Category Archives: Good Health

The Unknown Cousins Tour: Great While It Lasted!

Ten months ago, after visiting his hometown of Winston-Salem, my father told me about his cousin’s daughter who was near my age and, like me, was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic in her forties. In hindsight, I guess the important detail was that we shared an odd medical history. At the time, however, I was shocked and

Sunset at Holden Beach

Sunset at Holden Beach

thrilled to find out I had a female cousin my age. It had always seemed that men had overrun the Perrel side of my family. But I was wrong.

Becky and I met on Facebook. When I studied her picture, I saw we had we had the same full face, the same small teeth which a friend once described as “a row of pearls;” and chestnut-colored hair. (Yes, that’s my original color.)

I learned that she, too, loved to read good books, both fiction and non-fiction; had developed into a foodie who hoarded bottles of capers; and had traveled a lot. I saw the big difference between us last winter when one photo after another on FB showed her with her HOBL, both bundled like the Michelin man with mounds of snow everywhere. Ugh, I thought. How can that be? I spent three winters in Columbus, Ohio, and, when I returned to Virginia Beach, I prayed I’d never see snow again. But my cousin, although she kept houses in North Carolina, had made New Hampshire her home!

She also told me that I had a slew of cousins, most of them female, so a few weeks ago, my HOBL and I set out to meet them.

Our first stop was to meet Becky in Holden Beach, an outer banks island eight-miles long just north of the South Carolina line. It’s a lovely, slow-paced place that reminded me of Virginia Beach before it became an overgrown city.

There, I again noticed her teeth, the similar shape of her face, and then I saw we were the same height and wore the same shade of orange polish on our toenails. The first hour there, I suffered a small case of first-

View from the intercoastal waterway to Holden Beach

View from the intercoastal waterway to Holden Beach

date jitters that started to dissipate as we lunched al fresco by the inter-coastal waterway and vanished completely by mid-afternoon as we noodled in a pool and gabbed, taking time every once in a while to float in comfortable silence.

I won’t tell you about every second of our two-days there, although it was Becky who took us to Mary’s Gone Wild, but so many occasions pointed out how simpatico we were. At a Celtic store in nearby Southport, we learned that each us had been thinking of buying a ukulele. So we did. Orange ones. Not because we wanted them to match but because we both love that color.

From Holden Beach, we went to Winston-Salem, where I’d often gone as a child to visit my grandmother’s family. The night we arrived, we dined with Becky’s mother, Billie Jane, a kissing cousin to my father. Newly turned 85, she’s a beautiful and gracious woman, a former yogini, with a soft voice and a great sense of humor. She flattered me greatly by saying that once she started reading my novel, Cooley & Rose, she couldn’t stop to fix her 5 o’clock supper. She had to keep reading.

By then, I’d already developed a sore throat, and by the morning, the day of a birthday lunch for all of the cousins born in June, my voice was fading. Becky, her husband who had returned the previous night from Singapore, and my HOBL went without me. While they were gone, I napped, then met her neighbor who commented on much Becky and I looked a like.

When the three returned four hours later, my husband said, “I wished you’d met these people 20 years ago. They are so much fun.” In particular, he named three of my senior cousins who came and went in a big Cadillac and made him laugh the whole time in between.

But, thanks to Becky, I didn’t miss everything. She took individual videos of all but one of my cousins, saying “hello,” and more, and watching and listening to Kent, Kay, Mickey, Gail, Helen and so many more made me both teary and happy and wanting to return soon.

Saturday morning I woke unable to speak, my neck swollen, and knew I needed to head home to my bed and, most likely a doctor, even though my cousins had organized an early birthday party for her mother the next day that would include other cousins and their families. Cousins I’d been following on Facebook. Lucky for me, the wife of one stopped by Becky’s house the day we arrived, so I was able to meet Karin, but I had so looked forward to getting to know Jan, Pat and Tim.

In a bare whisper, I asked Becky if maybe my HOBL and I could stop by and see Tim, who lived nearby, on the way out of town. She located him at his 92-year-old father’s, and led us to him.

Meeting Becky was big deal for me, because I’d never known extended family members with whom I could talk books or politics or food or health or nail polish. Then, at the next stop, two other big things happened.

First, Tim, who looks nothing like me, told of how my maternal great-grandmother, who had lived next door to his father and was not related to him, would sit on her porch on warm summer nights with the neighborhood kids gathered around her and tell stories. Since I’d only met her one or twice as a small child before she died, that information thrilled me since my life has been about stories and the cause-and-effect of actions.

He also told me that soon he was going once gain teach classes based on Julie Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, a book I’d read years ago, and that he also biked, had studied Tai Chi and did yoga. I couldn’t speak, so Tim had had no idea, until he saw me smiling and nodding, that all of those had been important to my life, too. He mentioned that the next day, he was headed with his wife and either a mandolin or guitar to Ireland, a country that I fell in love with many years ago.

What I had intended to be a 15-minute visit turned into an hour or more. Tim and his sweet honey of a father, Bink, are professional musicians, and Becky plays the guitar, too, and sings, and, around the kitchen table the three of them played one song after another as I again teared up, moved because I belonged to this family.

Papa John’s Guide To Happiness: A Primer For Lindsay Lohan And The Rest Of Us.

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When my soon to be 92-year-old father-in-law moved to a Mennonite assisted-living center in Goshen, IN three years ago, he called in his 80-something brother-in-law and a much younger son-in-law to help build an oversized desk and lots of shelving for his laptop, books, a printer and the vase with my mother-in-law’s ashes.

Papa John wasted little time in setting up an office in his modest one-room apartment.  He had much to do — track trends of the futures market for his own investment strategies and draw a house plan for a family in Africa.

He quickly made friends with other residents, but when they began dying off he turned to the center’s employees for conversation.  Now he especially enjoys talking with the beautiful young Eastern European women who work as servers in the dining hall because they tell him about things not discussed on the evening news.  Conversations about their customs, mores, ambitions and dreams. Conversation that help to keep him connected to the larger world.

In the Virginia home where Papa John lived most of his life, his dining room wall was plastered with a National Geographic world map.  It was there that he and my mother-in-law hosted lively Sunday dinners for family members, church friends and newly arrived emigrants from Albania and Laos.  And it was at that table that he learned to speak conversational Laotian.

At his 90th birthday party, my father-in-law announced to his children that he was starting life anew.  He went so far as to say, “It saddens me to think of all the funerals I’ll have to attend.”  He looked from one adult child to the next.  All nine of them.

Less than an hour later, his children had created a death pool and drawn names to see in what order they would all predecease their father.  Most of them share his sense of humor, especially Chris, one of the sassy and delightfully twisted instigators, who takes her dad to Walmart and a local diner every week where they discuss, in addition to his shopping list, the insanity of American politics at home and abroad..

At that 90th birthday celebration, one of the center’s employees gave Papa John, whose only taste of liquor occurred 71 year earlier, a bottle of Sangria.  Because he had read the benefits of red wine, he tried it.  And liked it.  In the days that followed, he drank a half-cup each morning with his breakfast until it was gone, then resumed doing so again when his stock was replenished at age 91.

These days he takes no prescription medication but believes dark chocolate is a daily “vitamin.” Every so often he calls me and says he has run out, knowing that I will send his favorite brands — Dove Bliss and Reese’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups — which he shares with his visitors, always sending extras home with little kids.

Sometimes he mails me copies of his blood work.  On the desk in front of me is a recent one that shows his cholesterol is in range.  On that same sheet, scribbled in large print, is his blood pressure — 120/70.

Fifteen years ago a doctor told him he had the heart of a 25-year-old, and he reminds us of that often. But even though he spends 25 minutes, twice a day on a stationary bike, his legs are not so young.  He walks with a cane, one of his own design.  It’s made of PVC pipe.  At one end is an ell-shaped handle so he can hang it on the edge of a table.  The other end is four-pronged so it can stand upright.  Other features include a magnet for picking up dropped paper clips and a tine for stabbing paper debris.  His cane fascinates the center’s residents, some who want their own, and strangers at fast food restaurants to whom he gladly demonstrates its features as his sausage biscuit and free senior coffee cool.

Among his other creations are a pencil extender to increase the life of a nub; a specialty paper tray  for home/small business printers; methods for more efficient construction estimates; and a steel leg for a friend who damaged his own in a accident.  The last was a prototype that needed further tweaking.  No matter.  His buddy was too scared to strap it on.

A compulsive problem solver who wakes up thinking, “What if. . .,” Papa John is now working on a design for affordable, prefabricated living space that would allow persons on the low-end of the economic spectrum to afford their own 700 sq. ft. homes.  Floors could be added as families flourished.

The reason I’m writing about my father-in-law, other than the fact that I’m crazy about him, is that I recently watched the documentary, Happy, which features interviews with academics at U.S. universities and regular people in Denmark, Okinawa, Japan and elsewhere.

According to the film, the unhappiest people fall into three groups:

1.  People who work so much they have no time for leisure, family or friends. As an example, the film cites Japanese businessmen.

2.  Those on a hedonic treadmill who always WANT/NEED to have the next, big thing.  Look around.  We all know someone like this.  Or perhaps we are like this.  (But I’m not.  Really.)

3. Members of fringe groups who fear or dislike outsiders.  Think White Supremists.  Evangelicals, such as snakes handlers.  Or mountain-bound conspiracy theorists.

And what makes for a happy life?  According to experts, four conditions:

1. Regular physical activity that raises feel-good dopamine levels,

2. An appreciation for what one has (which is easier when one’s basic needs are met),

3. Close friends, family members and an involvement with community, and

4. Compassion and service to others.

When I finished streaming Happy on Netflix, I thought of my father-in-law who gave up his home and car at age 89 and moved from a Virginia community he’d known for most of his life to a final one in Indiana. Those changes alone, especially the last, are enough to send most people into a downward spiral.

Yet he continues to thrive. He wakes up every morning, looking forward to his day, happy.