Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Photo courtesy Google Images (The Grief Recovery Kit)
Life can be a series of losses. It seems to be one takeaway after another. After the first few heart-wrenching losses, you think you would get used to it – you might simply expect it – looking upward for the other shoe to drop. Which is probably why I eat fast, I want to devour quickly before the food suddenly evaporates off my plate. The truth is losses are difficult.

There are so many kinds of losses. One’s body experiences losses. The smooth plump skin of childhood succumbs to the ravages of growing up, such as scars, hormones or aging. The joints, muscles, bones, and connective tissue start to deteriorate and fail us. Some people may have a really good run at it and for some deterioration begins rather quickly. The sponge-like brain of our youth, adept at gathering information, starts to sputter a bit as we age. We file information in places we cannot readily access in our cerebrum. There are moments – ever increasing – of answers lurking somewhere on the tip of the tongue but for all our sputtering, they do not come forth.

There are losses of people. They come into our lives and enjoy the love or whatever it is they need, and then become enthralled with something else, some other glittery object of desire, and leave a cloud of dust behind in their haste and a few pebbles in your eye, along with unanswered questions. Children grow up and leave home – needing to learn about their personal life path. Some people that you have loved walk away and leave easily – as if you never made an impression in their heart. Or perhaps you made a good impression but are simply no longer needed. Some humans die and you can never get them back. It is awfully hard to understand the comings and goings of humans. I, too, have had to leave people and places behind and not always for some glittery thing but because of changes, other obligations, new goals, or extenuating circumstances.

Powder (May 8, 2005 to February 22, 2012)
There are losses of pets - animals that have graced our lives and love us unconditionally. Last week I lost a dear friend.  I keep looking for him around every corner and my ears seek hearing his loud meow. Powder was a cat, a little lion, a funny, smart, demanding friend, and an alarm clock of incredible accuracy. He was a loving, noisy, bossy animal of such enormous character; it feels like empty air without him around. His life was snuffed out a bit too soon. I sit with this grief and give it a wide berth, allowing it to travel in and out of my consciousness.

This grieving process is an introspective time for me and a good book feels like the right activity now. Below are some notable books/stories surrounding the subject of animals and pets that are no longer with us.  The first list is compiled of books published recently in the new millennium, and the following list is devoted to well-loved and cherished animal books from the previous century.  Many of the books are wildly popular and have made the transition from printed words into cinematography and have found a new life in film.

Great Books for Coping with the Loss of a Beloved Pet - published in the new millennium (click on the title for a link to Amazon to read the reviews)

Animals and the Afterlife: True Stories of Our Best Friends' Journey Beyond Death by Kim Sheridan. Hay House, 2006.

Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet by Moira Anderson Allen. Dog Ear Publishing, 2007.

Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved and Lost. Edited by Barbara Abercrombie. New World Library, 2011.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron. Grand Central Publishing, 2008.

The Legacy of Beezer and Boomer: Lessons on Living and Dying from My Canine Brothers by Doug Koktavy. B Brothers Press, 2010.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. Ballantine Books, 2002.

The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation by Elizabeth Letts. Ballantine Books, 2011. Print.

Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen. Algonquin Books, 2007. Print.

Beloved Animal Books - from the previous century/s

  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (1972) Also: All Things Bright and Beautiful (1973) All Things Wise and Wonderful (1976) by James Herriot
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)
  • Born Free by Joy Adamson (1960)
  • Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune (1919)
  • Old Yeller by Fred Gipson (1956)
  • Sounder by William H. Armstrong (1972)
  • The Black Stallion by Walter Farley (1941)
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
  • The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938)
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (1961)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


In good hands...
My friend Linn, who lives in Oregon, called me the other day. We often email and share our lives via quick notes; and when the phone rang, I realized this call meant something. She needed a fresh perspective on a situation that was affecting her community of close friends that seemed unbearable. Within the last month, 6 out of 10 people she knew had been diagnosed with some form of cancer, and the prognosis on all of them was not good. The majority of the friends afflicted were younger than her – a few by a decade - and some had children they were raising. They had had blood tests, biopsies, MRIs, PET scans, CT scans, bones scans, and x-rays. Her friends had to be poked and prodded like a pound of meat being prepared for dinner. All of them had to eventually undergo an operation, radiation and/or chemotherapy. You can almost hear the specialists say, “Well, we need to cut this off here and then cook this with radiation and then we will see.” This is all very frightening, perhaps necessary and monumentally difficult. Surgery alone is a traumatic event that requires a nurturing environment to recover -- combine that with the radiation treatment and chemo and tons of testing procedures, and a person’s private world is completely compromised. Linn and I both knew this, and she wanted to approach her friends with something more than a casserole dish - even though bringing food is a huge expression of love and care.

After studying biology and chemistry in college, I began to understand aspects and principals in the universe that are magical. Photosynthesis is magic; cells in the human body are magic. Penicillin and polio vaccines can work like magic; likewise, touch therapy, meditation and prayer can work their magic. When Linn said, “Give me some ideas,” the first idea that came into my mind was CAM (complimentary alternative medicine). Now I am not talking hocus pocus, bibbity bobbity boo, or blood-letting here but rather additional ways to approach self-care. I am not talking about a cure that could instantaneously make the cancer go away. Chemo and surgery may not do that either. I am taking about a way to improve the quality of life and assist the patient to feel better. Even if it does not last forever – just feeling better can be a hint of the divine.

Just as there is a lid for every pot, there may be an alternative healing method or CAM that may work for you or someone you know. There are cancer patients that have felt that using visualization – picturing soldiers inside their body fighting the cancer – allowed them to feel they were actively involved in combating their disease. Acupuncture may not be your cup of tea yet experiencing reflexology may make you to feel as if you can walk on water. I know a woman who cannot tolerate massage – it is too invasive and too intimate for her - but she loves the safe healing touch of a Reiki practitioner.  The movement and breathing of thai chi and yoga practice can help strengthen the body and the immune system while bringing balance, calm and a sense of well being.

When my mom was stricken with brain cancer, she was swept onto what we called the treatment train. She was quickly railroaded into a surgery to remove the tumor (the accepted proposed treatment) by the oncologists. This surgery left my mom without her full mental capacities. She was not my mom anymore and she lived this way for a year before she died. In retrospect we feel that this surgery and the chemo treatments that followed may have given her time, but not necessarily quality time. If she really understood that the operation could take away her consciousness would she have chosen a different treatment plan? Everyone must make their own decision on how they would like to fight and battle their disease; it is a very difficult and personal journey. To make the right decisions, knowledge and understanding must be gained through education and research. Whatever the choice for each individual, it crucial to have the support and respect of family, friends and health care professionals.

Below is a list of many CAMs (complimentary and alternative medicines) and some may provide relief to someone in need. Included are web links for a quick definition and references from the National Institute of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) - in alphabetic order:


Sunday, February 12, 2012

I ♥ Valentine's Day

A while back, my daughter asked me, “Ma, what’s your favorite day to celebrate of all our celebration days?"

Without a moment’s hesitation, I answered, “Valentine’s Day, hands down,” or maybe I should have said hands up for that matter, or hands clapping excitedly with joy. I simply love the color red, the shape of hearts, chocolate in all its forms, and acknowledging love. Most people favor their birthday as their best celebration day; I tend to become embarrassed with any acute attention on my birthday. Christmas/Chanukah can be wonderful celebrations, if one doesn’t let the “present situation” or the Norman Rockwell illustrations of the perfect family gathering intimidate. July 4th is a sky-rocking summer fest at its best, but I have been known to fall asleep before the fireworks commence (in my latitude, it is 10 PM). I adore the spooky costumes, pumpkin carving, and autumnal glow of Halloween, but the heart day wins my first place vote.

Love and loving behavior, however, are not easy subjects to define. There are several love languages and interpretations of love, depending on your life experience. For me, cooking for people is one of my love languages. Also, there are numerous ways to think about love: romantic love, friendship love, family love, parental love,  acquaintance love, sexual love; love of God and religion, love for a coach, teacher, leader or mentor, love for art, animals, sports, nature, books, movies, food, drink, travel, career, and the list is endless. I really think it takes a lifetime to learn how to love well. Thirty years ago if you asked me to define love, I would have blathered on about sensual feelings quickly followed up by the endorphin-related proof that passionate love is the “real” thing. I learned the hard way that that is more a form of addiction. When one loses one’s fix or endorphin-maker (via a break-up), the mind-altering opiates come crashing down, causing severe withdrawals. One cannot, even after embarrassing begging, convince people to keep loving us when they want to flee. We are powerless over others. Dagnabbit.  My viewpoint and stance on what love is has changed a bit over the years with maturity.

I get that there has to be bona fide acceptance of the different and annoying aspects of the people we love in our lives - unconditional love. We have to embrace a spirit akin to “free to be you and me” and "live and let live." Martha Beck shared an essay in Oprah Magazine titled “How to Love More by Caring Less” – she realized through her practice there is a way to love people but not be attached to outcomes (this by the way comes in handy when raising teenagers). Furthermore, love has to feel lovely and warm and comfortable like your favorite blanket. Bumble is my blanket and my best friend.

Remember the movie "Love Story" - well the famous quote I disagree with, here is mine.

My mom, used to say, “If you want to know if a person loves you, check where their shoes are parked.”  If someone is in your life day in and day out, chances are they are comfortable with you, like being with you and most probably love you. Of course, I have a girlfriend who assured me that her musician boyfriend, who parked his shoes under her bed for a few years, didn’t love her as much as the roof she provided over his head with her paycheck. But one has to give a things a chance. Another favorite cliche my mom would oft repeat was, “Actions speak louder than words.” Beware the person who constantly says, “I love you, baby” but really is never there for you when you need them. How to find examples of love to honor Valentine's day?

Normally I would sit here constructing a lists of the top 10 best love quotes or love lines in a movie, song, or play; instead, I have decided to share with you five scenarios of memorable acts of love found in movies that are heart-thumping. It is not in the words of love spoken as much as in the actions of love expressed. In each of the scenes, a tender restraint is displayed, an expression of love that is worth noting.

Five memorable acts of love in a movie (in alphabetical order)

1. An Affair to Remember (1957). Scenario: Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) misses her important date at the Empire State Building with the man she loves, Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant), for a “very good reason.” Many months later she sees him at the ballet - both of them attending with other people. Terry does not want Nickie to know what happened to her the night she left him standing in the rain for hours, and she uses a quiet restraint to protect him from finding out her fate.  She cannot move from her seat, cannot offer any explanation, and the only exchange between them is a sorrowful, “Hello.”

2.  Bridges of Madison County (1995). Scenario: Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) has fallen passionately in love with a photographer, Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood), who came to her town to photograph the covered bridges that connect parts of her county. The story tells of those moments when two people connect deeply but are faced with a huge moral dilemma. She must make a choice: her new-found passion or her family life as it was before (consumed with details). Wearing a red dress with her suitcases packed to leave with her lover, Francesca battles internally and externally with this heart-wrenching decision. Her deep love of family wins and she stays loving her family for the remainder of her life. But in her will, she makes a final request to her children to allow her to honor her long-lost love in a special way.

3. Brief Encounter (1945). Scenario: Laura Jensen (Celia Johnson) and Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) are both married but not to one another. When something gets into Laura’s eye on the platform of the train station, Dr. Harvey comes to her aid and helps her. A friendship develops between them and grows into a love that neither one expected. As the perfect British gentleman, Dr. Harvey gallantly takes a job out of the country to put an end their increasing desire for one another.  They have one last moment at the station to bid a sad farewell which is interrupted by a most obnoxious neighbor. It is a heart-wrenching scene – they will never see one another again and cannot give voice to their heartbreak. The scene that trumps this for exhibiting enormous love is when Laura returns home deeply grieving but resolved.  Laura’s husband, Fred Jensen (Cyril Raymond), senses something – perhaps the strings that were pulling at her heart are disappearing and he kneels close to her and says, “You’ve been a long way away. Thank you for coming back to me.” It is a moment of unconditional marital love and understanding.

4. Casablanca (1942). Scenario: Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a saloon owner in Casablanca, Morocco, during WWII uses all his will and cunning to protect the woman he loves deeply, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), from harm by forcing her to get on a plane with her then-husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and leave Rick forever. It was - no matter how he tried to spin it - the right thing to do. Rick understood that the problems of the crazy world during WWII were far greater than the problems of three little people.

5. Sense and Sensibility (1995). Scenario: Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson), wise and elegant eldest sister, falls gently in love with Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), with whom she shares a deep friendship. As the propriety of the times dictate, Edward is promised to someone else and a good man must honor such promises.  Elinor, exhibiting enormous love, wishes him happiness and bestows her blessings on him and his fiancĂ©. Elinor is a lady. She knows she must remain silent about her feelings rather than cause him any pain or confusion. Inside a part of her is dying yet she must go on with her love safely locked in her heart. There is, thankfully, a good ending to her grief.

There are hundreds more scenes in many more movies depicting love. What are some scenes in movies which exemplified real love to you?


The New Seekers. "Free To Be...You and Me" By Stephen J. Lawrence (music) and Bruce Hart (lyrics),  1972, orig. Bell Records.  CD, VHS.
McCarey, Leo, dir. An Affair to Remember. Perf. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1957. Film.
Eastwood, Clint, dir. The Bridges of Madison County. Perf. Clint Eastwood, and Meryl Streep. Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., 1995. Film.
Lean, David, dir. Brief Encounter. Perf. Trevor Howard, and Celia Johnson. n/a, 1945. Film.
Curtiz, Michael, dir. Casablanca. Perf. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., 1942. Film.
Lee, Ang, dir. Sense and Sensibility. Perf. Hugh Grant, and Emma Thompson. Sony Pictures Releasing, 1995. Film.
[All movie photos courtesy of Google Images]

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Super Sunday!

A great day to be a couch potato at the homestead

Yep, Sunday was the day two teams from the Northeast competed in Super Bowl XLVI – New York Giants vs. New England Patriots. And what a game it was - neither team gave up or gave in until the clock ran out. A good metaphor for life was found there. The game opened with a beautifully-sung "National Anthem" by Kelly Clarkson (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfu0WSy6KGE) followed by Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton holding hands and singing "America the Beautiful." Then, at half-time “a blast from past” concert by Madonna and friends. This concert took the audience from striking the pose (Egyptian-style Vogue) to opening your heart, respecting yourself, and ending up with a little prayer and a subtle message for WORLD PEACE.  I always wish for that. You may view the half-time concert here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyfdoZldrS4

How fun it was enjoying a frosty beer with some yummy snacks while watching the Super Bowl all comfy cozy at home on a snowy day – our rear ends perfectly parked on our L-shaped couch. Bumble took one section of the L and I grabbed the other perpendicular to him. We often wonder how we enjoyed our den before that couch graced our home and never thought we would fit the definition of couch potatoes. Oh my!

Keeping the rest of the "Make your own 6-pack" frosty
Anyway, speaking of beer, my neighborhood liquor store (Virginia Village Liquors on S. Holly St.) offers a cool idea for trying different beers; it is called “Make your own six pack” and costs $8.99. How many times have you wanted to try out an Apricot Ale but did not want to invest in 6 bottles of it? Or how often have you been in the mood for the mocha froth of Guinness Stout but also had a hankering for a crystal-clear Corona with a slice of lime?  Yeah, me too.  The create-your own 6-pack idea allows you to try one of each.

Beer is made with malted grain (i.e. barley, millet), a brewer’s yeast, hops, and water. Studies have found that beer contains more protein and B Vitamins than wine and similar quantities of the beneficial polyphenols and antioxidants that are found in red wine. These nutritional components act by increasing the High Density Lipoproteins (HDL), the good cholesterol, and lowering the bad (LDL) cholesterol; thus, decreasing the risk of blood clotting, stroke and heart disease. This is good information.

Biochemistry and kinesiology professor at The University of Western Ontario, John Trevithick, a long-time expert on the role of antioxidants in human health, said, “We were very surprised one drink of beer or stout contributed an equal amount of antioxidant benefit as wine.” However, he went on to caution “larger daily intakes (three drinks per day) actually increase the risk of these diseases. This phenomenon is known as ‘hormesis’, the concept that small doses of a toxic substance can have beneficial effects while a large amount is harmful” (News Medical 2004). This is support for the quote "moderation in all things" - a great way to stay out of harm's way.

Allow me to be clear, I am not a proponent of the over-consumption of alcohol - I have intimately known several people that have struggled with alcohol. Alcohol consumption ruined many aspects of their lives. Furthermore, consuming alcohol while pregnant is damaging to fetal development and should be avoided. But for some, the great unpregnant moderate drinkers – the people who can simply limit their intake to one or two glasses a few times a week (or month) - a beer or glass of wine can actually be beneficial for one’s health. Now, don’t going using that as a rationalization to take a drink if you are committed to the 12-step program in AA. This post is not for you; I urge you stay with the program and find your nutrition in great food. [By the way, if the word unpregnant is good enough for Shakespeare, it is good enough for me.]

For those of you that enjoy statistics, I have copied the numbers for the nutrient information for one can of beer (365 grams) from Agricultural Research Service of the National Agricultural Library (NAL) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (Release 24):

Basic Report
Nutrient data for 14003, Alcoholic beverage, beer, regular, all
Protein: 1.64 g
Lipid (fat) 0.00 g
Carbohydrates: 12.64 g
Sugars: 0.00 g
Calcium: 14 mg
Iron: 0.07 mg
Magnesium: 21 mg
Phosphorus: 50 mg
Potassium: 96 mg
Sodium: 14 mg
Zinc: 0.04 mg
Thiamin: 0.018 mg
Riboflavin: 0.089 mg
Niacin: 1.826 mg
Pantothenic Acid: 0.146 mg
Vitamin B6: 0.164 mg
Folate: 21 mcg
Vitamin B12: 0.07 ug
So if you can (no pun intended), enjoy a beer now and then and try some different varieties.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Firsts on the First of February

In life, there always seems to be a beginning or starting point or a first. A most significant beginning in one's life is the birthday. Our story begins on the day we are born. There is a certain comfort to find some point in the chaos from which we view and construct our lives and place it into an orderly time line.  Humans often think in a linear fashion with a foothold in logic. They want to begin at the beginning whether it is history, religion, geography, geology or science. Firsts, like the big bang of the universe or the first sign of life on the planet Earth, begin the recorded history and create the foundation. Whatever follows will build upon that foundation. Likewise, the first person to do this or that, the first person to climb to a certain height or go below the oceans to a certain depth, these achievements get noticed and make the record. Humans also tend to be a bit competitive. It is quite intriguing, yet if some facts are disproved or not taken into consideration there will be disagreement about what constitutes the real first and true beginning. Disputes or misgivings can and will occur. One must keep an open mind.

Some Firsts (many are disputed and some answers will not be quite what you expected)
  1. First person/s to ascend to the highest point, Mt. Everest, 29,035 ft (8850m):  Sir Edmund Hillary, NZ and Tenzing Norgay, NP on May 29, 1953. Mt. Everest is also known as Sagarmatha in Nepal.
  2. First person/s to descend to the lowest point, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, Pacific Ocean, 7 miles (11,000m):  Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh, on January 23, 1960, in the Bathyscaphe Trieste, a submersible vessel.
  3. First human/s on the moon:  Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969, and later that day Buzz Aldrin of the Apollo 11 mission joined him.
  4. First person/s to the North Pole:   Quite disputed - originally this achievement was credited to Robert Perry in 1908, and then Frederick Cook in 1909 after disputes arose. However, it has been argued whether either of the explorers actually made the mark and hit the North Pole. Recently, credit for being the first has been given to Roald Amundsen, Norway on May 12, 1926.
  5. First person/s to the South Pole:  Roald Amundsen, Norway on December 14, 1911.
  6. First person/s to circumnavigate the earth:  Ferdinand Magellan on September 6, 1522 after sailing 3 years on the ship, Victoria.
  7. First person/s to discover/settle in North America:  The Asiatic nomads who came across the Bering Strait tens of thousands of years ago and evolved into the native peoples. In addition, there is evidence of a Norse expedition headed by Bjarni Herjolfsson that landed on the shores of Newfoundland in 986. This was followed up by other Norse explorations and settlements. Sorry Columbus, your expedition in 1492 did get the best press, though, and began the movement of trade between Europe and the New World.
  8. First baseball game played professionally in the U.S. :  This depends on which organization you consider - under the National Association, May 4, 1871, between the Cleveland Forest Citys (0) and the Fort Wayne Kekiongas (2); under the National League, April 22, 1876, between Red Stockings (6) versus the Athletics (5).
  9. First President of the U.S. : John Hanson, March 1781, under the Articles of Confederation who served for one year - with several more succeeding presidents serving one year terms. The Articles of Confederation were later improved upon and became the Constitution. George Washington was the first president to serve under The United States Constitution in 1789.
  10. First woman to win a Nobel Prize:  Madame Curie in 1903 for her work in nuclear Physics (and again in 1911 for Chemistry).
A Few Local Firsts!
View of Evergreen Lake House and Lake courtesy Google Images

There have been a few firsts in our community this year with the Icelantic Winter on the Rocks  a sold-out show held on Friday, January 27, 2012 @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre. And coming up this weekend, a great community event, the 1st Annual Evergreen Winter Festival Saturday  February 4, 2012, from 10am to 10pm – so much to do in that 12 hours. There will be a "Rail Jam" for boarders and skiers, a 5K race, an ice bike race, snow sculpture contest, beer garden, ice skating, music and more. Sunset Magazine voted Evergreen Lake one of the top 10 ice skating rinks in the West. If you need to celebrate six more weeks of winter, by all means go and frolic in the fun.