Walking

Staying in Focus:Re-springing Your Step/Mountain Weekend

Daily Prompt: Tell us about the last experience you had that left you feeling fresh, energized, and rejuvenated. What was it that had such a positive effect on you?

 

The last experience I had that left me feeling relaxed and rejuvenated occurred last summer, when my husband and I and our friends, Kathi and Don, spent a weekend at the Cabins of Willow Winds in Asheville, NC.IMG_3539

Although last summer was not exceedingly hot or humid at home, the weather the weekend we were in Asheville was absolutely wonderful. We were worried because the forecast was for rain, but all we had was a brief shower one afternoon. It was in the evening that we really noticed the difference. The cabin had floor to ceiling windows, which we cranked open, and the most delightful breeze of cool mountain air flowed in, carrying with it the sounds of nocturnal creatures, insects and frogs and the like. Those sounds brought back memories of the summers of my childhood spent in a cabin near a lake. There, I would be lulled to sleep by the nighttime chorus of frogs and katydids.

We took a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, climbed up to the visitor center atop Mount MitchelIMG_3526l and ate lunch at the restaurant there, the wall of windows providing a spectacular view.IMG_3527IMG_3478 IMG_3481 IMG_3388 - Copy - Copy IMG_3392 IMG_3426 IMG_3435 IMG_3437 - Copy IMG_3448 IMG_3456 IMG_3471

We went on a ghost tour, and walked through the botanical gardens. IMG_3542Kathi and Don tried their hand at fishing in a pond on the premises of the cabin and we made our dinners in the cabin. Last year was an especially tense one with family illnesses and other stresses, but those three days in Asheville stand out as a small oasis of relaxation and rejuvenation.IMG_3600 There’s something about mountains that have always had that effect on IMG_3586me.

Blue Ridge

the mountains gather round me

endless folds of smoky blue

and the sun ignites the crystal drops

of early morning dew

wisps of misty water vapor

wreathe a distant mountain peak

and I feel a deep connection

with the spirit that I seek

in the mountains, in the places

of the wild and the free

are the answers to the problems

that quite often trouble me

so I come for grace and comfort

and I come for sweet release

my spirit seeks the mountains

here I find my inner peace

-pc 97

Mountains

When the pressures of life build to a peak

Some people find solace in shorelines and sea

But it’s often the higher ground that I seek

For it’s always been mountains for me

When I stand on a ridge at the top of the world

From worry and care I am free

I sing in the sun with my spirit unfurled

It will always be mountains for me!

-pc’03

 

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Staying in Focus:Daily Prompt: Let’s Dance

Daily Prompt: Let’s Dance:In my earliest memories of dancing, I’m under my auntie Nancy’s dining room table, (which had been pushed off to the side of the room), watching my mom, dad, aunties, and uncles all dancing on the hardwood floor to a never-ending stack of 45 records, dropping one after the other. I remember foot-high stacks of 45s all around the record player. The song that I remember playing most? Twistin’ the Night Away by Sam Cooke. Every time I hear that song, I remember auntie’s spontaneous dance parties. What are your earliest and fondest memories of dance?

Sadly, I have no fond memories of dancing from a personal perspective. I have absolutely no sense of rhythm and my mother’s sincere attempt to help me by enrolling me in dance lessons lasted about one lesson. I suppose my earliest exposure to dance was watching the various animated characters waltz and twirl their way across the movie screen in Disney films.  A little later, I was an avid fan of American Bandstand, enjoying the music and the gyrations of people in tune with it.

I love music in many forms from classical to rock, folk to pop.  I was 7 years old in 1960, 11 when the Beatles made their Ed Sullivan début, a time when music and dance wove their way into the tapestry of our lives.  Everybody wanted to be in a band.  We all had ‘nine transistor’ radios. We all knew the top ten hits and grooved with Cousin Brucie.

However, school dances were fraught with anxiety. I wanted to attend, to hear the music and participate  in high school activities, but the thought of trying to dance in front of others filled me with fear.

I tried dancercise with a friend once. I was going left when they were going right and I never did figure out that grapevine step. I know the instructor was relieved when I failed to return, because I messed up her choreography.

My lack of rhythm with dance and music accompanied my inability to sing, as well.  I attended a Catholic school and every morning before school started, we were required to attend Mass. One day, in fourth grade, I think, we attended Mass in the choir loft with the church choir director playing the organ.  She was on the lookout for new voices for her choir. I employed my usual strategy of just mouthing the words, without sound. She wasn’t fooled, however, and brought me down next to the organ so she could hear me sing.  She asked me if I were an Alto or a Soprano. You tell me, you’re the one with the, organ and sheets of music in front of you, I wanted to say, but I just shrugged my shoulders. She listened to me sing the next song and obviously couldn’t figure out what I was, either, because she promptly returned me to my seat, and never asked me to sing again. I was happy though; relieved I didn’t have to pretend to sing anymore. Instead, the nuns assigned me to leave the choir early and go down to the teacher’s lounge and put on a kettle of water for their morning tea.

It’s just as well I decided early on not to pursue a career in the performing arts.  There’s not a lot of need for a tone-deaf singer/dancer with two left feet and Parkinson’s disease!

I did not despair, however. I can exercise to the “Oldies” with panache, stretch and meditate to new age music as I do my yoga and tai chi practices and pedal my exercise bike to hundreds of songs on my iPod. Music and movement are in my life, just not in the form of dance.

We each have our own special gifts. Some people can dance and sing, some people, like me, enjoy writing and photography.  I am most grateful for my special gifts. Speaking of which, I have finished the manuscript of my book and am getting ready to upload it. (See my Focus on Fiction Blog for the latest updates and a sneak peek at Chapter 2 ). patcoyle76.@wordpress.com

Once I received my Parkinson’s diagnosis, I realized there was no going back for certain things – like dancing, and that there was a time to let go of others like tennis and driving. To every season, there is a purpose and mine now is to enjoy the gifts I’ve been given for as long as I can. Still, one can wish…

Belated Wishes

I wish that I had learned to dance

to glide with grace

my feet in place

I wish that I had learned to dance

(long ago,  I had the chance)

I wish that I could really sing

notes as pure

as birds in spring

to be in tune with everything

(I would have loved to sing)

I wish that I could walk with ease

and go everywhere I please

(and never worry my feet might freeze)

Moving now is a challenge, though

Count your steps

Heel to toe

Moving is a challenge

(though it wasn’t always so)

and when I had the chance

I wish I’d learned to dance.

-pc2009

Staying in Focus:Weekly Writing Challenge: My Rocky Road

Weekly Writing Challenge: Fit to Write

The Rocky Road

I was cruising right along
when this rocky path appeared
and now I have been walking it
for many trying years
and yet it leads me onward
there’ve been obstacles, I fear
but despite the looming shadows
I have no time for tears
each day I have, I celebrate
this precious gift I’m given
and I for one have vowed to make
each one a day worth living
so moment by moment, mindfully
I take a step most carefully
along this steep and rocky road
trying not to stumble
I strive to end each day
with hope in a new tomorrow
my heart assured, my spirit free
safe within the circle
of my  friends and family,
I choose to dwell on happiness
and not waste time on sorrow.
2013 pc

One day I am living my life, happy in my home, surrounded by friends and family and the next day I receive a diagnosis that changes my picture perfect life forever. Life can be like that, and we must learn to roll with the punches.

I had noticed changes in my body a few years before diagnosis, but caught in a difficult passage through menopause, I attributed some of it – the anxiety especially, to that.  And then, in 2007, a routine colonoscopy found a polyp that we did not know was cancer until after surgery.  The anesthesiologist I had for that procedure suggested I see a neurologist for the tremor I was experiencing. I followed through once I had recovered from the colon cancer operation, already certain of the answer –Parkinson ’s disease.

And now, 6 years later, I am still living my life, happy in my home, surrounded by friends and family, but living a life quite different from what I had expected. Now I must take 3 prescription drugs, 2 of them 3 times a day to facilitate walking, control the tremor, and slow down the progression of the disease. 3 additional medications address my blood pressure, anxiety and thyroid. For dessert I have folic acid, a multi-vitamin, vitamin D, 4 fish oil capsules, and a full size aspirin to complete my daily feast of meds. Then there is exercise. I have a small, powered stationary bike that I use every day, keeping the rotations above 80/per minute, aerobic walking using the Leslie Sansone Walk at Home programs on DVD, followed by yoga for flexibility or tai chi for balance. I also lift weights three times a week for strength training. It takes a big chunk out of my day but it beats the alternative. I complete my regime with a relaxing meditation

Fortunately, I am 5+ years out from the cancer surgery and so far so good. I have had a total of 7 colonoscopies to monitor things and I see an oncologist twice a year and take an aspirin daily. So far my regime has been successful in keeping me moving and slowing down the PD. This summer we took a cruise to the British Isles and I walked every day. We did an “On the Deck 5K Walk for the Cure” around the ship. So although I’ve  had to make major changes (retiring and giving up driving).  I have adjusted to life along this Rocky Road.  I take each day as it comes and try to treat it as the gift it is. I allow myself time to continue to grow and learn new things through online classes, visits to museums, and writing poetry, my memoir and currently, a middle grade children’s novel. Spending time with family and friends is paramount in keeping up the spirits and continuing to participate in life.

My mother endured months of bedrest to  avoid miscarrying me, so that I am here at all is a wonder; that I’ve lived 60 years and have had a marvelous life filled with love and support from my family and friends, and have been married for 37 years to my soul mate and best friend my husband, Bill, is simply miraculous.

Since I can’t know whether the road remains rocky the rest of the way, or smooths out for me for a time, I continue to walk along it (as best I can) try to keep healthy and fit to write and celebrate the gifts each new day brings.

Staying in Focus: New Beginnings, Resolutions and a Touch of Nostalgia

My kindergarten class of 1959

My kindergarten class of 1959 I’m in the first line, first child on the left

One thing I always associate with the new year is a new journal, filled with empty pages just waiting for me to fill with my thoughts, dreams, fears, hopes and challenges.  I think it hearkens back to the first day of school and a black and white composition book, shiny and new, pages crisp and clean, waiting to be filled with handwriting exercises and homework lessons. By the time the book was filled, the covers were worn around the edges, dog-eared and dog tired.  They had served their purpose, their work done. Or maybe not.  Maybe, they can serve as inspiration for a blog post 55 years later!

For believe it or not, I actually have three of my very first black and white composition books from kindergarten (1958).  These books are more black and sepia-toned now, as they are 55 years old.

my kindergarten composition books

Here they are,  my very first composition books! I actually still use black and whites for my “morning pages”, freewriting exercises to get the creative juices flowing. I’m glad, however, that these exercises are not being graded for either handwriting or content.  One of the challenges i have with Parkinson’s disease is keeping

IMG_9865

my handwriting legible. Perhaps if I wrote in letters as large as these , I would be more successful.  My kindergarten teacher obviously had a sense of humor when she chose  quotes for us to copy. She sure needed a sense of humor as there were 65 children in my kindergarten class!IMG_9867

I certainly hope I passed this test! I assume it was a test on writing my name, not on knowing it!

I try to write carefully as I begin a new   journal, to start off with positive thoughts, hoping it will set the tone for the new year.  I wait a few days to spell out my resolutions, trying to be honest, but not set myself up for failure. It’s disconcerting to look back in December at those January resolutions and realize I didn’t accomplish any of them!  Better to start with small, reachable goals and add to them as the year goes on.  When I was in college and taking teaching courses, we learned to write specific, measurable goals when writing lesson plans.  Also a  good plan to follow when listing resolutions.  A resolution to lose 50 pounds this year is far more daunting than to resolve to lose 12 pounds by spring, then 12 by summer, etc. The same goes for writing.  Instead of resolving to write the Great American Novel this year, I can resolve to write a page a day, and have 365 pages complete by the end of the year.  I have to see progress to stick with things, so I try to guarantee that when setting my goals.  So much better to find I’ve exceeded my expectations, than to have failed them!

A new year, like a new pair of shoes, needs to broken in gently.  I tend to take things one day at a time lately, and so I intend to enjoy what January may have to offer.  Cold days can be warmed with a bowl of hot soup, a cup of tea and one of those great books I received for Christmas.  When I get a new book by an author I love, I often put off reading it, savoring the anticipation of reading it.  A cold, dreary winter day may be just the right time.

After New Year’s Day, there are no other big holidays in January.   I find that comforting after the big Christmas rush. Things get  back to normal, time to take a breath and relax .January can be a time to plan – for spring planting, summer vacation, visits with family and friends.  Having something to look forward to keeps the blues away. Here in the south, January can surprise us with a sunny day in the 60s or 70s, and occasionally , but fortunately not often, with some snow..  Both have their positive sides.  A warm day invites a call to a friend for a lunch at an outside cafe, and there’s nothing like a snow day as an excuse to stay home from work,  cook up a pot of chili and enjoy an unexpected holiday.  I love to take snow pictures, especially since we don’t often have the opportunity to do so.  But here in North Carolina, a big snowfall can turn into many snow days  if it doesn’t warm up fast.  And as they say, too much of a good thing…  We’ll see what January has in store for us as we celebrate each day.. which is a gift in itself!

January

a month of new beginnings
and yet, a time of waiting –
waiting for the cold to ebb
and for the sun to gather strength
and call forth the leaves and flowers,
waiting for the birds to return
and fill the air with song.
but January has its gifts –
a blanket of freshly fallen snow
gently coating the landscape,
an icy wrap on limb and leaves
glistening in the winter sun,
the bright red of berries and cardinals,
and the green tips of crocus
poking through the warming soil,
to see if it’s time to emerge.
a month of waiting,
a month of hope,
a month of new beginnings
and treasured memories…
– pc 2009


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Focus on Inspiration and Hope

So much to be grateful for these days. I met with my oncologist this week, and nearly five years out now, everything looks clear.  The chances for a recurrence go way down at the five-year mark, so all is good on that front!

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about five years ago as well, and have for most of that time been on a dopamine agonist drug, which imitates and supplements the lost dopamine  in the brain.  But about 6 months ago, I began to notice that movement was really becoming a challenge .  Walking actually became a chore, something I had to work at and concentrate on.  I would see people strolling along, or jogging by on the road and wistfully remember when I could do that without a second  thought.  And  I wished I had been more grateful then for that gift.  The following poem reflects that thought. When I saw my neurologist two months ago, we decided it was time for me to start taking Sinemet, the gold standard drug for Parkinson’s.   It actually replaces the lost dopamine, but not without a price.  A little too enthusiastic about its job, after prolonged use, it causes excess movement called dyskenesia: rapid or jerky,uncontrollable movements, fidgeting and the like.  Thus the reason not to use it too soon.

But it makes a world of difference.  My natural arm swing has returned, I can walk more easily.  In my exercises, I can move faster and do things I  haven’t been able to do for years.  My husband and I took a walk this weekend and I actually enjoyed it.  We even  interspersed some intervals of jogging into our walk.  I don’t know how long this gift will last, but I’m going to make the best of it while it does.  I know the clock is ticking in regards to the side effects, but there is hope ahead.  Researchers are working on ways to address this and my hope is that they will  do so before I run out of time.

And now to the Inspiration part of this essay.  Whenever someone is given a diagnosis of a disease or chronic condition, it is so helpful to have someone to look to for inspiration.   For me that would be Michael J. Fox.  We’re all aware of Michael and his dedication toward  finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease, which he has had for 20 years.  Admitting he has bad days too, he prefers, however, to focus on the positive.  Founding the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research he has worked continuously to speed the race for a cure.   I believe if a cure is found in our lifetime, a big slice of the credit goes to Michael’s efforts to get researchers to share ideas, to get people to volunteer for clinical trials, to get congress behind the drive for funding this important work.  And he still finds time to act as well.   He was recently named  person of the week by ABC News. Go, Michael!

With so many dedicated scientists, researchers, clinicians and doctors working on this , I am very hopeful we will succeed.

For those looking for inspiration, I urge you to read Michael’s books.  Even the titles reflect his upbeat attitude: Lucky Man,  Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist and Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned.  Written with humor and honesty, they will inspire.

And although, with 2 left feet, I  was never destined to win the mirror ball trophy, for now I can spin and twirl with my grandchildren, and that is  good enough for me. And the next time you take a walk, remember to be grateful that you can.

Belated Wishes

I wish that I had learned to dance
to glide with grace
my feet in place
I wish that I had learned to dance

(long ago I had the chance)

I wish that  I could really sing
notes as pure
as birds in spring
to be in tune with everything

(I would have loved to sing)

I wish that I could walk with ease
to amble or stride
as light as the breeze
and never worry my feet might freeze

(I wish I could walk with ease)

moving is a challenge now
count your steps
heel to toe
moving is a challenge

(though it wasn’t always so)

I should have taken time
to learn to dance and sing
to appreciate a morning walk
in tune with everything

(when I had the chance
I should have learned to dance)
— pc 2011

Focus on the Big E – Exercise

(something on the lighter 🙂  side for weekend reading)

Okay.  Enough already.  I can hear the moans and groans echoing through the Internet.  But there is no getting away from it – exercise is vital for everyone who wants to reach the “Golden Years” with enough agility and energy to at least get out of bed.  It is especially important for anyone suffering from a movement disorder like Parkinson’s Disease.  Without challenging those arms and legs and hands and feet,and even facial muscles, the rigidity will set in big time.  Now, being as I am not a medical professional, I will not give advice to anyone other than to urge you to consult your physician and together develop an exercise program that is right for you.  What I will share with you is my own experience with exercise.

It has been a love/hate relationship, for the most part..  I’m not one of those people who love to run or jog for the sheer joy in it.  But I’ve always recognized the need for it, especially as I love to eat!  But I tend to get bored quickly with any one routine.

And so, yes, I sweated to the oldies with Richard Simmons.  We toned Downtown together, and Uptown together, We stretched, worked on abs and even toned to the sound of Broadway .But boredom eventually set in and I decided to shake things up and join a class.  Maybe working out with other people was the ticket.  So my sister-in-law, Pat , and I joined Elaine Powers, but unfortunately it was located above a Friendly’s Restaurant, so we would work up a good appetite upstairs and stop for lunch at Friendly’s on the way home.  You don’t know how good a Friendly’s hot fudge sundae tastes until you’ve eaten one after an hour of exercise! I guess we didn’t quite have the commitment  we needed.

Several years later, I tried an exercise class again, this time with my friend Denise.  We went about twice, and then Denise found out she was pregnant, and that ended that.  We moved then, from New York to North Carolina and there I met Lisa.  Always coming up with new ideas, Lisa convinced me to give an exercise class one more try. So we set out to Jazzercise.  First of all the drill, I mean dance, instructor must have just returned from washing a company of marine recruits out of the service.  I feared for my life every time I went left when everybody else was going right, which was almost always.So, if you ignore the fact that I was going left when everyone else was going right and that the grapevine step literally entwined my feet together(and I didn’t even have Parkinson’s to blame for that back then) not to mention that two days later, every muscle in my body was crying out in pain,  I guess you could say I had a terrible time.  Never looked back. Never went back.

Then there was the summer Lisa decided we would take a walk every day, only not along a tree-lined  path, but back and forth across the widest part of our Racket and Swim Club swimming pool. Two thirty something ladies, plowing through the water, back and forth.  You get the picture,  Lisa called it water walking but it was more along the lines of dork walking., especially to anyone sitting poolside and trying not to laugh.

But then I discovered a sport I was really semi proficient at  – tennis.  Once again the indefatigable Lisa talked a group of us into taking lessons with the club tennis pro.  He must have been the most patient man on the planet, and he taught us well enough that we were even able to play against our husbands.

Watching tennis players is a sport in itself.  Early on, each of us developed our own style…Lisa would scamper across the court and try for any shot possible, Kathryn would stand at the back of the court and with a mighty swing lob those returns with as little movement as possible. If the ball didn’t fall into her zone,  it wasn’t worth pursuing.  I just  ran around the court  trying not to look too much like a dork and keeping my eye out for that Jazzercise instructor. We were so dedicated to our sport that one time we played as  a hurricane was approaching.  We laughed so hard as the ball, would make sharp right and left turns in its journey across the net.  We continued to play tennis until the Parkinson’s symptoms interfered with my ability to run and after a nasty fall while on vacation,  I decided to hang up my racket.  To everything there is a season…

Next up, I found out that my friend, Kathryn, was walking early every morning around our neighborhood.  Sounded like  a good idea at the time, and so I joined her. For FIVE years we walked diligently, in the dark of winter and the humidity of summer.  We solved not only all of our own problems, but those of the rest of the world as well because we could talk as fast as we walked, but we never lost a pound.  We had read that if you walked three miles a day for five years you would lose 20 pounds.  We decided it must be waiting for the last day to melt away all at once and our svelte, toned bodies would emerge, – but nothing. Nothing lost  (and nothing gained!)  Not even a pat on the back  from the President or the Nobel Peace Prize for solving the world’s problems!

Anyway,during all this time there were two forms of exercise I came across that I actually liked.  One was (in those olden times) a video cassette of a walk at home program  designed by Leslie Sansone.  Now this I could handle.  Walk in place with  a few variations — kicks, knee lifts, side steps and kick backs. I still do them today.  I really like one of her recent ones, now on dvd, in which she adds intervals of an easy jog to the walk.  The music helps you keep the pace and as long as you’re moving, you’re doing okay. Sounds easy, but you do build up a sweat.  I’ve written her to ask if she has ever considered adapting her program for people with movement disorders because I envision a time when I will not be able to keep up with the regular programs.  I hope they do.

The second one was yoga.  I had practiced it for years, and attribute the degree of flexibility I have to it.  Despite the Parkinson’s I am able to bend at the waist and place my hands on the floor next to my feet without bending my knees.   I may not be able to twist myself into  a noodle but I can do downward facing dog and the warrior II poses and my balance, so far,is okay.

Lately I’ve been exploring Tai Chi, and can do simple routines but the more complex ones are beyond my ken.   I also have trouble moving slow enough (odd thing for a Parkie to say) but it’s true. In Tai Chi you move real s-l-o-w.

I round out my exercise routine with cycling and weight lifting.  There is a study being conducted to determine if forced cycling (90 RPMS +) helps Parkinson’s patients with their mobility.  Many claim it’s true so I decided to give it a try, I feel like my gait is smoother, and its great exercise, nevertheless.  I join my husband and son three times a week for weight lifting to keep my muscles strong.

It’s a lot for someone who prefers reading on a chaise lounge or writing this blog,  to getting all sweaty and hot and bothered but, for me, at least, it’s part of my arsenal, helping me to stay focused on taking control and standing firm, and so:

…I prepare for the fight, the battle’s begun
like it or not, there’s nowhere to run
for there is a precious life on the line
though it’s hard to believe… that life is mine
but with bat in hand, I step up to the plate
and I take a good swing, before it;s too late
I hit a home run, it’s out of the park
I consider this,  a very good start
I’m in control and, it’s easy to see
I’ll never let it get the best of me!

Now guess what? Time to exercise.  Hold on Leslie, I’ll be right there.

Pat