family, “warts and all”

At last Sunday’s Mass, Father Bryan began his homily sharing some family drama between his younger brother and mom, nothing catastrophic, more like what we all experience with certain family members through the course of our lives. Probably the key ingredient to the prickly relationship is that Father’s family members are very much alike in personality. That, for sure, is something many of us have in common. It’s probably like having 2 pieces to a jigsaw puzzle that fit together in every way, save one. That difference will forever keep them at odds. But unlike a board game, familial relations can be sorted through, and the rough edges made smoother, if not perfect.

As Father pointed out, not even the Holy Family was perfect. An angel appeared to St. Joseph three times, dictating what he and his family should do. First, he was going to marry the Virgin Mary who would conceive a child of God. Second, he and Mary must leave their homes, families, and all that was familiar, to move to Egypt. And then finally, they were to return home to Nazareth where they would settle into daily living. Surely as human beings, father, mother, and son must have had their moments of frustration, which spilled over onto one another. How they weathered stormy times together, while maintaining love and respect for one another, is what’s important, and a valuable lesson for all of us.

After Mass, my daughter and I approached Father Bryan to express appreciation for his homily. In reply, he looked at me exclaiming that our family probably didn’t experience any of the normal angst he mentioned about most families, including his. Before I could respond, someone offered him words of thanksgiving. If we’d not been interrupted, I would’ve told Father that no family is exempt from “baggage.” But like the Holy Family, we forgive, and move forward with compassion for one another, as well as ourselves.

The holidays seem to bring added pressures to families, insisting everyone “get along,” whether that means squelching decades old animosities, jealousies and rivalries, or feigning affection for those we barely know. Because I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, and my feelings lie near the surface, I don’t squelch or feign very well. I can overlook and be fine. My mother use to want me to be other than who I was. Growing up I had no choice, but as an adult I can only be honest.

I don’t think we have to lie to get along, I believe we can be who we are and hope that others accept us for that, and not what they would like us to be. I don’t like to layer my expectations upon someonelse, nor do I want anyones’ expectations to rest upon me. Among the many things I took away from Dr. Amen’s book, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,” is that I want to live my best life. In order to do so I must dwell on the positive, not the negative. Of course it’s an ongoing effort not to get caught up in the daily grind of living, as witnessed on the news reports: wars, foreclosures, unemployment, natural disasters, a bad economy. While it may be impossible to control the macrocosm, I can manage the microcosm. And so I try to make my environment as positive and hopeful as I can.

Family are who they are. While liking them may be difficult at times, accepting them is not open for deliberation, in my opinion. Being with them, however, is another matter, again my opinion. No matter family or friends, people should respect one another in their dealings. “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you,” is still a great way to live. One’s perspective may differ from another person’s, but respect for all viewpoints should be a given. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. Rather than “beating ourselves up,” tying to force relationships to fit like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, it might behoove some, like me, to do what I can do, and be contented with that much. Progress can be made bit by bit, it need not occur in one fell swoop. It can, but it needn’t.

I’ll take small moments of happiness as often as they occur, rather than pine and stress at never attaining the perfect family portrait. All those in our families are striving to live their best lives, given their particular circumstances. I love them all, and will always wish them life’s best, whether I’m physically in their lives or not. And I’m certain they wish the same for me and mine.

for all families who are nearly perfect…or far from perfect, huge hugs…hugmamma.

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inhale…exhale…2011

Not sure what the holidays have been like for you, but they seemed like a whirlwind to me. I finally feel I can breathe again, deep breaths that is, not short, gasping-for-air breaths. While I got a tremendous head start on decorating for the season, completed a couple of days prior to Thanksgiving, my life seemed to move in slow motion after that. Not that everything around me did likewise. No. It was as though I was in the audience, watching my life unfold on a theatre screen. Much of it was a blur, like going through the motions, mindlessly. Many decisions, big and small, were probably made half, not wholeheartedly. But I made it through the “speed boat ride,” enjoying the scenery that sailed by me as best I could.

Since my daughter returned home in October to recover from health issues, I’ve set my life aside. Moms do that. Nothing seems more important at the time than seeing one’s child happy and healthy again, nothing. Tears come easily when my daughter’s life has gone awry, for whatever reason. While it’s natural to advise her that things will get better, that life experiences build character, that everyone faces challenges, it seems like a never-ending repertoire of blah, blah, blah that moms access so readily. So after two-and-a-half months of it, I’m worn to the bone.

The great news is that my daughter’s feeling great, so great, that she’s returning to work on Monday, a month earlier than expected. So her support system here at home worked fabulously, from doctors and their staff, to family and friends. Even her bosses and coworkers rallied around. It was like circling the wagons in the days of the Wild West, to better fight off the attacking Indians. Well it took a “village” to successfully battle my daughter’s “Indians.”

So our family is counting its blessings as the New Year begins. My husband and I have already begun our healthful regimen, eliminating unnecessary calories and saturated fats, and exercising at least half-an-hour daily. This is not new to 2011.  It’s actually a “renewal,” since we always lose sight of our resolve throughout the old year. Life has its ups and downs, as do our eating habits. But we remain positive, and hopeful.

Recent news from a fellow dancer left our daughter elated. Upon returning to work, she will be learning the soloist’s role in a contemporary piece being staged upon her ballet company by an internationally renowned choreographer. For a dancer, that’s like taking home Olympic Gold. For our daughter, recovering from a health setback, being given the role is tremendous recognition for a decade of passion, hard work, sacrifice, and always smiling while “picking herself up and dusting herself off.”

My daughter’s journey is proof positive that a commitment to hope can have great results. But my advice to her has always been that she should enjoy the process, for even if the end result is not what she hoped for, she will have fully lived each moment along the way. And true happiness is knowing who she is every day of her life, and having no regrets about any of it, including the not-so-good moments.

And so I have no regrets about the last few months, for I did what I do best…mother. Now I must “pick myself up, dust myself off,” and return to nurturing my mind, body and soul, and that of my husband’s. As the old adage goes,“There’s no greater love than that we lay down our lives, one for another.” Doing so for my child is a no-brainer.

take a deep, luxurious breath…and dive into 2011…huge hugs…hugmamma.      

“good samaritan #10,” a Thai restaurant

During the holiday season the media tends to focus more attention on acts of kindness. My ears perk up whenever I hear of small town heroes who, in the course of their daily lives, show compassion for others. On local news, Kiro 7, just such a segment ran about a Thai restaurant in Ballard, a suburb of Seattle.

Thai has become my favorite Asian food, since I’ve found several local restaurants which offer delicious fare. It use to be that Japanese food was my very favorite, followed by Chinese. Unfortunately, those local restaurants which I use to visit with regularity, have been disappointing of late. And as I’ve remarked to family and friends, “Don’t eat calories you don’t LOVE!” I know I can’t afford to waste calories on “so-so” food.

After learning about the enormous generosity of the Thai Siam Restaurant, our family will be dining there very, very soon. For 23 years, it has been the site of a free Christmas turkey meal to those in need. This year they served 400 meals in-house, and sent out another 400 meals as take-outs. The website tells their sweet story, beginning with a video of owner Vhanthip (Nancy) Phokayasupatt, who had been an ovarian cancer patient many years ago. Perhaps that motivated her to reach out to the suffering, or perhaps it just coincided with her already compassionate spirit. Following is the open invitation for their annual Christmas dinner.

FREE CHRISTMAS DINNER FOR THOSE IN NEED  

If you know someone who would not be able to have a festive dinner on Christmas Day, Thai Siam Restaurant would like to extend our invitation to a free turkey dinner.

 Also written on their website is their mission statement, as a member of their community. More businesses should follow suit in giving back to those who not only support them, but to the less fortunate in our society. The world would be a better place, for sure.

Thai Siam is not only a place for wonderful dining, but is also a place for community building.

Our mission is not only to give all customers, their families and friends the best in quality and healthy food, but also to be involved in the community as much as we can. We believe that community is the heart of all things. That is why for 19 years, we have used our restaurant to help raise funds for local charities that serve our neighborhood, such as Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, Union Gospel Mission, Boys and Girls Club, The Masha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research, Cancer Lifeline and many, many more. Also, we have hosted a yearly dinner to provide warm food for the less fortunate every Christmas.

Food is a source of life, and we are thankful to have been blessed with this gift that we can share with the community. Thank you for the continuous support you have provided us. We are encouraged to know that you are standing with us.

  

for Nancy and her elves at Thai Siam Restaurant, huge hugs…hugmamma.

  

  

 

good samaritan #9, a neighborhood of “angels”

The Issaquah Press, our local newspaper, ran an article of an unusually touching “good Samaritan” event. Most of us who live in middle class suburbia probably feel the same way that Angie Allen did when she moved to the Issaquah Highlands. Her children, 4 and 2, “made friends, but in ‘suburbia you kind of just pull into your garage and you politely wave at your neighbors…You might have a talk or conversation here or there.’ ” Tragic circumstances, however, saw a change of heart, so much so that when she moved away to live with relatives, she said ” ‘I almost wish I had stayed there,’…”

Travis Allen had brought his family to the Pacific Northwest because of a job with a concierge medicine company in July 2009. After Halloween he got a bad case of strep throat for which he visited a doctor’s office, and then went home to rest. He didn’t wake up. Concerned neighbors watched as the ambulance lingered for some time.

Mrs. Allen asked neighbor Paul Stephen to look after her children while she spoke with paramedics. Neighbors and a friend of Angie’s congregated at the Stephen’s home. The Allens’ children were understandably stressed, trying to grasp the situation. The adults certainly did their best to calm them, Stephen saying ” ‘You’re realizing that the kids just lost their father and the long-term impact of that…’ ” As a result, the community came together in “an outpouring of support” for the family.

Stephen’s wife and Angie’s friend remained with her through the night, as did another neighbor. And still another picked Angie’s parents up from the airport, while others walked the family pet and prepared meals for them. Deciding it would be best to return to Texas to be with her own family, Angie had to pack up her house, in addition to making funeral arrangements. Unable to sort through and box her husband’s belongings, she allowed the neighbors to help with the difficult task. When Angie returned to Texas to bury her husband, the community she left behind donated boxes and tape, packed the Allen’s household furnishings, and secured a moving company to transport everything. Neighbors also bought Christmas presents for the children so Angie wouldn’t have to deal with holiday shopping. Neighbors who, by chance, happened to be visiting in Texas, babysat the Stephen children during the funeral so that the 21-gun salute to their dad, who’d served in the Air Force, wouldnt frighten them.

Angie returned to Issaquah, inviting about 20 neighbors into her home. She shared the eulogy she’d read at Travis’ funeral. Everyone shed tears, neighbors, now friends, calling Angie a strong woman, and she, in turn, calling them her angels. ” ‘Any cynicism I had evaporated. The outpouring of help and generosity, I was overwhelmed by it. I never expected it…We’ve got to know each other so much better in the midst of this tragedy. They gave me hope and showed me compassion. They really just lifted me up. I just couldn’t have done it without them.’ ”

for a “miracle on 24th avenue”… huge hugs and a blessed christmas for Angie’s family…and their neighborhood of angels…hugmamma.

“mary did you know”

Written by Buddy Greene, Mark Lowlry. Copyrighted 1991, 1993 Word Music LLC. “Mary Did You Know” is one of my very favorite Christmas songs. We sang it in church today, during the “Preparation of the Table.” Telling of the miracles her son Jesus will perform, and that when she kisses him, she’ll “kiss the face of God,” evokes the tender love all mothers feel for their own, special children. For I truly believe that when we look upon the face of an innocent child, God looks back at us, as if to say “This is my child in whom I am well pleased. Love him. Love her. And you will love Me.”

MARY DID YOU KNOW

Mary did you know, that your baby boy, Would one day walk on water.

Mary did you know, that your baby boy, Would save our sons and daughters.

Did you know, that your baby boy, Will come to make you new.

This Child that you are carrying, Will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know, that your baby boy, Would give sight to the blind man.

Mary did you know, that your baby boy, Would calm a storm with His hand.

Did you know, that your baby boy, has walked where angels trod.

And when you kiss your little baby, You’ll kiss the face of God?

Oh Mary did you know.

Oh the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again. The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, The praises of the Lamb!

Oh Mary did you know, that your baby boy, is Lord of all creation.

Mary did you know, That your baby boy, Will one day rule the nations.

Did you know, that your baby boy, Is heaven’s perfect lamb. The sleeping Child you’ll hold,

IS THE GREAT I AM.

 

hug your child, hug God…hugmamma.

standing ovation, unexpected

The last Sunday before Christmas, Liturgically there are no surprises. Advent, the season in which we Catholics prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming, has been celebrated in the same way ever since I was a child. Actually, there might have been a change after the Ecumenical Council.If there was, I couldn’t tell you specifically what. I do remember that as a result of the Council, Mass was no longer spoken in Latin, but rather in English, and the priest faced the congregation, instead of having his back toward them. Both changes were memorable when they first occurred, and for some time afterwards.

But today’s Mass unfolded as usual, until Father Bryan introduced us to a group known as REX, or Religious Experience. It had been organized by a handful of female parishioners to benefit disabled Catholics. They numbered between 10 and 12 individuals, with their ages ranging from the mid-teens to the mid-fifties. There were more men than women. Several had Down Syndrome, with other disabilities not being as readily identifiable. But it was obvious they were all handicapped.

Father Bryan explained that for the past couple of years, the REX had entertained him with their version of the Nativity in the basement of the church. This year they agreed to Father’s request to perform for the congregation, which they did during our Mass.

One of the founding ladies narrated the story, while members of the group enacted the roles, the angel who acts as guide, Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper, the shepherds and the 3 wise men. The infant Jesus was a very realistic-looking, baby doll. The story was simple, and while the actors were not overly expressive, they were still engaging. What garnered them a standing ovation was their genuine commitment to do a good job, which they did, in spades! The looks on their faces were priceless. They seemed not to expect such affirmation of their work. In that moment, they were the least accomplished of God’s children, uplifted to the highest.

The REX bestowed a great gift upon us who have so much more, and oft-times forget that we do. Their joy is simple. Their pleasure is in the small things they achieve, and receive, like our standing ovation which lasted for several minutes. I went to church expecting nothing life altering, and came away changed, if only in a small way. But big enough to instill in me a new appreciation of Christmas, and the liturgy.

father bryan is always full of surprises, ones that make us better christians…hugmamma.

staaarrriiinnnggg…misha!!! (mocha, not so much)

Just like his ballerina “mom,” this little guy’s a natural in front of the camera. Thought I’d share more of Misha’s pictures. He just loves to strike a pose! What a HAM!!! A real cutie of a ham, that’s for sure Unlike his relatives here, who run the other way when they see me pull out my secret weapon, and point it at them. Mocha hightails it out of range, and out of earshot. No amount of cooing gets her to turn around and “smile for the camera.” If looks could kill, I’d have been dead multiple times.And Sitka? Well, he definitely scares us sometimes. My daughter’s remarked more than once, that one of his parents must’ve been a wildcat, of some kind. He’s got a face only “hugmamma” could love.  Actually everyone who gets to know him, loves how Sitka loves them, sucking the air directly from their nostrils. That’s how close he wants to get to whomever he focuses upon. He’s a lover, to be sure!

can’t help but love them for their own personalities…hugmamma.

our “menagerie,” our “family”

Wanted to introduce you to family members who love us unconditionally.

Mocha’s our terrier-beagle, southern belle. Her beady eyes peer out from under long lashes. She’s irresistible; we smother her with hugs and kisses.  

Sunkist, a Persian, is the grande dame, at 15 or 16 years of age. She has little patience for tomfoolery, which pretty much means she avoids all other critters, including her siblings. Only her human family gets her undivided attention, and adulation.

They make us smile, even laugh! They want our attention all the time, but they’ll take whatever they can get, whenever they can get it.

Sitka and Juneau are brothers, Maine-coone-mix, adopted from the animal shelter. They love, love, love to be loved, loved, loved…all the time. Our daughter recently recommended we buy a baby carrier for Sitka, who wants to permanently attach himself to our bodies.

They’re not fussy. In fact, they’re downright accommodating. Juneau doesn’t mind being a footstool, when we lovingly rub his tummy with our feet. Guess he doesn’t mind the smell either. Or does he? 

Misha, our daughter’s “son,” a pure-bred, Maine-coone, loves being at grammie’s and grampie’s. It didn’t take him long to assert his dominance over the others, Juneau especially, Sunkist not so much.

Misha can be goofy at times, as in these photos.

 But our daughter loves goofy guys. So they make a perfect pair.

God bless them all, our “family” of pets and yours, and bestow them with good health for a long, long time. Amen.

can’t do without our little buddies…hugmamma.

“got my groove back,” hugmamma

THANK YOU COMCAST, for removing the Grinch and giving me back Christmas!!! The technician came at the appointed hour this morning, replacing wires, boxes, modems and what not. Not sure if it would be considered an overhaul, or a remodel. Whatever it’s called, our internet connection is again working. I’m sure you can tell from the vivid pictures gracing my previous post about holiday decorating. I’m back on my own laptop, where I can enhance my writing with pictures from my “library.” Yehhh!!! It’s almost like going from “black and white TV,” to color.

This time we’re ALMOST certain that Comcast’s technician fixed the problem. Since my husband’s more savvy about gadgetry, he understands the repair process better than I. Gut instinct is my trusty barometer. Let’s hope it’s still dependable, and that the same is true about Comcast.

Meanwhile customer service rep, Amanda Kennedy, promised we’d be given one month’s internet service free, for our frustrations. That’s in addition to the $20 credit we received for the first appointment, because the technician arrived after the 4 hour frame period. So while Comcast is a big player in internet service, they provided us customer service of the small town variety. Mistakes happen; things can go awry. We can be understanding, even patient, as long as there’s communication and genuine compassion for our plight.

So I continue to recommend using “honey,” and not “vinegar,” to resolve a situation. It’s less stressful for you, and may garner side benefits, such as I’ve described above. But go the distance, talking with whomever is necessary, rationally stating all the facts. Don’t hesitate to ascend the “ladder,” talking to the boss, if necessary. The most important thing, however, is not letting your blood pressure boil over. Your health is too important. So remember to take some deep breaths…

in the groove again, blogging…hugmamma.

our christmas “explosion”

My daughter’s favorite description of what our home looks like right now is that “Christmas exploded!”  We literally can’t walk an inch without brushing up against a tree branch, heavily laden with ornaments, or having our eyes come to rest upon any surface not awash in Christmas.

Because we didn’t need to make our usual holiday trek to our daughter’s home for Thanksgiving this year, I found the energy to begin the gargantuan task of decorating for the holidays. I figured if I started ahead of time, unlike last year, I’d be okay removing it all some time in January. Last year’s decor didn’t get taken down until April, about 7 months ago. In fact, when we began the ritual of bringing bins in from the garage, my husband said “Didn’t we just put these away?”

I incorporate Christmas in with my everyday furnishings, antiques, and vintage collections, so it’s a monstrous task piecing together what is literally a household puzzle. Every item finds a new home, somewhere. My brain is agog with a choreography of minutiae. Somehow everything comes together for the holidays. And I try not to repeat the same scenario from year to year. In recent years I’ve used 5 or 6 artificial trees of varying widths, heights, shapes, and styles. Their adornments are changed each Christmas, because I couldn’t possibly remember their exact configuration, even if I wanted.

Holiday vignettes are everywhere, adorning the tops of an antique dresser and an immigrant’s chest, several painted cupboards and a pie safe, lining the shelves of a green bookcase, and an assortment of tables. Open shelving which frames the kitchen window showcase my santa collection, the overflow keeping my husband company in his office. Meanwhile the snowmen are gathered together in a cozy corner of my daughter’s bedroom. Vintage toys rest along the mantle, and before the fireplace. While Christmas stockings line the staircase bannister leading to the front door

I’ve always transformed our home into a magical place for the holidays, whether it’s Easter, Halloween or Christmas. And it was always for my daughter’s benefit. The delight in her eyes, the smile that lit up her face, the love she shared in thanking us, made the time and energy it took, so worth it. No matter that she’s now 24, I still work my magic, and she continues to be delighted, and gratefully loving. Its still so worth it!

sending you hugs for a holiday full of hope, and love…hugmmamma.

christmas wishes, more than

Received a wonderful letter from an older sister today. We’ve not maintained regular contact over the years; life happens, even to the best of us. One of the great side effects of my blog is that siblings, and other relatives, with whom I’ve not been in touch consistently, have been regular readers. Having been the youngest of 9, at home alone with my mom when the others had gone on to live their own lives, I often felt like an only child. Friends with whom I’d grown up, knew me better than my own kin. Even through college, interaction with my own brothers and sisters was sporadic. And because I was dating my husband then, his parents and siblings were more like my own family. This isn’t a unique scenario, for sure. Jobs, relocation, children, friends, in-laws, can all cause families to lose touch.

It’s not in my nature to regret and wonder “what if.” I’ve lived my life “in the moment,” making the most of each and every one. My priority became my husband and daughter, because my own family was not close-knit. I wanted to make sure mine would be, and it is. Friends filled in the gaps, sisters, brothers and the like. Of course they weren’t the real thing, but I was content. Forcing kin to connect is not my style. Forcing anyone to do anything, has never been my “modus operandi.” Must be because as the youngest, I couldn’t force anyone to do anything.

Age equalizes. It makes me accept life as it is, tweaking it here and there as necessary. Living my best life is what I strive to do, and what I wish for others, including my relatives. Receiving my sister’s lovely letter, let me know that she’s enjoyed getting to know the me she’s not really known for nearly 40 years. And that’s good.

Happiness for me is found in the small pleasures, and among them are my sister’s Christmas wishes.

Not going to make this a lengthy Christmas letter. Just to let you know how much I enjoy your blogs. I continue to be impressed with how well you express yourself and with the wide coverage of subjects you write on. …I especially look forward to seeing what’s cooking in your kitchen. The coconut cream cake is absolutely out of this world. I baked the first one for my sister-in-law’s 84th birthday, and she couldn’t get enough of it. I’m baking a couple of them this weekend: one for a Christmas block party, and another as a gift for my girlfriend. …several people have already asked me for the recipe. One of these days I’ll try the oven-baked pancake.

   everyday words from one sister to another…special christmas wishes…hugmamma.

“blog power”

Not being a true techie, but more of a wannabe writer, I’m totally amazed when I learn that my blog has actually been read by someone I know, or with whom I’m familiar. Case in point, my ongoing communication with Comcast which began with a national phone service rep commenting on my post, letting me know that I could contact him directly by email. That got the “snowball rolling.” Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon your point of view, mine is somewhere in the middle, our conversation continues since our internet connection is nonexistent. It’s been that way for 6 days. The technician who professed to the “noise interference” theory is returning to replace our antique modem with its current version. He’s also “changing out wires.” Those are his words; I’m uncertain what they mean, exactly. My husband will tail the repairman tomorrow, asking pertinent questions, I’m sure. I’m more the “leave them alone to do their thing” type; my hubby’s the “in your face” type. I’ll be holding my breath, crossing my fingers, arms, legs and toes, hoping against hope that COMCAST FINALLY FIXES THE PROBLEM!!!

Yesterday, as usual, I accompanied my daughter to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s adult, open class at its suburban campus. Our friend, Marissa Albee, taught. Throughout class I couldn’t help but admire her dance movement, in addition to her teaching style. Her attention to detail in technique and artistry makes her an awesome instructor. Sitting quietly in the corner, observing, I felt myself paying attention to her corrections, tapping her fingers on her breastbone to indicate “opening up to the audience.” When she stretched her leg, lifting the muscle up from beneath her butt, rotating it so that the hip wasn’t simply hiked up, but that her entire side was lengthening, I knew exactly what she meant. Of course, I’m anal about details. Remember the previous title of my blog, Hugmamma’s Attention to Detail

Following class, Marissa stopped to chat. I expressed my genuine admiration for the manner in which she taught the ladies, and my appreciation for her beautiful, fluid dance quality. My daughter and I never had the privilege of seeing Marissa dance with PNB, probably because we weren’t yet living on the west coast.  But as we indicated to her, Marissa looked as though she could resume her career. Of course stamina might be a concern, because she’s not rehearsed and performed in many years. At least that was her reply to our suggestion that she could continue dancing. Then there’s the fact that she’s a doting mom, which is a full-time career in itself. I know that for a fact. So my daughter and I, and the ladies in Marissa’s class, are content to watch and learn from her. She’s still trying to get me into a leotard and some tights. That’ll never happen, unless I’m physically transformed into someone like Carla Korbes, PNB’s new principal, who’s an absolutely gorgeous dancer.

What floored me about our conversation is that PNB had emailed Marissa about my previous post. Someone on staff had read it, and passed it along to Marissa. So she thanked me for the nice things I’d written about her. The pleasure was mine, as it is in what I’ve written about her in this post.

The power of the internet is becoming more and more obvious to me, and frightening. Essentially anything we think, and express in words for all to see, exposes us. But the power to be “heard” is something to which we all aspire. Wielding such power to further compassion and a positive attitude, is my mission in blogging. We all have the power to make a difference, and the internet can be an important ally towards that end. Even one, lone voice can capture an audience’s attention if there is value to what is being shared. I’m just regurgitating what my Blogging 101 instructor, Cat Rambo pointed out one day in class.

value = blog power…hugmamma.

downside of “tweeting,” “stumbling” and “facebooking”

In an effort to attract readers to my blog, I’ve spread the word on Twitter, Stumbleupon and Facebook. Wordpress.com makes doing so very easy. They provide “buttons” which when clicked, take me to those sites where I can share my posts. First, I “stumbled,” then I “facebooked,” and more recently, I “tweeted.” Traffic increased, in each case, sizeable at first. Then those who liked my writing continued to return, while the browsers went in search of “greener pastures,” more to their liking, whatever that was. But an in-between category of visitors to my blog has surfaced, and they can be a nuisance.

It may be that “tweeting” brought many more of these folks to my blog. Fortunately WordPress.com spams all comments left by these readers. I mention this in case you decide to start a blog, and would appreciate this information beforehand. Many of the comments left for me to read and approve, make little sense relative to what I’ve written in a post. Furthermore, they seem scripted. Many times several of the comments read like duplicates, with a word modified here and there. They also contain information directing readers to their websites. These have included dog grooming, financial loans, stock purchases, drug purchasing, exercise regimens. Like me, they are attempting to attract readers, but they do so by latching onto the efforts of others.  But, hey, ours is a capitalistic society, so I guess if people can think it, they can try it. None of them further my blog’s message, so their comments are being “returned to sender.”

Fortunately WordPress.com provides their bloggers with a way to empty out all the spams with one click. Thank you WordPress!  Credit should also be given to my family who advised me that these kinds of comments are self-serving. So I wish all who are trying to sell something, good luck doing it “on your own dime.”

 for my spam “button,” huge hugs…hugmamma.

“exercise and pastries,” oxymoron, or balance?

On the last Friday of the month, our exercise class usually meets afterwards for coffee and conversation at a local Starbuck’s. Once in a while we patronize another local “coffee” house…mine. Since it’s decorated “to the nines” for Christmas, I love having people over for a “look-see.” And my exercise buddies always love  to look and see, how our household rings in the holidays.

Since our personal computers are still without internet connection, thanks to Comcast, I’m still blogging gratis my husband’s laptop. Because of this, I’m not able to share photos of this year’s decor, which I can only access on my computer. Hopefully service will be restored tomorrow, and I’ll be back in “my office.” When I am, you’ll get a peek inside what my daughter calls our “Christmas explosion!” Meanwhile, the photo at the top of my blog is of last year’s decor, partially of course.

Somehow preparing to entertain is an all night affair. I almost never get to bed until the wee hours of the morning the day of the party. I crawl under the covers, only to get up a couple of hours later, put on my “new day” face, and proceed to rush about on pure adrenalin. I should be napping right now, but I always get sucked in to blogging. It’s my time for personal pleasure. And writing gives me a “high,” like trillions of endorphins flying around inside my head, wearing happy faces. Blogging is one “detour” I can never seem to bypass.

Unfortunately preparing for today was delayed last night, because I wanted to first write and publish a post on tinnutis, or ringing in the ear. Writers will agree, I’m sure, that we have to continually write to be taken seriously. And I’ve a long way to go, since I’ve only been writing consistently for 5 months. 

Knowing my penchant for delay, I bought a few items for today’s coffee with the ladies. If you’ve a nearby QFC, you can purchase some of the goodies that were a hit. Dutch Country’s Homemade Red Velvet Cake Roll with Cream Cheese Filling (made from scratch). “Thaw and Serve. Ready to Eat.” Dutch Country also makes a Pumpkin Roll with Cream Cheese Filling, again “from scratch.” The other pastry I bought from QFC was a Danish Kringle, a “Traditional Danish Pastry.” It looks like a large pretzel in the shape of a heart with an “x” in the center. Its crust is sooo flaky and its center is laden with a thin custard layer. Hmmm…yummy!

My homemade contribution was an “Overnight Breakfast Casserole.” It’s very easy to make, and lent something different to a table of sweets. Actually, a friend brought another egg dish that included mild peppers. It was flavorful, and not spicy as expected. Here’s the recipe for my casserole. Next time I might try it with hashed brown potatoes, instead of bread. I’m certain that would change the taste and texture of the dish. Bon appetite!!! 

OVERNIGHT BREAKFAST CASSEROLE     

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Ingredients: 1/4 cup butter, 6 to 8 slices bread, 1 to 1  1/2 lbs link sausage, 12 eggs (beaten), 3/4 cups milk, 1  10 oz. can cream of chicken soup, salt and pepper to taste, 1 to 1  1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese..

Spread butter on 1 side of each slice of bread. Place buttered side down in baking dish. You might have to cut each slice into quarters so all slices can fit in the dish.  Brown sausage in skillet, drain. Cut into bite-sized pieces. Beat eggs with milk in mixer bowl until foamy. Add soup, salt and pepper; mix well. Pour over bread; sprinkle with sausage and cheese. Chill, covered, in refrig overnight. Bake, uncovered, at 300 degrees for 1/2 hour or until center is set. You may add fresh sliced mushrooms, and use mushroom soup, or vary cheeses and substitute hashed brown potatoes or tater tots for bread.

If you’re nowhere near a QFC (or Kroger) market, here’s the manufacturer’s information: Dutch Country Apple Dumplings, Inc., P.O. Box 603, Orrville, Ohio 44667, (330) 683-0646. Larsen’s Original Danish Bakery, 8000 24th Ave, N.W., Seattle, WA 98117, (206) 782-8285, www.larsensbakery.com.

You must be wondering, or maybe you’re not, how women who make it a point to “bump and grind” in exercise class three mornings a week, can return to indulging ourselves once a month. Partly because it is once a month, but more importantly because of the camaraderie we share away from class. Socializing is an important factor in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s. Those who are getting on in years, including myself, must make a concerted effort to remain connected to people, to our community, to society. The fact that my friends and me exercise, socialize, and eat sweets, now and then, demonstrates how normal we are in trying to live balanced lives.

wishing the same for you, a balance of exercising…socializing…and pastries…hugmamma.

“ringing in the ear,” not just a senior problem

I THINK I’ve experienced tinnitus, “ringing” in the ear, but I can’t be certain, because I tried to ignore whatever it was. My mom often spoke of it, so I thought only elderly people heard “ringing” in their ears. And, of course, I was trying really hard not to get older. Looks like my reaction was the right thing to do.

According to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, “A Most Annoying Ringtone,” many causes can be blamed for tinnitus. It can result from “hearing  loss-due to aging, exposure to loud noise, accidents, illnesses, auditory nerve tumors, wax buildup, drug side effects, history of ear infections, brain injuries from explosive devices, head and neck trauma, TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder), or hormonal balances.” 

Tinnitus, from the Latin root word for “jingle,” is the perception of an external sound when none is there. It varies for people. Some hear a high-pitched buzzing, others hear a “ringing, roaring, hissing, chirping, whooshing or wheezing. It can be high or low, single or multi-toned, an occasional mild annoyance or a constant personal din.” Experts surmise that when hearing is lost in certain frequencies, the brain attempts to fill the void with noise that’s imagined or remembered. Audiologist Rebecca Price, who treats tinnitus in Durham, N.C., at Duke University’s Health Systems, says “Those auditory centers are just craving input.”

The CDC, Centers for Disease Control, estimated that 16 million American adults experienced frequent bouts of tinnitus in 2009. An estimated 2 million are unable to function normally when sleeping, working, concentrating, and interacting with family. Thanks to baby boomers, the elderly population is rising in numbers, as are the incidents of tinnitus. Remarkably 12-year-olds are also complaining of the ailment, according to Jennifer Born, speaking on behalf of the American Tinnitus Association, a nonprofit education and advocacy group. The culprit it seems might be “personal music players cranked up high.” Vets from Afghanistan and Iraq also suffer tinnitus, the “No. 1 service-related disability,” as a result of brain injuries from explosive devices.

Treatment for tinnutis runs the gamut from hearing aids to antidepressants. “The first step in treating tinnutis is usually to determine if a patient has hearing loss and to identify the cause…ear-wax buildup…infections, accidents, aging, medication side effects and noise exposure.” If loss of hearing is reduced, chances are it also dramatically reduces tinnitus, or at least makes it more tolerable for the sufferer, according to Sujana Chandraskhar, a otolaryngologist in New York and chairman-elect of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

Surgery can help as in the case of 42-year-old, New York, pipefitter Frank Scalera, who’s suffered tinnutis since age 15, when a firecracker blew out his eardrum. After 10 surgeries his hearing is restored, and the ringing he’s experienced for 30 years has lessened. Hearing aids help about 40% of patients because they restore “sound in lost frequencies, so the brain doesn’t need to fill in the void. But some also have hyperacusis–in which normal sounds seem unbearably loud–so a hearing aid may be uncomfortable.”

Sound therapy is another treatment option. Soothing external sounds are used to drown out the internal ringing. Some people  are relieved by running a fan, a humidifier, or a machine that emits the sound of waves or waterfalls. At night when tinnitus is most noticeable, thereby disrupting sleep, some even prefer to listen to the static on a radio. Hearing aids also intermix soft “shhhsssing” tones to mask the ringing. But these are not usually covered by insurance and are expensive at $2,500+ per ear.

More sophisticated, and costlier at $4,500,  is the Oasis by Neuromonics Inc. A device that is similar to an MP3 player, it “plays baroque and new age music customized to provide more auditory stimulation in patients’ lost frequencies as well as a ‘shower’ sound to relieve the tinnitus.” According to the company, the brain is gradually trained to filter out the internal noise. “Users listen to the program for two hours daily for two months, then the shower sound is withdrawn for four more months of treatment.” Duke University political science professor Michael Gillespie, claimed the device helped him after he got tinnitus from an ear infection. He says he became accustomed to hearing the music, and then his brain filled in with less irritating sounds.

Some people find tinnutis a cause for anxiety. As mentioned earlier, I identified the “ringing” in my ears with old age. I would’ve dwelt upon other illnesses associated with the elderly, making me a captive of my own fears. Luckily my bouts of tinnitus only last several seconds. “Researchers long theorized–and have now seen on brain scans–that the limbic system, the brain’s primitive fight-or-flight response, is highly activated in some tinnitus sufferers. Patients often have generalized anxiety disorder or depression and a few become suicidal; but its unclear which came first.”  Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication can bring relief for some. Stress can bring on tinnutis, so that alternative health practices can be helpful, like yoga, acupuncture, deep breathing, biofeedback or exercise.  Supplements such as ginkgo, zinc, magnesium, as well as other over-the-counter remedies are advertised to relieve tinnutis, but are not supported by scientific research.

RTMS, repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, a new magnetic pulse treatment has served to treat severely depressed patients for years. Some found that it also stopped the ringing in their ears. Patients feel the treatment is “like a mild tapping on the head and brings no harmful effects.” Brain scans are done to identify tinnutis. Those with severe cases are found to suffer abnormal “communication between parts of the brain responsible for hearing and maintaining attention.” Dr. Jay Piccirillo, a otolaryngologist at Washington University in St. Louis, likens rTMS to “shaking an Etch-a-Sketch to erase an old picture.” Pulses are sent through the skull by a magnetic coil that is placed over the auditory cortex outside the head, to disrupt the faulty communications.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been found to be one of the most effective treatments for tinnutis. Patients are treated for their emotional reactions to the ailment, not the noise itself. ” ‘The goal is to make your tinnitus like your socks and shoes–you’re wearing them, but you’re not actively thinking about them,’ says Dr. Chandrasekhar.” Or as one patient, Mark Church, an entrepreneur and investor, put it ” ‘It’s like living near an airport. After you’ve lived there for a while, you don’t pay attention to the planes…’ ” Having lived with tinnutis for 11 years, Church favors being in his shower, where the water drowns out the noise. Duke University Medical Center psychologist Michelle Pearce, begins therapy by having her patients identify “the automatic negative thoughts they have about tinnutis.” One claimed no one would marry her, while others felt their lives were over. Working with them, Dr. Pearce helped them realize that their lives didn’t revolve around tinnutis, that it was only one aspect which could be managed.

The local, evening news ran a segment about the growing effects of tinnutis, especially amongst youngsters. At fault it seems is the ramping up of noise levels with the invention of  iPods and the like. Looks like what use to be an old age issue is now open to all ages. It’s not something I want for myself at 61, so it’s unfortunate that 12 year olds can now suffer “ringing” in their ears as well. It took me 50 years to experience what can affect them in their youth… if they’re not careful.

before their time, here’s hoping youngsters don’t get old…hugmamma.