A Very Special Rag Doll – My Ann

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I have a brand new book available on Amazon.com.

https://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Found-Me-collection-memories/dp/1731041195/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1544573835&sr=1-1&keywords=jennie+campbell  

I put it together rather quickly in order to have it available for sale this Christmas season. It is a little book, containing samples of Christmas letters I have written over the years, intermixed with blog entries from Decembers past. The title of the book is Christmas Found Me!, which pretty much describes what happens to me every year as the holiday season approaches, carrying me along toward the big day searching for the real meaning of Christmas amid all of the commercialism and glitz and glitter of the season. Christmas finds me each year in unusual places, in poignant memories, and in the faces of people I meet and the music that brings me back to the essence of what it is all about.

 

What I find interesting is how a little girl inspired me, beginning last year with a story I wrote about her in this blog, and then again this year as she sat on the guest room bed, watching me as I wrote and put together my little Christmas book. She never said a word, but sat there smiling and gazing at me with her bright black eyes, content as she could be. Her name is Ann, and she is my Raggedy Ann doll.

 

Ann was a gift from Santa to me when I was nine months old, my first Christmas. At that time, she was bigger than I was, and was wearing a crisp white apron over a brightly colored print dress and white pantaloons to match her apron. I invite my blog readers to read the story of Ann. https://jennielousdays.wordpress.com/2017/12/21/raggedy-ann-and-christmas/.  The years have faded her frock, which she still wears, as well as her cloth face and body. She shows the signs of age, just like me, with scars on her body, thinning hair, and a little saggy-bagginess here and there. But, she is my Ann, and I love her more and more everyday. Her “I Love You” heart underneath her outfit reminds me of what true love is, and I know that she has never stopped loving me and never will.

This past Sunday, Ann went with me to the Monroe-Walton Center for the Arts in Monroe, Georgia, where we now live, for an open house and book signing of my book. She sat proudly on the display table, holding a copy of the book in her little arms, smiling sweetly to everybody who came into the center. She and I both had a wonderful time!

Ann and I have been through a lot in our 70 years together. Sometimes I think she is as real to me today as she was when I was a tiny little girl. I’ve never stopped talking to her and telling her my most private secrets and dreams, and she has never stopped listening. And now, her story is in one of my books. She is a proud little Ann, and I am grateful that she has given me the gift of her story to share.

Oh! How I love my Ann!

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Love is in the Air This Week in Florida

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This coming Saturday I will be reminded again that I am now 70 years old. My Dunedin High School Class of ’66 is having a 70th birthday get-together at a local barbeque restaurant not far from where we graduated from high school, only a few years ago. When the invitation hit my email inbox this summer, I didn’t pay much attention to it, knowing that I now live 500 miles from Dunedin. But as the days and weeks passed, I felt a pull to go back to the email and begin thinking about a possible trip to Florida.

When I decided to seriously consider making the trip, doors began to open for me, the tug and pull became stronger and more persuasive, and that inner voice that I know so well refused to shut up until I finally told myself, “I’m going!”

So, here I am, in Tarpon Springs, Florida, not for a weekend reunion, but for a 10-day honest-to-God vacation with my beloved cousin and best friend, Kate.  I have some major life decisions to make in the coming months, so this is the ideal time and place for me to kick back, eat Greek food, enjoy the beach and the bayou, and open my heart and my brain to all of the possibilities that will be popping up on my path in the next few months.

One thing that I am pondering while on this vacation is my current and future status as a single, independent (and one day, retired!) woman. I can dream that someone will come my way who will want to hitch his wagon to my star and travel through this last act or two of our lives together, but I’m not sure if that is going to happen for me. I am a staunch believer in love, and when I love, it’s a big love. I still think I am watching and waiting for My Great Love and Life Companion, but if he doesn’t ever come my way, it will be ok. I am 70 years old, for crying out loud, I keep reminding myself. I don’t turn heads when I walk by, and my body and face readily and happily reveal the full life I have lived up to this day.  I don’t have a great track record in the relationship area of my life, so I am not hanging onto this idea like a vice grip and forsaking other adventures that might come my way. Who knows what or who is around the next corner?

With all this in mind, I have been tuned in to love while here in Florida, and I have been an avid people watcher. Love still exists, I’m happy to say, and I am encouraged. I’ve taken a few photos on the sly of couples enjoying being together, which I am posting below. They were just too compelling not to capture them to include here. It has been a hoot watching and making up love stories about them in my mind.

Love is a wonderful thing!

Enjoy!

The Yummy Factor

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After diligently searching for the perfect eating plan for myself, I came up with a brand new diet, one that I am designing for myself: The Yummy Factor. As I stated in my last blog entry, if it tastes good, is good for me, has natural ingredients, and I can afford it, then that’s what I’m going to eat.  I will pay attention to the nutrition experts, but since there is so much disagreement about what is best for me, I have taken matters into my own hands. And I think I’ve found a winner!

For the past week or so, I have been experimenting with The Yummy Factor Eating Plan. Tonight I tested it out in Tarpon Springs, Florida, at Costas Greek Restaurant. I am here for nine days with my cousin, Kate, and we plan to graze the Greek menus from front to back in this Greek community, eating what has to be an authentic Mediterranean diet. Kate has lived here in the past, and visits frequently, so she is the perfect guide for my Yummy Factor experiment.

Tarpon Springs is a special place for both of us. Kate’s mother and my father, brother and sister, were born in nearby Palm Harbor, and grew up here, along with their four brothers. Both graduated (along with my mother – a Kentucky transplant and Kate’s father) from Tarpon Springs High School. There is a rich family history here, in addition to Greek cuisine!

But getting back to the food. I have eaten and enjoyed Greek food many times in my life, but I haven’t paid a lot of attention to its nutritional value until studying up on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and beginning to develop The Yummy Factor. Nobody in the world (except perhaps in Greece, which I haven’t had the luxury of visiting) makes Greek Salad like they do in Tarpon Springs. At least, no place I’ve ever ordered Greek Salad has had this special treat for me.  And what is this delicacy? I remember as a child devouring the salad just to reach the scoop of potato salad hidden deep within whenever our family came down to Tarpon Springs for vacation and our annual family fish fry. I wonder if it is unique to the Greek community here.

Tonight Kate and I feasted on Greek Chicken Lemon Soup, Spanakopita (Greek spinach pie), Domades (stuffed grape leaves with ground beef and rice), Horta (greens endive), and Tzatziki (sour cream, cucumber and garlic spread with pita bread). Yummy, yummy, yummy! And, oh! so good for us! After finishing off the last bite that we could force into our tummies, we decided to wait on one of our favorite Greek pastries for another time. We were too full to want dessert after this scrumptious dinner.There are some Greek bakeries that we plan to visit while we are here in Tarpon Springs, so I know we will get our fill before we leave to go home.

I am already looking forward to tomorrow to discover what new delicacy I will discover. In addition to all of the fine Greek food here all of the time, this weekend is the annual Greek Festival. We couldn’t have timed this trip any better.I can hardly wait!

Yes, I think the Yummy Factor eating plan is going to work just fine for me!

 

If any of my blog readers ever visit Tarpon Springs, I highly recommend Costas Restaurant. If you want authentic Greek food, this is the real deal! www.costascuisine.com.

Church Signs

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I think everyone enjoys reading the catchy little phrases that churches like to post on their front lawns to draw attention their way. At one time in my life, I was in charge of changing the message at my church every week, and I remember carrying the box of plastic letters and numbers out to the church sign on Friday morning to take the old message down and replace it with the new one. With the technological age well upon us, we see messages streaming, winking and blinking, and flashing in various colors, all drawing the passersby to pause to read whatever the message of the day might be. I have chuckled over some of the more clever ones, and I have taken pause in whatever was going through my mind at the time to reflect on the wisdom or humor of a message.

Down the road from where I live now is a little white frame Pentecostal Holiness church, and its signs are a source of inspiration and entertainment every morning as I walk my little dog, Sunshine, up the sidewalk past the church. This is not a fancy church, and I have a hunch that its members are not wealthy people. But they love their signs, which are often decorated with helium balloons, ribbons, or other sparkly doo-dads. Spelling is also sometimes a source for a chuckle from me. For instance, one that is on display now states on one side, “Every tongus shall confess to God.” On the opposite side, the sign maker corrected the mistake! I also love the three crosses with the American flags at their base. These church members can never be accused of not being patriotic, that’s for sure.

 

There is one sign, however, that doesn’t seem to fit the evangelical nature of this little church. To the right of the driveway of the small gravel parking area beside the church is this sign:

There is something about this sign that tugs at me, and makes me start thinking about religion, Christianity, and faith. I’m sure it is there to keep people off of the church grounds when nobody is there, or to dissuade ne’er-do-wells from using the parking area for purposes other than holy ones. But to me, it appears to be sending a message quite different from the other signs gracing the front of the church.

As Christians, we preach that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. We invite people to invite Christ into their lives and hearts, and we dedicate our lives to proclaiming the good news. But how often do we put up our own “No Trespassing” sign in the front yard of our lives warning those who pass our way to keep out? If you are not like me, if you don’t believe exactly as I do, if you come at the wrong time, then you aren’t welcome here. Don’t park in my driveway.

Just a little something to think about this morning.

It’s Confusing!

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I’m confused!

For the past several months, I have been reading up on, and doing my research on, nutrition, exercise, and good living habits that I am hoping will help me navigate my way through my 70s. Finding a consensus from the so-called experts has my brain running around in circles.

Since I’ve turned 70, I’ve learned a few new things about myself. As my readers know, I have added a new word to my vocabulary – osteoporosis.  In addition to this scary word, enter the word, Alzheimer’s – even scarier. While I have the first, but not the second – yet – both additions to my vocabulary have sent me on a hunting expedition to learn as much as I possibly can about each. And to add insult to injury, Coronary Health enters my picture, after having had my heart and arteries recently thoroughly examined.

What is confusing me at the moment is trying to figure out what to eat. There is disagreement among the so-called experts about which foods are beneficial for my bones, my heart, and my brain. If I followed the advice of all of these people, I would be eating a diet consisting of only a handful of foods, and drinking nothing but water (but only water that doesn’t contain fluoride and chlorine) with maybe a cup of green tea or coffee. Even with these slim pickings for my beverage of choice, there are arguments for and against caffeine, so I’m not sure what I should drink!

This is a sampling of what I have picked up from the experts. Some say to eat nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Avoid cashews, but eat lots of macadamia nuts and walnuts. No peanuts – they aren’t even nuts, and they are bad, bad, bad! But peanut butter is yummy, and contains protein. Some say almonds are wonderful; others proclaim a weary ho-hum. A plant-based diet is the best one for optimal health. I am told to stay away from meat, dairy, and eggs. Ok, I’m good on this until I read that I need to eat pastured eggs and grass-fed beef, including bone broth and collagen. Vegetables are good, as long as they aren’t nightshade vegetables. Beans have protein and lots of beneficial nutrients, but they will kill me. Grains are bad, but ancient grains are good. Make sure they are sprouted grains. Oats are bad. Oats are good if they are non-GMO and are steel-cut. Eat the rainbow. Stay away from anything red. Don’t eat seeds. Eat plenty of seeds.  Drink a glass of red wine every day. Don’t consume alcohol, because it kills brain cells. Cheese is very good. Cheese will also kill me.  Make sure to consume lots of leafy greens and salads. Be careful about eating raw vegetables. They are better for me if they are cooked.  Make sure everything I put into my body is organic, because of pesticides and Roundup.  Avoid wines from the Napa Valley, but those from Oregon are OK. Omit all sugar from my diet, including honey. Make sure to include local honey in my diet for allergy protection, and also use it as an antibiotic and face cleanser.

WHAAATTT??? What’s a girl to do? Is there anything safe for me to eat?  What should I include in my diet on a daily basis that will benefit my bones, my brain, and my heart, but won’t present a negative impact on my thyroid, my liver, my kidneys, or any other important organ in my body?

OH MY!! The confusion only grows with each podcast, documentary series, book, and research study I encounter.  My common sense is guiding me toward my own theory of good nutrition and healthy living, of which tastiness is leading the pack. If it tastes good, contains natural ingredients, has nutritional value, and is affordable, then I’ll consume it.

Now that I am on a roll, I see a variety of blog entries in my future about me, my body, and my sanity. I wonder if there are others out there in this world who are scratching their heads in consternation while trying to write a decent grocery list, as I am doing?

For me, this morning, I am enjoying a breakfast of steel cut organic oatmeal, fresh frozen blueberries (not organic, so they may be contaminated), and a sprinkling of chia seeds, all mixed up in a cupful of kefir.

If it doesn’t kill me, maybe it will make me stronger! The one thing I know for sure, it will make me full!

My Brain Has a Mind of Her Own

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     No pun intended.
     With my growing older comes an awareness that my brain isn’t what she used to be. I think. Or maybe not. I wonder. Hmmm.  I find myself struggling for words and for names from time to time. But is this something new? I’m not sure. I wasn’t paying as close attention to my brain when I was younger as I am now. All of a sudden it seems she is a major player in my life, while before she merely accompanied me wherever I went, remembering things for me, making me look smart from time to time, and urging me to write my stories and sing my songs.
     I remember when I was teaching school way back when I was in my 30s, it seemed like it took forever for me to remember the names of my students. I came up with a handy-dandy “cheat sheet” in the way of a classroom bulletin board that I used every year for the first month or so of school. My bulletin board theme was “Our Class Hall of Fame.” I took a Polaroid photo of each of my students on the first day of school, and each one would decorate and write his or her name on a construction paper picture frame, and then tack it to the bulletin board, along with the photo. Very clever, if I do say so myself! By the time it was time to change themes, I knew everybody’s name, and what each of my students looked like. Retaining names seems to have always been an issue with me to some extent.
     But what about word recall? That is something that has begun within the past 10 years or so. The funny thing about this is that I will struggle and struggle to think of a word or phrase without it making an appearance in my mouth, mind, or ears. Then, when I least expect it, that particular word will pop up out of nowhere, to an amazed “Ah-ha!” from me. I have labeled this phenomenon”bubbling to the surface.” It is as if the word is hidden somewhere in the depths of my brain, and it just takes a little time for it to float up to my consciousness for me to grab hold of it, often at times when I am not expecting it at all.
     Last week when I was taking the cognition test for the Emory University Healthy Brain Research Study that I am participating in, Miss Brain went into action, or rather overt inaction. After about 20 minutes of looking at pictures, drawing clock faces and geometrical figures, and counting backwards by 3’s from 100, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she was done, finished, out-o-here. It was 2:00 pm, her lunch was settling after having fasted for 12 hours, and it was nap time. As I struggled to recall some pictures I had just looked at and verbally identified, my brain clicked off (I could almost hear the turn of the knob indicating to me that she was protesting mightily), and my thoughts began to wander in so many directions, I had to try to lasso them to reel them back in. I was unsuccessful. Miss Brain had left the building. She was out there somewhere searching for some soothing music to listen to, or some puffy clouds floating above to gaze at. Neither of these were available in the small testing room, so I was stuck with my protesting brain, which was sending messages to me that she was no longer interested in this particular exercise, and that she was ready to leave. Done! she reminded me once more. Thankfully, the testing concluded, and I was allowed to take my protesting brain back out into the world where she could hear birds sing, look up at the brilliant blue sky, do a little daydreaming, and get back to her everyday, normal life.
     It’s funny, thinking about aging and wondering how my brain is going to maneuver through old-age with me. I have been doing a lot of reading on brain health, have watched the documentary series, “The Broken Brain,” and watched a presentation on the relationship between the brain and the heart and one on the brain and the gut. She has her fingers, so to speak, in every part of my body! I know it is up to me to do my very best to keep my brain happy and healthy, as well as entertained, challenged, well-fed, and stimulated.
     One thing I know for sure, Miss Brain is happiest when I am joyful and at peace with my life. She thrives on my writing, and she loves music. Just today, she let me know that she was weary of the country music station I’ve been listening to on the radio and requested some classical music. I found a very nice selection on YouTube for her listening enjoyment, and together we took a 30 minute break to meditate and listen to the orchestra. We agreed that we like the strings best. It was delightful.
     Miss Brain has a vitally important job to do, and she does it well. So what if she forgets the name of someone I have just met, or needs a little time to come up with a word that I am searching for? I am hopeful that she will remain healthy for several more years and will see me through to the end of my life. I don’t want to succumb to Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, and I know she doesn’t want that for me, either. With the two of us working as a team, perhaps we will have many more adventures in this life of mine!
     Yes, she does have a mind of her own. And it is also mine.

Brainy Me – The Emory Healthy Brain Study

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“If you could change the world for the better, would you?” This is the tag line for Emory University’s Healthy Aging Study.

When I learned about this study, I signed up for it, knowing that I wanted to, in some small way, do just that. As I have grown older I’ve looked back at my life, pondering if anything I have done in my 70 years has really made a difference in someone’s life, and if so, what was it?

Joining this group only opened the door for me to something even more exciting and potentially very rewarding. I was invited to participate in Emory’s long-term research study, “Healthy Brain Study.”  When I spoke with the coordinator of this study, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. As information about the study states, “The study’s goal is ambitious – eliminate Alzheimer’s, a disease that has no cure or prevention. The Emory Healthy Brain Study believes you hold the key to finding clues to stop Alzheimer’s disease.”

I hold the key! How exciting! And how challenging! What did I need to do? Maybe this is where my life will make a difference, a big difference! Where do I sign up?

After a short phone interview, it was determined that I was eligible to take part in this study. My appointment was made for a day of testing at the Emory Brain Health Center, I received directions to the center, as well as instructions on how to prepare, and I was on my way.

Yesterday was the big day. And what a day it was. Not only did I meet some wonderful, dedicated, smart, and interesting health professionals, but I also made a connection or two on a personal level with them as we journeyed through the day together. They eased my apprehensions, calmed my anxiety (especially the one about how to obtain a fecal sample), and taught me a thing or two about my body and my brain. It was fascinating, as I breezed through having my blood drawn, finding out how my blood flows through my body, getting to take a look at my spinal fluid, seeing an image of my eyeball, and discovering that I can walk around an oval track holding a full glass of water in my hand, as well as counting backward by 3s from 100 while walking.

What kicked my butt, however, was the cognitive test. Oh my! I have always had a problem with remembering series of numbers, recalling names, and bringing up instant recall of things my brain deemed insignificant. My mother called it selective listening. I chose to label it as brain clutter, mixed with a tinge of attention deficit disorder, and a dash of creativity that liked to take over when my brain became overloaded with mundane matters or taxed with something it was not interested in. As I’ve grown older, I am aware that my memory is challenged on a more regular basis, and I am learning techniques to put associations with things I really want to remember.  I don’t know how I scored on the test yesterday, or if there was even a grade attached to it. It was mainly a baseline for the future as I continue in the research study. It sure threw me for a loop, though!

As my day with the Brain Folks at Emory ended, a feeling of elation and satisfaction overwhelmed me, and I found myself close to tears in my dilated eyes as I drove away. I left them my blood, my spinal fluid, an abundance of images of my eyes, my arteries, and my walking gait, as well as a small sample of my poop. (I also plan to donate my brain to Emory upon my death). Maybe there will be something in this contribution, as well as in my next one when I go back in two years that will help the researchers discover why so many of us succumb to dementia and Altzheimer’s as we age. I am a small, small part of a big, big group, but perhaps collectively we will light the pathway to the answers and the cure.

If this is how I can change the world for the better, then my life definitely has a very meaningful purpose.

Jennie Lou’s brain is ready to help out in any way she can!

 

To learn more about the Healthy Brain Study, visit healthyaging.emory.edu/brain-study/, email healthybrainstudy@emory.edu, or call(404)727-4877.