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Archive for the ‘Exercise’ Category


I had missed my 3-week vacation to France. I sorely needed a good, healing change of scenery. I decided Puerto Rico would be a vacation unlike most of our typical active vacations. Warm climate during our miserable winter, quick plane ride, US protectorate, possible beach visits (I am NOT a beach person, rather an explorer, but it sounded like the right location for recuperating). We booked a weeklong trip for the end of February. I was feeling good.

Unable to lie around, we explored the old city where we stayed in a small boutique hotel. The area is small and walkable when I am in my usual state, but the hills are steep and the temperature was high, thus challenging for this weakling. Still, I enjoyed the sights, food and time away with my husband.

We arrived on a Saturday and roamed the area for the next few days. Then – you guessed it – I was sidelined again on Wednesday, spending the rest of the week a limited distance from my hotel room. I was having extreme pain in my pelvis. We got home on Sunday and I returned to the hospital to look for a cause for and management of the pain, as well as intermittent fevers. In the coming months, I spent three separate weeks in the hospital and many visits to various specialists to test for bladder issues, intestinal issues, infections, etc.

I was discharged the last time, on heavy narcotic medications, with no more information on the cause of pain. Feeling desperate and too sick to seek out new opinions in faraway places, I confined myself to bed most of the day. My appetite had waned and I lost another 5 lbs.

My resolve had thawed. The hopelessness returned. More astonishing was the fact I had held up for so long under the circumstances, for so long before.

To be continued . . . . . .

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After a month in the ICU, I was moved to the surgical floor, where I spent the second month recuperating. Still hooked up to many drains, tubes, suction devices and food being administered by IV, I was unable to eat anything by mouth. I passed the time binge watching old TV shows. I was only just able to focus my eyes after all the anesthesia left me out of focus for weeks. On October 18th, the wonderful hospital staff secretly made and hung banners to throw me a 60th birthday party in my room, in lieu of the dinner I was supposed to be having in Lyon, France. My sister, nieces, sons, husband and cousins came bearing gifts (no cake) and got me outside for a breath of fresh air on a beautiful fall day.

The chief of the rehabilitation floor came twice to assess my ability to handle the necessary amount of rehab. Both times she said I was not a candidate, as I could not cope with the amount of rehab they require for admission to their unit. Their suggestion was to receive rehab at a nursing home. Only one would take patients on parental (IV) feeding. I steadfastly refused the option. I wasn’t leaving the hospital until I could go home. I had several unplanned physical therapy sessions when the staff had the time to fit me in. They started by standing me up. Next time I used a walker in my room to take a few steps. After several days I could shuffle to the to the bathroom myself! Then I ventured into the hall with my walker. The next day I used the cane. The day after, I walked once around the floor only holding my IV pole. Then another lap, and another, day by day.

The last thing standing between me and my home was being able to walk up 10 steps so I could enter my house. I asked the physical therapist to take me to the stairwell to practice. I pulled myself up those steps – and kept going, forgetting I had to also come down. Twenty steps. I could do it. Suddenly, talk of a nursing home ceased. I was going to be able to go directly home!

Still unable to take in anything by mouth, I was sent home on Halloween with a central line for IV feeding and antibiotics. Drains and tubes came along too, but at last I would be in my own bed after two long months! It was both exhilarating and scary to be removed from the care I still depended on. Visiting nurses and infusion specialists set me up with home care, teaching both my husband and I how to manage the feedings and medications. It was hard to be in a home environment and unable to participate in the usual activities: showers, meals, outside activities, social visits. At times, the hours were endless. My husband became nurse and provider, a job he did with amazing grace and care.

To be continued . . . . . .

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My First Novel


No, I haven’t written my first novel – yet. I am just getting my toes wet. Following up on advice from Anne Lamott (see my last post), I am writing, experimenting, and writing more. I began with a sentence. From nowhere, a story began to take shape. It was just the description of one scene really; advice that Anne Lamott had given in her book. I really don’t know where the words were coming from but they came just the same. So I wrote them down and just allowed things to go where they would. The first short chapter follows. I would be much obliged if you would read it and tell me if it engages you to a point that you might pick this book up and read it. (Assuming there were more chapters to follow. I have only one more written.)

A NOVEL

Chapter 1
The grit of the subway tile held the stories of those passing through it. Forty-second street, a hub of people going everywhere and nowhere, was abuzz with the morning rush to get somewhere. Between the hours of 7:30 and 9 AM, people shuffled zombie-like, to automatic destinations. Work, school or a new location to hustle, the station teemed with people carrying briefcases, suitcases, shopping bags, lunch boxes and burdens not obvious to anyone but themselves.

I suddenly noticed a small commotion beginning at the bottom of the stairs. A woman, a tissue held to the corner of her eye, was crying. Slowly, a person, then another, approached her, presumably to inquire about her predicament. They spoke in hushed tones. The woman did not answer. This continued for five long minutes, until the train pulled into the station and the strangers took their leave. The woman remained on the platform staring eerily into space.

The next train pulled into the station. A man got off. I noticed him in particular because of the way he carried himself. He stood very erect and at easily several inches taller than 6 feet, stood above the crowd. He walked in a stiff manner, and wore a nondescript gray suit, white shirt and blue, striped tie. He had distinguished gray hair with white stripes at the sides. He approached the woman slowly and stopped in front of her, waiting for her to acknowledge him. She slowly raised her eyes, though not her head, and gazed at him with a faraway look. He said something. She didn’t. He spoke again, turned gently and put his hand lightly to her elbow. She followed his lead to the opposite end of the platform, where I stood. Now I could hear his voice but not what he was saying. An occasional word, punctuated with a voice a few decibels louder, made its way to my ears. I heard, “must consider,” and “take my number.” A northbound train arrived. She got on. He waited for the southbound train then embarked. I went about the busyness of my day.

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I share the anxiety of young students, newly graduated or about to be. What will be next, after school? My situation is different for sure. The young have their whole lives ahead of them and are unsure of where their education will take them, where they will live and work, who they will meet, marry, etc. With all that behind me, my questions are not so large, and with a lifetime of experiences, I am not as worried about the many things that plague them.

Yet still, as age advances, we wonder if we will ever do all those things on our bucket lists. Many years ago I actually had a list of 25 things I wanted to do before I died. I have actually done many of them, and some have fallen away as no longer relevant. With fewer years left to do it all, my perspective is different. It is no longer, “what do I want to do the rest of my life?” but “What do I want to do with the time I have left?” Of course, none of us really knows how much time that is, but we hope it will be enough.

A big difference I see between my generation and that of my children’s, is that they have a quiet confidence that took us years to develop. They know who they are, even if they are still not sure what they want to do. They are willing to say no to things that will make them unhappy. We did things we were “supposed” to do, with little regard for whether they would fulfill us. While young people will work hard, they also  know balance is important, so they play hard too.

I think this is healthy. The rapidly changing world will require that they are lifelong learners, another good thing. It will keep their minds nimble, well into old age. My only concern (and now more so as I become a nutrition professional), is the frightening increase in obesity, and it’s health implications. I hope we can reverse the trend in this coming generation, that is so costly to our health and to society at large. I hope I can have an impact on my clients and the community, so they can enjoy their lives with good health.

It is ultimately up to us to decide what we put into pour bodies and what lifestyle we choose. I hope that with the self esteem the young people have, comes a pride in their appearance and that they value their health. Life is short enough – we don’t want to see them shorten theirs with poor health.

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Balance


When I don’t do any art for awhile, I begin to teeter. Grumpiness and anxiety creep up on me. Things bother me more. I am less patient. I find that after even a small dose of art, I am restored to my pleasant self! It need only be priming some canvas or pasting something somewhere; even making curtains for the studio will do. All it has to do is get me into my right brain – then all is well.

So this week, amidst the chaos of a kitchen project gone awry, with everything out of it’s place, I prepared 2 sets of canvas to receive something yet undetermined. I got creative with food. Shopped at the farmer’s market. Creative enough, I felt, to take the edge off. Doing something creative is my drug of choice. But I maintain that it would also be a cure for much of the anger and anxiety pervading our society. One need not be an artist to be creative. Creativity is found in solving a problem, decorating a house, designing a solution to store your tools more efficiently – whatever gets your right brain engaged with your left. The left brain is the responsible party that must always be concerned with the practical. It is absolutely important, but it needs a break sometimes, to refuel and to grease the wheels that are constantly spinning.

Try it. Take a walk in nature and notice things. Sounds, sights, fauna and flora. It will be good for you. Break out of your shell and throw some paint on something. Who cares if it is show-worthy – it is so liberating! I waited too long to try it and now wish I had this vice from the beginning.

Go ahead. Break out of your box! Climb into a sphere for a change! You’ll be so glad you did!

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I have waited on this post, as it is nearly impossible to limit to a post, the experience of Italy. For some reason, I have yearned to visit Italy for as long as memory serves me. The food, the language, the people (by way of the immigrants I have known in the US), the music, the family dynamics and my love for art and antiquity, made a visit to Italy an imperative for me. To cut out a long, drawn out lead in to how I finally got there, suffice it to say I finally set foot in Italy on March 19th, for some of the best 2 weeks of my life!

While it is certainly a given that museums and churches are a major part of visiting Italy, art surrounds you wherever you are. Every piazza and campo is a museum, filled with monuments, fountains and facades of magnificence. I can’t believe that anywhere else on this earth is there such a concentration of art in every direction you turn. Italy also has natural beauty in it’s waterways, oceans, mountains, valleys and hillsides.

Starting with a visit to Naples, which we were advised not to visit, even by Italians, we found a rather gritty but charming city. Situated on the Tyrrhenian Sea, it had diverse neighborhoods, streets winding steeply uphill, funiculars, museums and nearby Pompeii, Positano and the Amalfi Coast, all of which we fit into 3 days. Determined to see as much as humanly possible, I dragged my husband an average of 8 miles on foot every day of our trip, sometimes walking up to nearly 15 miles. Bus and train rides gave us the ability to cover even more ground when our legs just could not carry us any further. What they say about Napolitano food is true. We moaned our way through most every morsel of food, not believing it could be that good – and yes, Naples is the birthplace of pizza and it is by far the best we have ever tasted. Naples is known for its gelato as well, which we indulged in, to fuel our muscles.

Three days in Rome was our next stop. Also a place of spectacular sights, we investigated every important museum and piazza, the Colosseum and the Vatican, including the very beautiful and underestimated Vatican Gardens and Palatine Hill. The food didn’t impress me quite as much as Naples’ food, but was still quite good.

I wanted to get into Tuscany, so we allocated four days for our Florence visit. Florence is clearly nirvana for anyone who loves the art form of sculpture. Museum collections in Florence have an exceptional amount of figurative sculpture, one more beautiful than the next. But the piece de resistance is of course, Michelangelo’s David. I had so eagerly anticipated seeing the original. After seeing dozens of replicas throughout my life, I thought I knew what to expect. When I came into full view of the original, I started to cry. Even when I recall the moment now, my eyes fill with tears. I can’t describe nor even understand the emotional impact it had on me. Perhaps it was the majesty of the piece, it’s realism, as if he would move at any moment. Or maybe that the master himself had touched, and somehow imbued the work with some kind of spell, for it felt like that as it took so much effort to tear myself away from it. I have carved and chiseled stone, and can appreciate what an enormous, almost God-like effort it took to create it. It was a highlight of my trip.

Florence is a very livable place. I could see myself staying there for some time. Maybe some day I will be able to try it. It has the best of city life and is so close to beautiful and restful countryside, accessible by train. We visited the town of Cortona, a charming medieval town among the Tuscan hillside towns. It was the site of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” a movie that made me want to get on a plane immediately to visit “my Italy.” I found a delightful place, with steep streets (requiring stairs to get up and down). I talked at length with a women who was sent by her parents to visit 30 years earlier, met and fell in love with a man and made her home there.

Next we traveled to the Cinque Terre; Five Lands, consisting of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Verzzana, and Monterosso al Mare. Each with it’s own character and charm, these five lands were inaccessible to each other before a train line was build into the cliffs on which they are perched. These towns hug the Mediterranean sea, with dramatic scenery in every direction. From our outpost in a bed and breakfast in Riomaggiore, we stepped onto a balcony overlooking both the sea and the colorful hills where homes seem to hang from cliffs. It is some of the most beautiful melding of man and nature I have ever witnessed. We enjoyed their specialties, a local white wine (in a land where red rules) and pesto sauce with fresh cheeses and pasta. This place is not for the faint of heart. If you are unable to walk 6 or more flights of stairs at a time to go anywhere, this is not the place for you. I was amazed at how local residents took this in stride, even those well into their senior years!

Our last stop was Venice. What can be said about Venice that hasn’t already been said? I must admit I arrived with a bit of skepticism, but only the most hardened of people could escape her seductive charm. Since water has a profound effect on people, you can’t help but be beguiled by the water at every turn. Be it dirty or heavily trafficked, it was astoundingly beautiful. Be prepared to spend a lot of your time in Venice being lost. It’s just part of the experience. Even with all the time we spent finding our way to somewhere or back, we managed to see a lot: all the major destinations, with enough time to spend just lolling about on water ferries, taking mini-criuses, and sitting in campos, the equivalent of what other cities call piazzas. Venice has only one; all the other meeting places are called campos.

This is such a brief overview of the trip. The memories made here live on in my mind and I can’t wait to go back. There will be another visit to Italy in my future.

Fino a che non incontriamo ancora l’Italia . . . . . . . . .

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Our bodies have an amazing ability to get well. Our minds influence that ability.

I experienced this one of the two times I faced death. I had raging infection from a surgery that introduced seven different bacteria into my already compromised body. Three of them were antibiotic resistant. This could surely mean death, since a weakened body has a smaller arsenal to fight with; and it was battling without the aid of an effective antibiotic.

In spite of horrific pain that often made me desire death to relieve it, my mind knew one thing for sure. I had two young children and they needed a mother. Somehow, my body was able to wall off those “incurable” infections; put them safely inside a bubble of tissue so they could do me no harm. And that is just what it did. Pockets of now inactivated bacteria later had to be removed due to the pain they caused pressing on other tissue – but that my body could protect itself in this way was miraculous. That my mind let my body know death was not an option at this time, fortified my body to do what it had to do.

We all turn to medicine, as we should, to help us deal with ailments. But when those ailments, or others, continue to plague us, we must stop and ask ourselves: what is getting in the way of healing? Illness is often a symptom of emotions that ail us. What do we need to look at, to change, to get well?

The body and the mind are so connected. When you are “stuck,” go within and consider what is making you sick. Enlist professional help if necessary. You cannot live a healthy life with wounds buried deep in your soul.

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