Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Grandma was an alien?

We called my maternal grandmother, Nonna (duh, it's the Italian word for grandmother).  Since my mom was the youngest of seven children, having been born when my Nonna was 40, and my mom did not get married until she was almost 30, I remember Nonna only as an old woman.
She was tiny, wiry and carried this black rubber cord called 'licorice'.  Getting licorice was not a good thing.  It meant getting your hands slapped.  She made great homemade pasta and meatballs (they were sooooo tender).  Her English was not great and we mostly communicated with her through my mom and Aunt Mary, who lived with her.
She was pretty stern -- she was not the hugging, laughing, building self-esteem type of grandmother.  I now realize that her life was not easy.  She left her mother in Italy and came to a foreign country.  She took three of her oldest children back to Italy for a visit and her oldest child died there from the flu.  Can you imagine?   I found her passport recently that showed her embarking with three children, with a notation upon her re-entry into the US that one had died.   Her husband died when my mom was a senior in high school, in 1938. 
I also found her alien registration card from 1942.  At that point, it is noted that she had lived in the United States for 35 years and 9 months.   We also found a notarized affidavit from Ann Street Radio in Homestead, attesting to the fact that her Zenith radio had its short wave coils disconnected, making "the radio completely dead and inoperative on all short wave bands." 
My brother remembers my mom telling him this story.  Apparently, my grandmother and her radio constituted a threat to national security.  What an indignity.  The Japanese, many of whom had been on American soil just as long or longer endured much worse. 
What a different life she had.  It would be so good to be able to have just one conversation with her to understand more.  Hoping to fill in some gaps in family history at the upcoming reunion. 

Sorting through Stuff: The Old (new) Scoop on Diabetes

Going through someone else's stuff is one of those paradoxical life experiences.  In Adriana Tragliani's book, "Lessons from My Grandmothers", one of their lessons is "Leave Your Children Your Values, Not Your Stuff."  
I have been on the receiving end of lots of stuff.  Between JB and me, we have inherited housefuls of stuff.   We are having a family reunion next week, and I find myself going through photos and documents that I would like to display. 
Yesterday I came across the 'PIttsburgh Bus and Trolley Guide' from 1937-1938.  It is a tiny compendium that includes the Pittsburgh Pirates schedule, lists of area parks and movie theaters, information about bus and trolley lines and yes, health information.  It is chock full of useful information like how to tell unhealthy from healthy urine and even includes a page in Polish and one in Italian for the then-dominant local ethnic population.  The primary sponsor/advertiser was the Varec Institute, which appears to be the forerunner of what we would recognize as today's retail medicine clinic.  It had daily (even Sunday!) office hours and "was organized by duly licensed physicians to provide relief from sickness at the lowest possible cost consistent with good medical treatment."
Curious about what this guide might say about our modern scourge of diabetes, I found the following:
"Acidosis and Diabetes are Twin Health Destroyers
Americans are rapidly becoming a race of Diabetics due to the excessive consumption of sweets and starches. 
We can offer prompt and permanent relief providing you will cooperate in following diet restrictions and coming regularly for office treatment and remedies.  When the patient has sugar constantly present in the urine, we have a fully developed case of diabetes.  We reserve the right to reject these advanced cases, for insulin is the proper palliative remedy and should be regulated and administered under the watchful care of your family physician."(my note -- yea -- dump the really sick people on someone else).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Is Yoga a Religion?

Once at the end of a Sunday morning yoga class, a woman blurted out, "This is sooo much better than church!". That memory has stuck with me. Churches struggle with how to attract young people. Young people, especially young women, flock to yoga. 
After more than three years and hundreds of classes, I remain perplexed about what yoga really is.  One thing for sure, any type of exercise that can be done lying down is inherently appealing to me.
It seems there are yoga studios popping up everywhere.  As a business opportunity, it has a pretty low barrier to entry.  Not a lot of capital investment.  Two hundred hours of training and one can become a yoga instructor.  All it takes is an empty room and some mats, blocks and blankets.  Poof, it's a yoga business.
Since anyone with some training can become an instructor, there is wide variation in the quality and content of a yoga class.  Some include chanting and esoteric discussions about yoga sutras, in studios decorated with statues of Buddha and Buddhist flags.    Others would make Jane Fonda feel right at home, with lots of  lunges, twists and aerobic level routines.  Some include meditation, with readings.  Some conclude with physical relaxation techniques, of the relax your head, relax your neck, etc, working their way through the body.  One of my oldest and funniest yoga class memories happened on a family vacation at a dude ranch in Montana.  The instructor was going through the parts of the body to relax, including a request that we relax our kidneys.
Afterwards, a physician in the class observed wryly that, "if I relaxed my kidneys, I'd pee on the floor!" 
Then there are the gurus.  While the vast majority of yoga instructors in this community are women, the 'names' in yoga are more typically men.  Rodney Yee, John Friend, Max Strom and Bikram Choudhury are just a few of those who have followings.  And Choudhury has copyrighted and franchised his approach, hence, 'Bikram' yoga was born.  
Some people claim that those who practice yoga and claim to be Christians are on the path to spiritual ruin.  The Catholic newspaper of our diocese ran an article about a local 'PraiseMoves' instructor.  I tried a couple of her classes.  The poses were given new names and the routines are liberally sprinkled with biblical passages.  She was very kind, very sincere and very convinced of the value of PM as the Christian alternative to yoga.  But PraiseMoves is a franchise too, requiring its own teacher training and certification. 
Catholic bishops and pastors have been known to ban yoga classes.  But Catholic retreat centers also offer yoga classes and yoga retreats.  I know, I attended one earlier this year taught by a Paulist priest, Father Thomas Ryan who is a Kripalu trained yoga instructor. 
In the Introduction to his book, "Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice", he explains that Kripalu was, until 1985, a Jesuit novitiate.   But the Jesuits had to downsize due to the lack of recruits.  Now, Father Ryan points out, hundreds of people reside in a celibate community, and accept a simple lifestyle under the direction of a guru.  In a further bit of irony, he notes that a mosaic of St. Ignatius Loyola looks down upon people who are largely in the 20-45 age range, a population coveted by church pastors, who largely minister to a significantly older group. 
His writings and retreats are based on integration of yoga with Christian spirituality.  He heads a Center dedicated to interfaith understanding and has apparently not been kicked out of the priesthood or  summoned to Rome for retraining.
This morning I went to Mass and then to Gentle Yoga. I'm sticking with both. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy Anniversary

On August 15, 2010, I started logging my exercise, nothing fancy, just using the 'notes' on my IPhone. Most experts in lifestyle change advocate writing things down, and the Weight Watchers program incorporates 'tracking'.   Tracking, either on paper or on WW etools, has never been my strong suit.  But today, I celebrate the first anniversary of my exercise log.  Back when I was first diagnosed, Dr. Natalie, in discussing exercise, said it was not optional.  Or rather, not exercising is not an option.  And so I do. 
The advantage of recording is that you have a record.. duh!   Reviewing it tells a story.  Lapses?  Sure.   But a review of the log shows 65 yoga classes and 184 walking entries.  Perfect?  No.
I am no longer seeking perfection, only consistency. 
BTW, my A1C went from 7.9 to 6.5.
Dr. Natalie is happy and so am I. 
Heading to Yoga tonight. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Church Sign Seen on Vacation

How's this for lifestyle change wisdom? Laws are never as effective as habits.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


All families must have some unique expressions.  My mother would say, when speaking of someone who was ill, that they were "doctoring".  Outside of our family unit, I never heard that phrase.  It was a bad thing, this doctoring stuff.   In her experience, no one who was feeling well would ever go the the doctor.  None of this preventive medicine or annual checkups or vaccines for my parents.  Looking back, it may have been a result of their upbringing where there would not have been doctors around.  Or perhaps because we were uninsured.  My dad was self-employed.  For him, health insurance was a luxury, not a necessity.  And going to a doctor was an expense to be avoided. 
For years I pretty much felt the same way.  Oh, having babies necessitated having a doctor.   After that, I avoided them too.  Ignorance can be bliss, at least in the short term.
Now I find that I am 'doctoring', going for things like blood work, taking pills, and having regular doctor visits.  I have one coming up on Monday with Dr. Natalie, my PCP.  Facing reality comes with these visits because while she is certainly empathetic, there is an element of judgment that comes with the inevitable reporting of numbers.  A1C, cholesterol, weight, body mass index, blood pressure, etc. I dread these visits. 
Just came home from a birthday party in the neighborhood.  Social events now have an element of dread to them as well even when they are happy occasions.  I find myself engaged in a dialogue with myself about what I should and should not eat.   If asked to name my five favorite foods, without thinking the first two would come out as birthday cake and then ice cream!     Perhaps knowing that I will face the scale on Monday morning, I managed to avoid them.  Four diet cokes and a big cup of coffee helped fill my stomach and occupy my hands.  Hoping for some better numbers this visit. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Maine Idea (Running Away from Rome, Part Two)

Clare says that Maine has more coastline than California. She recommended Camden as a good spot to stay for the Lobster Fest.   And Dolly recommended taking in the view of the harbor from the Camden Deli.  The photo above is trom the upper deck of the deli.  Clare didn't know about specific places to stay; I found the Maine Stay Inn through a combination of Internet and phone calls.  What a find.  
As I mentioned in Part One of the story, Maine Stay is owned by Roberta and Claudio, an Italian couple from Rome.   In a kind of reverse of Frances Mayes' search for a villa in Tuscany that resulted in finding Bramasole and Cortona, Roberta and Claudio looked for an American B&B.  Rome is now a place they visit, not live. 
It was a pleasure to chat with Roberta.  I told her that I found her story fascinating.  She explained that Roman traffic (their commuting time) and tourists (she quoted a number in the millions) made them want to make a change.  She said they had traveled all over the United States, ruled out California because of earthquakes and looked at around 30 B&Bs. 
They wanted a real home, making their search more complicated since owning a B&B often involves living "above the store."  At Maine Stay, there is a renovated barn attached and they have their own space. 
They have infused Maine Stay with paintings and prints and there are beautiful antique pieces of furniture from their home in Italy.   The picture below is one of the parlors and you get a sense of the way they have integrated their homeland in their now home. 

I feel at home anywhere an image of Venice is displayed.  My dad bought a picture of St. Mark's Square that hung over our living room sofa for as long as I can remember.  I think he got it at K-Mart; but he loved the scene.  My aunt and uncle who lived up the street had a similar one.  When we were selling my parents house, Martin rescued it from the dumpster and it now hangs in his apartment.
Roberta is stylish and energetic; Claudio is soft-spoken and gracious.  The B&B is a lot of work Roberta offered, but added, "I love it."  "Visit the gardens", she said.  When another guest asked her about the wicker furniture on the sun porch, she explained that she would be repainting it over the winter.  We stayed in the third floor suite, with two bedrooms.  Roberta had recently converted it from three separate rooms.
There were so many thoughtful touches to the Inn and the grounds.  Fresh cut flowers, homemade cookies and lemonade in the pantry, quiet gathering spaces in the gardens, books about the house and the area and hot-cooked breakfasts.   The artichoke quiche and home made granola with strawberries as well as the scones were extra special. 
It was lovely.  For more on the Inn, visit

Monday, August 1, 2011

Lobster Fest 2011

When we arrived at Friendship, Maine, Dolly was just about to set out for the dock to pick up the lobster.   She was gathering styrofoam coolers and chests and we decided to tag along.  In a kind of entourage, some of us on foot and Dolly and Brenda in the car, we made our way to a space where Arnold, the lobsterman, greeted us.  He must be a kind of local celebrity.  Dolly told him that she had purchased a photo of him just that morning during the Friendship Days celebration.  He is pictured on the dock,  with the sea and his work space as background, and the caption reads, "The Office". 
Fifty-five lobster were carried in buckets and then transferred to the coolers.  Still alive, their claws were confined by rubber bands that I was told would come in handy later as guests used them to ping each other.  I don't understand the chemical reaction that makes live lobsters look black and cooked lobsters red. 
As we were leaving, Arnold shared some pictures of a magazine photo shoot (I think he said Vogue) with gorgeous models positioned against the backdrop of Arnold's 'office'. 
In my previous post, I mentioned that Dolly hosts this annual Lobster Fest, a friend and family annual reunion of sorts.  It is the best kind of holiday, one created by a group of friends and family with its own food and traditions.  One of the guests told me that they have been gathering for 16 years and the tradition actually dates back to Dolly's late mother. 
This year, there were a few newbies like us, others who have attended sporadically and some real regulars, for whom this is an annual homecoming.  It was an eclectic mix of ages, geographies, and personalities and we had a splendid time.  Never having taken apart a whole lobster, I would have been lost but for the man at my right who showed me the proper way to extract that sweetest of seafood from the shell and how to crack its claws.  After a few minutes of chatting, I realized that the man at my right was someone I knew slightly professionally  years ago and we reconnected over lobster lessons. 
It was a joy to be part of this special group for a day and to experience a day in the Maine village called most appropriately, Friendship.  Thank you, Dolly.