Thursday, January 31, 2013

Party Girl

OMG my wonderful readers,

I don't know about you but I need a good laugh!

There are too many stressful things happening in my family right now that I can't write about but believe me when I tell you that a good laugh must happen in order for me to feel better about life. 
 And when I need a good laugh I know I can always count on NBC's hysterical and infamous Saturday Night Live to make it happen.

Without further adieu, here are the multi-talented comedians, Cecily Strong and Seth Meyers:

I feel A LOT better and I hope you do too!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In Sympathy

Yesterday I wrote a sympathy card to a man who once lived across the street from our family when I was growing up.

Sadly, his wife died last week after suffering for about a year.  He could no longer take care of his wife by himself but she lived nearby and I understand that he visited her almost every day.  I haven't seen either one of them in years but they still are significant to me.

I babysat for their three children and so did one of my sisters.  We would always wave to them if they were in their yard and sometimes we would walk across the street for short conversations.  My mother and his wife talked a lot because our families had children who were the same ages and they would all be outside playing at the same times.

As I sat down to express my sympathy, I realized that even though I lost my spouse a number of years ago and I have a pretty good idea how much pain this man is feeling, it is still difficult to write a sympathy card.

But as difficult as it is, I still remember how comforting those sympathy cards and letters were to me after my husband died and I would never let my awkwardness stop me from helping another person in the throes of grief and vulnerability.

Writing heartfelt condolences is a tricky area and you're never quite sure if you are saying the right thing that will bring comfort to a person newly bereaved.

I think the most honest and touching thing anyone can write to the grieving person is about how you knew the person that died; what they meant to you, how you met them and a special memory you may have of them.  Maybe they said something to you that always has stayed with you and helped inspire you.

In the end, everyone always wants to hear lots of stories about the person they loved and lost.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Get Your S#%t Together

Are you one of those people who thinks that if they prepare to write their will that they are inviting tragedy to happen to them?

Guess what?  It doesn't work that way.

Chanel Reynolds

If you haven't taken care of executing your will, and/or sharing bank account numbers with your spouse or partner, then you should do it today.

Not to be an alarmist, but you really have no idea what is going to happen to you and you should be prepared.  Think of it as a gift that you are giving to the people that you love.  Life has a way of catching you off-guard and then, unfortunately, you find yourself with regrets.

I promise you, once you take care of figuring out who is charge of your health decisions and your property should you not be in a position to say, you will feel amazing!

First stop: a great web site called Get Your Shit Together (  No shit.  That's really what the website is called.  It offers free downloads of lots of templates for wills, living wills and power of attorney.

Chanel Reynolds started the website a few years ago after her young and vigorous husband was hit by a car while bicycling.  He tragically died from the accident, leaving Reynolds with two children to raise.  She knew she and her husband had drafted wills for each other but the wills weren't signed and she had no idea how much money they had in their bank account.

I related to Reynolds story.  My husband was sick for about two and a half years before he died and I remember that awful feeling of being completely helpless when the doctors came to me one day when he was in the hospital and they asked me if I had power of attorney.  I told the doctors I didn't and they quickly replied, "You better get it today."

All at once the sheer mighty weight of our collective finances fell on my shoulders and I was not prepared to take them over either.  My husband had a will but it was out of date.  I didn't have a will and I didn't have power of attorney.  And our dear son was thirteen years old during this chaotic and emotional time.

Of course, now I do have a will and a living will and I feel a lot better knowing that copies of those essential documents sit in my attorney's file cabinet.

No matter what your situation, read Chanel's story and check out her helpful website which features a checklist of things that you may want to review to ensure that your property and your health are handled the way you want.

Here is the link to Chanel's story recently published in The New York Times:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Comfort Dogs

 They say that dogs can sense when people need comforting.
And when dogs feel a person's fatigue, sadness or loneliness, it is in their nature to give companionship and sometimes entertainment to the person in need.
I have been watching the generous spirit of a new puppy named Charlie who has joined the family of one of my sisters.  Charlie is full of so much energy and love and he just can't wait for someone to hold him and play with him.  Charlie is a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel and he has an uncanny sixth sense about which person in the family needs him the most.

I guess I am discovering what others have already known about dogs and their sense of loyalty and kindness.
When I talk about dogs and entertainment, I definitely have Charlie in mind.  Can you imagine a dog who likes for people to put outfits on him?  Well, Charlies does and he can't wait for someone to either put a dog sweater on him or a Redskins jersey (dog size of course!).  Charlie is definitely on the cutting edge of dog fashion.
But seriously, Charlie has had a special healing effect on those around him and has made everyone temporarily forget the tensions and stresses of the day when he is around.  It is amazing how his sweet temperament affects everyone around him and he is especially great at providing comfort to people in the midst of serious medical treatments.
He will jump up in a person's lap and then suddenly be very still as the person gently strokes Charlie's cute ears or holds his small body.  In fact, Charlie offers every bit of a calming influence, and maybe more, as the infamous K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs do.
The K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs were brought into Newtown, CT immediately following the tragic shooting massacre of more than 20 children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in mid-December 2012 to ease the pain of survivors and parents whose children had died in the tragedy.
The K-9 Parish Comfort dogs are trained to interact with people at churches, schools, nursing homes, hospitals and in disaster situations.  According to K-9 Parish Comfort dog's FaceBook page, a dog "is a friend who brings a calming influence, allowing people to open up their hearts and receive help for what is affecting them."
Check out these special healing pictures of the K-9 Parish Comfort dogs doing their best to help children and adults heal and feel better about their lives:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

What Are You Thinking?

Following-up to yesterday's post about writing as a way to process your thoughts and emotions, I just wanted to add a few quick thoughts.
We want and need to connect to each other because we are human.  Reaching out to one another, expressing our thoughts and emotions is essential.

Otherwise, we are isolated and afraid; cut off from human interaction and we don't allow ourselves to have the opportunity to grow or change.  We are just lost in our own thoughts as though we are watching the same video on a loop tape.  Over and over again.  Stuck.

At a certain point in my grief journey, I felt stuck.  I was sick of my grief feelings.  I was tired of feeling the pain.  I was tired of my whole outlook on life.  I wanted life to be the way that it used to be, even when my husband was sick.  At least he was still with me and we could talk to each other.

But I knew life wasn't going to go backwards for me so I had to find a way to get myself in gear and go forward.  I also knew that if I felt this way, then others must feel the same way too.  I know I am not alone in my feelings and by writing about what helps me, I hope I am helping others who are dealing with a loss.

Writing or journaling is one way to express your innermost thoughts and process all the complex emotions you are feeling.  I will be honest with you: it is hard to examine your thoughts.  Sometimes they are not pretty.  You are examining why you feel the way you do and that helps you get to know what gives meaning to your life.

Lots of people keep diaries and journals to record their thoughts and to stay in touch with what is happening to them.  Even presidents keep diaries.

I was pleasantly surprised to read in a recent Time magazine article that President Obama routinely scribbles down his thoughts and uses writing as a way to chart his way forward and cope with the stresses of his all-consuming 24/7 mega-stressful job.

"In my life, writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are," Obama said in the Time magazine interview.  "The process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Writing Through Your Emotions

To me, processing or working through difficult emotions such as grief, anger, frustration and confusion, is in a sense, breaking down the walls of why I feel a certain way.  Once I think I have figured out a pretty good reason why I think this is happening, I try to either get rid of as much of the feeling as I can or I try to readjust or "rebuild" my way of looking at the situation.
During the "figuring out" stage (which can be hours or months), my mind is usually a jumble of thoughts and emotions.  I may be feeling powerless in a situation that keeps repeating itself or getting worse.  Sometimes I grab a pad of paper and start writing down what's in my head -- even if it doesn't make any sense.

Writing can be an effective way of sorting through a problem or trying to find a new way to deal with life after the loss of a loved one.  Just seeing the partial thoughts or beginnings of ideas on paper has helped me get through whatever is going on.   In the beginning, you may only be able to think of a phrase or a few unrelated words but the act of writing it on paper feels positive.  It's also a safe and confidential way of dealing with your emotions because it's only on a piece of paper that you can later rip up.
Psychological studies have found that writing about stressful, traumatic or emotional events, like caring for a dying person or grieving their loss, helps people recover faster, both psychologically and physically.
Jotting down thoughts, almost in stream of consciousness style, helps me move forward because it's a lot like doodling.
In the beginning, your pen is just moving around and doesn't seem to be following any pattern.  Then, after awhile when you're just fooling around, a design or complete thoughts start to form.  In this case, if you allow your mind to wander and you keep trying to work through the conflicting emotions eventually things start to click and a kind of healing may start.
Of course it's hard to put your sorrow or your loneliness into words.  But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.  Perhaps you can pretend you are talking to a friend or even talking to the person you lost as you search for the words that make sense.  Describe what you are feeling.  Write it down and think about what it really means to you in relation to your changed life; your life without your loved one.
Writing may help you feel more connected and supported and less like you are outside of yourself.
Writing is a resource that's available to you any time you need it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Snowy Surprise

I went to the kitchen window early this morning and expected to see the bare concrete of the sidewalk and instead saw snow covering the ground and all of the surrounding cars and trees.
I had heard some talk of snow coming to the Washington, DC area yesterday on the news but the forecasters are usually so far off the mark that I didn't pay attention to their prediction. What do you know? The weather people were actually right this time.
So instead of opening the front door and walking outside in my bare feet to grab the newspaper off the front lawn as I usually do, I put on a coat and shoes and stepped carefully through the fresh, powdery snow.
I am not much of a snow person but waking up to snow falling is a wonderful, almost cozy surprise and a reminder to me once again that you really never know what the day will bring for you.
And I'm also thinking of all those happy children who are waking up and finding out that they don't have to go to school today!
Stay warm, dear readers. 
Embrace your day and all that it brings!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Michael J. Fox's Morning

Good Morning, Morning.
I have a mindless routine in the morning, the same routine that I follow each work day.  I am never really ready to do anything until I have had at least one cup of hot tea.  I think I definitely take for granted that I can get myself going in the morning without taking any medication and without dealing with a physical handicap.
Unfortunely, that's not true for everyone.  That concept was really brought home to me after reading a short excerpt from in this month's Reader's Digest.  Always Looking Up, is the title of a book written by Michael J. Fox, the wonderful actor who currently star in CBS's hit show, The Good Wife, who was diagnosed a number of years ago with Parkinson's disease.
Fox's morning routine and his uplifting attitude about the consequences of his degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system made me refocus and think twice about any small discomforts I may deal with in my morning.  Fox's narrative is brave and honest yet optimistic.

Here goes:

Courtesy of

My Bright Mornings
By Michael J. Fox (From Always Looking Up)
This morning my wife, Tracy, is already up, dealing out breakfasts and readying the kids for school.  I blindly fumble a plastic vial from the nightstand, dry-swallow a couple of pills, and then fall immediately into the first series of actions that, while largely automatic, demand a practiced determination.  I swing my legs around to the side of the bed, and the instant my feet hit the floor, the two of them are in an argument. 
 A condition called dystonia, a regular complement to Parkinson's disease, cramps my feet severely and curls them inward, pressing my ankles toward the floor and my soles toward each other as though they were about to close in prayer.  I snake my right foot out toward the edge of the rug and toe-hook one of my hard leather loafers.  I force my foot into the show, repeat the process with the left, and then cautiously stand up.  Chastened by the unyielding confines of the leather, my feet begin to behave themselves.  The spasms have stopped, but the aching will persist for the next 20 minutes or so.
First stop: the bathroom.  I'll spare you the initial details of my visit, except to say that with Parkinson's, it is essential to put the seat up.  Grasping the toothpaste is nothing compared with the effort it takes to coordinate the two-handed task of wrangling the toothbrush and strangling out a line of paste onto the bristles.

By now, my right hand has started up again, rotating at the wrist in a circular motion, perfect for what I'm about to do.  My left hand guides my right hand up to my mouth, and once the back of the Oral-B touches the inside of my upper lip, I let go.  It's like releasing the tension on a slingshot and compares favorably to the most powerful state-of-the-art electric toothbrush on the market.  With no off switch, stopping means seizing my right wrist with my left hand, forcing it down to the sink basin, and shaking the brush loose as though disarming a knife-wielding attacker.  I can usually tell whether shaving is a good idea on any particular day, and this morning, like most, I decide it's too early to risk bloodshed.  I opt for a quick pass with an electric stubble trimmer.  Miami Vice lives.
A bench in the shower takes the pressure off my feet, and the steady drumbeat of the water on my back has a therapeutic effect, though if I sit here much longer, I might never get up.  Getting dressed is made easier by the pills, which have begun to assert their influence.  I avoid clothing with too many buttons or laces, though I'm still addicted to Levi's 501s, making me a fashion victim in the truest sense of the word.  In lieu of proper bushing, I raise my twitching fingers up to my hairline and, raking it back, hope for the best.  Executing a slow shuffle (my legs haven't yet earned my trust for the day), I make my way out to greet my family.
At the turn from our bedroom into the hallway, thre is an old full-length mirror in a wooden frame.  I can't help but catch a glimpse of myself as I pass.  Turning fully toward the glass, I consider what I see.  This reflected version of myself, wet, shaking, rumpled, pinched, and slightly stooped, would be alarming were it not for the self-satisfied expression pasted across my face.
I would ask the obvious question: "What are you smiling about?"
But I already know the answer: "It gets better from here."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Wishing You Serene Thoughts. . .

Look Well To This Day
Look well to this day,
For it and it alone is life.
In its brief course
Lie all the essence of your existence:
The Glory of Growth
The Satisfaction of Achievement
The Splendor of Beauty
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is but a vision.
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I Think I Can

Happy Friday Everyone!!

It feels good to reach the end of a work week, especially when we have a three day week-end in front of us.  Most of us will not have to go to work on Monday since it is Inauguration Day, the day when President Obama is sworn into his second term in the White House.
Whether you agree with President Obama's politics or not, I think everyone would agree that it takes courage and perseverence to have a dream and then set goals necessary to try and make that dream happen.
Big dreams or small dreams, I wish you all the luck in the world in making them become real.  I think you can do it and that's always an important first step.  After all, you will never know what will happen unless you try.

Here are two classic children's poems to give you a boost and get you going:

'Tis a lesson you should heed,
Try, try again;
If at first you don't succeed,
Try, try again;
Then your courage should appear,
For, if you will persevere,
You will conquer, never fear;
Try, try again.

Once or twice though you should fail,
Try, try again;
If you would at last prevail,
Try, try again;
If we strive, 'tis no disgrace
Though we do not win the race;
What should you do in the case?
Try, try again.

Time will bring you your reward,
Try, try again.
All that other folks can do,
Why, with patience, should not you?
Only keep this rule in view;
Try, try again.


The man who misses all the fun
Is he who says, "It can't be done."
In solemn pride he stands aloof
And greets each venture with reproof.
Had he the power he'd efface
The history of the human race;
We'd have no radio or motor cars,
No street lit by electric stars;
No telegraph nor telephone,
We'd linger in the age of stone.
The world would sleep if things were run
By men/women who say, "It can't be done."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Year of Blessings

How Have You Been Blessed?

I know we are in the middle of January, but I just saw this idea on a website called The Honest Company ( and I wanted to share it right away.  Hopefully, this idea is new for you too!
Here's the basic idea:  At the beginning of a new year, start writing down blessings that happen to you throughout the year and put them in a container.  On New Year's Eve or Day 2014, you can empty out the jar and read all about the year of blessings that you had!
The Honest Company's blog suggested writing down wishes or memories made throughout the year but I thought writing down blessings whenever you think of them instead of memories and wishes would be a positive way and perhaps a reinforcing way to look for the good things that happen to you as you heal. 
Rebuilding your life and trying to find a new way to live your life after the loss of a loved one is a slow process that has many stops and starts.  I have found that it sometimes is a subtle process too.  Everyone's journey is unique.  Small changes can be happening to you and you may not be aware of it.
What kinds of things am I talking about?  For me, my sleep pattern started changing as I began to gather strength after my husband's death.  Instead of tossing and turning or hardly sleeping at all, slowly I began to be able to fall asleep and stay asleep for longer periods of time.
What a blessing!
Blessings happen to us every day and we may take them for granted.  The sun is shining, someone smiled at you, your jeans fit.  A blessing can be whatever you think is a positive thing that has happened to you!  I try to tell myself that no matter how bad the day was, there had to be something good in it.  You know what those days are like.  Those days when everything seems to go wrong or it doesn't happen the way you planned?
I still try to find a positive in all that frustrating stuff.  Sometimes it's just a blessing that the day is over and you can wake up fresh and try again the next day.  I know life can be painful but if I can't change the circumstances then I have to try and learn to roll with it and find some good somewhere. 
Have fun with this blessings idea.  It doesn't have to be an every day thing.  You can write down whatever you want whenever you want to write it down.  But at the end of the year it might surprise you to look back on the blessings that took place in your life in 2013.
Last night I found a container for my blessings and I wrote down two: a wonderful son and good health.
What are your blessings?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Revisiting Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak is known as an internationally renowned prize-winning children's book author and illustrator but he also has a message for adults too.
When children read his most famous book, "Where The Wild Things Are," they run around and play as if they are monsters, just like the ones in Sendak's book.  Spontaneously and instantly, children enter Sendak's world with love and abandon.
Adults may want to join the children in their play but their "adultness" sometimes holds them back.  "Oh, that's a child's book" or "I can't play like that" or "I shouldn't play like that" are some of the many things adults think after reading Sendak's book.
But Sendak's message to adults is one that children get right away: Say "I can" not "I can't."
One of my son's great friends sent this YouTube video to me so that I could share it with my readers.
It is a touching interview that NPR's Terry Gross did with Maurice Sendak near the end of his rich life.  Sadly, Sendak died last May at the age of 83 from complications of a stroke. (
In this wonderful NPR interview, Sendak talks about "the creative man" but more importantly he poignantly addresses aging and what life feels like for him at this stage.
To me, Sendak's message is short and sweet: Live your life!, Live your life!, Live your life!
Please click on the above to have a listen and watch the accompanying "wild" illustrations of artist Christoph Niemann.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

That's What Friends Are For

This past weekend I met up with three of my best girlfriends to celebrate my recent birthday.
I have known these special women for decades and we have been through a lot with each other and for each other.  Birthdays, weddings, funerals, break-ups, new jobs, new houses, vacations -- we have been through it all! 
The beauty of being friends for a long time is that you don't have to explain everything.  One person can mention a certain situation or a person's name and we know right away what that means.  We know the things that make us laugh and the things that drive us crazy.

We always celebrate each other's birthdays and this time we went to a small French cafe in Georgetown for brunch.  It was misty and rainy outside and the inside of the restaurant was quiet and cozy.  No one was in a hurry and we settled in for a few hours and just enjoyed each other's company.

What a treat!!!!

Each one of my friends is a treasure and I love all of my girlfriends.  Real friends are made one at a time and sometimes through a shared activity.  I have some special friends I have gotten to know because our sons went to school together and I have other friends I have made through work and volunteering. They are the butter on my bread, the icing on my cupcakes.  They are the people that I cry, laugh and heal with.

All of them add that extra special something that makes me pause and say to myself, "I am lucky to know her and have her as a friend."

I find that my friends provide a layer of protection against life's setbacks and disasters.  I try to comfort and listen to their ups and downs as they do for me.  A true friend is a connection to life.

Friends care about what is going on in your life and with them you can always be yourself.  You can spill out your thoughts, even when they don't make any sense, and your friends take the time to figure it all out and make you feel that it's okay.  Or in my case, sometimes my friends put me back on the right track when I have lost my way....Thank goodness for that!!!!!

I need hugs and smiles and laughter.  I think we all do. 

When we isolate ourselves, we lose an essential connection to people and psychologists report that cutting yourself off from people can make you sick because you keep all of your feelings and thoughts locked inside and your body can't take it.  Your immune system can become compromised and other conditions such as heart disease can develop.

Thank you my special, extraordinary friends and my great readers for being there and for being your wonderful selves!!!

As the saying goes, you have to be a friend to have a friend!!!!

Monday, January 14, 2013

An Honest Dialogue

After a loss, people often feel that they have no resources.
They feel they have no one to talk to about the extreme pain they are feeling.
A little over two years ago, I launched Cry, Laugh, Heal as a place where people could go to read and discuss grieving and say to themselves, "I'm not alone.  Someone else gets it."
Because in the end, no one ever wants to feel alone.
Since starting the blog I have written about grief and about the crucial process of trying to put the pieces of your life back together after the death of a loved one has blown it apart.  Besides grief, I have also explored the topics of nutrition, friendship, humor, honesty and raising a child by yourself after the death of a spouse.  Grief is a multi-dimensional issue and I think the above topics are but a few of the many handy-dandy tools that are related to surviving a loss.
I have found that an important part of grieving in a constructive way is acknowledging it, facing it head on and not running away from it and all of the shock and pain it causes.  Calling it what it is is soooo important.

Another crucial part of the grieving process is to reach out to others.  Do not be afraid to talk about your grief.  I'm not saying it's a 24/7 topic.  No topic can be talked about all the time.  But don't be afraid to say to someone you know who cares about you, "I feel awful" or even "I'm scared.  I have no idea what's going to happen next."
You will connect.
As did this very brave woman who is the subject of today's post.  Her final connection is truly powerful and was written about recently in the New York Times.  This woman found an inner peace and was not afraid to talk about what was happening to her.  Her story is raw yet she is courageous in an unprecedented way, giving of herself, reaching out and sharing until the end.
Please read this incredible story, share it and talk about it:

Martha Keochareon

As Nurse Lay Dying, Offering Herself as Instruction in Caring

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. — It was early November when Martha Keochareon called the nursing school at Holyoke Community College, her alma mater. She had a proposal, which she laid out in a voice mail message.
“I have cancer,” she said after introducing herself, “and I’m wondering if you’ll need somebody to do a case study on, a hospice patient.”
Perhaps some nursing students “just want to feel what a tumor feels like,” she went on. Or they could learn something about hospice care, which aims to help terminally ill people die comfortably at home.
“Maybe you’ll have some ambitious student that wants to do a project,” Ms. Keochareon (pronounced CATCH-uron) said after leaving her phone number. “Thank you. Bye.”
Please click on this link for the whole story:

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cooking for Children With Cancer

Danielle Cook Navidi (in apron)
Photo Courtesy of Georgetown University Hospital

If you ever doubted that one person can make a difference, then please meet Danielle Cook Navidi.
Navidi is a loving mother totally committed to the idea that she could cook healthy food for her then 11-year-old son, Fabien Navidi-Kasmai, diagnosed and receiving treatment for Stage III Hodgkin's lymphoma.  His taste buds were shot, he couldn't digest his favorite foods and sadly, he would go for days without eating. 
Navidi reminds me of many mothers I know who are steadfast in their beliefs about what can help their children even when others, such as doctors, tell them that their ideas won't work.  Their motherly instincts tell them that they are right and they are determined to find a way to make it work for their children.

Nutrition was not a priority for the doctors.  They told her it was fine if he ate fast food but Navidi knew he needed fresh nutrients in his system if he was going to remain strong enough to fight the cancer.  She couldn't accept the idea of feeding McDonald's to her son and instead went back to her own kitchen and started cooking what most mothers give their children when they are ill: chicken soup.
There's something primal about wanting to cook for family, especially when someone is ill.  The prepared food is a reflection of your love and concern and also a way to nurture your loved one back to good health.  Cooking can be an incredibly healing experience, taking you out of yourself as you taste and experiment, hoping for maximum deliciousness!!  
Navidi made the soup herself and expanded the recipes to accomodate her son's cancer treatments.  He was able to digest her homecooked meals and gained weight.  Today, Navidi's son, Fabien, is 19-years old and, thankfully, in remission.

And her story gets better.  Navidi started volunteering at Georgetown University Hospital in 2008 making smoothies for other children at the hospital being treated for cancer.  She now offers free cooking class at Georgetown to the families of children with cancer and turned her recipes into a book titled "Happily Hungry: Smart Recipes for Kids with Cancer."

What a Mom!!!!  Here's her full story which was recently written about in The Washington Post:

Cooking for kids with cancer

By , Published The Washington Post: January 8

When in doubt, start with chicken.
That’s the lesson Danielle Cook Navidi learned after her 11-year-old son, Fabien Navidi-Kasmai, was told he had cancer, and the only nutrition advice she received was, “Let him eat McDonald’s. He needs the calories.”
Navidi, an avid cook with a love of farmers markets and a background in catering, was appalled. But she was also at a loss.
Fabien’s body, his digestive system, his taste buds and even his cravings were being ravaged by his illness, Stage III Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and by his medical treatments. He would go for days without eating. When he did, he had trouble keeping down even his favorite foods. Navidi didn’t know how to feed him anymore, but she was convinced fast food was not the answer.
“So I started with the basics,” says Navidi, a Washington resident. “I grabbed a pot, put a chicken in, added some vegetables. There were days when he’d have chicken soup at 10 a.m. because it worked for him. Now that’s what I tell other parents: Start with the chicken.”
That back-to-basics approach is the backbone of Navidi’s free Cooking for Cancer classes at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and her cookbook, “Happily Hungry: Smart Recipes for Kids with Cancer.”
“I never thought I’d be here,” Navidi says, stirring a pot of red beans and rice soup with kielbasa, which is simmering on a hot plate in a corner of the hospital’s kitchen-less pediatric oncology waiting area. The room, filled with art projects and board games — and now, thanks to Navidi, the smell of simmering sausage — is a place where children pass the time between checkups and treatments.
Eight years have passed since her own son was here, undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and blood transfusions.
Navidi is no longer the worried mother — 19-year-old Fabien’s cancer is in remission — but there are plenty of other parents in that position. Navidi’s job is to share recipes that might lighten their burden or, at the very least, distract them during the long hours spent waiting.
A holistic nutritionist, Navidi began volunteering at MedStar Georgetown in 2008. “I pretty much just asked, ‘Can I take a little spot and make smoothies?’ ” She would do prep at home, pre-cooking anything that required a stove or oven, and showed up at the hospital with bags of groceries.
Navidi’s commitment and willingness to pay for food and supplies out of her own pocket drew the attention of Aziza Shad, chief of MedStar Georgetown’s pediatric hematology-oncology program. Shad helped find grant money to fund the program and encouraged Navidi to compile her recipes into a book.
“As an oncologist, you have to make sure your patients are in good shape nutritionally,” says Shad. “If a child doesn’t eat well, he can’t handle chemotherapy well. Nutrition is medicine. It’s all connected.”
Shad says cancer treatment has a major impact on appetite. Sores can develop in the mouth, throat and gastrointestinal tract. Foods that are raw, acidic or greasy become hard to digest. Food, even water, can begin to taste metallic due to changes in the lining of the mouth. Stress on the body leads to new cravings.
“Everything gets really out of whack,” Navidi says. “Fabien used to crave burritos, and it just made him so sick.” Recognizing that what he really wanted was salt and fat, Navidi encouraged him to eat olives and feta cheese instead.
Through the cooking classes and the book, Navidi says, she tries to show parents that real, whole foods don’t have to be inconvenient.
“Food and health can be a very sensitive topic. Families know that their food choices are not always the best,” she says. “They will come in with bags of fried chicken that they munch on [while waiting]. I try not to be judgmental. We sit. We talk.”
The cooking classes are free, informal presentations open to patients and their families. They’re held once each week from 10:30 a.m. until around 1:30 p.m. The classes are appropriate for the whole family; parents learn practical tips, such as how to peel squash and grate ginger, while kid-friendly steps such as mixing ingredients and pressing buttons on a blender allow children to participate.
For Tanikka Cunningham’s family, the classes are as much a distraction from the reality of childhood cancer as they are a lesson in cooking. In July 2010, doctors told the Loudoun County resident that her 3-year-old son, Sekhu, had leukemia. He is now 6 and in recovery; he visits his doctors twice a month and often sees Navidi on those occasions.
“When your child is sick, your time is just focused on trying to keep your family going,” Cunningham says. “Everything else,” including healthful eating, “takes a back seat.”
She says the classes are a reminder to make nutrition a priority, and they provide a creative outlet for her son.
Sekhu sidles up to Navidi, who asks if he would like to help make a cranberry-pear smoothie. Sekhu looks from Navidi to his mom and back again, nodding excitedly. Navidi shows him how to add the ingredients to the blender. He giggles, successfully pouring everything in without spilling. Behind him, his mother is smiling.
In addition to soups and smoothies, the 43 recipes in “Happily Hungry” include comfort foods such as warm potato salad with black olive and mint pesto, and hazelnut-chocolate chip brownies. They’re focused on flavor, digestibility and easing side effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea, fatigue, dehydration and compromised immune function.
Navidi is toying with the idea of writing a second cookbook this year and dreams of expanding the Cooking for Cancer program. She hopes someday to install a full kitchen in the hospital, but her larger goal is to help parents beyond the walls of MedStar Georgetown.
“There’s a feeling of not being in control of the situation when your child is sick,” Navidi says. “And when you’re cooking something they like, when you feel that you’re helping. . . . That’s everything.”

The “Happily Hungry: Smart Recipes for Kids With Cancer” cookbook is available for purchase online at For information about the program at MedStar Georgetown, call 202-342-2400.
© The Washington Post Company

Thursday, January 10, 2013

"Loved You First" Cover - Owen Danoff

Music can change my mood in an instant!

If you are anything like me, you probably have songs in your iPod that you listen to only when you exercise and those songs are probably different from music that you play when you want to relax or just chill. 

I think from the moment we are born we are sensitive to sounds and how those sounds make us feel. 
Listening to music can be therapeutic and soothing; truly a stressbuster.  I believe that music can truly heal your soul.  Or it can get your creatives juices going and help to push you through a project.  I think we are definitely hardwired for sound.  That's the only way to explain why when we hear certain songs or even certain sounds, it can instantly bring back memories and transport us to the time and place when we first heard it. 
You can't explain why you connect to a singer's voice.  You just like it the first time you hear it.
That's the way I feel about Owen Danoff's voice.  I first heard him singing with a group on a clip that a friend sent me.  There were a few places in the song where he sang by himself and I didn't know it was him until I asked.  I liked his voice right away.
Owen Danoff is a young Washington, DC singer songwriter, a multi-talented artist who is starting to make a name for himself in the music industry by writing songs and playing gigs in New York City, Boston, Nashville, Los Angeles and of course, DC.  He is a graduate of the Berklee College of music and a 2012-2013 artist in residence at the Strathmore Music Center (
Check out this jammin' cover of  One Direction's "Loved You First" that Owen recently cut with the also multi-talented singer Mike Squillante.  Mike is in the middle playing the guitar and doing vocals and is accompanied by Adrien Godat on bass.  You can also find this on YouTube:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

January Baby

I am a January Baby and yesterday was my birthday.

I am happy to have a birthday (Elvis and I were born on the same day!) but I wish I had been born at a different time of the year.
By the time my birthday arrives, people are usually burnt out from the holidays.  Throughout the years, I have found that friends and family are either on a diet in January or they had spent too much money on Christmas so they are back on a budget in January.  Sometimes I have received gifts in Christmas wrapping paper and sometimes I have received one gift that is for Christmas and my birthday together.
I think it's an early January thing.
I like warm and/or hot weather much better than cold weather so I envy those people who have birthdays when it's warm.  They have it made in the shade so to speak!
But yesterday in Washington, DC it was a beautiful day.  The sun was shining and there was no snow on the ground...Yeah!!! And as I walked down the street from my office to meet a wonderful friend for a spontaneous birthday lunch (those are the best!), I thought about all of my blessings and the huge positives in my life.
I work hard to stay healthy and I will continue to do that this year but I also want to learn to meditate.  I think meditation would add a sense of calm to make mental being that I don't always have right now and would help me feel me more mentally fit.  There is a mind/body connection that I need to address because research -- and life experience -- shows that stress drains the body of energy, causing it to function less effectively.
I also have reached a stage in life where I no longer wait for things to happen.  I like to learn new things and to put myself out there a bit.  What's the worst that can happen?  Let's see...I could fail and look foolish (like that's never happened before!) or I could succeed (YES!).
I'm not talking about forcing a situation, rather the idea that if there is something you have always wanted to try then go ahead and try it.  You can't wait for certain circumstances to present themselves because then you might be waiting a long time.  I don't want to look back on something years later and wonder what would have happened if I done such and such a thing.

For me, the simple life, a life full of friends, family, good health and my dear readers is the life well lived.

Without those essentials I have no base or foundation of being.  Those essentials give me purpose and an endless supply of resources to celebrate the gift of life every year.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mental Relaxation

 Planes, trains, cars and boats are not always at the ready to take us to dreamy destinations.
Work, finances and other life responsibilities sometimes get in the way of traveling even though everyone needs take occasional breaks from their surroundings, especially if life is particularly stressful or painful. 
You can't always take a vacation even if you really need or want one.
But you can read a book.
I saw this wonderful saying from Dr. Suess (posted above) on one of my favorite websites, The Silver Pen ( and was reminded of the magical healing power of reading and books.
I know this may sound simplistic but books can be short-term solutions to an ongoing need to give your brain something else to think about.  After I experienced the loss of my husband, I couldn't concentrate when I tried to read the newspaper.  Every morning I would go out and get the newspaper from the sidewalk and try to read it and couldn't get past a sentence or two.  It was frustrating and I would end up tossing the newspaper.  This went on for months. 
Then I discovered reading poetry.  Slowly, I would let my eyes go over the words and try to absorb them.  Sometimes I discovered that I had been momentarily transported in my thoughts and sometimes not.  Eventually my ability to focus returned but I learned it's a process that you can't hurry along.  Healing happens at its own pace.
Reading is truly a gift.  Movies can give you a similiar mental break but I always think our imaginations are better than anything a movie will show us.
Fiction, non-fiction, biographies, poetry, it's all good.  To loose yourself in a book is so relaxing.  Ever since I learned to read as a child, I have loved books and sometimes hold on to a book that I've already read just so I can go back and read various parts of it again.
There are some books that grab you right away and totally bring you into the story to the point that you feel as if you know the characters and you don't want the story to end.  I have read books where this has happened and as I am nearing the end of the book I purposely slow down my reading because I know it's going to end and I really want to enjoy each and every last word the author has written.

I hope you have found books that mentally allow you to fly away and go places you never imagined.

Sweet reading to you!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dealing With "The Blues"

Covered Bridge in West Cornwall, CT
 By Thomas Schoeller

I keep a folder of story ideas and I was going through it yesterday in search of something timely to write about that I thought would also be helpful.  Some of the things in the folder are ideas I have quickly written down so that I don't forget them and other papers include clippings from newspapers and magazines.
I came across this bit of wisdom from The Washington Post's Marguerite Kelly.  Kelly writes a popular advice column called The Family Almanac.

Here is a question that a reader sent in about something I've experienced and I'm sure some of you readers may have too.  Kelly's insightful answer is just wonderful!:

Question: What is the way to deal with the blues?  My dad died two months ago and sadness has been coming out of nowhere ever since.  It sneaks up on me while I'm going about my business, eating breakfast or running errands.  Sometimes I have to retire to the bathroom at work so I can pull myself together.

It almost seems harder to get over my father's death than it was to get over the death of my husband las year, although I may be forgetting how sad I was at that time.  Or maybe it's the culmination of it all.  When I sit in my bedroom, here on my farm, I'm in the quiet, with just the silence of the sunset out of my window to keep me company, and I pray about being alone.  I guess the blues are part of my life now, a thing that has to be endured by me.  There doesn't seem to be a way around the sadness I feel.  How can I keep it from consuming me?

Answer from Kelly:  If you think that you should be done with the blues after just two months or a year, you're asking way too much of yourself.  The more love you have given to someone, and the more he has given to you, the harder the waves of grief will hit you when he dies.  Such is the price of love.  You can expect these waves to keep hitting you for the next few years.  But you shouldn't regret your grief, for it is giving you the time you need to draw on the strengths and the goodness of those you've loved and lost and to dwell on the memories you have shared.

As you stumble along, you'll find that grief is a journey and that you're going to feel pain along the way, no matter what you do.  The pain will be less intense, however, and less frequent, if you remember the happy times more than the sad ones.  You wouldn't want grief to define you.  You can also deflect some of the pain by making a few small and important changes.
If you've been living alone since your husband died, you may be giving sorrow too much space to grow.  Consider getting a tenant.  Your pastor may know a parishioner who would like to rent your spare bedroom, or perhaps a nearby college has a visiting professor or a graduate student who needs a place to stay.
It may bother you to share a fridge with a stranger at first, but a tenant is never a stranger for long.  You could also get rid of sad feeling in a more creative way.  You may not be able to paint or scult, but you can tear up scraps of paper and turn them into a collage that will be quite meaningful, if only for you.  Or perhaps you can write about our feelings in a journal.  If you compare your early entries to the ones you just wrote, you'll be pleased, and somewhat surprised, to see that your mood has gotten brighter by the day.
You also might grieve less if you try something you"ve never tried before, such as stargazing, bird watching, gardening or kayaking, because every new skill will introduce you to new friends and new ideas.  You'll dig your way out of grief best, however, when you start paying more attention to the living than the dead.  There is always someone who needs a meal to be delivered, an errand to be run or a needs whenever you can, because it is the right thing to do, and also because you don't know what tomorrow may bring.  We've been told to live each day as it it was the last one we'd ever have.  But we might be nicer to our loved ones if we thought that it would be the last one they would ever have.
In addition to these ideas, there are also many books to help you get through your grief.  "Necessary Losses" by Judith Viorst (Free Press, 1998: $16) is still one of the best.  This seminal book will help to put your heart and your mind to rest.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hillary Clinton

Photo Courtesy of

Hillary Clinton is a workhorse.  I would guess that she gets more accomplished in an hour as Secretary of State than I do in a day.

An incredibly savvy woman who has served this country as First Lady and as a member of the US Senate, she is also fearless about putting her beliefs into action and that's one of the reasons why she is the most admired woman in the world according to a December 2012 Gallup  poll.  In fact, this marks the 11th year in a row that Hillary has held the number one spot.  
But her current medical situation makes me pause.

I was very happy to read that she was discharged from New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Wednesday where she was diagnosed and successfully treated for a blood clot in her head.  According to her doctors, the blood clot developed from a concussion she suffered in her home earlier in December.
Clinton's spokesman explained that while she was at home fighting a stomach virus, she had become dehydrated, fainted and fell, striking her head.  Blood clots are nothing to fool around with; especially when found in the brain.
Even though Clinton said in a statement yesterday that she is eager to get back to work now that the clot has dissolved with the help of blood thinners, her medical scare is a strong reminder to me and all of us who routinely multi-task and push themselves that we need to work smart and protect our good health.
Staying hydrated is definitely a priority and one that increases in importance as we grow older.  WebMD says older adults have an increased chance of becoming dehydrated for the following reasons: they may not drink water on a regular basis because they do not feel as thirsty as younger people, their kidneys might not work as well as they once did and they might choose not to drink lots of water because of an inability to control their bladders.
Something to look forward to right?
I enjoy working but when I am involved in a project I am passionate about I know that I sometimes lose track of time and sometimes even forget to eat.  Working hard can be satisfying but I try to remind myself that work shouldn't compromise my health or yours.

For example, I have a job where I sit in front of a computer.  Throughout the day, I constantly remind myself to get up and walk around.  I need to give my eyes a break and I definitely need to move my body.  Sitting in one place for hours at a time is not good for any part of my body even though I have worked with people who are almost macho about how long they work in front of the computer.

To me, that's not working smart.  That's just marking time.  At a certain point you are no longer focused on what you're doing because you've been at it for so long you don't even see it any more. 

There's no gold medal for working yourself to the bone.  In fact, I've seen some people end up very sick trying to put in unbelievable work weeks.  Sooner or later, the lack of sleep, the stress, the constant mental go-go-go, the eating on the run and deadlines wear you down.  I  find it's not the amount of hours you work, but what you do with the hours you work that helps you stay on top of your job.

If you are a workhorse too, I think the healthiest plan to follow is to try to be proactive.  Evaluate your schedule and see what you can get done before a deadline.  Remove distractions and do the work when it's time to do the work.  Push through until the work is done and reward yourself with a break.

I appreciate and admire Hillary Clinton's work ethic and her talents but her hospitalization was a public sign to all of us that sometimes we need to put the breaks on our work schedules and be aware of the health pitfalls that can happen when you put in long hours in a pressure cooker job.

Please rest up Hillary.....we need you!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Have A Little Happiness

At this time of year, it is easy to find self-help advice almost everywhere we look: online, television, magazines, books.

It's the beginning of a new year and it's traditionally a time to take stock of what we've done in the year gone by and think about what we want to improve about ourselves in the new year.   As we put up new calendars and turn a fresh page, we evaluate how we would like to go forward and perhaps we even have a new plan of action.
Most people are hopeful that the bad habits that they practiced in 2012 will either change or maybe even disappear in 2013.  Advice seems to be everywhere because we all are different.  Each one of us is set up different from the other.  One person's advice will trigger something in someone and another person's advice might not make any sense to them at all.
As I said in yesterday's post, I'm not making any new resolutions this year because I'm going to try and approach each day as an opportunity to do my best. 
But then a great friend sent me this short story written by a Jesuit priest, Rev. James Martin and I thought these five down-to-earth, common sense suggestions he writes about could easily synch up with my plan to try and find the best person within myself.
I am open to advice from anyone, especially a Jesuit!!!! 

Five Easy Things for a Happier Year

Dec 31 2012/ By James Martin, SJ
Rev. James Martin is a Jesuit priest, the culture editor of America magazine and author of numerous books including The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.

Okay, we all like making lists of New Year’s Resolutions. And most of the time--well, much of the time--we have a really hard time keeping them because they’re so difficult. Lose 20 pounds. Read a new book a month. Never get drunk again. Avoid all sodas. Don’t eat any chocolate again. Stand up to my boss. Go to the gym every day. Sometimes you feel defeated by January 2.
But how about five simple things you can do to be happier--which you really can do? Here are five easy things you can do for a happier life next year. And they’re a lot easier than losing 20 pounds.
1. Be a Little Kinder. I think that 90% of the spiritual life is being a kind person. No need to have any advanced degrees in theology or moral reasoning, and no need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s religious traditions, to get this: Be gentler and more compassionate towards other people. In other words, say “Thank you” and “Please.” Ask people how they are. Listen more carefully when they speak to you. Don’t say snotty things about them behind their backs. Basically, give them the benefit of the doubt. I know that sometimes you feel like acting like a jerk—you feel justified because of the way you’re being treated—but you don’t have to. Most of the time you have a choice: I can be a jerk or I can be kind. Be kind. You’ll find that you’ll be happier with yourself at the end of the day. And, as an added benefit, everyone around you will be happier
2. Relax a Bit More. Let’s not belabor the point: a lot of us are rushing around like lunatics these days. Overbooked. Overscheduled. Overworked. Crazybusy. Exhausted. Checking our phones and iPads and blah blah blahs every five seconds. Do you really, really, need to be checking in every few minutes? Can you set those things aside for a just a little bit? And aren’t there just a few tasks you can let go of? A few months ago I realized that I had completely booked myself for the next few months and started to get a little overwhelmed. The more I thought about these supposedly fun things, the more depressed I got. I had to ask myself: How many of these things did I really have to do? For me the answer was about three-quarters of them. The other quarter I could let go of. Maybe the proportion is different for you, but looking at cutting back a bit is a good exercise. Relaxing a little bit more can lead to more creativity, more time to think, and more time to pray. Paradoxically, it may make you more productive. It’ll certainly make you happier—and again, everyone around you happier because you’re not stressing everyone else out with your stress. I’m not saying check out completely, or quit your job, or tell everyone that you’re stopping every activity you presently do. Just relax a little more. You’re a human being not a human doing.
3. Enjoy Nature More. Look up at the sky. It’s pretty amazing. Every moment of the day. Yesterday where I was staying it was a brilliant blue. Clear. Cloudless. Ahhhh. Enjoy it. How about noticing something as beautiful as the trees in your neighborhood? Are you watching them cycle from spring green to green to red to barren? Give yourself a few seconds to be aware of that. If you live in a city, can you notice the wind on your face or the occasional burst of sunshine peeping through the gray buildings? If you’re lucky enough to live by the ocean or a lake, well, I envy you! Notice nature a little more. It’s always changing and so it’s always a surprise. And can you thank God for the natural things that you notice every day? Natural beauty is, I think, happy-making for most of us; and being more grateful to God will add even more to your happiness.
4. Be a Little More Grateful. Try this: Notice the small daily things that you tend to overlook. The stuff you take for granted or like, but don’t really consider “special.” The taste of your favorite cereal or coffee or juice in the morning. An unexpected phone call from a friend. Your child’s laugh or a nephew’s or niece’s giggle. Your cat’s crazy antics. A funny TV show. A small house job finally finished. Stop and savor those little things. And say thanks to God. I’m not saying that you can’t be sad or bummed out. Life’s really tough some times. Most times. But I’ll bet that there are a few things in your life that make you feel lucky. Just a few seconds a day is all it takes. Gratitude is the gateway to the spiritual life. Open that door today. You’ll be a happier person once you step through.
5. Pray Just a Tiny Bit More. I’m not saying that you need to enter a monastery or take out a mortgage out on a hermitage. But just a few more minutes a day is enough to jumpstart your spiritual life. Think of it as a relationship. If God is important to you, wouldn’t you want to spend some one-on-one time with God? That’s what prayer is. And there’s no best, or only way to pray. Whatever works best for you—imagining yourself with God, quietly meditating on a favorite Scripture passage, or reciting an old prayer that comforts you—is what’s best for you. Just a little bit of prayer will help you feel in closer touch with God. And that relationship, because it connects you to the transcendent and makes you feel less alone in those tough times I mentioned, will make you happier.
There. Those aren’t so hard are they? Be kind. Relax a little bit. Enjoy nature more. Be a little more grateful. Pray just a tiny bit more. You can do all those. And in doing those you’ll be happier. And have a Happy New Year.