Tag Archives: health

America is not the greatest country in the world

I’m first generation American, a position that gives me, I think, an interesting perspective on this country. I was bilingual until kindergarten when I came home from my half day of school and informed my mother that “this is America and we speak English here.” After that, I no longer was willing to speak German, a genuine loss when I visit my family in the Black Forest where most of them still reside.

Speaking a second language was not considered an asset in this country which arrogantly calls itself “America,” despite the fact that that is the name of two entire continents of which we are only one single country. In contrast, my mother spoke 3 languages while living in Europe, learning her fourth, English, upon arriving here in the mid-60s.

Growing up, we were encouraged to work hard in school because my mother saw education as the only means available to create a life better than the one into which we were born. My brother is a doctor and I hold an advanced degree. We own homes, have retirement accounts, travel, and generally have comfortable lives. In spite of childhoods consisting of a single parent home, Medicaid, and the shame of food stamps and free lunch, we made it.

Through hard work and social programs, my brother and I achieved what in many regards is considered the American Dream. So, why aren’t I more of a believer in the claim that America is the greatest country in the world? Well, it seems like there are quite a few reasons.

The income gap in the United States is outrageous. I don’t know about you, but I will never be convinced that a CEO is entitled to receive a salary that is on average 361 times the salary of the average worker. I’m not suggesting that the rest of the world is perfect, but America really excels in compensating executives at a more outrageous level than any where else in the world.

Do you have any idea how much our country spends on the military? How does the number $649 BILLION sound to you? It’s an amount comparable to the spending of the next eight countries – combined. Granted, this amount is less than what is budgeted for K-12 education,  but it remains an incredibly large number.

Speaking of education, when I was in Greece last month, I spoke with a couple from Scotland and asked them how college “worked” in their country. How much does it cost? Who pays for it? Their response – tuition is free and students are only responsible for related expenses such as room, board and books. The cost of those items can be met with loans, which essentially have an interest rate close to zero with repayment of the loans not beginning until the borrower reaches a certain level of income. Doesn’t that sound a lot more fair and reasonable than our government, which is the largest lender to students, earning interest off citizens trying to improve their lives?

During my travels I’ve been struck by the price of groceries (low) and the quality of public transportation (high) in the European countries which I’ve visited. Access to health care, while not perfect, does not seem to bankrupt families in the way I’ve observed it occurring in this country.

Solar and wind energy seem much more common in Europe and vehicles are more compact and fuel efficient than those found in America. Homes are smaller, not requiring the same resources to maintain, heat and cool. Vacation time is more generous, as are family leave policies when it comes to child rearing, with tax incentives available to soften the blow of losing an income while a parent stays home to raise a child.

America has been good to my family, but it is not the greatest country in the world and we need to recognize that. While it once may have been a true beacon of freedom and opportunity for all, that time has passed. A country which separates families seeking asylum, fails to provide preventative healthcare to the poor and the underemployed and has different justice and education systems for people depending upon the color of their skin really doesn’t sound all that great to me.

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Filed under Education, Europe, ideas, musings, Observations, politics, Rant, travel

Love them while you have them

Traveling with my 20 year-old son made for an interesting trip. Because of the time he spent in Thailand last year, he has some experience with having to navigate his way from destination to destination. He may not have the same intuition as my oldest son when it comes to transportation, but he has grown to be helpful and developed some useful skills.

I’ve jokingly remarked a couple of times (maybe even to you, specifically) that the best part of our recent vacation to Greece was having someone with whom to day drink. With some sobering up reflection, I now recognize that what’s going to remain with me, even longer than the 5lbs of feta and dolmas I brought home, are the moments we spent talking, sharing thoughts, making decisions together (rosé or white?) and spending hours and hours outside together, under cloudless blue skies.

Over the years I’ve witnessed too many friends lose a child, most frequently, a son. I grew up in a town where a number of my peers died being physically reckless in a way different than today’s young people. Usually it was a car + alcohol + speed situation, not exactly the same kinds of substances to which our country is experiencing an epidemic of abuse and addiction to currently.  Narcotics have always been way too scary to mess around with to me, which initially made overdoses so incredibly shocking. Now, though, it is my presumed cause of death when anyone between the ages of 17 and 30 dies suddenly.

A few former colleagues of mine have lost children suddenly and at least one was directly related to substance abuse. That mom told me something that will always stay with me. In my whole life, I might have experienced two other instances in which words have had the same profound impact on my heart and thoughts. What she said was revelatory:

All you can do is enjoy them while you’ve got them.

During times of frustration with my sons, I’ve reached for that truism frequently. It helped me to accept that I couldn’t make my sons do, or not do, really much of anything. Whether it was attending classes at the High, writing a thank you note or washing their hair, it was on them. No amount of time spent arguing or in disagreement could force any of my children to do what I wanted them to do, if it wasn’t what they wanted to do. They are their own people.

After my friend’s loss and the lesson she gave to me, I  remember thinking “if something really horrible happened to my kid, I wouldn’t want his last interaction with me to have been a heated exchange about why he hadn’t handed in a required assignment for school.” I’d much rather it be a quick “love you” at the end of a call or text. I learned I needed to let some things go.

On Naxos Island, my son and I rented bikes for the day and rode about 20 miles to the beach and an abandoned hotel project that had become a destination for graffiti artists.  After we were fitted for bikes and provided with helmets, my son clipped the strap on his together and hung it on his handlebars. I said, “you’re not wearing that?” And he said “No.” I bit my tongue, clipped my helmet on and told him to leave his helmet behind if he wasn’t going to wear it. My helmet remained firmly in place on my head for the duration of the ride.

Over the course of the day, I suggested once or twice that my son might want to hit the sunscreen. He declined. I rubbed on my second or third application of the #30 spf I had purchased in Athens without comment. His decision. His eventual sunburn.

There comes a point in a parent’s life when they have to let go in ways that may be frightening, especially when their child’s approach is completely contrary to what they themselves had spent years teaching their offspring was the right or best or appropriate or safe way to conduct the life they had been given. It’s part of the process of separating from one another, isn’t it?

I returned to Albany last week to hear of the death of the child of a neighbor I had when I was in high school. Again, a son.  My assumption about the cause of the young man’s death was, unfortunately, correct. My heart hurt for those left behind.

Finding one’s way through life isn’t easy, despite the maps with which we are provided.  We hope that our children make good choices, but when they don’t, we can only wish for the consequences to be negligible – a sunburn at worst, certainly not the loss of their young life.

Love and enjoy them when you have them.

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Filed under aging, Boys, drinking, family, friends, Greece, musings, Observations, relationships

Yin yoga at The Hot Yoga Spot

A perennial goal in my life is to practice more yoga. There’s no part of my life that isn’t positively impacted by my taking some time from the day to get on my mat and I am trying to remain cognizant of that, despite my impulse to eliminate attending a class when my schedule gets jammed.

Yesterday afternoon I took a class which featured a style of yoga of which I was unfamiliar – Yin Yoga. This fairly modern variation of yoga focuses on remaining in asanas or poses for extended lengths of time, like 2 – 5 minutes. Since my hips have been screaming particularly loudly recently from running and not stretching, Yin sounded like exactly what I needed.

One of my favorite instructors, Aaron, lead the class and he had us begin with a breathing exercise which provided the perfect foundation for what followed. Inhaling slowly, holding for a couple of beats and then exhaling very slowly, reset my mind and body for the practice and gave me focal point to revisit when holding a pose became most challenging. The poses were mostly done while on our mats with few standing asanas. Props were limited to a blanket and a bolster and the room was warm rather than hot.

This style of yoga isn’t what I typically go for – I mean, it’s all about being still and that is not my strength. But, yesterday? It was exactly what I needed and I left that class feeling incredibly centered and balanced. Because the asanas are held for such sustained periods of time, the practice becomes very meditative in a way only possible for me when I’m moving slowly yoga-wise. As I mentioned, I’ve been experiencing a lot of discomfort and I think Yin might be part of the solution as I work to be prepared for 3 1/2 marathons in 3 months. Have you practiced Yin? Had hip issues.

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Filed under aging, Albany, Exercise, favorites, Local, Recommendations, running, Uncategorized, yoga

23 and me – yes, me!

As a Christmas gift to myself, I bought a 23 and Me kit. I grew up not knowing any biological family members and I was curious to see how much of the limited family lore might be confirmed – or disproven. For years I had considered my heritage to be pretty cut and dry (50% German, 50% Irish), but I had come to learn that DNA is not really that clean and simple. Yes, both of my parents had been born in the counties from which I associated them, however, that didn’t necessarily mean there hadn’t been other ethnicities mixed in with their German and Irish blood. It was time to learn for real where my people had originated.

Within days my kit, which I had ordered on Cyber Monday, arrived in the mail. I registered it online and started trying to produce enough saliva to fill the test tube to the marked line. Not an easy task for a person whose salivary glands have been damaged by radioactive iodine, folks. Approximately 40 minutes later I had what I thought was an acceptable ratio of spit to foam and capped the tube, placed it in the box and dropped it in the mail.

I received an email when the specimen was received and a couple of weeks after that, I received my results and…

Drumroll…

Apparently I’m of 100% European descent. Shocking, right?

Here’s my makeup:

  • British & Irish – 65.3%
    (Ireland, United Kingdom)
  • French & German – 20.4%
    (Germany, Switzerland)
  • Spanish & Portuguese – 0.5%
  • Broadly Northwestern European – 11.6%
  • Broadly Southern European – 1.3%
  • Broadly European – 0.9%

Despite a friend’s long held assertion that I must be Jewish, that does not seem to be the case. My love for matzoh ball soup, bagels and pickled herring remains undiminished, I assure you.

In terms of genetic makeup, there may not have been much revealed, but there were a couple of things that prompted unexpected emotions. The first was the almost immediate contact made with a woman who shares the surname of my father, the parent I never met. It’s an unusual name, outside of the county where my father was born and raised, and seeing that name, and the scientific evidence that linked she and I together, was so powerful that I couldn’t immediately even process it. Days later, I was brought to tears by this connection with someone I will likely just like my father, never know. The map that accompanied my results also confirmed my sense of community, my feeling of belonging to a family, with its concentration of relatives in Donegal, the county from which I know my father and his family originated.

I know there are controversies about services like this and about having one’s genetic information available for public consumption, but, you know me and my ridiculous drive to be transparent. I’m not all that concerned about that really. Finding out at 52 that the person you had hoped was your parent more than likely was, made 23 and me add up perfectly for this a bit long in the tooth colleen.

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Filed under aging, Europe, family, Germany, ideas, Ireland, Irish, Observations, Recommendations, relationships, Uncategorized

Hiking with the golden girls

Yesterday I spent a lot of time on my feet exploring and reacquainting myself with Palm Springs. In the morning, I hoofed it to Palm Canyon Drive to wander along the wide avenue, browsing shop windows and people watching. The cloudless blue sky and mild temperatures made it easy to lose myself for a couple of hours and I really enjoyed my alone time.

Later in the day, my friend R and I drove to meet a friend of hers for a walk, that is a walk for me to take with R’s friend, J. An MS diagnosis has caused my friend to curtail her activities and she wanted to give me a chance to exert myself, so naturally a hike with 80 year-old J was just what I needed. Um, ok.

I’ve walked and run these trails before and they are no bullshit. The grade can be pretty steep, the trail is often quite wide, but equally rutted and rocky and the surface is an unsympathetic sandy dirt. Introductions were made and a remarkably fit and youthful J and I headed up the hill in the warm sunshine.

It turns out that J, a retired Canadian teacher-librarian (!), and I immediately hit if off. Our conversation, between catching our breath from the demands of the trail, was easy and comfortable. We talked about sons and husbands and divorce and politics and life and the time flew by. Her fitness was impressive and she told me how conscientiously she has worked to stay active, how it hasn’t been easy but she feels rewarded by her efforts. She was a marvel.

We made our way down the hill to meet R, who we were going to walk a bit back up the hill with to cool down. As we collected R, another woman familiar to my friends joined us, E. Walking poles in hand with eyes of the brightest blue, E, another active 80 year-old, became part of our posse. I learned she was a retired physical therapist and it seems, judging from her level of fitness, she was good at her job. E made some suggestions to me to work on my bothersome piriformis muscle and shared some thoughts on staying active. Her walk with us was her second time of the day to hit the hill and she said it wasn’t unusual for her to visit the trail three times in a day. Wow.

Growing old can be daunting. We don’t do a great job taking care of the aged in our country and I could really get myself freaked out about staying independent and healthy, but after my time yesterday afternoon, I’m feeling more inspired and positive than I’ve ever been previously about what 70 or 80 might look like. Honestly, I’m hoping to grow up and become Rose.

 

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Filed under aging, beauty, California, Exercise, friends, Hiking, musings, Observations, Uncategorized, vacation

Things I’ve learned during my 52nd trip around the sun

  • Honesty is free, yet more valuable than pretty much anything else.
  • With each birthday, I feel more compelled to celebrate.
  • My dog is smarter than I gave him credit for being. Last week during an “intestinal bout,” shall we say, he opened the screen door to the back deck rather than literally lose his sh*t in the house. Good boy, Jeter.
  • It’s really hard to keep moving forward without ever looking back.
  • A relationship that is healthy, positive and satisfying sometimes seems like a lot for which to ask. Settling for less, though, isn’t an option.
  • Maybe I read too many Danielle Steele novels as a teenager, but just once it would be nice to feel like someone fought for me. Not literally, but by playing their A game consistently.
  • The more places I visit, the more places I want to visit. I can’t imagine a life without travel, or at least the desire to travel.
  • I have no idea what the future holds and I’m getting better at dealing with that uncertainty.
  • My sense of loyalty is strong. Example? I’ve had the same dental practice, ob-gyn and optician for nearly 25 years.
  • Finding a good therapist is almost as hard as scoring a new patient appointment within the next 18 months with a new primary care giver.
  • A Catholic funeral mass is incredibly comforting. The tradition, complete with words, music and incense, is proof that death has been a part of life for a very long time.
  • Working to have my outside accurately reflect my inside has been my biggest accomplishment this year. There’s still progress to be made. Isn’t there always?

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Filed under aging, Austria, birthdays, Czech Republic, Europe, favorites, Germany, Italy, love, musings, Observations, relationships, road trips, travel, Uncategorized, vacation, Vermont

Sultry

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We’re going with definition 2. Let’s be positive.

You know how tropical places are reputed to have a very ambling sort of pace? People wear clothing that flaps in an island breeze or exposes skin to the sun and there is a glisten to everything your eye finds. It just feels sensual, but in an organic kind of way. Not posey. More passionate.

I like walks when it’s hot – they’re slower and from the hips, not the shoulders as it is in colder temperatures. While I appreciate the sexiness of staccato heels and a fast gait, flats and a sway of the hips are at least equaling appealing, I think. And it feels so much better.

When it’s been 80+ degrees for 42 consecutive days, you’ve just got to learn how to live with it. Maybe it’s air conditioning or a camp on a lake, but there’s probably some method you’ve devised to get through it. For me, it’s become about acceptance and appreciation. Which makes sense since those are really crucial parts of my overall thought process when it comes to emotional things. Having it be consistent with my physical comfort and well-being seems almost crazy sane.

I’ve run when I could, and walked or cycled a bit more than typical, and it’s been great. Some days I shower three times. I’ve heard some describe the weather as “oppressively hot”weather but I’ve decided that my takeaway is that it’s summer. We’re having summer weather and, while it can be destructive and unpredictable, it really is characteristic for July and August. And – next month this hot spell will be a blip in your rear view mirror and you’ll be wearing jeans again. 

It’s obvious the Europeans are more advanced than we are – many of them take  a substantial amount of time off in August. I wish everyone had that same opportunity. It would probably make for a more civilized world, frizzy hair and all.

How are you coping?

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Filed under aging, Albany, beauty, Exercise, Local, musings, Observations, Random, running, Summer, upstate New York