How to Take A Break From Your Body
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11582865-hospital-patient-with-a-dropper-vector-illustrationOfficially, my school closed for a one-week autumn holiday, but ironically I don’t need time away from my students; the only break I need is from my body. If you battle chronic illness, you are never ever really on vacation.

For the past decades, I have suffered from an invisible illness. The name doesn’t matter, nor do the symptoms, although it frustrates the heck out me to be unable to identify it clearly. Suffice to say that just when I think I have beat the odds, it comes back to bite me in the butt, knock the wind out of my sails, slay me to the ground and wipe out hope.

Those suffering from chronic illness call it a flare up; those fighting cancer say they are no longer in remission.

I am not alone. I am one of the millions of patients that seek solutions to complaints of nondescript symptoms – headaches, pain, fatigue – that drive doctors mad.

How do you find treatment for “invisible” diseases when the evidence-based science of medicine wants proof? My bacteria, the clever little buggers, change forms to evade the very antibiotics geared to kill them.

When I am down for the count, I think of others who are fighting their own battles with cancer, leukemia, MS, diabetes, neuropathy, lupus, arthritis, crohns…the list is endless. Like my immunologist once told me, “Eventually humans lose the battle. Either the cancer cells take over or the body turns on itself in an auto immune illness.”

Next time you are knocked out, here are a dozen tips to help you cope.

  1. Call a sister or a sistah friend; women know how to listen and validate one another’s feelings.DSCN2359_copy
  2. Walk. Even on my worst days, I try to get up and meander even if only to the end of the block. Then at the end of the day when I seemed to have done nothing more than drag from the recliner to the couch, I remind myself that at least I walked today.
  3. Do NOT compare yourself to others in your friendship circle, work sphere, family network. They do not carry your burden. Only you know what an accomplishment it is to put one foot forward day after day.
  4. Listen to music, strum a guitar, sing a lullaby.
  5. Pray or meditate. Get down on your hands and knees in child pose which BTW is also a good stretching position.
  6. Watch a movie.
  7. If your eyes can focus read a funny book, an intriguing mystery, a trashy love story, anything that helps you escape your own four walls.
  8. Eat healthy. Avoid sugar. Bacteria feeds on sugar.
  9. Hit pillows. Kick walls. Break plates. You have the right to be angry. Get it out, but don’t let the anger win.
  10. Cry. Hard. Wail. Tears cleanse the soul.
  11. Let that special someone hold you.
  12. Then cut yourself some slack. Give into the pain and fatigue. Throw away the to do list. Turn off. Tune out. Rest. Rest some more.

Remember LIFE isn’t a race, it is a journey. Your contribution to society is no less valuable because you take longer to finish a task.IMG_4119_copy

How do you cope when your body lets you down again?

Social Media Wears Me Out
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social mediaI am tired of the rat race. Unfortunately modern life allows for little down time and if we do take a break, we feel like we are getting behind. Where are we running to anyway? Social media only increases the pace and makes it feel like we are always missing out on something, somewhere.

Everybody has been to or is going to Paris, London, Cancun or Maui and have posted photos about every step of their glorious vacation. Their grand kids are the cutest, their beaus handsomest, their marriage the longest lasting, their children are merit scholars and championship athletes. Gosh, even their pets win prizes.

Oh yes, everyone on Facebook also possesses the culinary expertise of five star chefs. They post pictures of the gourmet meals they whipped up while speed reading novels and writing bestselling books. And they lose weight to boot. All while garnering the highest awards in their field and looking dazzling. Even on holiday, they keep winning. They always caught the biggest fish in the Atlantic, hit the greatest jackpot at Vegas, or captured the most gorgeous sunset in the world. They swim with dolphins in the Bahamas, ride the waves on Bondi Beach and sip champagne on the Champs Elysées.

The biggest problem with social media is that it makes me feel like my life sucks.

If I were to post the truth on social media, this is what it would look like

S.O.S. All alert bulletin! HELP lost my glasses again. And I can’t see to find them.

Yikes, while checking out at the grocery store, I couldn’t remember my credit card code for the life of me, so I walked out empty handed and we went hungry for the night.

I wore my shirt inside out to work; no one told me until 9th period.band wagon

I’d tweet stuff like, uh oh, stepped in dog doo on my way to school.

Major meltdown. Locked out of house. Lost keys.

19:00 hours. S*** burnt the steaks AGAIN.

I want to slow down, sip a glass of wine and enjoy the view of the Alps from my backyard, but no, no, no… my phone is beeping, a message dinged, no time to be idle. I have to Tweet, blog, check my stats, recommend a book on Goodreads, update on FB, edit my profile, contact my Google+ circles, post on in interest, text message my friend, answer 91 emails for work, and check in with 10,987 virtual friends.

As I try to measure up, against the ever-changing, impossible standards of super woman in cyber-world, I have to stop to remind myself that I am NOT what I do,

I am. Full stop.

Instead of going on-line, this week I am going retro. I will meet a friend for coffee, go for a walk with ze Frenchman and read an old-fashioned paper book.IMG_4375

I will turn off the electronics, tune out social media and tune into my own reality show.

And Live.

Life. Be. In. It.

What do you think? Is social media taking its toll on your well-being?

Farewell to Papie
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photos Guy Lechault-1Impeccably dressed and coiffed, cher Papie, Guy Lechault, was a dapper, hardworking, upstanding French citizen. Born in Rouen on Dec. 1, 1926 to Robert Lechault and Jeanne Ducreux, he was raised during hard times between two world wars.

During WWII in Occupied France, like all able-bodied French boys, he was carted off to work for the enemy. Fortunately, he wound up with a German farm family where he was treated justly during unjust times. A few years later back on home soil, he was drafted and sent back to Germany with the Allied forces.

In 1951, he married the love of his life, Francoise Elie. His eleven-year-old granddaughter will tell you, “He met Mamie in a boîte de nuit (night club)!”photos Guy Lechault-9

They actually met at a tea dance popular after the war. Papie sure could heel turn across the parquet; he twirled me around the tables at our wedding. When my German teammates came to celebrate, without missing a beat, Papie raised his glass to them in cheer, “Prost.

Together Guy and Francoise raised three children. Two lovely daughters and one fine son, who became my husband.

photos Guy Lechault-7Before the days that Grand Hotelier schools turned out perfectly trained servers and sommeliers, Guy was a self-taught man learning the trade in bars, restaurants and then at Trouville’s seaside casino. In addition to impeccable table etiquette, he cajoled with the customers in rudimentary English, German, and Dutch. In later years, when guests arrived at Le Grande Bec hotel/restaurant, perched on cliffs above the English Channel, Papie welcomed them to France by serving Normandy’s finest fare from land and sea.

Papie loved sports and could recite the scores of his favorite teams. Once an avid football player, he enjoyed kicking a soccer ball on the beach with his 3 grandsons.

His first granddaughter was the apple of his eye until his adopted granddaughter stole his heart with her infectious laughter and mischievous brown eyes.IMG_1975_copy

Papie was a bricoleur (fixer upper) extraordinaire. He painted homes with the precision of a professional and there wasn’t an appliance that he couldn’t repair. While tinkering, he was also what the French call a râleur (grumbler). I learned a lot of new French words listening to him swear while hammering, chiseling, and drilling away.

In his profession, obliged to work impossibly long hours, family time was precious.

He saved tips to take his children across the country for one week of ski holidays in the Alps. After we moved to Switzerland, and then well into his 70s, he carved the slopes of Mt. Blanc with his son and grandson. Three generations of Lechaults etched life long memories in perfect powder.

His work ethic was so deeply ingrained, he never missed a day on the job putting in 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. In his free time, he remained active fishing and biking until the last few years, when his heart weakened.

IMG_3393_copyNon-judgmental, Papie welcomed me wholeheartedly into the Normand clan with his warm heart. On my first visit to Trouville, he offered me Coca Cola to make me feel at home. Once I developed an appreciation for wine, he served grand crus from his cellar knowing I favored the Burgundies of his mother’s home region.

Though he could command the timely serving of entire restaurant, there was no table he preferred to reign over than the one in his own home where he poured wine, carved roasts and shared the lively repartee that is so very French. After enjoying a 5-course family meal, he would doze off in his favorite chair in front of a football match.

Papie had an infectious smile and an engaging style; he was movie star handsome and as charming as a politician, but without the BS.

Kind, tolerant, industrious, a self made man of humble origins, a loyal husband, loving father, and proud grandfather.

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Guy Lechault would have turned 88 this December, but in our hearts, vibrant Papie will remain forty-something forever.IMG_2675_copy

1 December 1926   –   25 September 2014

How was your Summer Holiday?
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IMG_4546Every September the favorite back to school topic is how was your summer holidays? Holiday? I spent my summer at our family cabin in Wisconsin running a resort and preparing meals for a dozens of hungry “campers” who thought they were at the Club Med of the Northwoods. It seemed like when we weren’t hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing, and eating we were recovering from hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing and eating.

We never saw the bear, but we sure had lots of other excitement: one sever allergic reaction, an episode of vertigo, a tick bite, an acute lumbar spine injury, a broken toe, 2 herniated disks, plantar fasciitis, tendinitis elbow, and an infected bite from an unidentified creature. Thankfully these ailments did not befall the same person.

We were so lucky to have access to free medical advice. When in doubt call Dr. Nat.

“I am a pediatrician,” she repeated, “and I hate to break it you, but you are all over the age of 18.”

Ah, the blessing of having a doc in the family. “I’ll tell you what I told you the last time you called. Go to urgent care or check with your general practitioner!”

So we learned that if you call 911 on one of those old-fashioned land phones, the rescue squad could locate a cabin hidden back in the woods with only a fire lane number.

Ze Frenchman, the only one who ignored the doctor’s advice, waited to seek treatment until the bite on his shoulder morphed into an abscess the size of a turnip requiring minor surgery and major antibiotic intervention.

We also had a lot of back injuries. Fortunately, we are blessed with a first rate chiropractor, Dr.Dave. Unfortunately, he moved his practice 50 miles further north to Eagle River.

It seemed like every day someone had a chiro appointment, so we switched in names of patients depending on whose pain was greatest.

“I twinged my back,” Nic said, “but right now my toe hurts worse. I dropped a weight on it.”

Dr. Dave was surprised to see our son, who lives in Minneapolis, limp through the door.

“Doc, you always know we’ll be bringing a bus load from Summit Lake,” I said. “You just never know who’ll be on the bus.”

In between our ambulance rides, urgent care visits and doctors appointments, we had a blast.

We had birthday celebrations for my dad, my sister, and my niece. We threw a wonderful party for my mom’s 80th. We toasted my sister’s retirement, my siblings wedding anniversaries and our daughter’s first official day on the job.

You know those Frenchman; they never pass up an opportunity to raise a glass in good cheer.

And surprisingly, on the coldest summer on record, we ran out of ice every day because we were nursing so many injuries.

But hey, no one is complaining. When friends and colleagues asked about our summer holidays we tell them, “It was great!”

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When we look back on our Summit Lake summer, we forget the aches and pains; all we remember is the love and laughter.

So, do tell, how was your summer holiday?

Step into Wellness with Walking Sticks
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IMG_0191_copyMy dad, a former All American athlete, teacher and coach, has always maintained an active lifestyle and tried to stay in shape. In the past, he recovered from heart and hip surgery by walking regularly. Though his neuropathy has gotten progressively worse, he is not one to sit still, so I gave him walking sticks for his 83rd birthday and told him to set the trend in Sterling.

Since the 1930s, Nordic walking has been used as a means for cross country skiers to train during the summer months because it closely simulated the same movement. However it wasn’t until the late 90’s that pole walking or ski walking took off around the world.

When the activity first originated in Finland, people called it “dementia walking” because people thought walkers forgot their skis. The craze once laughed off as foolish nonsense has gone global. An estimated 3 million people practice pole walking regularly. Since 2004 over a fifth of the Finish population take part in the sport. http://www.onwf.org/

Now doctors are aboard, agreeing that it is one of the best forms of cardiovascular workout because it uses all muscle groups. They also recommend that it is ideal for those in cardiac recovery.

  • Engages 90% of your body’s muscle
  • Increases heart rate
  • Burns more calories than ordinary walking
  • Trims the waistline
  • Improves posture
  • Takes pressure off the feet, knees and back
  • Proven to lower Body Mass Index in 12 weeks

Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning forms the core of the workout. Nordic walking requires muscular endurance, balance, range of motion, agility, coordination, efficiency of movement, and visual acuity. Pole walkers must focus forward not down, which helps improve posture. Some experts argue that ski walking provides more health benefits than walking, biking, jogging or running.

According to an article in American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2013, “studies conducted by NCBI National Library of Medicine show that Nordic walking exerts beneficial effects on resting heart rate, blood pressure, exercise capacity, maximal oxygen consumption, and quality of life in patients with various diseases and can thus be recommended to a wide range of people as primary and secondary prevention.”IMG_0189_copy

In the mountain villages one can see hikers of all ages using walking sticks. In our fitness courses, we teach Nordic walking to our high school students. It is particularly popular with long distance athletes whose joints can no longer take the pounding. When I told my friend Tina, an x runner, about it she immediately joined the movement.

Accolades aside, Nordic walking’s best health benefit is helping maintain a long, active life.

So, what are you waiting for? What better way to invest in your future?IMG_20140816_162919_901_copy

Join Grandpa Jim and get fit.