Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Best Party Ever

By far, the best party ever was "The Run for the Roses" party we hosted in May, and it is one that I would do again or attend in a heartbeat.

Normally, we host events for our church group, and there is no particular theme: we just want to bring together our faith community of friends for informal fun and fellowship. An April trip through Kentucky, though, with a stop at Churchill Downs, inspired my husband and me to plan a party with a Kentucky Derby theme.

It may have been learning that there was really something to "the most exciting two minutes in sports," or it may have been a greater understanding of the history and tradition of the Derby -- I don't know -- we just came back home and the idea just grew.

The Kentucky Derby is always on the first Saturday in May, so with literally less than an month to pull this off, we went to work. Online invitations made it easy to create a theme-appropriate evite. Less easy was organizing how and what we would do once the party gathered. Wanting to have our guests get into the fun of the party, our first idea was to encourage anyone interested in placing a "bet" to download our version of the "racing form," complete it, and send it back before the actual race. There would be prizes for anyone whose horse won -- or who actually scored the trifecta: all three horses in winning order.

As fashion is as big a deal at the Derby as the race itself, guests were invited to dress Derby-style in any way shape or form they chose. A simple (or not so simple hat), elaborate dresses and suits, ties and the like were encouraged, and the guests did not disappoint. I am sorry to say that we did not take photos of our company as they arrived, because it was delightful to see how our group of about a dozen embraced the challenge. My favorite, if I had one, was our friend Dennis who came decked out in a white suit, black string tie and a hat -- clearly the image of Col. Sanders!

For the bill of fare, our potluck assortment included many bourbon-inspired dishes: fruit salad with a bourbon dressing, BBQ ribs, a spicy sausage casserole, Benedictine spread and, of course, Derby Pie.

No Derby event would be complete without the famous Mint Julep, and we did not overlook this important detail. As we are not cocktail drinkers, we had all the ingredients necessary for the potent potable, along with the recipe. Our guests were encouraged to build their own, or just use the pre-mixed Mint Julep we found at the local liquor store.

Completing our party activities were two multiple choice trivia contests: one on the Derby itself and the other on Kentucky history (who would have thought that Johnny Depp was born in Kentucky??). Prizes for winners of these contests, as well as for the race itself included a Southern Living magazine, a bag of glazed pecans, and a bottle of Kentucky bourbon.

The highlight, though, was our Kentucky Bourbon tasting. Anyone who was of a mind could bring a bottle of their favorite Kentucky bourbon for a little competition, and our party closed with our spirited (literally) group enjoying conversation on family, work, life and the Derby.

So for what it is worth, our spur-of-the-moment, themed party was a great success. Bringing together our friends is always fun, and while we do not need a reason to host such gatherings, this one will be remembered for a long, long time. Next year? Well perhaps we will all be inspired to put together a Triple Crown event!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Perfect View (Writing Challenge 6)

The view from my office window does not afford me much in the way of a tremendous scene in as much as it is obscured by a very large leafy tree. From the second story window, though, I am the proud observer of the many weather changes that come and go throughout a workday in Portland and am surprised by the connection I feel to the natural world on the other side of window.

Today the view is green. The tree, with its many long branches rife with leaves of both green and yellow, is dancing as a brisk wind moves through, pushing the branches back and forth. Looking through the sheltered branches closest to my window, I see the wind roughly playing with the branches on the wide open other side.

Occasionally the wind calms to a gentle breeze and the branches slow to imperceptible movement, but the leaves continue fluttering on their limbs. Beyond the tree and across the parking below, three tall fir trees stately stand, guarded, as it were, by several Aspen trees. These trees perform their dance, entertaining the majestic conifers while the wind swirls around them. When the wind picks up, these trees join in the dance, their movements slower, clunkier than their smaller attendants.

On sunny days like today the morning sunlight brightens a flawless blue sky that provides a nice backdrop to the scene. As the day moves, and the sunlight along with it, the blue will deepen its hue, forcing the trees to pop in contrast. At this point in the day I am able to shut off the small desk lamp, as the sun offers ample illumination to my tasks.

I like this view. It matches my moods through the day. The shade afforded in the early morning facilitates the quiet, steady desk and computer work I do. As the light creeps around the building, the perception changes as the light forces its attentions on the tree outside my window, and in sync, my mood shifts to more active tasks -- so much so that by the time I am once again settled at my desk, I feel the sun in its late afternoon westward travel. The wind may have calmed or even died, and the trees, no longer happily dancing, shut down for the evening -- just like me.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Before and After with My Water Container (Writing Challenge Day 5)

Given the fact that the human body is roughly 60% water, you would think that we would naturally gravitate to any and all ways to replenish this vital fluid. Yet many of us don't get close to the amount of water we need on a daily basis. Until a little more than two years ago, I could have been considered among those who avoided water (almost) at all costs.

I really convinced myself that unless there was some fizz to it, I couldn't drink water. Coffee? Sure. Tea - iced or otherwise? You bet! Soda? Ah, soda...there you had me. There was nothing like popping the tab on a can of cold pop to hear the escaping pressure of carbonation, or seeing the bubbles rising to the top as I twisted the cap on a bottle of Diet Coke. And I didn't wait for a reasonable hour of the day to indulge in this, either. While so many others grasped that cup filled with the black gold of coffee as soon as they arose, I was completely happy grabbing  a can of pop.

Of course it did not help that I never really felt thirsty as the day progressed. I would have to say that for the most part, hydrating through the day, be it iced tea, coffee or soda generally was attached to eating something, or, even in an effort to avoid eating something.

A little more than two years ago, I engaged the help of an optimal living coach, with the goal in mind of keeping my (good) health ahead of the aging curve so that I could continue to be Jeannine's primary life manager and ease the burden of my other children who I knew would step up if needed should I crump. It was not an easy decision,  and it was not pretty when, as we progressed through my health assessment, I had the humiliating confirmation that I had no consistent habits of health.

The first thing we tackled was this very issue of hydration. My coach told me that I needed to deep six the pop and replace it with water - half my body weight in ounces each day. Thankfully we put some strategies in place that would facilitate me drinking this much, which is the standard habit of water health. This is when my water container became my favorite thing.

My container is nothing really out of the ordinary: these 24 oz plastic glasses can be found in high-end department stores, coffee bars and dollar stores. Mine has a permanent straw and a screw-on lid. Armed with this, I began this change to healthy hydration -- drinking at least 85 ounces each day.

Ironically, I found that it was really quite easy to dump the soda. As long as I had my container filled with ice water, I was fine. After about a week, I was routinely consuming not only 85 ounces, but 90 ounces or more! There was the slight drawback during that first week of bathroom running, but it was not very long before my body adjusted to the new and improved hydration system, and my "visits to the necessary" decreased.

I also found that my skin looks better. I have had many comments about how I look younger and I even seem to have more energy. I feel better focused on everyday tasks. By taking the container of ice water to bed each night, I can sip on it if I happen to wake up, and seeing it sitting on my nightstand when I get up encourages me to start my hydration routine for the day. The biggest plus, though, is that by making this change to water, I have lost weight and am better able to maintain the loss.

There really has been no downside to having this water container. As a matter of fact, if I happen to forget it, I feel lost without it!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

" I don't know where my manners are. Here it is, nearly 11:30. You must be parched."

This is one of my favorite quotes from The Money Pit. That is not to say that there were a great many other lines from the movie that are equally funny, it is just that this particular line, delivered to perfection by Tom Hanks, pulls together his character's frustration, annoyance and resignation to his growing realization that the house he purchased was a monumental mistake.

Now this could have been written and delivered as one statement, but the fact that it is broken into three separate sentences allows Hanks, as Walter Fielding, to subtly express his bewilderment that the plumber he wants to hire to fix the rotten pipes in "The Pit," actually asks for alcohol so early in the day. The viewer also sees Fielding as the helpless victim -- not a potential customer ready to do business, and who would otherwise have the upper hand -- and the lines give him some measure of control in a situation where he sees himself almost begging for this guy to do the repairs he desperately needs. What is even more funny is that he doesn't even know if the plumber is any good. And of course the plumber is quite oblivious to Walter's remark.

I have used these lines (or a variation thereof) many times in the course of the years. Most of the time they are aimed at Tim whenever I feel that he thinks I have overlooked some minor something in attending to his needs. In these instances, I feel (as Walter did), I have no control of that immediate moment in my life, and this happens to be a great way for me to let it go. Unlike the plumber, Tim is very much aware of having annoyed me, and making this statement allows us to take a moment, relive the scene and then laugh.

So for what it is worth, this is one of the best movies I have seen on many levels: the story itself, the acting (it is Tom Hanks, after all), and a well-written script. Turner Classic Movies suggests it is a loosely done remake of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, and if so, Hanks does a wonderful job recreating the Cary Grant character (Mr. Blandings). While not an apples-to-apples version of the Cary Grant movie, The Money Pit, is a humorous, light-hearted film most people will find enjoyable. There are far too many scenes of both disaster and stupidity to detail here - and far too many funny lines, but this is one movie that I would take the time to view again and again...and actually, I have!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Himaylan Salt Grinder

There really is no end to the healthy eating trends that come and go. One craze, it seems, is using Himalayan Pink Salt in place of regular salt or sea salt, or even the Mediterranean variety. Since beginning my journey to healthier living, I succumbed to the trend and purchased some a while ago because it was supposed to be mineral rich, thereby being of greater nutrient content than the more common white variety. I use it mostly to season cooked food, and not a lot in actual prep (like salting water for pasta, etc.,). The really nice thing is that I found it in crystal form with its own grinder that matches grinders for pepper and regular salt....which is pretty cool.

I have to say that it is really quite beautiful. I bought this grinder at Costco, so you know that there is enough salt to last at least five years. The container itself is more or less cube shaped, about as tall as a dinner knife, clear plastic, mostly, but the grinder at the top is round and black with a narrow cap to catch the fine powdery salt that at one time were pink and dirty white crystals before grinding.

The whole thing is 2/3 container and 1/3 grinder unit. Two of the container sides are smooth and the edges are rounded. A brown, pink and black label on one side identifies the Kirkland Signature Himalayan Pink Salt, and an almost identical label on the opposite side has the requisite ingredient and nutrient facts. It is fairly light in weight and there is an almost imperceptible "give" if the container is squeezed.

The container is now about 1/3 full, so upending it to feed the crystals into the grinder sounds like one of those children's toys that are filled with small beads or pellets -- and if I turn it on its side and try to roll it along the counter, it sounds remarkably like one of the FisherPrice push toys on a stick (remember the FP Vacuum Cleaner???). As I actually use the grinder, which is not so easy to twist, I am reminded of the sound made when trying to turn the handle on the penny gumball machines commonly found at the entrances to grocery stores when I was growing's versions are filled with M&Ms and cost a quarter!

Unlike the pepper, the salt has no scent, so the container has no odor -- although there have been times when I have wiped it down with a cleaning cloth so that it doesn't smell like the salmon (or any other raw protein) I had been handling. Ten or so twists on the grinder creates about a 1/2 teaspoon of finely ground salt, which, when tasted, is not as pungent as its more common variety.

I really have no clue if my health is better for using Himalayan Pink Salt, but I have to say that it does look neat standing proudly on the counter at the back of my cooktop next to the Kirkland Signature Black Pepper Grinder and the now less-favored Kirkland Signature Mediterranean Sea Salt Grinder.

"Born This Way" ........or Not

Young adults born with Down syndrome pursue their passions while defying society's expectations. 

The statement above is the synopsis for the "docu-series" Born This Way.  At my daughter Mary's suggestion, I watched an episode of the program because she thought I would enjoy seeing how a group of seven young adults with Down syndrome interact with each other and the world. She also thought I would appreciate the connection between the cast and Jeannine. After viewing the episode, I have concluded that there are some significant problems with what is presented.

First, it was difficult to watch the episode "Bachelor Pad" without feeling pretty much like a failure. Two of the young men, Sean and Steven, are buddies and their parents decide that it is time for them to exert some independence. They find them an AirBNB house to rent, and, having enlisted the services of a company that provides live-in support, Sean and Steven move in together.

Of course the plan is not without its bumps: Steven packs everything except his pants, and both young men want dibs on the same bedroom. Sean wins the room in the end, but his mother makes certain that he knows he will have to compromise when the next conflict comes.

The fascinating thing about this was the scene where the guys are sitting down to a burrito lunch they prepared themselves and opened up to each other about being nervous living without their parents on site. Could I see Jeannine in a similar situation? I don't know...I might be able to see her living independently from me, but I certainly could not see her expressing herself with the insight these two men did.

In a side story, John, who wants to pursue a career in entertainment as an R&B songwriter-singer-dancer, performs at an event and his mother comes right out and tells him she was disappointed. Ahead of his performance, she tried to encourage him to practice, but to no avail...and his performance showed it. She was all about how he could do better and she knew it. To his credit, he said he did not want to disappoint her and the "next time" he would be better. Again, could I see Jeannine making a choice to do something -- and do something well -- simply because she did not want to disappoint me? Nope. The flaw here is not that these wonderful people do not have dreams and aspirations. They do. Jeannine does. But what they see in their dreams most people believe are attained simply because they want it. There is no hard work, practice, training and discipline. It just happens.

I see this quite often with Jeannine. Her latest passion is that she wants to participate in Special Olympics swimming for the first time in several years. Inspired by the events of the latest Olympic Games, she is determined to swim as well as Katie Ledecky and win as many gold medals as Michael Phelps. While she is a decent swimmer, having won her share of medals and ribbons from past meets, the reality is that others can and have surpassed her in skill and speed. When gently suggesting that she do more during the limited swim practices than hang on the side of the pool chatting with others, she becomes irritated; yet she sees herself swimming with speed and ease, earning that precious gold medal.

Then there is Elena, a young woman of Japanese descent, who not only deals with Down syndrome, but, like so many others, has to work through other emotional issues. In this episode, she talks with her mom about her emotional "roller coaster" and in the end, agrees to start some medication that might help get her emotions under better control. Do I believe Jeannine has that insight into herself, her moods, her emotions? Do I believe that most people with Down syndrome have that great capacity of self reflection that leads them to a conclusion like Elena's to do something to help make their situation better? I just don't see it happening in the majority of instances.

So for what it is worth, it was really depressing to watch Born This Way. I kept trying to tell myself that this could not be real: these people with Down syndrome could not have such great insight into who they are, with an ability to articulate how they are feeling.  I wonder how much of this was true and how much was scripted. I kept trying to see myself having these sorts of conversations with Jeannine, but the reality is that she does not have that maturity shown by these characters in the program. My conclusion is that either these wonderful individuals who happen to have Down syndrome must function at a much higher level than most, or, there is much more going on behind the scenes of this "docu-series" than the viewing audience is given to understand. Perhaps, though, the fault is all mine for making choices for Jeannine throughout her life that maybe did not allow for her to develop to the fullest all her wonderful talents and abilities....but I doubt it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Fine Skill of Reading Aloud

Part of the fun of social media sites like Facebook has to be reconnecting with people and places from my childhood. There is a Facebook group of hundreds of people who "Grew Up in Overland Park," and the memories that brings when someone posts a photo or a news clipping from some part of my growing up years there is such fun.

A closer-knit group I see on Facebook are those of my classmates (and teachers) from both grade and high school. It, too, is wonderful to jog our memories of times past -- sometimes happy, sometimes embarrassing -- but always interesting to me. One of the nicest connections I have made in recent months is with my third grade teacher, Mary Wiles. While I have had many teachers who have inspired and challenged me; some who I never appreciated either as an educator or human being, Miss Wiles was just plain kind. She had a way of engaging me in learning that I (obviously) never forgot.

Perhaps the best memory I have of time spent in Room 103 were those afternoons after noon recess when she read to the class. Be it a hot Kansas spring or snowy winter, it was pleasant to sit and listen as she read from one of the books from the school library.

My favorite was St. Therese and the Roses by Helen Walker Homan. I could not say why I recall this so clearly, except that it had to have been the most perfectly written children's book on a saint I had ever seen. I remember Miss Wiles, whose voice was soft, kind and friendly, reading perhaps a chapter each afternoon, and I would hang on every word. It was amazing to me how this great saint could be brought to life first in the way the story was written, but even more so as Miss Wiles read it out loud to the some 32 of us in the class.  I still recall hearing about St. Therese as a small child, and how in childlike simplicity wondered why that little "baby Jesus wouldn't toss that ball He was holding" to her, even after she "promised" to toss it back to Him. Of course, as an adult I understand that she was referring to a statue of the Infant of Prague, who holds the world in His hand, but at the time I remember thinking how incredible it was that a child as young as she was would like "to play catch" with the Little Infant.

More than that, though, it was evident that Miss Wiles was as engaged in the story as any of us. Some parts she read with enthusiasm -- especially when Therese approached the Pope to petition joining the convent as a young teen; at others, particularly when the young saint lost her mother to cancer, she read with sadness and pain -- as if she were there witnessing the event.

It wasn't too long before the story came to a close, with the beloved saint promising to "shower the earth with roses" after her death. In the weekly visit to the library, I remember searching for that hardbound book with the blue cover and the simple illustrations scattered throughout the story. I wanted to hold it in my hands and read the words that Miss Wiles had brought to life.

I know that I checked the book out multiple times during my grade school years; I never tired of rereading the blessed life of this young saint.

So for what it is worth, I don't believe that I was ever much of a reader before third grade; it only took one very compelling and well-written story, read with simplicity by one of my favorite teachers to spark an interest in the written word that I still have today. Amazing.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

In the Clinic with Pandora

When we first opened Cleary Medical in 2004, the office design included a sound system that allowed either radio or CD music to play throughout the office. Once settled into a daily routine, I quickly discovered that the CD option was cumbersome. The player did not shuffle the songs between the CDs in the player and then Jeannine figured out how to have songs repeat. Not amusing to keep hearing Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" for an hour or so until the song was stuck in your head for three days.

The challenge for the radio was finding a radio station that satisfied both employees and patients. I would have been happy with the classical music station, but the signal was too weak for a clear connection. Employees preferred the harder rock stations, but Tim did not think his elderly patients would appreciate it. After some trial and error, we settled on a middle-of-the-road station that was popular in most offices and businesses in the Portland metro area.

The "soft rock" station worked worked well for us for many years until last Christmas season when the station decided to play nothing but Christmas music from November 1 to December 26.  In the years leading up to this, the station would start interspersing Christmas songs throughout the day, beginning the day after Thanksgiving, and then reserve a 24-hour Christmas music marathon starting Christmas Eve -- they even had a catchy little title "A K--- Musical Christmas Card" to promote it. Last year, though, they started playing Christmas songs just after Halloween and full-blown 24-hour Christmas music from Thanksgiving to the day after Christmas.

Coupled with the preprogrammed run of music that cycled over and over though the day during the regular course of the year, we finally had it, and began searching for options. We considered purchasing programs like Sirius, but it was an expense I really did not want to incur. Then I discovered Pandora. What a really nice app! Like Celtic music? have a station! Weird Al?...there it is! Zither music?'re covered! Not that I am interested in any of these styles, I was just amazed that there was a station for them (or that there was a following for zither music). I settled on the "Solo Piano Station" because it was easy on my ears, not distracting, no singing....just soothing music. Since no one complained, I won an easy victory!

Not gifted with a mind that quickly grasps technology, but very high on getting things off my "to do" list, I opted for the lazy-person's version of piped music and put my iPad in a strategic place concealed in the waiting area. I downloaded the free version of Pandora and we were set to go. It seemed, though, that no matter where I placed it, patients would typically find it and ask if someone had left it. To another point, the free version peters out after an hour or so and it became a chore to unearth the iPad and restart it. The other problem was that, while the sound quality was quite exceptional, it wasn't playing throughout the office, and when on the highest volume setting, it was really loud in the waiting room.

I decided that I would place it in the back office hallway where the music could diffuse in a larger space. This way, any phone conversations, patient conversations and the like were less likely to be overheard. Even though I still had to restart the program every so often, it was much better than the waiting room option. We have been using this for months now and it works very well.

The program has also been a source of practical joking as once Andrew and I changed the station to "Celtic Music" and our ever-so-British Danika almost immediately called us on it, saying she thought the music was depressing and please change it spite of the fact that on occasion the Solo Piano Station we will occasionally play an instrumental version of "Scotland the Brave" (and we take great delight in increasing the volume just to annoy Danika.

So for what it is worth, while the "thrifty" version of Pandora has its drawbacks in terms of starting and restarting the program, it is yet another way staff connects with me. When the iPad goes silent, it is usually the cue for me to call out, "Are we 'STILL LISTENING'?"....and more often than not, Andrew will chime back, "Still listening!" as he opens the iPad and restarts the music.