong’o spent much of the last two years preparing for, shooting and promoting Marvel’s “Black Panther,” in which she played Nakia, an idealistic Wakandan spy and the hero’s love interest. The film’s worldwide success may turn the Oscar-winning actress into a blockbuster heroine, a rarefied combination that “Us” is positioned to affirm.

In it, she plays both Adelaide, the matriarch of the charming Wilson family, and Red, her bloodthirsty doppelgänger. Peele wrote the characters with Nyong’o in mind, and the two were close collaborators on interpreting the script. They met for the first time shortly after Nyong’o wrapped “Panther” (during production of that film, the actress and lifelong horror fan organized a cast field trip to see Peele’s surprise 2017 smash, “Get Out”) and quickly hit it off.

“He was really inviting of my thoughts and ideas,” she said. “He’ll have this kernel of an idea that is so strong, and then he’ll keep adding to it and clarifying his intentions as he goes along. When he cast me in the movie, I joined him in that process.”

In an interview, Peele said he was grateful for the second pair of eyes. “Right out of the gate she was asking questions about the characters that I didn’t know the answer to — and I knew everything about them,” he said.

In the film’s story, as carefully as it can be described without spoilers, Adelaide embarks on a beachside vacation with her husband (fellow “Black Panther” alumnus Winston Duke) and their two children. It turns cataclysmic when another family of mysterious origin — their mirror images, but as filtered through a particularly ghastly nightmare — shows up on their doorstep.

Peele seeded his script with cryptic prompts for the look and feel of Adelaide’s evil double. One concerned Red’s movement, which Peele conveyed with just two exceptionally creepy words: Queen cockroach.

Another prompt indicated that Red had a scratchy voice, as if withered from lack of use. That seed — contained in a single sentence on the page — was fertilized when Nyong’o attended a fashion event where, to her surprise, she heard a speaker whose voice she thought sounded close to what Peele was describing. The speaker was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary spasms of the larynx. In the film, Nyong’o’s hair-raising performance is defined by a haunting amplification of the disorder, which sounds like what might happen if you swallowed a cheese grater.

Nyong’o’s set debut in costume as Red, for a long, unbroken monologue that fills in the character’s life story, was one of the most dramatic moments of the shoot.

“She walked into the room and you just felt the air suck out of it,” Peele said. “The first time she did that scene was magic. I think we shot it like 10 times — just because we could — and it was always gold.”

On the trail in Austin, Nyong’o was recalling how she fell in love with acting when something — someone — broke her focus. It was a large man in a faded T-shirt and white earbuds walking behind us, talking so loudly that we were struggling to hear one another. Nyong’o stopped and turned around. As the man passed by, she gave him a look of such elegant and devastating ferocity that I thought he might evaporate mid-stride, leaving only the earbuds behind. The bodyguards may not have been necessary after all.

Her aunt had been a theater actress in Nairobi, and Nyong’o’s siblings and cousins would perform short skits at family gatherings. Acting was a way to win attention from (and manipulate the emotions of) her mother and father, who defied the stereotype of African parents by encouraging their children to pursue their passions.

Both accompanied their daughter to the “Us” premiere. Nyong’o’s father, Peter, is a politician and the governor of Kisumu County in Kenya. As a young college professor and critic of former President Daniel arap Moi, he temporarily exiled himself and his family to Mexico City, where Nyong’o was born and given a Spanish name inspired by their adopted home. Her mother, Dorothy, is a public relations consultant and the managing trustee of the Africa Cancer Foundation, founded by her husband.

Nyong’o credited her mother in particular for her self-confidence.

“She’s dignified in the things she knows, and she’s dignified in the things she doesn’t,” she said. “She’s not afraid to admit that she has something to learn. And that quality is something that I seek to emulate — to be able to be comfortable in the discomfort of not knowing, or the feeling that you’re unprepared.”

“Us” is only Nyong’o’s fourth live-action appearance in a film since her debut, and as a lead actress, she is still learning how and where she wants to apply herself. Many in her position would accept as much work as their schedules would bear, fearing the laws of gravity that can bring Hollywood prodigies abruptly back to earth. But here, too, Nyong’o has defied expectations. She believes her creativity is a finite resource and doesn’t offer it easily.

“I’m not creative all the time, I’m just not,” she said. “Each role depletes me in some way, and I know that I do my best work when I’ve had time to remain fallow.”

Being selective has meant saying no to star vehicles that other actresses would relish. After she won her Oscar, Nyong’o was approached to headline the American remake of the Mexican action thriller “Miss Bala,” but ultimately decided not to move forward with the project. (The film was released last month starring Gina Rodriguez.)

“I just realized that whatever I’m interested in didn’t fit into the story, so I chose to bow out,” Nyong’o said. “I didn’t feel like I had the right perspective for it.”

Her awareness that few historical models exist for female movie stars of color, particularly those with dark skin, has made her especially mindful of the example she is setting.

With “Black Panther,” Nyong’o was part of a seismic shift away from whiteness as the unquestioned default in American popular cinema. “Us,” in which the race of the central characters — though affirmatively black — is never depicted as remarkable, gave her a chance to take that shift a step further.

“It’s really not exceptional to be black, or to be African, and I think that’s a powerful statement in and of itself,” she said. “We can be seen and perceived as part and parcel of the global experience, because that is the truth.”

In Austin, where the sun had finally emerged, we left the lake behind and turned toward downtown, where Nyong’o was due at her hotel to get dressed for the “Us” premiere later that night.

Before we arrived, she told me a story about a time when she still felt beholden to the expectations of others. It was by way of explaining her excitement over another creative coup, as both producer and star of a coming mini-series adaptation of the novel “Americanah,” by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

As a young, Kenyan-Mexican actress living and working in America, Nyong’o said she had made a habit of suppressing her accent, a natural composite of the places she’s lived.

“I was only speaking in the American accent, because my feeling, and the feeling that was communicated to me in school, was that having an African accent would limit your possibilities,” she said.

After she wrapped “12 Years a Slave,” newly facing the prospect of a public life, the inauthenticity of her voice became a source of anxiety. Encouragement came from a novel Nyong’o was reading at the time, “Americanah,” in which the main character, Ifemelu, is a Nigerian immigrant who also attends an Ivy League school and also has given up her natural tongue.

Burdened eventually with shame and regret, longing to be seen — and heard — as her ordinarily extraordinary self, Ifemelu giddily repents.

“I remember I was on the subway when I was reading that,” Nyong’o said. “I just wept.”


‘Lot’ Offers a Fictional Look at a Vibrant, Polyglot American City

There’s nothing overtly or pretentiously literary about his stories, but when books are mentioned you tend to want to visit the passages twice. Here he is on a young woman, a sometime prostitute, and her bookishness:

“She hit the resorts; she discovered Milton; she worked the coast; she discovered Rimbaud; she bought some heels; she discovered Babel; she took care of her skin; she discovered Rumi; she tried not to catch the clap; she discovered Borges; she caught the clap; she discovered Allende; she waited it out; she discovered Plath; she tried not to catch anything else.”

Washington cracks open a vibrant, polyglot side of Houston about which few outsiders are aware. On one level, this landscape is bleak. These stories take place amid dismal laundromats and broken-down pharmacies. There are turf wars and shootouts. Things happen near Dollar Tree stores or in Whataburger parking lots. The men and women here are extended hope only in minuscule, homeopathic amounts. Perversely, their neighborhoods are gentrifying at the same time, pricing many long-timers out.

But there is a fair amount of joy in Washington’s stories, too. (Some have previously appeared in magazines like Tin House and The New Yorker.) An underthrob of emotion beats inside them. He’s confident enough not to force the action. The stories feel loose, their cellular juices free to flow.

Living in what the critic Albert Murray called “this great hit-and-miss republic,” Washington’s characters pivot between alienation and longing. Many of them lack papers or have expiring visas or worry about getting deported over a traffic ticket.

“I haven’t seen the stars since I made it to Houston,” one recent immigrant says. She feels the city’s smog in her throat. She wants to learn not just English but “English english, the language of money,” the kind she hears in banks.

These newcomers are mostly welcome. As one character remarks, “With our not-legals shuffling in, people who don’t have time for the violence, people whose only reason for bouncing was to get away from the violence, we’ve mellowed out, found our rhythm. Slowed down. You can raise a kid in the complex. Start a garden.”


The Boy Had Common Symptoms, but It Turned Out He Had Something Rare and Dangerous

He was well enough to go to school for a couple of days that week, but by Thursday he felt bad again, and by that weekend he was a shadow of his usual self: tired, nauseated and much too quiet. When Greenhouse saw the child that Sunday morning, she was surprised by how sick he looked. He had clearly lost weight; he was listless and miserable. On careful examination, she noticed that subtle patches of slightly darkened skin shadowed his face, neck and upper torso, and his lips were dry and cracked. His heart was racing. When she saw a thin child with stomach problems, she worried about Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease. Greenhouse sent the mother and child to the lab for blood tests.

A couple of hours later, Greenhouse got the lab results. The child’s blood had critically low levels of sodium — one of the essential salts in the body. Low sodium, or hyponatremia, as it is called, isn’t a rare finding in children — vomiting or diarrhea can cause the sodium level to dip as the child becomes dehydrated. But typically it’s a mild drop of a few points below normal. This child’s sodium was much lower than that. And the causes of this type of electrolyte disturbance are rare and serious.

Disorders of the kidney — the organ that has the job of maintaining the right levels of all the salts in the body — are the most common causes of hyponatremia. Hormonal abnormalities, due to deficiencies in thyroid or adrenal hormones, can also cause low sodium levels. Head trauma, too, can lead the brain to misdirect the kidneys, resulting in salt-wasting. No matter the cause, untreated, this degree of hyponatremia can be deadly. Greenhouse told the mother to take her son to the hospital right away.

Greenhouse called the pediatric I.C.U. at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital in Columbia, S.C., to let them know she was sending her patient over. With a sodium level this low, the boy would need to be admitted to intensive care. When Greenhouse looked at the boy’s lab results, she thought she knew what he had. It wasn’t either of the diseases she had initially been worried about. His blood glucose level was fine, so he didn’t have diabetes. And he didn’t have any of the antibodies that indicate celiac disease. A closer look at the blood chemistries revealed that while low sodium was the most drastic finding, it was not the only abnormality. His potassium was slightly high. The combination of low sodium and high potassium suggested that the boy had a problem with his adrenal glands.

ImageCreditIllustration by Cristina Daura

Malfunctioning Glands

In children, adrenal insufficiency, also known as Addison’s disease, is usually caused by misguided warrior cells of the immune system destroying the thumb-size adrenal gland that sits on top of each kidney. These glands are the source of the “fight or flight” hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which help the kidney manage the body’s level of sodium, potassium and glucose. When the adrenals are out of whack, patients are sick and tired. They often can’t keep anything down.


Neptune’s Moon Triton Is Destination of Proposed NASA Mission

HOUSTON — Is it time to go back to Neptune?

Scientists representing NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory proposed a spacecraft and mission on Tuesday at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas that would explore Triton, Neptune’s largest moon.

The unusual satellite is believed to be an object — similar in many ways to Pluto — from the solar system’s icy Kuiper belt that was captured billions of years ago by the giant planet’s gravity. And Triton is thought to harbor an ocean, hinting at the possibility that a world quite distant from the sun may contain the ingredients for life.

Unlike multibillion dollar proposals for spacecraft that the agency has usually sent to the outer solar system, this spacecraft, named Trident, aims to be far less expensive, the mission’s scientists and engineers said, or the price of a small mission to the moon.

“The time is now to do this mission,” said Louise Prockter, director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston and the principal investigator of the proposed mission. “The time is now to do it at a low cost. And we will investigate whether it is a habitable world, which is of huge importance.”

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Visits to the outer solar system are usually conducted as NASA flagship missions that cost billions of dollars, like the recently concluded Cassini mission to Saturn or the Europa Clipper spacecraft set for launch in the 2020s.

While these projects have produced significant achievements, smaller, less pricey missions also might advance planetary science. On Mars, for instance, no single spacecraft did everything, but in aggregate and over time, the robots sent there revealed the planet’s watery past and set the stage for future astronauts.

That’s why the scientists behind Trident proposal, which will be formally presented to NASA later this month, are seeking support under the agency’s highly competitive Discovery program, for missions that are supposed to cost less than $500 million.

NASA aims to launch these missions every two years. The most recent Discovery program was the InSight lander, which reached Mars in November. The next is expected to be the Lucy mission, which will explore asteroids that share Jupiter’s orbit around the sun.

Trident will be up against proposals for more extensive surveys of the moon, a visit to Jupiter’s moon Io and a return to Venus. Trident proponents hope that the possibility of exploring the solar system’s most distant known planet without spending billions of dollars usually required for such a mission will persuade the agency to support it.

Neptune and its moons were last visited in 1989 during a brief flyby of the Voyager 2 spacecraft, which took Earth’s first and only close images of the solar system’s eighth planet.

Voyager 2 also recorded data showing possible plumes of water being blasted from Triton’s interior. Since that time, many planetary scientists have wanted to return to Triton. It was recently declared a top priority for exploration in NASA’s Roadmap for Ocean Worlds.

“Triton shows tantalizing hints at being active and having an ocean,” said Dr. Amanda Hendrix of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., who was a leader of the Roadmap study. “It is a three-for-one target, because you can visit the Neptune system, visit this interesting ocean world, and also visit a Kuiper belt object without having to go all the way out there.”

Studying such places, she said, could bring new insights into how ocean worlds originate, how they vary and how they maintain liquid water. For instance, water in Triton’s ocean could be much colder than the usual freezing point, but the presence of ammonia could preserve it in a liquid state. Such clues will help in the search for life beyond Earth.

Neptune is thirty times farther from the sun than Earth. Over the last couple of decades, the notion of where life could arise in the solar system has greatly expanded.

Scientists once thought the habitable zone ended at Mars, because places farther out would not be warmed enough by the sun. But then an ocean was discovered beneath Europa, one of Jupiter’s big moons, and then farther out, another beneath Saturn’s Enceladus, a moon of Saturn.

If Trident confirms an ocean exists on Triton, it would mean that an even broader expanse of the solar system may be capable of sustaining life.

To get to Triton, the spacecraft would fly in a fast, straight trajectory after an orbital assist from Jupiter, similar to the flyby that was used by the New Horizons spacecraft to visit Pluto in 2015. It would rely on a payload of scientific instruments to conduct ocean detection and atmospheric and ionospheric science. The spacecraft would photograph the entirety of Triton, which is the largest object in the solar system that has not yet been fully imaged.

“We are comparing with the Voyager encounter in 1989, which was built on early 1970s technology, essentially a television camera attached to a fax machine,” said Karl Mitchell, the proposed mission’s project scientist, of the Voyager imager. “It was remarkable for its day, but it doesn’t have anything like the efficiency of a modern digital imaging system.”

Timing is also critical because of the moon’s changing seasons as Neptune makes its orbit around the sun.

“In order to view the plumes that Voyager saw in 1989, we have to encounter Triton before 2040,” said Dr. Mitchell. Otherwise, because of the positions of the objects in their orbits, Triton will not be illuminated again for over eighty years.


Opinion | Mom Is Waiting on Mueller and Lots of Other Reports Too

People around the country — and the world — are waiting for the report on President Trump by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to finally be released so that we can all understand how, or whether, Vladimir Putin is responsible for the fact that we have a president who can’t spell “hamburger.”

Democrats running in 2020 want the report. Newsrooms around the world hope we actually get to see it. But no one is waiting more impatiently on that report than … Mom. She’s newly obsessed with politics the way everyone was newly obsessed with kale a few years ago. She gets on the phone to say “I just can’t watch the news anymore” and in the same breath recites all of last week’s “Meet the Press.”

Her love of gossip, judgment and reading makes her the most eager audience for Mr. Mueller. But she’s not just sitting around playing Words With Friends and liking Facebook posts until that big (possible!) obstruction-of-justice bombshell drops. She’s waiting on a litany of other equally important reports.

  • Report on whether you want her to throw away your fifth-grade science folder.

  • Report on whether you watched this Michael Cohen testimony and whether you’re going to respond to her “Matthew Calamari lol” text.

  • Report from the waiter on whether the chef uses any cumin in the sea bass.

  • Report on whether Matt and Jess are still together, because she ran into Lindsay’s mom, Nancy, at Safeway, and Nancy seemed to think they had split up, but Facebook says they’re still married.

  • Report on why that guy from that other movie she liked won an Oscar for that movie she didn’t like.

  • Report on whether anyone else is on the line for this conference call. Hello?

  • Report on whether you texted your cousin for her birthday yet.

  • Report on whether you ever set up that JDate account she told you to make.

  • Report on whether those Bed Bath & Beyond coupons actually never expire — because if it’s true, the whole store should be 20 percent cheaper all the time and the whole thing sounds like a scam.

  • Report on whether you can pick her up a bottle of her Clinique moisturizer while you’re at Bloomingdale’s.

  • 2019 Consumer Reports rating for midsize sedans.

  • Weather report for a city neither of you lives in but might be nice to visit someday.

  • Report on whether you had time to read that email she sent you with that article about women in entertainment having a hard time starting a family.

Alison Leiby is a writer and a comedian.

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Knowing the Right Time to Say Goodbye to a Pet

Dr. Villalobos has advocated what she calls “bond-centered euthanasia,” which allows the pet owner to be present and play a comforting role during the procedure. She has also championed sedation-first euthanasia, putting the animal into a gentle sleep before administering a lethal drug.

To help pet owners make decisions about end-of-life care, Dr. Villalobos developed a decision tool based on seven indicators. The scale is often called the HHHHHMM scale, based on the first letter of each indicator. On a scale of zero to 10, with zero being very poor and 10 being best, a pet owner is asked to rate the following:

  • Hurt: Is the pet’s pain successfully managed? Is it breathing with ease or distress?

  • Hunger: Is the pet eating enough? Does hand-feeding help?

  • Hydration: Is the patient dehydrated?

  • Hygiene: Is the pet able to stay clean? Is it suffering from bed sores?

  • Happiness: Does the pet express joy and interest?

  • Mobility: Can the patient get up without assistance? Is it stumbling?

  • More: Does your pet have more good days than bad? Is a healthy human-animal bond still possible?

Dr. Villalobos says pet owners should talk to their vet about the ways they can improve a pet’s life in each category. When pet owners approach end of life this way, they often are surprised at how much they can do to improve a pet’s quality of life, she said.

[Try Dr. Villalobos’s scale: Assess Your Pet: Is It Time to Say Goodbye?]

By revisiting the scale frequently, pet owners can better assess the quality of the pet’s hospice care and gauge an animal’s decline. The goal should be to keep the total at 35 or higher. And as the numbers begin to decline below 35, the scale can be used to help a pet owner make a final decision about euthanasia.

“Natural death, as much as many people wish it would happen, may not be kind and may not be easy and may not be peaceful,” Dr. Villalobos said. “Most people would prefer to assure a peaceful passing. You’re just helping the pet separate from the pack just as he would have done in nature.”

I discovered Dr. Villalobos’s scale as I was searching for answers for Fluffy in her final weeks. When she did get up, she often stumbled and seemed confused. Sometimes at night, I heard her whimper.

I had reached out to two at-home vet services, and, that both offered compassionate guidance and confirmed my fears that no treatments were available to improve her condition. Fluffy was a very old dog, and they suspected her decline was a result of some combination of kidney and liver failure, but discouraged extensive testing since the physical symptoms were obvious. One visiting vet gave Fluffy subcutaneous fluids to help with dehydration and make her more comfortable and advised me to spend a final happy day with my dog before calling her for a final visit to end her suffering.

I trusted her judgment, but my tears and the fact that Fluffy still ate a little and wagged her tail when I stroked her clouded my thinking. I turned to the end-of-life scale and was able to see how poorly she was doing, despite the tail wag. I took my vet’s advice and spent a quiet day with Fluffy, giving her the cat food treats she so loved, without any scolding. I revisited the scale several times, just to remind myself that I was doing the right thing. The scale allowed me to make a more detached assessment of Fluffy, and it was a tremendous source of comfort during a very difficult time.

It wasn’t an easy decision or a pleasant one. But it was the right decision. And in the end Fluffy did drift away on her favorite soft pillow, just as I had hoped.


In Chile, Homes as Extreme as the Landscape Itself

Nearly 40 years after its founding, Ciudad Abierta remains a perpetual work in progress. Fourteen habitable structures — including workshops, meeting halls and houses, some occupied full time, others intermittently — mark the desolate landscape. Constructed from wood, canvas and brick, the buildings are complex and spontaneous, like maps of the wind. In La Alcoba, the home of the professor and architect Patricio Cáraves Silva, 67, ceilings sweep upward like the hulls of canoes and windows serve not to frame views but to channel light. The house, like Izquierdo’s, faces every way at once. “If a building has a facade,” Silva says, “then the rest is just a result. It’s the least natural thing in the world to think of only one side of something.”

The ideas proposed by the Valparaíso School have rarely been implemented in their pure form outside the Ciudad Abierta, but, says P.U.C.’s Oyarzun, “they ended up infiltrating every architecture school in Chile.” Though Puga’s Bahía Azul claims its place with a defiance you would never see at the Ciudad Abierta, its final form also evolved during excavation. Casa Cien’s floor plan is more rigid than La Alcoba, but it shares its limited palette of materials and powerful interiority. And while the new generation of Chilean architects focuses more on concrete reality than literary abstraction, their work, Oyarzun adds, conveys “some of that poetic dimension that the Valparaíso School wanted to attribute to architecture.”

No house better expresses that synthesis than the House for the Poem of the Right Angle, by Smiljan Radic, 58, born in Santiago to parents of Croatian descent. In the last 20 years, Radic has built two houses and renovated another on the same plot of land in Vilches, a pastoral village at the edge of the Andes, where the parents of his partner, the sculptor Marcella Correa, spent summer weekends for decades. The first project, called Casa Chica, built in 1996, was a 258-square-foot glass box set between two stone walls embedded in a hillside. For the second, Casa A, Radic opened the front and back of the family’s A-frame cabin, originally built in the 1960s, to the surrounding forest and set it on a platform approached by a shallow ramp — “so you could arrive on horseback if you wanted,” Radic wrote in a text published in 2008, upon the completion of the house. Four years later, after Casa A had collapsed in an earthquake in 2010, Radic built the House for the Poem of the Right Angle.

Entering the lot from an unpaved track that winds deep into the forest, the first thing you see is the attic of a transparent cabin built with walls of polycarbonate, where Radic and Correa’s young daughter goes to paint. Facing the cabin across a clearing, the House for the Poem of the Right Angle looks alive, a complex organism that has evolved over the last 20 years from a square to a triangle to an indefinable, multifaceted geometry. (The space where Casa A once stood remains empty; Casa Chica is now a plunge pool.) At only 1,991 square feet, the house is intimate, idiosyncratic and inscrutable, a pure emanation of Radic’s imagination. Stepping into the interior — filled with the resinous scent of the Bolivian cedar that lines its walls, floors and ceilings — feels like entering the knothole of a tree. Like the houses of Aravena and Puga, Radic’s building is an intervention in nature rather than an organic outgrowth of it. But its shape, impossible to grasp at a single glance, looks more like La Alcoba: alive, kinetic, still evolving.


Broken-Heart Syndrome Is Not All in the Head

Poets and politicians have long known that hearts and minds are linked. Now neuroscientists and cardiologists have shown again, in a study published this month in The European Heart Journal, that the connection is more than metaphorical. It turns out that those afflicted by a rare, serious condition known as “broken-heart syndrome” have brains that work differently from those of healthy people, suggesting that what happens in the head can hurt the heart.

The condition, known medically as Takotsubo syndrome, usually follows the experience of extreme stress, such as that felt after the loss of a loved one. It is marked by an abrupt weakening and bulging of the heart, until it begins to resemble a narrow-necked Japanese octopus trap called a takotsubo. (The doctor who first described the syndrome was Japanese.) Researchers have suspected that the disorder — which mostly strikes women and which, while occasionally fatal, tends to resolve over time — is connected to the brain and its control over how the nervous system handles stress. The sympathetic nervous system revs up the body, including the heart, in response to danger; the parasympathetic system calms things back down; and the limbic system generates and controls emotional responses. The regions of the brain that regulate these systems communicate closely with one another in order to keep basic, autonomic processes, like the beating of our hearts, running smoothly.

A group of Swiss cardiologists wondered if a disruption in the interplay among these systems could be connected to broken-heart syndrome. They recruited 15 volunteers who had survived Takotsubo syndrome within the past few years and another 39 unaffected subjects; neuroscientists then conducted functional M.R.I. scans of each brain. In the healthy volunteers, the parts of the brain associated with the emotions and the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems lit up synchronously, as expected. But the communication among those areas was relatively slight in the Takotsubo survivors. The dimmed neuronal activity was most notable between the brain regions that control the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems; the physiological calming that should occur after stress was apparently less likely to take place.

The scans suggest that broken-heart syndrome probably begins in the brain with its reactions — or overreactions — to stress, says Christian Templin, the professor of cardiology at University Hospital Zurich who led the study. It’s unclear if stress changed the brains of people with Takotsubo in ways that then led to heart damage or if their brains were instead predisposed to handle stress poorly. Nor is it clear how the disturbed brain remakes the heart. But, Templin says, “stress hormones are released, which might affect cardiovascular response.” The study underlines the fact that our brains and hearts are connected even more intimately than scientists have believed, Templin says. Biochemical cross talk between them affects both. Grief can break a body, so no one should hesitate to seek help in handling stress.