Saying in Focus: It’s Never to Late to Learn



Once more I must apologize for falling behind in posting to my blog. I had envisioned my retirement as a nice, leisurely time of life, maybe even having too much time on my hands, but that hasn’t been the case.

I have been able to slow down the progression of my pd  (parkinson’s disease) by keeping abreast of the latest developments and guidance from doctors and physical therapists and implementing them in my daily life.  Exercise of all kinds seems to be one of the most helpful tools, but it does take up time. Recently,  I happened on a website called http://www.invigoratept.com founded by Sarah King, a physical therapist. There is a wealth of information about exercise and nutrition on this site and I have joined Sarah in her challenge to exercise daily, for at least 2.5 hour a week. Today we begin week 3 of the 4 week challenge. She is also doing a series of live videos through her Invigorate Physical Therapy and Wellness Facebook page about nutrition and how what we eat affects pd. I’ve found her links to You Tube video sites of exercises developed specifically for pwp (people with parkinson’s) most helpful.

But physical exercise is only part of the picture. The brain must be exercised as well. My husband, Bill, and son, Steve, and I are into crossword puzzles and word games on our electronic devices, which help me slow down the ‘loss of words’ associated with pd.

I had never mastered Algebra in high school, so I purchased a book entitled “No Fear Algebra”and can actually say it is beginning to make some sense to me. Working out simple equations is like solving a puzzle.

I have always wanted to be able to draw, but was always too intimidated to take a class with other people. But I recently received one of the Great Courses videos – a gift from my husband – on “How to Draw”. This is perfect for me because I can pause the video as often as needed and I don’t have to rush or try to keep up with others. So far I have learned much about line and shape, aggregate shape, volume, figure-ground and positive – negative shape. There are thirty-six lectures with accompanying  lessons so it may be years before I finish.

Finally, throw in my interest in photography, poetry (see previous post for my latest) and reading, and that’s where the time goes. In a sense, having pd has determined the way my retirement will unfold, but if one has to combat a disease, why not learn a little something during the process? After all, it’s never too late to learn.


Staying in Focus: Fun and Fitness at Gram’s

I never know what my granddaughter has in mind to do when she comes to visit. Recently, she decided to transform my kitchen into “ a  Fun and Fitness Center’’.  She gathered various kinds of weight lifting and work out equipment, created a “Hydration Station”, with cups of cold water and red grapes for her customers to enjoy after their work-out. Of course, her customers were her brother, her dad and Bill and I.

I printed pictures for her and she made a book about her new business. She read it to each of us, then we each had to join her book club,write a book and read it to the group. Hands down, grandpa’s was the funniest.

We played with Legos, sent our pirates on a mission to find treasure and watched a movie.  Lots of laughs,giggles and being silly – a perfect grandkids weekend!

IMG_4777IMG_4770 IMG_4767 IMG_4766 IMG_4765 IMG_4764 IMG_4763 IMG_4778 IMG_4780 IMG_4784 IMG_4781 IMG_4782

Being Silly:

IMG_4787 IMG_4786

Focus on the big L – Lifelong Learning

In addition to exercise for the body, we must not forget to exercise our minds.  Now this is the kind of exercise I can get excited about!   No matter what our age or how much education we’ve had, we must continue to challenge our minds if we are to retain a sharp, focused intellect into our golden years.  Just as our bodies are faced with changes as we age, so too is the mind..  And just as forms of physical exercise can keep the aging body agile and fit, so too can exercises for the mind.  Keeping the mind alert and active can help us avoid too many “senior moments” from creeping up on us and  help us retain our independence longer. Keeping our minds challenged can stave off depression and the feeling that life has passed us by. And the best news is, you don’t have to get sweaty and hot and bothered to do it!

There are so man ways to exercise our minds.  Lifelong learning is now easier than ever  before.   From taking continuing education courses at a local community college to solving crossword puzzles, to playing games online, there is a virtual buffet of ways to stay focused  as we age..

One of the best ways to keep the old bean challenged is to learn something new.  If you’ve never gardened before, sign up for a class in that.  How about trying to learn a new language?  Or learn to sew, play chess, play a musical instrument,  make jewelry?  There are limitless possibilities.  By choosing to learn something completely new to us, we challenge our brains to create new pathways and connections, to keep those neurons firing away instead of fading away.

Spending some time each day working on crossword puzzles, word search or suduku puzzles are important in keeping problem solving and logic abilities sharp.  I never felt that I had truly grasped algebra in high school.  Being a word person, I took as little math as I needed to get into college  So I am working on that now.  Practice with both words and numbers is important.

.Games on the computer, like Gardens of Time or Mystery Manor, where you search for hidden objects are fun, and can be a great exercise in focus and concentration.  Or perhaps you’d like to try your hand at Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy..  The more you play these games, the better you get at them and the healthier your brain becomes.  Games like Bejeweled  Blitz or Tetris Battle are great for eye/hand coordination, challenging you to think and respond quickly.  One of my favorite games is that old standby, Scrabble, which you play with friends across the Internet.

Speaking of the Internet, it is a marvelous source of learning, right at your finger tips.  From  taking courses for college credit, to free online access to college classes, such as at open.yale.edu/courses, to those offered by community colleges and public school systems, the possibilities are  endless, With the open Yale courses, you “virtually” sit in on an actual class being conducted at the university.   Never thought you’d get into Yale?  Well now you can — for free!

It can be overwhelming, the amount of information and learning available to us these days, so focus in on a few topics at a time and you’ll be surprised how much you cn learn –  if you put your mind to it!

the bell has rung
the time has come
for us to heed the call
this must be the day
we cast fear away
and climb over that limiting wall
where we will find
freedom of mind
and a wide open road that twists and winds
its way to a future we cannot see
do we stay where it’s safe
where we know our place
or forge with our hands our own destiny?
—   pc 2012

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.


Staying in Focus

I recently came across an essay I had written twenty years ago.  It was titled “Over the Hill and Proud of It.”  In the essay I examined the reality of facing forty. What was I thinking?  What was the big deal?  Now that I am looking sixty in the face, at forty I was still a youngster and quite clueless.  I ended the essay with this conclusion, “We look ahead, not back.  We hatch plans, not regrets.  The hardest part of the climb is over.  We’ve acquired confidence, we  temper life’s ups and downs with humor.  We delight in our wisdom .We’re over the hill and proud of it.  We anticipate all that lies ahead.  And it’s going to be quite a ride — remember it’s all downhill from here.”

While most of that still holds true, in retrospect, it has been the last twenty years that have included life’s greatest challenges for me and brought me a deeper wisdom.  Believe me, I still had a lot of climbing ahead of me, and those downhill rides were terrifying. There have been delights – a new daughter-in-law, two lovely grandchildren, a couple of nice houses, some great vacations, but there have been obstacles I never imagined at forty.   Most of it culminated in 2007, and although I had no idea what was in store, these silent predators  were busy plotting against me.   First of all, out of the blue,  I was hit with terrible social anxiety, which I still deal with today.  And then, in 2007, I was diagnosed with both colon cancer and Parkinson’s disease.  Talk about anticipating all  that lies ahead!  Who anticipates a freight train heading for you at 100 miles an hour?! Hopefully, I’ve got the colon cancer on the run, and the research community is hard at work on better drugs for the Parkinson’s, and perhaps, one day, a cure.  But in the meantime, I’m the one on the front lines in the battle for my life.

This blog is not meant to be about illness and meds and doctors,  or a place for me to whine and bemoan my fate,but rather about staying in focus on the here and now,  living the best life you can and keeping control of your own life.   For me, keeping it all in perspective is paramount, and my sense of humor is a major lifeline.  In addition, there are the three  ps – prose, poetry and photography.  These are my fortresses, the places I go to stay in focus..  Mix in meditation and the big E (exercise) and I am armed and ready for the fight.  You’ll be hearing a lot more about these in the weeks to come..

So, in addition to sharing my experiences with you, I wanted a place to collect my words’ present my photographs and share the crazy thoughts and perspectives that I house in my head,  but most especially to have a place to keep it all in focus.