Making Lemonade

Making Lemonade

Editor’s note:  The following is a speech given at the Miracle Mile Toastmasters Club on July 13, 2017.

We all experience events which render us vulnerable – as if caught in a vortex, incapable of controlling everything swirling around us. At moments like this we find ourselves thinking, “How will I survive?”

In her book, “Option B,”  Sheryl Sandberg states, “We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events.”  What are the narratives we tell ourselves about the event?  Are we personalizing it – perhaps even blaming ourselves? Do we believe the event is pervasive – that it will affect all areas of our lives? Do we tell ourselves that we will feel like this forever? The negativity of the 3P’s (personalization, pervasiveness and permanence) can impede our ability to recover.

I have 3 stories to tell you. In my first, he is 33 years old, 6’ 11” and a remarkable basketball player.  One of the Heat’s Big Three, he was number 1 in more ways than one.  In 2014, the first sign of a career ending problem – pulmonary emboli were found in his lungs.  Imagine that.  When most people his age are in careers that are just taking off, his was coming to an abrupt end.  The game he loved, that was his passion would continue, but without him.  In May, it was announced that Chris Bosh and The Heat would part ways.  In July, Chris wrote on his website,  ( an extraordinary open letter to Miami.

He spoke of the support he’d received from his family, teammates, coaches, fans and the entire community.  He thanked Miami for welcoming and encouraging him as “we” traveled together on this journey.  While he spoke of his discouragement and “down” moments, he somehow broke through the 3 P’s and made a conscious effort to dwell on all the wonderful moments he had here.

Wow!  Chris Bosh took a bunch lemons and made lemonade.

My second story is about someone who is part of our Miracle Mile family – Susan Racher.  Some of you are aware of her story – some not.  Susan has an MBA in accounting and finance, and is Vice President of the Walter H. Coulter Foundation.  As such she is in charge of the endowment’s investment portfolio and has experience in obtaining grants.  Little did she know that these skills would help her in a larger way.

A few years ago, her son became ill and was hospitalized.  As Susan puts it, “if he had kidney stones there would have been a good deal of support.”  However, her son had a mental illness.  There were support groups for families overwhelmed by other illnesses, but nothing to support families of people with mental illness.  As a family member who was dealing with new problems and concerns, Susan recognized the need to do something and do it NOW.

A friend suggested she get in touch with NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  Unfortunately the organization in Miami was practically non-existent, what she called a “zombie organization.”  Susan started from scratch – at first going to Broward to get better educated and then worked with others to rebuild a new Miami-Dade NAMI organization.  This group is providing support to families throughout Dade County, raising awareness and educating the community.

Susan observed that when the unimaginable happens, we feel like victims,  Working to help others is empowering.  When she was given lemons, she made lemonade, and has helped many people she doesn’t personally know.

My 3rd story is about me.  As most of you know, in January of 2016 I had a heart attack.  I made many lifestyle changes and thought I was doing great.  Almost a year to the date, I was exercising and felt pressure in my jaw.  Since the heart attack presented as intense pain in my jaw, I mentioned it to the staff at cardiac rehab.  Before I knew what was happening my cardiologist had me scheduled for another cardiac catheterization.  The result was an additional stent.  My medical records indicated an occlusion in the LAD (left anterior descending artery, sometimes called the Widow maker).

What a shock!  What did I do wrong?  Whoops, there goes that narrative personalizing the event and blaming myself. Changing that  story wasn’t easy, but with some outside help and persistence I did.  In the last few months, I’ve done more investigation on my specific condition and worked with a number of medical professionals at the Miami Cardiovascular Institute at Baptist Hospital to improve my health.  A couple of weeks ago, I was nominated by the Institute to represent Baptist as an educator for the WomenHeart organization.

What a journey this has become.  It was surprising, then frightening, then depressing, but now enlightening.  It was as if the Universe was waiting for the right moment to give me this opportunity.  I was telling my friend Leisha about this possibility and she said, “You’re just like Susan — taking lemons and making lemonade.

I may not have made the lemonade yet, but I’m working on the recipe.  How cool is that?



Eighteen years ago some children came running to my house announcing they had found some kittens.  There was a white kitty, an orange tabby, a tuxedo boy, a tortoise-shell girl and a beige female.  The kids quickly told me the mommy was dead.  Thinking back, I have no idea how true that was.  They were all about 4 – 5 weeks old.  After a couple of weeks of care and feeding, I found homes for 2 of them.  The remaining 3  (orange tabby female, male tuxedo cat, and tortoise-shell female) needed names.  I was in a literary frame of mind and the 2 girls were named Melanie and Katie Scarlett (GWTW).  I actually considered naming the tuxedo cat Rhett Butler, but it just didn’t fit his personality. The runt of the litter when he arrived, he appeared to have dreams of becoming larger than life.  As a result he became my Great Gatsby.

Melanie was the family “greeter.”  She figured anyone entering our abode was there to see her.  She would attempt to ingratiate herself to any new comer — never thinking they might be allergic to her.  “To me?  Never.”

Originally she was a rather quiet girl, but in more recent years found her voice.  This often came out in anger.  If I tried to arise and she was on my lap I heard, “MEOW….MEOW.”   She also informed me that what I considered my side of the bed, was actually hers. with a very loud, “MEOWWWWWWW!”

Mellie (her preferred nickname) started loosing weight about a week ago.  Her usual zest for eating was different,   and then all of a sudden her tummy was distended.  I was sure she wasn’t pregnant.  Aside from being neutered, she’s 18 years old (93 in human years).  We were off to the vet.  After an x-ray and exam, he said, “It doesn’t look good.”  He suggested I take her home and “just love her.”  It’s amazing how quickly she deteriorated and on April 22 she breathed her last.

There is a down side to having pets.  They give unconditional love, and are wonderful companions.  However their life span in human years is predictably shorter than ours.  For now, I find an emptiness I didn’t have only 72 hours ago.  And, my little girl, has quite literally gone with the wind.  Sleep tight Mel.




I had a birthday last week and it brought to mind 2 important women in my life.  The first was my mother.  The second was my mom.

“Huh?” you say.  “I thought you said 2 women.”

I was born in a very conservative Midwest.   At that time, a stigma existed with regard to pregnancy without benefit of marriage.  Judgment and criticism had not evolved much beyond the puritanical beliefs noted in “The Scarlet Letter.”

My mother, Florence, was a self-reliant woman who supported 2 young children from a previous marriage.  There was no place to hide, when she found herself pregnant.

A relative and close friend, Bonnie, approached her regarding her pregnancy.  What could she do to help?  After some conversation, Bonnie had a suggestion.  She said, “I’ve always wanted a girl and I can’t have more children.  If you have a girl, would you consider letting us adopt her?”

I don’t know how long the 2 considered this proposal before they agreed.  And, that is how my “mom” came into the picture.

I grew up in a family of 4 — my mom, dad and 2 older brothers.  I can’t believe how incredibly lucky I was.  Despite a large age difference between my brothers and I, we’ve always been incredibly close.  My parents were encouraging and supportive of my efforts.  I never questioned the love that surrounded me.  From the beginning, I knew I was adopted, but never knew the circumstances.  Nor did I have a clue Aunt Flo was actually my birth mother.  She did not want me to know and that fact remained undisclosed until her death when I was 18.

My mother gave me life.  My personality is a lot like hers, as is my independent nature.  In many ways I think, as strong as I am, she was so much stronger.  I’ve often wondered how difficult it would be to see your child and never be able to acknowledge it.

My mom brought me into a fantastic loving family.  She was a great parent and as we grew older became my best friend.   She introduced me to theater, opera, and writing — things I still love.  Who I am today is largely due to her.

Many years ago 2 women set forth a plan for my future.  What they decided has affected every aspect of who I am.  There are no words to adequately express my love for them both.


My YOLO Plan

My YOLO Plan

Hello everyone.  I’m getting back into the swing of things.   Following is a portion of a speech I gave last week at my Toastmasters Meeting.  Some members had heart health questions and I thought this might answer some of them — perhaps you’ll find it helpful as well.

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When it comes to life as we know it, there’s a paradigm – YOLO – “You Only Live Once.”  Think about that: one chance – one journey.  No instant replay – no do-overs.

Like most of us, I’d like to maximize my life and developed a “YOLO plan.”  Here’s why.  Last year on January 19th, I awoke with intense pain in my jaw.  At first I thought I needed a root canal, but after several minutes the pain dissipated.  Still very tired, I climbed back into bed.

A few hours later, it happened again.  Root canal pain comes on its own — it doesn’t end without a dentist’s intervention.  I concluded this was something else.  I was correct.  I’d had a heart attack.

We’ve all heard stories about a person grabbing his chest or left arm, then collapsing in pain.  Some heart attacks are like that.  However there are more exceptions to that scenario than you’d think.  The first rule of my YOLO plan is, “Listen To Your Body.”  Unexpected pain anywhere from your jaw through your torso could be referred cardiac pain.  Additionally, heart attacks  may come masked as nausea, heartburn, indigestion, fatigue, dizziness, or profuse sweating.

After recovering from the shock of learning I’d had a heart attack, I started educating myself.  Yep!  Number 2 on my YOLO plan was, “Learn all I can about what had happened.”   My first stop was medical records.  I read everything that occurred from the time I entered the ER to the time I was discharged.  If I didn’t understand something, I asked questions or did some research.

Important to my education was learning a heart attack is an event indicating the real problem.  In my case it is CAD or coronary artery disease.  This was like a good news/bad news joke.  The good news is, it’s treatable – the bad news is it doesn’t go away.  Number 3 on the YOLO plan:  Life style changes would be required.  Are any of these things you might consider?


People ask if I’m on a restricted diet.  There is a line from West Side Story.  One of the “Jets” was explaining why he was a delinquent.  He went to a social worker who said he had been deprived as a youth.  As a consequence he became depraved on account of his being deprived.  Likewise, highly restrictive diets make me depraved!  I ignore fad diets.

I am incredibly fortunate to have a physician who is Board Certified in Obesity Medicine and is knowledgeable in the science of nutrition.  As a result I’ve spent the last year learning about macronutrients, the glycemic index and load.  I have an app that tracks what I eat and shows how macronutrients are balanced in each days meals and snacks.

Of course you must have an idea of how successful your dietary changes are.  I’ve lost more than 20 pounds but that is only one way to measure success.  For a cardiac patient monitoring blood work is critical.  Of particular interest is tracking your cholesterol (both HDL and LDL and the ratio of the 2), your triglycerides, and lipoproteins.


After the event, I was strongly encouraged to go to Cardiac Rehab and begin an exercise plan.  Cardiac patients are closely monitored and the program includes cardio, weight training and some interval training.  I try to go 3 to 4 times per week.  On beautiful days, I head outside to take a walk.  My hypertension is not a thing of the past but with exercise and medication, it’s under control.


Did you know that sleep deprivation contributes to heart disease?  I’ve discovered that I’m at my best when I get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep.  My internal alarm clock goes off about 5:30 am, so I’m in bed early.


One of the most difficult things for a Type A person (like me) to do is to manage stress.   I’ve taken up meditation.  Initially I actually found that stressful.  Ever try to clear your brain of thought?  Pardon the pun, but mine has a mind of its own!

Last month I was doing some cardio at Rehab.  Actually I was “overdoing” some cardio.  As I was exercising, I felt some pressure in my jaw — no pain, just pressure.  I stopped and the feeling went away.  I mentioned it to one of the staff who suggested I contact my cardiologist.  Within a few days, I’d seen my primary doctor, the cardiologist and had a cardiac catheterization with a new stent inserted.

When I had the attack a year ago, a stent was inserted in the Right Coronary Artery.  There was also indication of a slight occlusion in the LAD (left anterior descending artery).  The blockage had grown significantly and it was where the new stent was inserted.  The LAD runs down the front of the heart and is often referred to as the widow maker.  “You Only Live Once.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death in the United States is Heart Disease.  During the last year I’ve become acutely aware of that.  In addition to the life-style changes mentioned above it’s important to:

1. Know your family history.

2. If you smoke – STOP!

3. Get physical exams regularly and check those numbers in your blood tests.

4. If you have hypertension — get it under control.

Of course follow your YOLO plan — educate yourself and above all, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.  Remember it doesn’t have to be an extraordinary event.  It may seem like nothing — pressure in your jaw, or nausea or extreme fatigue. Do not ignore these symptoms

Remember, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE — don’t cut your life short.

Buona Notte Bella Mia

Buona Notte Bella Mia


Many years ago, during a visit, my mother looked at a furry object on the floor and said, “What’s this?” Mother had a problem with my pride of kitties — and she realized this was an addition.  I responded, “it’s a cat.”  She rolled her eyes, as she said, “I can see that, but why?”

I sighed as I replied, “His name is Fred and before you get upset about another cat, how could I get rid of a cat that’s named after your father and looks like your husband.”  She shook her head and walked away. Before the end of the visit, mom acknowledged, “You know, he does look like Wally.”

Many years later, my neighbor knocked at the door and asked me about 2 kittens in front of my house. One had Siamese markings the other was a little Calico.  I explained they were not mine and he said, “we were concerned because we don’t want our dog to get them,”  which explains 2 additions to my pride.  That was more than 16 years ago.

The Calico had 2 adorable features —  a little triangle marking on her nose, and she’s the first cat I’ve seen that had not just green, but green/hazel eyes.  They reminded me of mom’s eyes.   At her arrival, most of my kitties had taken on the names of characters in Gone With The Wind.  This little girl became Belle or sometimes because she was so pretty, (and I am Italian after all) Bella.  Hmmm and mom was a belle as well.  She was Bonnibell and my little girl was of course a “bonnie” little Belle.  I can imagine mom rolling her eyes at that one.

Belle is going on 17 years of age.  According to a calculator I googled, the completion of 2 years in a cat’s life is  equivalent to 25 years for us, then the difference drops significantly. But no matter how you figure it my little girl is older than I!

It’s become apparent in the last few weeks that my Belle was not feeling well.  She’s been a great little girl, a wonderful companion, and I love her more than words can describe.   After discussions with my veterinarian I had to acknowledge, it was time to let her go in peace.

Today I was with her at the doctors office.  Saying goodbye is difficult, so as she drifted off, I whispered quietly ….

 Buona notte Bella mia

Ciao bella mi amore



“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities.  Dreaming, after all is, a form of planning.”  Gloria Steinem

One of the things that started me on my “Year of Yes” quest, was listening to conversations with my friends.  Most of us are beyond the 50-something years and I’ve observed that our discussions have changed over time.  That’s natural as our lives have changed.  However, I find some of the changes disturbing.

Do you recall your thoughts when you were younger?  They were all about the future.  They started with what was happening at school, then we dreamed of  getting a driver’s license, wondered what college we might attend.  As we grew older, they morphed into career planning, marriage, becoming a parent, plans for vacations or a new home.  There were so many things ahead…things to do, places to go.

What I’m hearing now are stories of our latest medical tests , plans for a CT scan or MRI, and what medications we are taking.  OMG!  All that is important, but is this all there is?

I made the mistake of stating this opinion to someone and was met later with, “I know you don’t want to talk about anyone’s health…”  Obviously I worded my comment incorrectly.  Of course I’m interested in the health of my friends, it’s just that I think there are other things to think about as well.  Of course, there’s always politics but after the last couple of years who wants to increase depression or anxiety.  Think Van Gogh’s “Scream!”

I can just hear someone saying, “But when you’re young you have your whole life ahead of you.”  That’s true, but even if you’re “as old as the hills” you still have your whole life to look forward to — it may not be as long as it was when you were 20, but it’s still sitting there in front of you.

It seems to me we’ve forgotten how to dream.  Do you want to visit the Amalfi Coast?  Do you want to have more serenity in your life?  How about a cruise?

As I begin my Year of Yes, one of the first things I’m planning is to develop a Vision Board.  Have you ever done that?  First it takes some thinking.  Ask yourself open-ended questions like:

“What can I do to make my life more meaningful?”

“Where do I see myself in 1 to 5 years?”

“What makes me truly happy?”

“What’s most important to me?

Then gather some things together:  poster board, magazines, postcards, pictures, scissors, glue stick, quotes that propel you to move towards your dream, colorful pens and pencils…heck, if you’re an artist, paints will work as well.  The point is put together  a picture of your dreams.  It can be about one dream or many.  Create your “dream” picture, then place it where you see it every day. Let it become part of your existence.

Are you interested in creating a Vision Board?  I’m planning on having a Vision Board Party.  At the moment, I’m thinking about February 19 in the afternoon.  I’ll supply some finger-food and magazines, etc.  Bring your poster board, more magazines, pictures, supplies, your imagination and dreams — then expect to have fun.  Of course an RSVP is important so I’m ready for everyone.

Let the dreams begin!



I am an avid TGIT (thank God it’s Thursday) person.  It starts with Grey’s Anatomy, continues with Scandal and ends with How to Get Away With Murder. As I write this, all three shows are on hiatus till after the first of the year.  And we are left with cliff hangers or even worse shock (OMG, Wes is gone!).

“But,” you ask, “what does that have to do with a Year of Yes?”  If you love TGIT, then you’ve heard of Shonda Rhimes, the creator/producer of those shows.  In my mind, Shonda is very strong, something like one of the gladiators in Scandal.  At least that was my opinion until I saw her thought-provoking Ted Talk, in which she explained her year of saying “Yes” to things she found intimidating (Shonda can be intimidated?).  She found her life was all work.  Ok, it was work she loved, but it was ALL WORK.  Where was the love?  Where was the joy?

Sometime after watching the Ted Talk, a new book was advertised on Kindle — “A Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person,” by Shonda.  It went into greater detail about her year of yes.  From childhood on, Shonda performed mostly solitary pursuits (like writing).  She never wanted to speak in public — yet she gave a Ted Talk.  She never wanted to be an actor but appeared in an episode of The Mindy Project.  Good grief, she never wanted to be interviewed on live TV, and she does that as well.

She and I both love story telling, have vivid imaginations, but that is where similarities end.  I enjoy public speaking, I’ve always loved performing.  Yet, her book SPOKE TO ME and I questioned, “Why?”

My year 2016 started with a heart attack.  As a result,  my focus has been on my health.  However going out with friends, engaging others – you know, living life – was diminishing.  I visited my brother and sister-in-law recently, and suddenly blurted out “I need an adventure.”  They just stared at me.  Adventure?  Where did that come from?

When I was in my 20’s my best friend asked,  “If I can get a job teaching in California, will you move there with me?” It was February in Chicago.  It was 19 below zero.  I started dancing around singing, “California here I come!”  After several exciting years living in the San Francisco area, I moved to Miami.  My new home had beaches and scuba diving  but I was longing for more.  I started looking for a job with an American company in Europe, where I envisioned myself  spending each weekend traveling from country to country.  That was interrupted when I met my husband.  I opted to stay in Miami.

After his death, wander-lust returned.  I was off to the Big Apple.  I figured, “if I could make it there …” (you get my drift).  What is it about February and living up North?  Back I came.   Always looking for new opportunities, I worked in logistics — first managing all products Burger King, later managing aircraft parts for an Army Foreign Military Service contract.  I also worked in Out Placement, Computer Training and Sales of On-Line Computer Programs.  I’ve worked for large Corporations, and small companies.  I even had my own company.  Unlike most people, I like change — even welcome it.

Now I found myself disinterested in the “sameness” of things.  While many of my friends seemed to enjoy a slower pace, I did not.  And then I read Shonda’s book.  It filled me with a desire to say Yes to things I find intimidating and it gave me permission to say No to things that prevented my trying them.

If I was going to have an adventure, I was going to step over the precipice of change alone.  I must admit, it is a little scary…but exciting and compelling at the same time.

Do you want to tag along on this journey?  All aboard!  I’ll be reporting on my experiences throughout the year.