GRATITUDE

GRATITUDE

As I began this year, I set in motion a monthly challenge.  In January, my plan was to commit to daily meditation.  Dan Harris insisted that doing this would make me 10% happier.  I don’t know that I can quantify my degree of happiness. However, I had no idea how much I would benefit from not only beginning the practice but continuing it.

The second thing I started in January was re-reading, “Simple Abundance.”  It is a daily reading and is a delightful accompaniment to meditation.  A significant key to Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book is to consciously be thankful for what you have in your life.  She even recommends keeping a “Gratitude Journal.”

Three months later, I  sit in isolation in my office amid a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 20,000 Americans and infected more than 525,000.  Every state of the union has reported cases.  On March 22, my brother passed away suddenly (not from Covid-19), and later that day, in one of my less graceful movements, I tripped over Ted (the cat) and went flying face-first into a wall.  Fortunately, I was only hospitalized for a couple of days.  I still have a hematoma over my right eye, although the right side of my face and my neck are no longer one large bruise.

“So,” you ask, “you’ve decided to write about gratitude?”

Earlier this week, I was listening to GMA in the morning, and Robin Roberts repeated something her mother used to say, “You can’t put a limit on gratitude.”  Now admittedly, my last 30 days have not been the most joyful, and I’m not even remotely Pollyannaish.  However, thanks to my Gratitude Journal, I have found at least 5 things per day for which I can be grateful.  On days when the stars seem to be out of alignment, I can still be grateful for my health, my home, my pets (even when they trip me), my family, and friends.  Looking at the news, I see people lining up for miles to get food; people hospitalized unable to have visitors to cheer them (talk about isolation!).

So, in answer to your question, “Yes, I choose to write about gratitude.”  I believe gratitude is a choice we can all embrace — even when nothing seems to be going well.   John-Baptiste Massieu, a bishop during the French Revolution, and also a deaf educator, suggested that “Gratitude is the Memory of the Heart.”  It’s Easter and Passover — what better time to fill your heart with gratitude?

THE GOLDEN BOY

THE GOLDEN BOY

What follows is a slightly edited post from June 23, 2018.  It was my brother’s birthday. On Sunday, March 22, Harlley Ellsworth McKean passed peacefully.

When he was young, he would tag after his big brother to a vacant field, where the neighborhood boys played softball. A towhead, he always seemed to end up playing outfield. Inevitably a long drive would head to the outer reaches of the park, and he would race after it. That is until he suddenly vanished.

Face it! It wasn’t the best ballpark in the world, and the “outfield” was a composite of high grass and deep holes. The last anyone would see of the boy as he raced after the fly ball, arms outstretched, was his blond hair literally disappearing from view. It was no accident; he played outfield. Yes, it’s tough being the younger sibling.

Years later, as Ted told this tale of his brother’s softball prowess, he bestowed upon him the moniker, “Golden Boy.” It stuck.

Good things happen to those who wait. As Har was about to enter his teens, along came a younger sister, and the Golden Boy began to nurture a wicked side he had never displayed before. Now, he was the oldest, and teasing his younger sister was a right of passage. While at the movies watching “The Wizard of Oz, he pestered her, pretending he was a winged monkey ready to fly her away. The theater was filled with a child’s voice yelling, “Stop it, Harlley!”

On another occasion, he enlisted a pal to pull dollars off our elm tree. The two insisted that it was a “money tree.”  At first, I didn’t believe it, stating, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”  But the guys persisted,  “this particular tree is magic.”  They even let me find $1.00.  Do you have any idea how disappointing it was to find out that was not true? I’m still suffering.

Our lives were woven together loosely as many years were spent apart. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Har was at Cornell College, followed by attending graduate school at Purdue University. I was in high school, then college, and later working in downtown Chicago.

However, our lives intersected again in 1968. We both moved to California, he was up in Berkeley, and I was down in Palo Alto. While in the Bay Area, we often visited. Sometimes we were sailing in San Francisco Bay, on other occasions we enjoyed the pool at my apartment, and of course, there were visits to the wine country. We relished the freer culture that was northern California. Even after he moved back to Purdue, we managed to meet up for the Rose Bowl game in Pasadena.

Over the years, we’ve lived both near and far apart, having many adventures, and we’ve always remained close. It’s been a long road from childhood to today. There have been joyful times, and as life would have it, times of sorrow as well. Through it all, we’ve been each other’s support and may not have physically carried one another, but we did indeed lift one another emotionally.

With our long journey in mind, I’m reminded of Bob Russell’s lyrics.

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

REST IN PEACE BRO’

WHAT’S YOUR VISION?

WHAT’S YOUR VISION?

At the last meeting of our WomenHeart Group, we gathered stacks of old magazines, pictures, postcards, quotations, scissors, glue, and used our imaginations to create individual Vision Boards.  Andee and Annie brought some 9 x 12 boards that, when finished, could be hung on the wall.  We had an hour and a half to create a vision of our lives.

Better than a resolution, a Vision Board is a reminder of what’s essential in your life.  The idea came to us via our HeartSister Caridad.  In addition to heart disease, Cari had several other serious health issues. She told us about her Vision Board. It had words of encouragement, pictures of loved ones, and a photograph of the beach – a place Cari associated with peace and serenity. The first thing every morning, she would look at it.  It would lighten her load and help her start her day with feelings of thankfulness.

In January 2017, we had our first VB party.  At the end of a delightful evening,  we shared our completed projects.  Here is Cari with her Vision Board along with Annie de Velasco, Andee Weiner, and me.  What a lovely moment.

This year, the inspiration for my Vision Board started with two books.  Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, by Sarah Ban Breathnach, is a book I read years ago and decided to revisit.  Each day there is a passage to read, and each month she suggests small activities to enrich the reader’s life, called “Joyful Simplicities.”  The second book by Jennifer Ashton, M.D, was published recently and titled, “The Self-Care Solution.”  Dr. Ashton set in motion personal monthly challenges, which would help improve her life.

Why these books?  For years I’ve been reading “how-to” books.  And, yes, I often learned how to do something better.  Alternatively, these books dived into how to better care for me, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually.

My vision board (shown below) is hanging in my office, which is currently filled with clutter.  Is it any wonder it has the words “less clutter” prominently displayed?  Looking like a title at the top of a page, I’m reminded to “Enjoy Life.  It has an expiration date.”  My blog is noted, as are the two books starting me on my journey, and my self-care monthly challenges.  In my first month, I delved into meditation.  That was so satisfying, I’m continuing it daily.

One thing that’s difficult to read in this picture, but really spoke to me are the words, “Instead of focusing on a to-do list, start a to be list.  Things I want to be:  Happy, Calm, Loving, Healthy, Awesome.”  As an A-Type personality,  I’m thinking not being driven by my to-do list is going to take some extra work.

So there is my vision for 2020.  It is said, visualization is a powerful mind exercise.  I’ll have to get back to you next year and let you know how strong my vision is.

In the meantime, here are some suggestions for your Vision Board.  Focus more on how you want to feel — not merely on things you want.  Use pictures, words, photographs, even trinkets.  There aren’t any rules.  Come back next year and let me know how you did.

It’s Heart Month!

It’s Heart Month!

Editor’s Note:  As a WomenHeart Champion, I tell “My Heart Story” to educate women about heart disease.  The following message was delivered at the Alpha Kappa Alpha Professional Women’s Sorority in Miami Gardens, Florida.

On Martin Luther King’s birthday in 2016, I awoke at about 12:30 am with a horrific toothache. I got out of bed and meandered into the kitchen to get some water. I was incredibly tired. After a few moments, the pain began to subside. In my exhaustion, I thought, “I must have imagined that,” and I headed back to bed. I had just experienced two symptoms of a heart attack — referred pain in my jaw and extreme fatigue.

About 4 to 5 hours later, the “toothache” returned. I wondered, “Could this be heart-related?” My birth mother had died of a heart attack at the age of 48.  It was early in the morning, but in this marvelous age of technology, Dr. Google is an on-call go to. My diagnosis was that I may be or may not be having a heart attack. Deciding not to rely on indecision, I contacted my physician as soon as her office opened. She said, “Go to the ER and don’t drive yourself.”  The Emergency Room physician confirmed I had indeed had a heart attack.

Fast forward almost one year to the date. I was exercising in Cardiac Rehab when I noticed some pressure in my jaw. It wasn’t pain — just pressure or heaviness in my lower jaw. I asked a nurse to take my blood pressure. It was elevated, but for someone who was working out, that would be expected. I explained what had happened and was told to contact my cardiologist.

Within a week, I was in the Cardiac Cath lab again, my left anterior descending artery (sometimes referred to as the widow maker) was 95% occluded and was stented. I had avoided a second heart attack.

Our bodies are truly remarkable.  They talk to us — sometimes in unusual ways.  Heart attacks vary in intensity and symptomatically.  While some come on suddenly, many have warning signs, hours, days, or even weeks in advance. Here are some symptoms:

    • Pressure, pain or tightness in your chest, arms, neck, or jaw
    • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Cold sweat
    • Fatigue
    • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness

Do not ignore these signs.

I get it, we are all busy. Perhaps you have a stressful job, or you’re taking care of the family (often both), and for many in the sandwich generation, you’re taking care of parents.  Women find themselves focused on everyone and everything else, disregarding signals our bodies are sending.

Here is my message to all of you. The next time your body speaks to you, pay attention, whether it’s SHOUTING at, or whispering to you, LISTEN! You may not get a second chance.

MY GREAT GATSBY

MY GREAT GATSBY

Approximately 20 years ago, some neighborhood children knocked at my door.  They were looking for someone to adopt five kittens.  Their story was, the mother died, and they needed to find homes for the babies.  OK, I admit it, I’m a sucker when it comes to abandoned animals.  I found homes for two of the kitties, that left me with three, who later became Scarlett, Melanie, and Gatsby.

Initially, I feared Gatsby had mange.  His fur was falling out, and he was a bit of a mess.  I rushed him to the vet, who explained that being the runt of the litter, the other kittens were probably sleeping on him, while he was on the moist ground.  I brought the little fellow home and bathed him.  That was all he required, and within a short time, he had the most beautiful tuxedo coat.

Gatsby grew into his name and was a “great” cat — affectionate and friendly, except where lizards and the occasional small bird were concerned.  He’d bring home his gifts to mom, and I’d cry out in horror.  He’d roll his eyes and shake his head as if to say, “Really?  I’m a cat. This is who I am!”

As the years moved on, this handsome guy showed signs of aging.  The black and white tuxedo became more grey and white.  Then last year, he appeared to have a mild stroke.   Initially, he had problems walking, but with time, his movement and balance improved.

Today, my sweet boy started meowing loudly.  He was confused and didn’t seem to know where he was.  As I observed him, it became apparent he could not see.

My vet confirmed his vision was all but gone.  Perhaps it was another stroke, we couldn’t be sure.  After consultation with the doctor, I decided it was time to let my Gatsby go.   I held him as he fell into his last sleep.

Goodnight, dear, sweet Gatsby.