Matters of The Heart

heart disease

I had to look away as the needle plunged into my skin, I hate needles, and as I felt the pinch, (admittedly not as bad as I expected) I remembered that I was not supposed to have eaten before I came. Not only did I forget to fast before checking my cholesterol, but I had also polished off a McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (don’t judge me!) just moments before.   To save myself a trip back to the lab, and needle…and o.k. the disapproving look of the phlebotomist, I decided not mention my lunch.  The following week I got a congratulatory note from my doctor on my excellent cholesterol count!

That was almost a year ago and I’d been feeling pretty confident about my good health since.  Until today.  I went to an event planning committee meeting for the Go Red for women campaign.  Go Red is a campaign by the American Heart Association that serves to heighten awareness of the risks of heart disease in women.   We were shown a great 3-minute movie called ‘Just A Little Heart Attack’ which I think every busy mom could identify with.   Then I heard a survival story from a woman who suffered a sudden cardiac arrest.  She had been around my age, fit, with healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure.  She was slim, ate well, and exercised regularly.  The fact that she survived at all is amazing, 95% of women who suffer a heart attack do not.

Watching the movie and then listening to her speak, the message hit home.  It actually could happen to someone like me (I don’t eat McDonald’s that often, honestly!).  A representative from the American Heart Association then rattled off some pretty startling statistics.  Heart Disease is the number one killer of women over the age of 25, and every year it kills more women than men.  Yikes! Like many other people I had believed heart disease to be more of a risk for older, unfit men.  Clearly not!  The good news is that with lifestyle modifications in diet and exercise, the risks of heart disease can be greatly reduced.   I left the meeting this morning armed with all sorts of new information,  and as soon as I got home I went for a run!

How do you keep your heart healthy?

 

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The TRUTH Behind Our Family Photo Shoot

Photo by Odessa Cozzolino

Photo by Odessa Cozzolino

If you look at the photo smiling out at you from our yearly holiday card, taken on an idyllic Rhode Island beach, you’ll see six happy faces, a proud family clutching each other with love.  Every year I schedule a family photo shoot to get that picture.  Every year we get one.   And I mean JUST ONE.  Out of the hundreds of pictures the photographer snaps, there is usually only one picture where we are all happy, and looking presentable enough to send out to everyone we know.  The rest, the outtakes, tell a different story. They tell the truth behind all those happy smiling family photo cards you get in the mail each year.   If you have a family of your own, with small children, and have been through this process, you know what I’m talking about.  They are much more anarchic than the calm conveyed in the final photo.

It begins at home hours before we leave. I run around and pull together complimentary outfits for us all.  Each year I come up against protests about the outfits from the girls, as though I had asked them to be tarred and feathered.  The boys have usually outgrown what I’ve laid out, since they wear their white button down dress shirts so infrequently, and they can’t stand having to change outfits.   The kids complain and drag their feet, and it takes much shouting and cajoling to get everyone in the car.  By this point I have usually given up on the complimentary outfits, and the neat hair.  Around this time I may even be reduced to shouting something childish like “fine! I don’t care what the rest of you look like in the picture as long as I look good!”  As we drive to the beach, my husband is getting cranky due to all the bickering and back talk.  He questions the need for the professional family photo, and usually chooses this moment to find out what it costs.  Now my husband and I are bickering too.  I try to remind him that the outcome will be worth it.  When we arrive at the beach, I am already apologizing to the photographer for our motley state.   As we begin to try to pose, at least one child is freezing and miserable.  We bribe, threaten, and tickle to get the desired simultaneous smiles from all four kids. This year we added our untrained dog to the pandemonium.  He was kicked out of the family photo after about 5 minutes for stepping on one of the kids and making them cry.

photo by Odessa Cozzolino. the little guy wasn't supposed to be in the background!

photo by Odessa Cozzolino

Once again we ultimately got the photo.   Just one (as close to perfect as we’ll ever get) photo of our precious family, and the dog even made it in without needing to be added in photoshop.  Having that one picture that captures this moment in time is so worth all the trouble we go through to get it.  We cherish the timeline of our growing family that we  now have, and we can laugh when we scan back over the years of our family  pictures, knowing the bedlam that went into capturing them.  In turn, we love getting our friends holiday cards with pictures of their kids each year, seeing how their families have grown as well, and knowing the secret behind those perfect family photos. Chaos!

 

These are outtakes from back when we only had two kids! (and one on the way)

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Feather Hair Extensions

Farrah Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett

My daughter begged me to get feathers for her hair for the start of seventh grade.  I understood because I had feathers in my hair when I started seventh grade as well.    Back then we had Farrah Fawcett to thank for that trend, and I remember wanting hair that feathered all the time like my classmate, Heidi Smith’s.  She was popular, and had naturally straight hair that was well cut to frame her face in cascading layers.   I had naturally curly hair that I needed to blow dry into what turned out more crashing waves than cascading feathers.  In any case, I went to the Haircuttery and told the hairdresser that for my $8.00 cut I wanted permanently feathered hair.  I walked out with a mullet.  It took forever to grow it out, and needless to say did not catapult me into instant popularity as planned.   So when my seventh grader asked me for feathers, I embraced her request with all the enthusiasm of my own youthful hair debacle.  (I have to add here that as an adult and parent I am now acutely aware of the benefits of being nerdy in the long run).  Much to my dismay, my daughter is innately cooler than I ever was.   Thus, I am even more willing to support a harmless whim like getting feathers in her hair, so that when she asks me later for the tattoo or belly ring, I can say no without the reply that I never let her do anything.

Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler

My daughter’s feathers are a bit different than my late 70’s hair feathers.  Thanks to Steven Tyler on American Idol last season, Fly fishermen are finding a shortage in their long feathered fishing lures.  The hair extensions are made from chicken feathers.  The same ones anglers would have paid about $5.00 for in order  to catch some fish.  I paid  $10.00 to have one chicken feather attached to my daughter’s hair . The feathers have been snapped up nationwide by hairdressers to feed the fashion craze that has swept our nation.  Applied like hair extensions to the root of a small cluster of hair they can last up to a couple of months of washing and styling. Either subtly applied to the nape of the neck to peak out from under the hair, or boldly laid as a top layer in natural or neon colors, they are certainly intriguing.  They are also easily removable, making pre-teen hair regrets much less traumatic than back in my day!

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Living the Dream

Photo by Elizabeth Atalay

Photo by Elizabeth Atalay

O.K., so I wanted to title this post “Boring is Good”, but realized no one in their right mind would read a post entitled with the word boring!  This is what I have to say.  There once was a time when I did things like skydiving and “black water rafting”, but that was all back when I was young, immortal and most importantly not yet a mother.  Not long before I had my own children, I watched a toddler close to me go through a life threatening disease.  After years of treatments and hospital visits the child was cured.  In subsequent conversations with the mother she would say “We are all healthy, nothing new or exciting is going on in our lives, but that is just the way I like it now. Boring is good.”   Twenty years ago, that was the antithesis of my life motto.   Even after getting married, for many years as we established our home and family, there seemed to always be something exciting to report on to our friends.  There was a steady flow of new jobs, births and moves.  Now that the kids are a bit older, I guess we’ve done what they call “settling down”.   Much of our time is spent shuttling  kids to games on the weekends and doing  family-centric activities.  It has gotten to the point that when someone asks me ‘what’s new’?  I feel so boring! I have nothing to say!   The thing is, I am also at the point in my life where I look at that as a GOOD thing! To me it means there is no drama, and no angst (other than the gnawing question of how we’ll pay four college tuitions). In this economy, with high unemployment, foreclosures, war, natural disasters, and potential health problems, I am embracing boring.

Photo by Elizabeth Atalay

This is not to be confused with being bored.  I always tell my children, “there is no such thing as being bored!”  This is about being excited about life everyday without needing drama to stir things up.  I once had a friend ask if I got bored being a stay at home mother. I was surprised by the question, because, as I told her, I wished I had enough downtime to be bored.   My life was chaotic with four little kids!  Now that they are older I do get moments of down time, but I know now how precious they are, and savor every second of them without ever feeling bored.  When my wanderlust  does grip me from time to time, I remind myself how I always knew it was time to head home from my travels.  I would find myself in an exotic location peering not at the spectacular scenery around me, but into the glowing windows of  thatched village huts, wistfully thinking of the lucky family cozy inside their home together.  When asked, “what’s up” my husband and I will mostly respond with our motto of  “living the dream”.  Sometimes, when the question comes from a friend who I’ve previously described my “boring is good” theory to, I will answer that my life is boring at the moment. Knowing that I mean that in the best possible way, they will often reply with a wink and a smile, and say in return “boring is good”.

 

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Hemlines and The Economy

This summer I was sitting on the beach with a group of girlfriends reading a fashion magazine when I blurted out “Well, we’re in for a double dip recession!!”  They looked at me quizzically as I began to explain the correlation between hemlines and the economy.  I tried to maintain my confident tone as I scanned their smart, well-educated (and appropriately skeptical) faces.  I am no economist by any means, and they all know that.  I do read The Economist alongside my Vogue if that counts for anything.  Fine, I admit to not really knowing what I’m talking about, but my source on the theory was good  (my friend who is a fashionista, and whose husband worked for the Harvard Endowment).  So on that particular beach day as I flipped through the pages of models shrouded in full ankle skimming frocks, an economic dread overcame me.   I just thought they should know my prediction.  There is a real economic theory called the Hemline Index that was  developedpencil skirt in the mid- 1920s by the economist George Taylor. He found that  longer skirts correlated with a downturn in the economy, and vice versa.  It has more recently  been tested by researchers and proven to maintain some validity. Since learning about the link, I have noticed skirt lengths rise and fall with the economy. If you think about fashion history in broad strokes the 20’s brought on the mini-dress, the 30’s and the great depression had women in full, long skirts. The 40s & 50s women wore knee or calf length skirts while the country recovered from the war, and then in the booming 60s the mini skirt was all the rage.  I don’t know what the pants in the 70s meant but by the early 80s short skirts were back (thank you Madonna!). Late 80s, early 90s we wore long again.   Late 90s and early 2000, lots of leg was showing, until the more recent economic crisis that brought down more than just hemlines.  Hasn’t your head been spinning with the bipolar hemline swings in the past couple of years as our hope waxes and wanes?! I think our faltering economy is responsible for the ambiguity in our hemline trends, but I would be happy to be wrong.  So just in case, pull in your purse strings and pull down your skirts girls, we may be going for another dip!

 

Are there any real economists or fashionistas out there who can help our forecast?

 

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Dreaming of Nantucket

Thirteen years ago in a farmhouse in Madaket, Nantucket that coruscated with magical candlelight, we celebrated the wedding of our close friends Jeff and Lisa.    Between moves and babies, and budget, we had not been back to the enchanted island since.  This summer, when my husband and I convinced his Northern Virginia residing, Outer Banks loving,  family to vacation in New England, I knew we needed a plan.    Another friend, Linda, has been to Nantucket every year with her family, and gave me a list of her favorite things to do.  Each suggestion turned out to be better than the last, and her list quickly became our guidebook.

We rented a house in the Tom Nevers area that did not allow dogs.  But Nantucket is such a dog friendly island that we decided to board our dog there so that we could take him out to play during the week.  The Nantucket MSPCA where he stayed, is located just across from the gorgeous Tupancy  Links dog park, and close to dog friendly beaches where he could swim.  This worked out perfectly. Surprisingly, the cost would have been comparable had we boarded him back home.

Vacation began when we stepped on to the ferry,  since we brought our car we made reservations months in advance to secure a spot.  Our week was filled with incredible experiences, not the least of which was just relaxing in adirondack chairs with family,  but here are some recommendations to get you started if you go.

1. Our first night we celebrated my husband’s birthday at The Jetties restaurant, situated at the edge of Jetties Beach.  Live music complemented the delicious food, and my toes were dug in the powdery sand. Heaven. We washed dinner down with sangria full of fruit, which we took over to beach chairs when we were done with our meal.  The children played at the adjacent playground while we soaked in the fabulous setting.

2. ‘Sconsett is an idyllic village by the sea with cottages covered in flowering vines.   We spent the day at the beach, visited the Sankaty Head Lighthouse, and had an excellent dinner at the ‘Sconsett Café.

3. On your way to the beautiful beaches in Madaket, on the far west end of the island, you must stop at the dock near Second bridge, and spend some time catching snapping turtles with your kids. You will need to bring string and some chicken legs from the supermarket. To watch your kids dangle a chicken leg over the dock and pull up a big turtle is extraordinary!

4. On your way back into town stop and have lunch at Something Natural, for yummy sandwiches to be eaten outside at picnic benches in a park like setting. Tucked away at 50 Cliff Rd.

5. The Whaling Museum gives a great overview of the fascinating history of the island, and a few of us early risers took a walking tour around town that further detailed its rich historic past.

6. I think the highlight for us all was chartering a sailboat (the Endeavor) for an evening cruise. It was a spectacular setting, and a great way to view the harbor and the sound.

There were things we had wanted to do, but never got around to, like biking along the extensive paths that criss-crossed the island.  Of course we did manage to squeeze in some shopping at the fabulous boutiques, and have an exquisite grown up meal at The Pearl in town. We love having the opportunity to be all together as a family for a vacation every year, and cherish our time together. If anyone has recommendations for our next visit to Nantucket, please let me know, because after our fantastic experience there, I think we will be able to convince our mid-Atlantic family members to come back.

 

 

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Somalia: What Starving Really Looks Like

At 5:50 this morning my eight-year-old daughter was standing at the side of my bed, whining to me that she was “starving”.  I stumbled downstairs with her,  half awake, thinking to myself that she would not do well in Somalia.  After fixing her a bowl of oatmeal, I opened my laptop on the counter, and still feeling frustrated with her dramatics, said,  “This is what starving really looks like.”  As she ate her breakfast, we watched the news video of Somalian refugees fleeing drought and famine to find food in neighboring Kenyan and Ethiopian refugee camps.  Some of the children in the video had been walking barefoot for weeks.  She stared at my face intently as I started to cry, and then looked back to the screen at the parade of children literally starving to death.  Some had not made it.  Like so many “mommy moves,” I am not sure if it had been the right thing to do.  It was a bit drastic perhaps, but these days I guiltily scrape scraps of food from our dinner plates into the trash as I wonder how to help my kids understand.  My daughter is an active, and slim child who could eat all day.  She probably did wake up with her stomach growling, but in our home with a brimming pantry, and full refrigerator, she has no concept of what it truly means to be hungry.  To watch the images of suffering gives me a sense of helplessness, but organizations like World Food Program, UNICEF, Save The Children and SaveOne,  get money donated as directly as possible to those in need.   By donating to them, I feel I’ve at least done something other than sitting by and idly watching this tragedy unfold.

Do any of you know of other ways to help?  What are ways that we as parents can help our children understand what is going on in the world and how lucky we are to live in this country?

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The Top 5 Safety Hazards for Kids

kids swimming lapsA few years back, sitting by the side of a neighbor’s pool, as the kids frolicked with their friends, I learned a little something about drowning.  Other moms were standing by the edge, some with their feet on the top step in the water.  We were all right there, alternately chatting and watching the kids.  One of the older girls in the pool grabbed what she thought was the hair of the life size Barbie doll they had been playing with moments before, and pulled her up from the bottom of the pool.  She was shocked to find one of her little neighbors instead.  The little girl coughed, and reached for her mother as she started to cry.  Apparently she had just walked right into the pool, not realizing she couldn’t swim, and she SILENTLY  sank to the bottom. No splashing, no screams;  it was not like in the movies.  It was eerily silent, and we had been right there.  The whole scene took place in an instant.  That is what a real drowning would look like. We were in shock, and acutely aware of the serendipity that the older girl decided to play with the doll at that instant.  She had unwittingly saved a life.

Between the months of May and August unintentional injury deaths peak for children under 14 years old.  Below are the top five culprits that parents need to be aware of, and the proper precautions to take to protect kids, and enjoy summer safely.

1.Drowning.

Nearly 9 out of 10 fatal events occur during a brief lapse in supervision.  A child can drown in a matter of seconds, as I learned in the frightening lesson above.  My kids spent their years learning to swim looking like little Michelin men.  At least I knew they wouldn’t sink!

2.Bicycle Injuries.

The most common injuries are broken bones, but head injuries can be life threatening.  A helmet is the single most effective safety device for reducing the severity of head injuries and the likelihood of death following a bicycle crash.  Even if your kid falls and hits their head in your own driveway it can be just as serious.

3.Falls.

Trampolines and playground equipment are top culprits.  Toddlers are most at risk for falls from windows.

4.Motorized Vehicle Accidents.

Although the summer is generally a more relaxed time of year, car safety should be followed in the same way as the rest of the year.  Teenagers are a large percentage of all motor vehicle accidents.

5.Burns.

In younger kids these are usually cooking burns or water burns, in older kids campfires and fireworks.

Unfortunately we can’t keep our kids in a protective bubble, but by making sure they  are actively supervised when in or around water and having them protected with appropriate safety gear, they have the best odds and are sure to have a blast this summer!

kids playing at beach

 

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Remembering My Dad on Father’s Day

 

Remembering My Father on Father's Day

My dad and me

A few years back I bought some Concord grapes at the market.   I hadn’t tasted them in years and surprised myself  as the flavorful berry burst in my mouth and I burst into tears.   My father had cultivated Concord grapevines up the side of our garage,  when I was a kid.  My memory of him was apparently inside that grape.  He passed away when I was 13, so my recollection is gauzy…much like peering out from behind the bee nets we would wear to harvest our honey.   He was a beekeeper, among other things.  As a physician and small plane pilot, he had served as a flight surgeon in the Army.   He was a wood-worker, a craftsman, and gardener.  He was the father who had nurtured me until I became a teenager, and then was gone.   As an adult I realize, now,  that I missed out on truly getting to know him as a person, as only grown children can know their parents.  My insight comes from the clues I collected over the years.  He was an eccentric for sure, to house 5 stacked beehives in an urban ¼ acre backyard.  I remember him reading constantly, many books at the same time, and the thousands of books in our home were a testament to his love of them.  I discovered the mysterious root of my wanderlust when I found his massive collection of adventure travel books.  He was an armchair traveler, and that took me around the world.

I missed that feeling of security that having a father allows you.  Some umbrella of protectiveness shut with his loss;  I so envied those who had that.  Truth be told, I still do.  A father’s strong love is unique.

In time,  I was fortunate to gain an amazing father-in-law.  He is also a renaissance man, a physicist, artist and author.  Most importantly, he is father to my husband, also a renaissance man in his own right, and my equally amazing sister-in-law.  I can see how his influence has nurtured them both.  With the advent of our own children, these two new fathers in my life give us so much to celebrate on Father’s Day.

On a string I kept one of the enameled hearts my dad had made as party favors to give my friends on my 12th birthday.  Now I watch my own 12 year old daughter with my husband, as they tease each other and laugh.

My Husband & my daughter

My husband & my oldest daughter

I try to reach back to find those memories of that age to see him through her lens.  I know how lucky my children are to have such an amazing father and grandfather in their lives.  As we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day, no matter where your father is , or what your relationship may be, take this day to cherish just having him in this world.

Now when I eat Concord grapes I know what to expect ,and I let my beautiful memories flood back in.

 

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Can It Fit On The Back Of A Camel?

photos by Elizabeth Atalay

 

When I think of spring-cleaning, and my desire to purge our home of unnecessary belongings, I always think back to Razi.  Razi was a local Bedouin, who led my mother and me on a camel trek through the Negev Desert over twenty years ago.  I can still picture my mother, perched atop a camel like the Queen of Sheba. She bobbed and wobbled with each of its steps, letting out squeals of delight and fear as we progressed deeper into the Desert. Razi told me that my mother reminded him of his own, with her enthusiasm and adventurous spirit, even in her later years. Until that day my knowledge of the Bedouins and their life was limited to what I had seen from my narrow tourist perspective. What looked to me like meager tent camps dotted the dusty stretches of land along the Israeli roads. When we stopped anywhere near these communities, we were instantly swarmed by smudged Bedouin children with outstretched hands. I felt terrible for them. From what I could tell, they had no homes, received no education and clearly lived in poverty. As our camels plodded along, Razi spoke about life in the desert and life as a Bedouin. He easily navigated the desolate terrain, and described it as full of life if you knew where to look. He explained that the Bedouin are expert trackers.  He spoke of following the stars and planets like a map in the night sky. He told us about Bedouin poetry and the tradition of oral history. Much of this knowledge, he said, had been traditionally passed on to him, as it was to all Bedouin children. As Razi spoke,  my idea of the Bedouins being uneducated seemed increasingly inane. It dawned on me that being well educated is subject to individual cultures.  I became highly aware that I would perish quickly if left on my own in this environment, despite my university edification. When we stopped for our midday meal, he baked us flatbread with ingredients from his camel pack. He brewed some sweet tea on the fire, and as we drank together, he told us how he pitied us with our burdens and responsibilities. Razi loved his life of freedom, and, to him, possessions only meant entrapment. He had a point. He said that it would be a nightmare for him to own more than he could fit on the back of his camel, thus inhibiting him from the nomadic life that he loved.   At that time in my life I did not own much, and I did not return home and sell all my worldly goods. I did bring back new understanding: that the world is seen through a lens unique to each person within his or her own culture.  This spring, as I part with some of  the things in our culture we aspire to collect, I think of it as unburdening our home, freeing ourselves, if even a tiny bit, from so much stuff.

(This article as seen in part in The Baltimore Sun Sunday Travel section)

 

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