The story behind the trip to Laguna Beach…a celebration weekend was in order!

I already shared some of the photos taken from our Laguna Beach weekend. It took some creativity with a calendar to carve out an entire three-day weekend in the busiest month of the year, but we had a reason to prioritize a get-away.

Curve of Coast Dana Point

We were cashing in on a belated  Mother’s Day present. In May I had promised my mom a full day of shopping in Laguna Beach.  A day at the beach would also be a late spring kick-off to a season we hoped would be full of many little get-aways.

Palm Grove

But in early May –before we even made it to Mother’s Day, my dad ended up in the hospital. A really tough bout with pneumonia left him so weak he had trouble swallowing his food without choking or aspirating. There are so many muscles involved in the swallowing process and you need to be physically strong for everything to work as it should.

Six months of speech therapy to strengthen those tricky muscles and rebuild the swallowing reflex coupled with months of sticking close to home and following  a bevy of doctor’s orders…

Rocky Plateau

And I’m delighted to report that dad is stronger and in better overall health than we could have anticipated.

So this was our celebration weekend.

For mom it was a delayed Mother’s Day shopping spree…we jump-started Christmas shopping instead.

And for my dad, I wish I had thought to take a picture of him thoroughly enjoying his restaurant meals.

palm and rocky cliff

Although it has been very hard for me to watch my parents go through such a difficult time, I’ve also found it lovely to watch them stay solid in their commitment to one another, unwavering in their personal faith, and disciplined to follow through with all of the therapies while patiently waiting for answers.

So it was absolutely necessary that we finally make it to Laguna, and instead of just a shopping day, extend to include an entire celebration weekend.

We had such a good time, we may need to make this an annual event.

And this week there are four of us ALL breathing lighter!

Head colds and hamsters–A year’s end odd pairing.

I’m getting over my annual Christmas cold.  I could have predicted its arrival. At least this year it was of minor magnitude considering I ignored all my own rules.  I broke connection with the habits and routines that typically strengthen my well-being reserves, forfeiting rest and better eating habits in favor of party revelry, later nights and the elaborate ministrations connected to our Santa drive-by.  I’ve never done well with spikes of hyperactivity.  For every action there is the corresponding reaction…a physical plummet and the promise of an irritating head cold.

Which then ushered in further reaction. When activity stops my mind can be harder to tame. Sometimes called the monkey mind, my favorite visual is of a little hamster on the wheel that just turns and turns and turns…stuck and going nowhere. The hamster has been cycling because in this happy season I have also been very mindful of an ever-lengthening list of friends caught in the current swimming against some very significant health issues–the big scary kind.

Breathelighter’s first post called attention to the Biller Patient and Family Resource Center at City of Hope.  The Center is an excellent facility dedicated to patient support, but also providing an impressive array of services directly aiding frequently overlooked caregivers. This year I have been close to several of my friends adjusting to whole new lives almost unaware of their own physical needs while lovingly caring for the medical requirements of ill spouses, children or parents. I haven’t heard much complaining, but I’ve observed the sobering toll.

I’m not a direct caregiver, unless I’m talking about the lovely occasions when I’m caring for my beautiful granddaughters. But somewhere along the way I’ve looked for how to describe my support role–support in listening and metaphorically holding the hand of a friend who is really frightened, or being the second-in-command cheerleader to the fairly desperate actual caregiver—parent, spouse or child of someone in declining health.

You won’t find it in the dictionary, but I like the word care-tender. Some of us are simply friends along the way who offer care as we can.  The role of friend doesn’t come with an absolute list of duties, but when care is offered, there is a human connection that can sometimes usher in that odd sense of malaise when things aren’t going well.

And that’s where the little hamster comes in.  I’ve just heard some bad news and sadly added another name to my prayer list. Hard news to hear and it only seems natural I’d be particularly mindful.

I know my experiences are far from singular.  I am certain there are many care-tenders among my reading friends.  And I think it’s a good New Year’s resolve to carefully consider what are you are going to do to take care of yourself this coming year? It’s an important personal inventory and assessment.  We have a lot more to offer those we love when we take good care of ourselves.

That’s what I plan to encourage in the coming year.  As I “preach to myself” I’ll be sharing with you.  And I learn from what you share in return, so I’m ready to turn the calendar page and proceed.  I hope you’ll do it with me.

The best of New Year’s wishes, Debra

The Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resources Center at City of Hope.

In praise of avocados and Juvenile Diabetes Research

It’s been avocado season for months, in fact, technically the season ends in September, but I’m fortunate to have a good friend with a yet producing avocado tree!  I love them and regularly add avocado to salads and sandwiches, or enjoy mashed—guacamole with nothing in it but the avocado.  A new favorite is avocado with basil, lemon and oregano adding up to a lightened pesto.  I can’t get enough! 

Ninety percent of the nation’s avocado crop is grown in California, but I hear that further east they can be kind of expensive, therefore a bit rare.  A friend told me a funny story about arriving at her parent’s home in New England and presenting them with their first avocado.  She walked into the kitchen to find her mother wielding a knife like a hacksaw, struggling to cut down the middle of the avocado right through the center of the large pit.  My friend then demonstrated effectively scooping the green, buttery fruit from around the obstacle, but by then her mom wasn’t so sure she trusted this strange “alligator pear.”

Now that's a box of avocados!

So this past weekend I drove to my friend Cristin’s and loaded up! She was more than generous in picking enough fruit for a small crowd and I was glad that my avocado procurement amounted to a timely coincidence with an important family project.  Cristin’s daughter Aimee was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes while still in early elementary school.  Now an active Jr. Higher, Aimee (named after my daughter Aimee, by the way) joins her vigilant advocate mom, dad and older sister Madison in fundraising efforts on behalf of Juvenile Diabetes Research.  Saturday friends and family collected to sell some homemade food items, lovely photography, beautiful handmade jewelry and various uniquely crafted items to raise both money and awareness in support of the annual Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund (JDRF) Los Angeles Walk to be held at Dodger Stadium, November 6th.

This year I hope to be a part of this team effort, supporting not only Aimee, but also other family friends with children in need of a cure.  There are exciting breakthroughs just around the corner, brought to my attention through the JDRF Artificial Pancreas Project. An automated system to disperse insulin based on real-time changes in blood sugar levels is already available in 40 nations around the world, and the JDRF is active before Congress urging the FDA to speed up the delays in getting this lifesaving technology through the maze of regulations.

Team Aimee
Cristin and Aimee

If I’m going to participate in the 5K walk I need to focus on eating well in preparation! Sadly I can’t hoard avocados.  Once ripened, they go quickly, so I’ll be sharing my bounty. And once again, I’m delighted that one of my favorite foods is an arsenal of powerful antioxidants.  High in monounsaturated fat and potassium, the avocado fights high cholesterol and high blood pressure. And the unfortunate bad press that they are high in calories is just not true! Two to three thin slices of delicious ‘cado’ are only 50 calories, 4.5 grams of total fat and 0 grams cholesterol.  Compare that to one slice of cheddar cheese with 114 calories, 9.4 grams total fat and 30 mg cholesterol.  I think I can enjoy one of nature’s wonder foods and not worry at all!

If you know a family touched by Juvenile Diabetes why don’t you get in touch and ask them how you might support their own efforts? And I do urge everyone to consider reading more about the JDRF Artificial Pancreas Project.  It’s a very hopeful time!

…Debra

You might enjoy what you learn here, too:  Avocados & Guacamole | California Avocado Commission.