This Year

This year, may we find a cure for cancer, eliminate hunger, and curb gun violence.  May we be thankful.  May we embrace civility.  May we eat real food and teach our children to do the same.  May we treat others as we wish to be treated and remember to mind our manners.  May we read a good book.  May we appreciate our differences while discovering our commonalities.  May we gladden the hearts of children.  May we give a stranger a smile and provide assistance to those in need.  May we sing out loud.  May we combat hatred with love and displace anger with understanding.  May we laugh more than we cry.  May we support the Arts.  May we treasure new ways, experiences, and thoughts.  May we be grateful for all we have, rather than pining away for things we want.  May we plant a garden, if not flowers or a tree.   May we spend more time with family and friends and less time interacting with our mobile phones.  May we learn.  May we respect and protect our planet.  May we recognize our humanity and embrace humility.  May we see the beauty of each moment.  May we be kind, always.  And may we love more than we thought was possible.

Being Our Best Self.

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Or woman, as the case may be.

It is that time of year.  Again.  I find that with each passing year, ushering in a new year requires more and more mental preparation.  Perhaps it’s a sign of my age, but for me, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day passes at a glacial speed.  I like to think that the slowness of the week is a result of the anticipation of starting anew on January 1st.  Indeed, for many, January 1st marks the dawning of a new day, separating past limitations from full-on human potential.  This is the time that one’s annual record of transgressions, vices, and failings is wiped clean, at least metaphorically, and the proverbial clean slate is ours for the taking.

Ever since the 26th of December, I have been contemplating the New Year.  Some thoughts are mundane (revising our household budget), some thoughts are frightening (contemplating preparing our tax filings myself), and some thoughts are fantastical (welcoming another child into our family).  Regardless of my thoughts on the matter, I am well aware that I am limited only by myself both today and in the New Year.  And there’s the rub.

Since I’ve been married, each December I’ve created a photographic family calendar.  In doing so, I am forced to revisit the year’s highs and lows in pictures.  In an especially busy year, like this year, such an exercise is as necessary as a bottled of chilled Champagne on December 31st.  It reminds me of where we have been, what we have accomplished, and where we are going.  It reminds me of what is important in life.  It reminds me of love–both being loved and loving.  It reminds me of grace.  And it humbles me.

As the human psyche demands, I categorize things as much as possible, including years that have passed, making for a simple calendar title.  2014, the year in which [S] was born, was dubbed the Year of Wonder.  2013, the year we learned I was pregnant, was rightly named a Year to Behold.  This year, as I sorted through photos of two cross-country trips to visit family, movers moving, saying goodbye to family and friends (including loyal four-legged furry ones), and starting a new life on a military base in Japan, I had no other choice than to name 2015 the Year of Living Boldly.

Sometimes people strive to be bold.  Other times, being bold merely is a byproduct of circumstances.  In a former life, I worked hard to be bold.  But after this year, I am able to say, without reservation, that the latter is by far the more seductive and organic of the two.  Making tough decisions, embracing change, going with the flow, and making do with whatever comes one’s way necessitate that one live confidently and courageously, if only because failure to do otherwise would be tragic.

I see the year’s effect on me in small, almost insignificant, ways.  I stopped using recipes to make soups.  Yes, really.  I see it in in momentous and powerful ways.  I stopped sweating the small stuff.  Yes, really.  And I see it in meaningful ways.  I agreed to put [S] in daycare for a few hours each week.  Yes.  Really.

To be honest, I’m not sure if I want to start the New Year anew.  Rather, I’m hopeful that 2016 will allow me to continue this period of immense–and intense–personal growth.  When I first started writing in this space, I acknowledged that I am a work in progress.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  But I also acknowledge the gift I have received by witnessing my becoming more complete, be it as a woman, partner, mother, daughter, or friend.  And this is especially  significant as I had no idea of the depth of the void.

May the New Year bring you peace, health and happiness.  And may it be your best year yet.

More Shisa Love

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When we traveled to Kyoto and Kobe, I found myself looking for shisas at the entryways to–and on the rooftops of–buildings.  Their absence on the mainland reminded me that shisa, like many things on this Island, are uniquely Okinawan.

I can’t help but be amused by the variety of shisa.  Whether they are portrayed as fierce protectors or happy-go-lucky-guardians, they make me smile.  I hope they make you smile too.

Okinawa World: A Tourist Trap and So Much More

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Since our arrival to Okinawa, time has passed quickly.  Indeed, it is difficult for me to believe that we have lived in Japan for six months already.  That said, since we touched down at Naha, it’s been a struggle to spend time together as a family–at least that is how it feels.  Perhaps it’s because the weekdays are long, with Russell getting up early and returning home more than 12 hours later.  Perhaps it’s because [S]’s morning nap schedule makes for a long afternoon.  Whatever the reason, I’m certain that we don’t actually spend that much waking time together during the week.

That said, I’m delighted that Russell was given Thursday and Friday off from work.  It allowed us time to prepare for and celebrate Christmas.  And it allowed us to do something fun on Saturday.  After wishing friends and family Merry Christmas in the States, we packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two freshly baked buttermilk biscuits and some water, woke [S] from her nap, and headed to the car.  After debating whether to spend the day touring Shuri Castle or Okinawa World we chose our destination:  Okinawa World.

As the name indicates, it is a themed park embracing all things Okinawan.  Upon arrival, we selected to purchase tickets allowing us access to the Kingdom Village and the underground cave, opting to skip the Habu exhibit.    Yen only, we were informed.  Fortunately, between the two of us, we managed to pay for our admission and have a bit of yen left in our pocket for a treat or two.

As we entered the park, [S] immediately noticed a small archway made of balloons, which she walked towards straightaway.  It was a labyrinth for children, decorated with balloons and creatures gracing Okinawa’s lands and waters.  No doubt [S] would have stayed there all day had we let her.

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We headed to Eisa square to watch a 30 minute Eisa performance, which was packed. [S] clapped, danced and watched the performers intently.  On our way to the limestone cave, we stopped to see a white snake and sample some dried fruit from local vendors.

Gyokusendo Cave, under Okinawa World, was the highlight of the trip.  Once descending down several staircases, the paths were wide enough for [S] to walk next to us and were extremely well lit.  Yes, it was humid.  Yes, the pathway was wet.  And, yes, limestone dripped on us.  But the stalactites and stalagmites were fascinating.  The pools of water were enhanced by colored lamps throughout the 5 kilometer walk and we spied one or two fish and a crustacean swimming about.

<b>Okinawa</b> - Explore, Travel and Visit Japan. A Wonderful and Memorable ...

After exiting the cave via a steep escalator, we ended up in a small garden, showcasing Okinawa’s local produce.  Next to the garden was a mini-mart selling local fruits and Okinawan delicacies.  And next to the mini-mart were places selling mango ice cream and sugar cane drinks.

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The remainder of our time at Okinawa World consisted of wandering through vendors wanting to sell locally crafted wares.  The pottery store had plenty of shisas for sale and the glass shop had plenty of glasses for sale.  There were vendors selling locally made stationary, stringed instruments, and Awamori.  And while it was a hard sell, it was also an informative and enjoyable way to understand a bit more of the Okinawan culture.

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[S]’s first kaleidoscope at the glass making factory.

And, yes, we did purchase a keepsake from the day.  But that is fodder for another post.

Fast Away the New Year Passes.

In four months, [S] will be a two-year old.  Earlier this month she properly–and loudly–enunciated her new favorite word:  No.  So did so as a friend of ours was holding her at the mall and I attempted to take her for a diaper change.  “Come, [S], time for diaper change,” I sing-songed as I held out my arms to her.  “No!,” came the reply, as she buried her head into my friend’s shoulder.  Silence.  “That’s a first,” I commented, smiling outwardly, as I suppressed by inner bewilderment.

Now, only a few weeks later, she has mastered the art of “No.”  [S], do you need a diaper change?  No.  [S], are you hungry?  No.  [S], are you tired?  No.  In an attempt to get [S] to start using the word “yes,” I started asking different questions.  [S], do you want ice cream?  Silence.  Head nod up and down.  [S] do you want milk?  Silence.  Sign for milk.  [S] do you want a puppy?  Silence.  “Yeah.”  For a moment, let’s put aside the fact that I detest the word yeah and revel in the fact that this the closest she’s ever come to saying yes in English.  (She will say “hai” (yes, in Japanese) repeatedly and without hesitation.)

My Grandmother had a dog named Skip.  By all accounts, my Grandmother loved Skip.  After she moved into a continuing care retirement community, Winston the bulldog appeared.  Specifically, he appeared and lived underneath my Grandparents’ living room coffee table.  Each time I visited, there he was, with a bow around his neck, pleasant as can be.  Some time after my Grandmother passed away, Winston became a fixture at my parents’ home.  Seeing him always made me smile.  And when [S] first met Winston, she too found him pleasant to pet and be around.

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[S] and Winston the bulldog.
Today, we were walking through a store and something made [S] stop cold.  I looked and she had bent down to pet a few “bow-wows,” her word for dogs.  And then she squatted down and refused to get back up.

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Stuffed dogs displaying store merchandise.

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If [S] hears a dog, she immediately asks, “bow-wow?”  Upon our saying yes, she says “bow-wow, bow-wow, wow.”  Of course, Blue has a special place in her vocabulary and is “Boo-boo,” because I oftentimes call him Blue Blue.  (A terrible habit of my parenting–saying everything twice.)

I am so pleased that [S] is loving towards all dogs–be they real, stuffed or display animals.  It speaks volumes of her nature and, even more, of Blue’s.  Just as Winston’s place in life speaks volumes about the nature of my Grandmother and my Mother.

Perhaps, this explains–in part–the reason [S] had no fear of reaching out to touch a snake earlier today.  No need for alarm, it was a small non-poisonous white snake on display by a handler.  When the snake, which was lying on the arm of its handler, was held up to her, rather than petting the snake, [S] grabbed it by its girth, wrapping her small fingers around the snake’s midsection.   I’m not certain who was more surprised, me, the handler or the snake.  I quickly grabbed [S]’s hand and pried her fingers open.  The handler explained it wasn’t a stuffed toy and that she could “rub” the snake.  And the snake had become alert and active, finally.

I recall last Christmas with clarity.  [S] was still being worn in her carrier and could barely sit up on her own.  And Blue was her ever-present buddy and protector.  A year later, [S] is walking–if not running–everywhere and wants to do everything on her own.  And Blue’s presence continues both to be felt and missed.  I am in awe of [S]’s growth.  And I am in awe of the effect of Blue’s love.

What a difference a year makes.

Happy Christmas Eve

Earlier today, my husband presented me with a surprise–a bottle of Glenlivet.  Those who know me, know that I have a soft spot for single malt scotch.  And after savoring a bottle of 30 year old Macallan, I’m hard to impress.  But Glenlivet holds a special place in my heart, as the first scotch whiskey I drank–and I drank it for months before becoming brave enough to order Talisker, Oban, and the other Glens.

It is 10:08 p.m., Christmas Eve, as I write this post.  I could bore a reader to tears by describing our day.  Suffice it to say, after shopping this morning, baking this afternoon, cooking this evening, and cleaning tonight, I’m ready for a break.  And I’m about to have one.  My feet will be up.  I will be sitting on our couch.  And I will be enjoying Glenlivet, as I watch my husband put together the first of many Christmas gifts for [S].

[S]’s grandparents generously sent a child-sized table and chairs for Christmas.  A perfect gift for a growing toddler who is focused on being as independent as can be.  She’ll have her own place to sit, draw, read and play with friends, be they real, stuffed, or imaginary.  [S]’s other grandparents sent gifts, one of which requires batteries.  As I wrapped the gift, I turned to Russell to ask if we had three AAA batteries on hand.  We do.

These small steps in parenting–supervising the construction of a gift and ensuring we have batteries on hand Christmas morning–touch my heart. They are moments that remind me how fortunate we are.  And I’m reminded that such moments are gifts themselves.

Tomorrow morning, I will watch our daughter walk into the living room and see the table and chairs.  She will explore the wrapped gifts under the tree that have provided her hours of enjoyment and busyness.  She will speak with grandparents, aunts, and cousins.  She will eat turkey, cranberry and sweet potatoes.  And she will fall asleep exhausted by the newness of experience Christmas day.

If only every day could be like Christmas.

Cheers.

RE:PRINT (NYT): 12 Minutes of Yoga for Bone Health

Almost every woman of a certain age I know has been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia.  The diagnosis oftentimes is accompanied by a drug prescription.  But what if a drug therapy could be replaced by physical activity?  Certainly, I’d prefer the non-medicated route.  Better yet, I’d take the preventative route, if at all possible.

And I’m hoping it is possible.  As a small-framed, Asian woman with a diet low in calcium, I’m trying everything I can to avoid osteoporosis.  Or at least I thought I was.  While I’ve yet to be seduced by yoga (of any type), I might start learning a few poses in my continued effort to stave off bone loss.  After all, its sides effects are the best of any known therapy.

On the other hand, yoga’s “side effects,” Dr. Fishman and colleagues wrote recently, “include better posture, improved balance, enhanced coordination, greater range of motion, higher strength, reduced levels of anxiety and better gait.”

—  12 Minutes of Yoga for Bone Health, The New York Times (Dec. 21, 2015).

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Yoga enthusiasts link the practice to a long list of health benefits, including greater flexibility and range of motion, stronger muscles, better posture and balance, reduced emotional and physical stress, and increased self-awareness and self-esteem.

But definitively proving these benefits is challenging, requiring years of costly research. A pharmaceutical company is unlikely to fund a study that doesn’t involve a drug, and in any event, the research requires a large group of volunteers tracked over a very long time.

The subjects must provide health measurements at the outset, learn the proper poses, continue to do them regularly for years and be regularly evaluated.

No one knows these challenges better than Dr. Loren M. Fishman, a physiatrist at Columbia University who specializes in rehabilitative medicine. For years, he has been gathering evidence on yoga and bone health, hoping to determine whether yoga might be an effective therapy for osteoporosis.

The idea is not widely accepted in the medical community, but then, researchers know comparatively little about complementary medicine in general. So in 2005, Dr. Fishman began a small pilot study of yoga moves that turned up some encouraging results. Eleven practitioners had increased bone density in their spine and hips, he reported in 2009, compared with seven controls who did not practice yoga.

Knowing that more than 700,000 spinal fractures and more than 300,000 hip fractures occur annually in the United States, Dr. Fishman hoped that similar findings from a much larger study might convince doctors that this low-cost and less dangerous alternative to bone-loss drugs is worth pursuing.

Those medications can produce adverse side effects like gastrointestinal distress and fractures of the femur. Indeed, a recent study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging found that among 126,188 women found to have osteoporosis, all of whom had Medicare Part D drug coverage, only 28 percent started bone drug therapy within a year of diagnosis.

Many of those who avoided drugs were trying to avoid gastrointestinal problems.

On the other hand, yoga’s “side effects,” Dr. Fishman and colleagues wrote recently, “include better posture, improved balance, enhanced coordination, greater range of motion, higher strength, reduced levels of anxiety and better gait.”

Weight-bearing activity is often recommended to patients with bone loss, and Dr. Fishman argues that certain yoga positions fit the bill.

“Yoga puts more pressure on bone than gravity does,” he said in an interview. “By opposing one group of muscles against another, it stimulates osteocytes, the bone-making cells.”

Most experts argue that it’s difficult, perhaps impossible, for adults to gain significant bone mass. Undeterred, Dr. Fishman invested a chunk of his own money and with three collaborators — Yi-Hsueh Lu of The Rockefeller University, Bernard Rosner of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Dr. Gregory Chang of New York University — solicited volunteers worldwide via the Internet for a follow-up to his small pilot study.

Of the 741 people who joined his experiment from 2005 to 2015, 227 (202 of them women) followed through with doing the 12 assigned yoga poses daily or at least every other day. The average age of the 227 participants upon joining the study was 68, and 83 percent had osteoporosis or its precursor, osteopenia.

The 12 poses, by their English names, were tree, triangle, warrior II, side-angle, twisted triangle, locust, bridge, supine hand-to-foot I, supine hand-to-foot II, straight-legged twist, bent-knee twist and corpse pose. Each pose was held for 30 seconds. The daily regimen, once learned, took 12 minutes to complete.

The researchers collected data at the start of the study on the participants’ bone density measurements, blood and urine chemistry and X-rays of their spines and hips. They were each given a DVD of the 12 yoga poses used in the pilot study and an online program in which to record what they did and how often.

A decade after the start of the study, bone density measurements were again taken and emailed to the researchers; many participants also had repeat X-rays done. The findings, as reported last month in Topics of Geriatric Rehabilitation, showed improved bone density in the spine and femur of the 227 participants who were moderately or fully compliant with the assigned yoga exercises.

Improvements were seen in bone density in the hip as well, but they were not statistically significant.

Before the study, the participants had had 109 fractures, reported by them or found on X-rays.

At the time the study was submitted for publication, “with more than 90,000 hours of yoga practiced largely by people with osteoporosis or osteopenia, there have been no reported or X-ray detected fractures or serious injuries of any kind related to the practice of yoga in any of the 741 participants,” Dr. Fishman and his colleagues wrote.

“Yoga looks like it’s safe, even for people who have suffered significant bone loss,” Dr. Fishman said in an interview.

Furthermore, a special study of bone quality done on 18 of the participants showed that they had “better internal support of their bones, which is not measured by a bone density scan but is important to resisting fractures,” Dr. Fishman said.

The study has many limitations, including the use of self-selected volunteers and the lack of a control group. But all told, the team concluded, the results may lend support to Dr. Fishman’s long-held belief that yoga can help reverse bone loss.

Even if bone density did not increase, improvements in posture and balance that can accrue from the practice of yoga can be protective, Dr. Fishman said.

“Spinal fractures can result from poor posture, and there’s no medication for that, but yoga is helpful,” he said.

In addition, “Yoga is good for range of motion, strength, coordination and reduced anxiety,” he said, “all of which contribute to the ability to stay upright and not fall. If you don’t fall, you greatly reduce your risk of a serious fracture.”

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