hi-kicking grandma…

This woman is 10+ years my senior, but outpaces me…BIG TIME!!! Gotta love Betty with the baton!

Time Marches On, With a Baton, For 79-year-old Betty Lambert- Long-Lived Majorette Is a Minor Celebrity In Harmony, Pa.,; Twirls and Splits
by Clare Ansberry 

   Harmony, Pa.–Majorette Betty Lambert leads the Resurrection Band, twirling batons between her legs and above her head, and stopping several times along the route to perform the splits. The 79-year-old recently gave up cartwheels but still twirls knives, and fire-batons when it isn’t windy.

Ms. Lambert, who threw a baton when she was in high school, then married and had children, took the sport up again in her 40s after seeing a small classified ad in the newspaper looking for people who wanted to start a marching band. The group called itself the Resurrection Band because members resurrected their instruments from attics. Ms. Lambert didn’t play an instrument but offered majorette services. Cartwheels and baton twirling are like riding a bike, she found. “You don’t forget.” Since Ms. Lambert is naturally limber, the splits require only regular stretching and some exercises in the weeks before a performance.

The Resurrection Band performs mainly at parades in western Pennsylvania, the latest being the Fourth of July in Zelienople, although the musicians no longer march but ride on a float. “We’re getting older,” says Marlene Domhoff, a 74-year-old flutist for the band but not the oldest member; that title belongs to an 80-year-old snare drummer.

Ms. Lambert, though, marched the whole route as she has done for 32 years, then came around again on a float, where she was dressed as the Statue of Liberty. It is one of her 41 costumes, which include cats for Halloween parades, a Rudolph for Christmas and a Native American for the Horse Trading Days festival. For that she wears a feather headdress her late husband, Pete, found at a truck stop. Many of the costumes are homemade. Her husband, who died seven years ago, made a Statue of Liberty torch out of a table leg and Tiki lamp. The crown is a plastic milk crate that they heated and bent into shape. After 9/11, she appeared as Miss Liberty eight times in two weeks.

   Most majorettes retire their batons after high school or college, says Bonnie Kupp, who is with Drum Majorettes of America, which holds clinics and competitions around the country for various age groups. The oldest active majorette she knows is a 37-year-old woman from Tennessee who competes internationally. Another national twirling group, the US Twirling Association, says twirling is a great sport for all ages, adding that some retirement communities offer twirling classes. “It’s a great aerobic activity,” says Anna Osborn Dolan, of the twirling association, which has played host to world championships.

Ms. Lambert has never twirled competitively, although she did enter a Classic Beauty USA competition in the 1980s, for women 39 and older, and won a trophy in the talent category for twirling. She prefers performing on her own, too, rather than in a group. “If I make a mistake and go left instead of right, no one knows,” says Ms. Lambert, who improvises her choreography as she marches. “I go with the beat of the music”–which typically consists of patriotic songs, big-band pieces and the “Pennsylvania Polka.”

Her four children grew up watching their mother march. “I thought this would be a phase she would go through,” says her youngest daughter, Kim Marburger, who never twirled but did master the unicycle. Ms. Marburger and her daughters walk along on the sidewalks during parades, carrying water bottles, a variety of batons and tiki fluid to light the fire batons. They help with costume changes. It was so hot Independence Day that the green Statue of Liberty makeup was running down Ms. Lambert’s face.

Ms. Marburger tells her mother to take it easy. “I say, ‘Mom, please keep it to two or three splits.’ ” says Ms. Marburger. Invariably, though, the crowd, four deep along the sidewalk and having seen Ms. Lambert every year for the past three decades, calls for more. Ms. Lambert obliges. This year, she did about nine or 10 splits. People stop her in stores and tell her she looks familiar. “I’m the old lady who does the splits,” she tells them.

Ms. Lambert updates her routine to keep it fresh. Several years ago, she took classes to learn how to throw fire batons and, later, at the age of 76, took up knives. She had only one mishap when the yarn tassel on her boot caught fire. “She’s an inspiration,” said Jennifer Dimit Baldacci of Jen’s Academy of Rhythm & Moves, who said Ms. Lambert attended her classes in 2009 and performed with all her other students in the recital that year. The theme was “TVLand” and Ms. Lambert twirled hoop batons and knives to the “Andy Griffith Show” theme song. “People went crazy,” says Ms. Baldacci. “She stole the show.”

Twirling isn’t easy. It requires good hand-eye coordination, especially with multiple batons, and upper-body strength to propel heavy knife batons, which are often hooked together, high in the air. Ms. Lambert credits her longevity to good nutrition and keeping active.

A beautician and graduate of the Victoria Mannequin Modeling School in Pittsburgh, she continues to cut hair and give permanents to longtime customers of Betty’s Beauty Salon, located in a small building next to her house, and makes house calls to her customers who no longer drive. Her other business, Betty Lambert’s Picnic Shelter, which has a swimming pool and well-kept shelter pavilion, is a favorite for graduation parties and wedding receptions.

Tim Sapienza, who retired after 32 years as chief of the Harmony Volunteer Fire company, was just a boy when he first saw Ms. Lambert, then in high school, twirling for the Harmony Harmonettes in 1949. That band and others, including the Butler Flame, were sponsored by local fire departments, which have since stopped organizing marching bands. “They quit, but Betty is still at it,” says Mr. Sapienza who was particularly impressed to see her perform splits and twirl the baton for one length of the parade and then return as Miss Liberty. “She held that torch up the entire length of the parade,” he said.

Ms. Lambert said she hopes to do it again next summer.

(Wall Street Journal)

…who says old folks…have to…act old?

………hugmamma.

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why?…the big C

When you least expect it, life can turn on a dime.

I currently know 2 people who are battling cancer. One, a friend’s father who is losing his fight with recurring melanoma. The other, a dear brother-in-law who learned he has follicular lymphoma…an incurable cancer.

LYMPH NODES-SPLEEN: SPLENIC INVOLVEMENT BY FOL...

LYMPH NODES-SPLEEN: SPLENIC INVOLVEMENT BY FOLLICULAR LYMPHOMA This illustration depicts the classic appearance of spleen involved by follicular lymphoma, namely the presence of discrete, miliary, small, white “pearly” nodules throughout the whole parenchyma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m having difficulty wrapping my brain around both cases. In fact, I feel mentally claustrophobic unable to break away from the constant flow of negative thoughts.

How? A recurring question…with no answer.

There’s no definitive reason why someone is stricken with cancer.

Yes, one’s lifestyle can be scrutinized.

Do you smoke? Or do you live with smokers? You know…second-hand smoke.

Do you inhale red meat? Or feast on fast foods 24/7?

Have you harvested the minimum amount of fruits and veggies? Or are you anti-vegetarian to the point of gagging at the mere mention of…rabbit food?

Exercise? Not your cup of tea? Couch potato more your style?

Alcoholic? Drug Addict? Sex addict?

Do you believe…in God? Or do you thumb your nose every chance you get?

Are you sleep-deprived? Or stressed out all the time?

Are you selfish? Or selfless. Volunteering and getting high on altruism?

Smiley faces? Or frowney faces? What’s your reset button?

Is depression dragging you down?

And in our hysterical, political climate being a bluebird or a cardinal might infect the healthiest body with cancerous cells.

My brother-in-law is an admirable specimen. Everything in moderation…except when it comes to compassion…and hope.

He eats well, drinks in moderation, surfs and takes walks, is religious where it counts…in everyday life, has never smoked, and doesn’t hesitate to help others. I’ve no idea his political persuasion because he’s not one to grandstand.

He makes me laugh. Gigantic belly laughs. From the moment we embrace hello…the jokes fly. We are so in sync that we could be a comedic act. My daughter has often remarked how her uncle and I don’t even pause to think about our comebacks. And those who are with us can’t help but be swept along in our insane garble. Our mother-in-law was one of our biggest fans. God bless her soul…we were both huge fans of hers as well.

One look at my sister-in-law, his wife of many years..confirms their deep and abiding love.

So how does it happen? Cancer.

I’ve no idea. But I’m involving myself in my brother-in-law’s fight without being asked. I’m hanging out my shingle…“hugmamma, m.d.” I’ve already done some Googling on follicular lymphoma and texted my sister-in-law the information I found.

As I await instructions…I send my love and prayers and mountains of laughs…to a brother-in-law…

…who’s always been…like my brother…

………hugmamma.

weekly photo challenge: boundaries

 

…why can’t i play…?                                             …can’t i play, hugmamma…?

2011, “the year of the vegetable”

Hate to admit it, but I can hear my vegetarian friends saying “We told you so!” And they did. Kudos to them for pioneering the way to a healthier lifestyle. I only wish their voices had rung louder, at least in my ears. Of course die-hard meat-eaters will probably stop reading, but I encourage you to keep an open mind, not for my sake, but for your own. I’ve learned my lesson, the hard way. You may have to, as well. It’s up to you. I’d just like to add my voice to those trying to encourage others to stop gorging on toxic food. In the end, it’ll turn around to bite you in the butt, and everywherelse. I’m a long, long way from being a vegetarian, but I’m striving to inch closer and closer to a lifestyle resembling that of my healthy friends. I’ll settle for almost, if not full-blown, vegetarian.

The following editorial article in the Wall Street Journal’s January 3rd edition makes a good case for eating more veggies. Its author, George Ball, is chairman of the W. Atlee Burpee Co. and past president of the American Horticultural Society. Yes, he has a vested interest in that Burpee seeds is a proponent of growing our own produce, but we have a vested interest in prolonging the quality of our lives by eating more fresh produce, homegrown or not.

2011: The Year of the Vegetable

Childhood obesity is now the nation’s disease–an ailment crippling the body politic. The long-term health effects are well-established and include early onset diabetes and premature hip and joint problems. American children are prematurely aging, suffering from sicknesses that were once the provenance of older adults. Old has become the new young.

The lineup of culprits includes school vending machines, the endangered home-cooked meal, vanishing physical-education classes, fried everything, super-sized portions, sedentary hours spent zoned out in front of the computer screen, nutritional ignorance, misleading labeling and more. But whatever and whoever is to blame, it is surely not kids. We cannot expect children to make the right food choices when healthy foods are out of reach and nutrition-smart role models are not in evidence.

The saddest thing about childhood obesity is that it’s unnecessary. It’s inexcusable that in the breadbasket of the world American children ar eating so much lousy food. First lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiative, “Let’s Move,” represents a welcome beginning to what will have to become a nutritional revolution.

As an agriculturist and horticulturist, I believe that the answer is simple. As parents, educators, nutritionists and marketers, we have to imbue our children with the love of–and consumption of–the most beneficial food for growing bodies. This means fresh vegetables and fruits, whether store-bought or home-grown.

As kids, we imitate our elders, who teach most effectively by example. Right now, adults aren’t doing a good job of modeling good behavior. According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 26% of adults have three or more servings of vegetables a day, a number that includes those who deem a tomato slice or lettuce on a burger as a “vegetable serving.” In other words, roughly 80% of U.S. adults scarcely eat any vegetables at all.

Liking vegetables is not a given:  Every food other than breast milk is an acquired taste. But children can easily learn to enjoy eating their greens. It’s simply a matter of education and familiarity–as in “family.” Children will happily eat squash, artichoke or broccoli, to the delight of the parents who taught them to do so. As for fruits, children can gobble them up, but like vegetables, they must be at the ready, at least as available as all the junky alternatives.

In our research at Atlee Burpee, we have found that kids who grow vegetables alongside their parents eat them regularly and with gusto. Peas, green beans and raw carrots–the very vegetables that kids are told to eat, their parents’ admonishing fingers wagging–are particular favorites.

While not all American families have the benefit of a sun-filled backyard for a vegetable garden, companies like Burpee offer many vegetable seeds and plants that you can grow easily in containers. You can grow beets, carrots, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, which can be plucked from the stalk well into winter.

Eighteen years ago, as president of the American Horticultural Society, I initiated a children’s gardening program. Our annual symposium drew thousands of educators and community gardeners with the goal of educating and inspiring children to grow gardens in their school and neighborhoods. The results were heartening:  Thousands of churches, schools and community centers sprouted new gardens.

Yet no single institution is sufficient; fighting a problem of this sort requires a multifaceted effort. Churches could do much more to inspire families to grow vegetables. Public and private botanical and community gardening groups should augment efforts to lure neighbors into their educational demonstration gardens. Most families, whether in the city or suburbs, can plant at least a “starter garden”–involving pre-teen children in the planting, tending and harvesting.

While the first lady deserves the credit for focusing the nation on childhood obesity, it is an issue that both political parties can endorse. Vegetables are deliciously nonpartisan.

Let’s make 2011 the Year of the Vegetable. We have nothing to lose but our waistlines.

In conclusion, two things come to mind. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the oft told tale of children feeding their veggies to the family dog, or veggies disappearing into napkins with one swipe of the mouth. My in-laws actually have an even better anecdote that is often recounted for the benefit of the grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. When my husband or any of his siblings lingered too long over their veggies, they were made to sit in the garage until they had devoured every last morsel. As they tell it, the cockroaches that skulked around hiding in corners, or that brazenly crossed the concrete floor, got their fair share of the nasty food. I think they were actually the objects of target practice. Whatever their purpose, the roaches were partners-in-crime with my husband and his siblings.

My second thought on this subject is that 2011 as the “Year of the Vegetable” has a nice ring to it. Although half- Chinese, I’m neither first-generation, nor am I schooled in their ways since my Chinese father died when I was one. As a result, I really don’t identify with that culture’s astrological calendar.  I’m not sure if I was born in the “Year of the Rat,” or the “Year of the Tiger.” Even if I could remember which it is, I’m sure it makes no real difference in my life. But being raised an American, and having bought into our western society’s feeding frenzy for far too long, making this year, and every year hereafter, the “Year of the Vegetable,” makes fundamental sense to my own well-being, and that of all generations, present and future.

reborn in the “year of the vegetable”…hugmamma.  

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.      

“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.

“change your brain, change your life”

I have to credit Dr. Daniel Amen’s book Change Your Brain Change Your Life with my “detour” towards a more positive attitude. It’s the path I’ll continue to travel, as I journey “home.” With the information gleaned from the book, I’m pretty certain I’ve suffered a form of depression all of my life, and I’m sure my mom did as well. We battled our “demons”, mustering up all the courage we could gather from deep within, and relying upon the  support  of loved ones. At best, our attempts to help ourselves was haphazard. Sometimes our efforts succeeded, other times we probably “blew it.” We muddled through, with growing negativity as a constant companion. To survive, we felt compelled to sever relationships along the way, that might destroy our fragile psyches. Looking back, we were just trying to live our best lives, given the hand life had dealt us. Without a doubt, there must be many who have led similar lives.

All kinds of help is available these days, from psychiatrists to clinics to alternative health practices. There’s no quick fix for depression, nor one right way. However I am a proponent of Dr. Amen’s philosophy, for it has helped me understand the workings of my brain. And just as I take care of my body with the help of exercise, diet, chiropractic manipulation and massage therapy, I am learning to look after my mental health, thanks to Dr. Amen’s message.

Your brain is the hardware of your soul. It is the hardware of your very essence as a human being. You cannot be who you really want to be unless your brain works right. How your brain works determines how happy you are, how effective you feel, and how well you interact with others. Your brain patterns help you (or hurt you) with your marriage, parenting skills, work, and religious beliefs, along with your experience of pleasure and pain.

If you are anxious, depressed, obsessive-compulsive, prone to anger, or easily distracted, you probably believe these problems are “all in your head.” In other words, you believe your problem is purely psychological. However, research that I and others have done shows that the problems are related to the physiology of the brain–and the good news is that we have proof that you can change that physiology. You can fix what’s wrong for many problems.

Depression is a physiological illness, just like diabetes or arthritis. Living in our high-tech, fractured society, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us suffer some form of depression, ranging from moderate to bipolar.

According to Dr. Amen’s book, my difficulty may lie within my brain’s Cingulate System. Glancing through the following checklist, I  have probably exhibited several of the symptoms, especially during the early years of my marriage. Maturity and motherhood helped me overcome some, but more recently, suggestions from Change Your Brain Change Your Life helped me to combat other symptoms, namely “excessive or senseless worrying,” “tendency to have repetitive negative thoughts,” and “tendency to predict negative outcomes.” But just as there’s no cure for arthritis, there is none for depression. Both have to be managed, which is fine with me. It’s a fact I’ve come to accept. Exercise and a reduction in sugar intake has helped lessen the arthritic pain in my lower back. And practicing Dr. Amen’s recommendations, has greatly minimized my depression.

CINGULAR SYSTEM CHECKLIST

Please read this list of behaviors and rate yourself (or the person you are evaluating) on each behavior listed. Use the following scale and place the appropriate number next to the item. Five or more symptoms marked 3 or 4 indicate a high likelihood of cingulate problems. 0=never/1=rarely/2=occasionally/3=frequently/4=very frequently

  1. Excessive or senseless worrying
  2. Being upset when things are out-of-place
  3. Tendency to be oppositional or argumentative
  4. Tendency to have repetitive negative thoughts
  5. Tendency toward compulsive behaviors
  6. Intense dislike of change
  7. Tendency to hold grudges
  8. Trouble shifting attention from subject to subject
  9. Trouble shifting behavior from task to task
  10. Difficulties seeing options in situations
  11. Tendency to hold on to own opinion and not listen to others
  12. Tendency to get locked into a course of action, whether or not it is good
  13. Being very upset unless things are done a certain way
  14. Perception by others that you worry too much
  15. Tendency to say no without first thinking about question
  16. Tendency to predict negative outcomes

GETTING UNSTUCK

The cingulate system of the brain allows us to shift our attention from thing to thing, idea to idea, issue to issue. When it is dysfunctional, we have a tendency to get locked into negative thoughts or behaviors; we have trouble seeing the options in situations. Healing this part of the mind involves training the mind to see options and new ideas. …Whenever you find your thoughts cycling (going over and over), distract yourself from them. …Sing a favorite song…Listen to music that makes you feel positive…Take a walk…Do a chore…Play with a pet…Do structured meditation…Focus on a word and do not allow any other thoughts to enter your mind (imagine a broom that sweeps out all other thoughts).

(Keeping busy has been my “default” response to low spirits. Ironing clothes is a “favorite”, a chore my mom taught me with pride, since that’s what she did at the orphanage where she worked. When I’m outdoors walking Mocha, nature’s beauty intoxicates my senses, forcing me to disengage from life’s frenzy. Indoors I get the same “high” watching a favorite Michael Jackson DVD, which gets my body pulsating to the beat. Sitting for a few minutes with one of my cat’s purring in my lap, makes me pause, enjoying the moment. And when I lay my head on my pillow at night, I thank God for all our blessings, and pray that all may live their best lives. This prayer alone has helped me fall asleep, because it stops the “ants”- automatic negative thoughts, dead in their tracks.)

Many people with cingulate problems have an automatic tendency to say no. Fight the tendency. Before answering questions or responding to requests in a negative way, take a breath and think first whether or not it is best to say no. Often it is helpful to take a deep breath, hold it for three seconds, and then take five seconds to exhale, just to get extra time before responding.

When you are stuck on a thought, it is often helpful to write it down. Writing it down helps to get it out of your head. Seeing a thought on paper makes it easier to deal with in a rational way. When repetitive thoughts cause sleeping problems, keep a pen and paper near your bed to write them down. After you write out a thought that has “gotten stuck,” generate a list of things you can do about it and things you can’t do about it. Use this simple exercise to unlock the thoughts that keep you up nights feeling tense.

(Blogging has been a God-send. It’s been cathartic in that I’ve been able to exorcise “demons” that have probably been roiling around inside my gut for too long, not only personal ones, but thoughts about the world in which I live.)  

When all of your efforts to get rid of repetitive thoughts are unsuccessful, it is often helpful to seek the counsel of others. Finding someone to discuss your worries, fears, or repetitive behaviors which can be very helpful. Often just talking about feeling stuck will open new options.

(Coffee with friends has always been a great way to share problems and gain new insights, and perhaps discover helpful suggestions, and sometimes, even answers.)

Exercise can also be very helpful in calming worries and increasing cognitive flexibility. Exercise works by increasing brain levels of l-tryptophan. L-tryptophan is a relatively small amino acid and has trouble competing against the larger amino acids to enter the brain. During exercise, more of the large amino acids are utilized to replenish muscle strength, which causes a decrease in the availability of these larger amino acids in the bloodstream. When this happens, l-tryptophan can compete more effectively to enter the brain and raise brain serotonin levels. In addition, exercise increases your energy levels and may distract you from the bad thoughts that tend to loop. I often recommend exercise for oppositional children as a way to improve their l-tryptophan levels and increase cooperation.

(Kristina’s exercise class has been a life-saver. During these last 5 or 6 years, it has been a healthy addition to my routine, not only for my physical well-being, but for my mental and emotional well-being as well. I can feel the difference in my mood and my energy level, when I’ve been remiss in my exercise routine. The same can be said for my visits to the chiropractor and massage therapist. They’re not luxuries; they’re necessities.) 

Low serotonin levels and increased cingulate activity are often associated with worrying, moodiness, emotional rigidity, and irritability. There are two ways that food can increase serotonin levels.

Foods high in carbohydrates, such as pastas, potatoes, bread, pastries, pretzels, and popcorn, increase l-tryptophan levels (the natural amino acid building block for serotonin) in the blood, resulting in more l-tryptophan being available to enter the brain, where it is converted to serotonin. The calming effect of serotonin can often be felt in thirty minutes or less by eating these foods. Cerebral serotonin levels can also be raised by eating foods rich in tryptophan, such as chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, peanut butter, eggs, green peas, potatoes, and milk. Many people unknowingly trigger cognitive inflexibility or mood problems by eating diets that are low in l-tryptophan.

For example, the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets that I recommend for low-dopamine states (related to prefrontal cortex underactivity) often make cingular problems worse. L-tryptophan is a relatively small amino acid. When you eat a high-protein diet, the larger amino acids compete more successfully to get into the brain, causing lower levels of brain serotonin and more negative emotional reactiveness.

(Diet remains an ongoing challenge, but at least I’ve eliminated as much sugar as possible, and replaced simple carbs with complex ones, and continue to ramp up my intake of fruits and veggies. But I’m no angel; every now and then I “sin.”)

Dr. Amen also prescribes reciting the Serenity Prayer, as a way to combat repetitive negative thoughts. “The Serenity Prayer is repeated by millions of people around the world, especially those in twelve-step programs. It is a beautiful reminder that there are limits to what we can do in life and we need to respect that. Many people find it helpful to repeat this prayer every time they are bothered by repetitive negative thoughts. I recommend that you memorize at least the first (three) lines of the prayer (change it as needed to fit your own beliefs).”

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you in the next.

-Attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr

 As we age physically and mentally, our quality of life can suffer. Money certainly helps sustain a certain lifestyle, but is it substantive if we’re unable to reap the spiritual rewards as well? I’m trying to remain as agile as possible, mentally, physically and emotionally so that I can continue to write, and enjoy life’s small pleasantries, until I no longer can. Changing my brain, has helped change my life, for the better.

our best lives, hugs for…hugmamma.

   

european getaway, holland america line

As a not-so-frequent world traveler,  I wanted to share some Holland America Line information, in particular cruises which I can vouch for, since I’ve “been there, done that.” Cruising is like taking your hotel everywhere you travel. There’s no need to pack , unpack and repack. You needn’t fret about transporting yourself from city to city. All meals are included, selections ranging from Asian to Italian to American to Continental to everything-in-between. And contrary to popular belief, you needn’t stuff yourself to overflowing. But if you do, exercise opportunities abound. There are spin classes, elliptical machines, decks to walk, and pools to swim. I can attest to the fabulous shopping, especially in the jewelry shops. Some of my favorite pieces, real and costume, were shipboard “gems.”  Nightly entertainment rivals Las Vegas and Broadway. Then there’s the casino for gamblers, the lounges for dancers, and the amusement arcade for the younger set. A theatre features current films, special cooking classes satisfy the gourmands among us, non-denominational services gathers the religious together. Finally, the ports-of-call are yours for exploring, if you so desire. Our family chose walking tours, so we killed the proverbial “two birds with one stone.” We could eat very well onboard ship, and rid ourselves of excess calories on the shore excursions.

Cruising is my idea of a REAL vacation, no making up the beds, no straightening and vacuuming, no cleaning the bathroom, no cooking and serving, no clearing away the table and stacking the dishwasher. I can rise early or late, eat whenever, nap if I like, finish a book I’ve only read for 5 minutes before falling asleep at night. Time to myself with no chores to do before I’m allowed to play, is my favorite part of being on a ship away from land, hearth and home, at least for a week-and-a-half or two. That’s enough to get me back into the swing of living the life I love.

A brochure recently sent in the mail was like a siren’s call to passing ships “Welcome to Europe, the place we call home, where priceless works of art meet compelling natural landscapes. Let us offer you a firsthand perspective of our heritage. Only here will you bike through Barcelona’s historic squares or live the life of a Viking as you cruise through Norwegian fjords. Readers of Travel Weekly named Holland America Line ‘Best Cruise Line, Europe.’ Cruise with us and you’ll understand why.”  A friend from exercise class, swears this is true, having cruised with HAL for the first time to Australia with her husband during Christmas, and most recently to Alaska, treating family members. Like me, she also did a 10 day Mediterranean cruise, thoroughly enjoying the included ports-of-call.

In Livorno, we saw the famed Leaning Tower of Pisa, snapping photos to our hearts content. Stopping in Monte Carlo, we took a side trip to Nice and Eze where we walked charming streets, shopping in small boutiques. A self-guided tour of Barcelona’s old district was my husband’s idea of a great time, while my daughter and I gawked at the modernistic architecture and spent euros on the latest European fashions. Driving into the hilly countryside of Palma de Mallorca, we understood why celebrities Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones chose to make their home on that breathtaking island. The white stone homes with painted blue doors of La Goulette were as mesmerizing, as the camels we rode near the docked ship were cause for nonstop giggles. Palermo offered us a chance to dine seaside in a local cafe among natives, our eyes soaking in the blue-green Mediterranean waters. In Naples we toured the beautiful Amalfi Coast, where we lunched, and shopped. But the “piece de resistance” was walking the streets of Pompeii, or what was left after its demolition by nearby Mt. Vesuvius. The cobbled roads, structural foundations, and preserved archaeological finds put us in awe of the Italians who built this city. Surrounded by the stillness and quiet, hot sun beating down on us, it was easy to imagine its citizens walking among us, going about their daily affairs.   

  • 20-Day Mediterranean Adventure Collectors’ Voyage – Roundtrip Civitavecchia (Rome)

Leaving Rome, the ms Noordam sails to Messina, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Katakolon (Olympia), Santorini, Kusadasi (Ehesus), Piraeus (Athens), Rome, Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Monte Carlo, Barcelona (overnight on board), Palma de Mallorca, La Goulette (Tunis and Carthage), Palermo, Naples, returning to Rome.

Dates include:  5/21, 31; June 10, 20, 30; Jul 10; Aug 6, 16, 26; Sep 5, 15, 25; Oct 5, 2011

Also available are 10 day cruises which feature some of the aforementioned ports. For this and other information, call your travel agent or 1-877-SAIL HAL (1-877-724-5425), or visit www.hollandamerica.com. Inquire about special promotions; it never hurts to ask.

tell them i sent you, with hugs…hugmamma.

self-help for Alzheimer’s

A major concern is getting Alzheimer’s. It’s in my genes because my mom died several years ago with the disease. Our lives were dissimilar in most ways, so I’m hopeful that I can avoid the inevitable. Testing can be done to determine my chances, but do I really want to know. Because I believe in the power of the mind, I wouldn’t want to play a part, any part, in being “taken over” by Alzheimer’s. So I’m doing what I can without driving myself over the edge into insanity or depression. After all, I’d like to enjoy what’s left of my wonderful life.

A year ago I posted the following blog on another site. It is still featured there. So that readers might immediately avail themselves of the information it contains I decided to rerun the blog here. Hope it helps.

Between slowing the progression, or preventing, Alzheimer’s and lowering my cholesterol, I was more concerned about damage to my brain than to my heart. But surely the two are intricately intertwined, so which is the “horse” and which is the “cart.” Personally, I chose Alzheimer’s as the front-runner. Correcting my cholesterol ran a close second. I made this choice for 2 reasons, my mom and a dear friend.

Ongoing health issues together with the stress of raising 9 children as a 30-year-old widow, probably made my mom a prime candidate for Alzheimer’s. A growing cynicism as she aged made matters worse. It was difficult to see a once vital woman who led others in her church community, evolve into a reclusive, suspicious, finger-pointing, unclean stranger who disrobed in the garage. Towards the end, only the family dog was privy to my mom’s barely decipherable, ranting. Bless my older sister and her husband who were the primary caretakers through the 7 years of my mom’s illness. Living an ocean away with my own family to look after, I was unable to be of much help.

A friend unexpectedly developed symptoms of Alzheimer’s in her 50’s. I’m not certain if it was triggered by a stroke, however. A highly efficient legal secretary, she discovered she could no longer remember how to type. The progression seemed slow at first. But then the illness went into overdrive. My girlfriend retired earlier than she’d planned. She could no longer take walks alone along the country roads where we lived. Her husband had to learn to cook, because she would forget to turn the stove off. And she was devastated when he had to help her bathe and change. One day while dining at a restaurant, she did not return from the restroom. She was discovered by a mutual friend in the toilet cubicle crying, because she couldn’t remember how to dress herself. She eventually went to reside in a nursing home, where she lived for another 20 years. When she was cognizant, she would babble that she wanted to die rather than live like a baby, totally dependent upon others.

Recalling such vivid images of a disease that steals the essence of loved ones is as scary as the long-forgotten Fun House at local fairs. I would want to pee just trying to get away from the maze of mirrors that loomed everywhere in the dark, taunting me as I stumbled along searching for the exit. Unfortunately with Alzheimer’s, there’s only one way out, and it can be excruciatingly painful for the patient and the caregivers.

Because I love my husband and precious daughter more than life itself, I decided to begin treating myself for Alzheimer’s while I’m able. A fortunate side effect is that it also helps lower my cholesterol. My primary tool became THE ANTI-ALZHEIMER’S PRESCRIPTION by Dr. Vincent Fortanasce, a practicing neurologist. He treats victims of the disease. Because his own father succumbed to it, the doctor has a 10-30% risk of developing Alzheimer’s as well. This fact and his expertise made me believe in his recommendations. Besides incorporating the standard lifestyle changes of diet and exercise, I took his advice about supplement intake, reducing stress and increasing my sleep quality. As a precaution I confirmed the supplement dosage with a naturopath, and provided the list to my family physician.

To help me resolve my propensity for over-worrying and therefore over-stressing, I read CHANGE YOUR BRAIN, CHANGE YOUR LIFE by Dr. Daniel G. Amen, a clinical neuroscientist, and nationally recognized expert on the relationship between the brain and behavior. His “brain prescriptions” include simple breathing techniques to immediately calm inner turmoil; learning to kill ANTS (automatic negative thoughts); following the Amen anti-anger diet and learning the nutrients that calm rage; and “getting unstuck” from obsessive worrying. Dr. Martin Stein, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at George Washington University calls Dr. Amen revolutionary in showing “how the brain can become your worst enemy, and how with proper treatment, your best friend.”

It’s been some time since I’ve read the aforementioned books, but they sit prominently perched atop a desk not far from my bed. They are like old friends, reminding me that I need not be a victim of Alzheimer’s, that there might be an alternative. At least I have that.

At 60, I feel as energized as I did at 40. Then I was at my peak. I’d shed the pounds gained during pregnancy by exercising at the local YMCA, and walking 4 miles a day when not at the gym. Weight Watchers helped me count calories. In the years since, the inevitable happened. Life took over. Exercising diminished, almost coming to a standstill; while the pounds, and some, returned and settled in comfortably.

While Drs. Fortanasce and Amen gave me ammunition to get healthy, it took a personal epiphany for me to become fully engaged, mentally and physically. Four months from that “light bulb” moment, I feel in control of my health having made some definite changes to what I eat and how I feel about myself. “I’m a good person, and everyone deserves to live their best life.”

The most valuable lesson I have learned as a mother is compassion for myself and others. I also try to live with a positive outlook for my sake and my family’s. To do so, I relish all the small details in everyday life. My sixth sense helps me. That would be My Memory, the Essence of Who I Am.