Friday, November 14, 2014

Friends are the New Family

One loyal friend is worth ten
thousand relatives.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE : My friend Pam is an exceedingly modest person and does good deeds because they need to be done, not to see her name in print. My purple prose sometimes embarrasses her. But I think in today’s insane world filled with cruelty and unspeakable acts of violence, it is important to record acts of kindness. As human beings, we need to recognize, in a world gone mad, there are still many good, authentic people who continue to be civilized and practice the golden rule.

Everyone should have a friend like Pamela, a life-long mate that you can trust and count on, no matter what.

Pamela is Nancy Drew to my Bess,
Tonto to my Lone Ranger,
Ginger Rogers to my Fred Astaire.

The Pulitzer-prize winning author, Anna Quindlen points out that the mark of a good friend is that she always shows up. Pamela, my best high school friend, has shown up in my life time and time again.  And not only shown up but shown up ready to help, calling to mind one of my favorite mantras of the Dalai Lama

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

Stories of kindness and jocularity in high school abound.

Pamela was often the lead in our high school  musicals. She could belt out a tune. I was in awe of Pam; not only did she have the talent; she had the lineage ------- a pretty mother who had hosted her own radio show and been the lead singer in a band. Romantic stuff for Indiana circa 1963.

I had neither talent or pedigree. I had no singers lurking about on my family tree. My family was all about commerce. And our voices were not suited for a Broadway play; more appropriate for calling pigs.

When my husband had his first knee replacement surgery in Tucson, Pamela traveled 2,000 miles and stayed with us for two and a half weeks; Cheer leader, referee, advisor, nurse, marriage counselor, she was a gift from the Gods.

“Men will be men” she reminded me while lending a sympathetic ear to any of David’s ailments.

But Pam was also a pragmatist as well as a budding psychologist. She realized that what I really wanted was to be part of this musical comedy family. What I lacked in singing finesse, I made up in writing talent. I wrote my first play at age seven and have been penning words ever since.

I became the official “play doctor” and re-wrote awkward prose and punched up boring lines. I loved being part of the whole ensemble and this experience served me well when I started writing plays as an adult. I often call Pamela for theatrical advice.

“Location. Location. Location” In high school, real estate proved to be my biggest asset. Our Georgian style country home had the biggest basement “rec” room of anyone in my class. It became the go-to place for all dress rehearsals for high school plays.

And while I was well- liked in high school, I didn’t realize till years later that it wasn’t entirely my magnetic personality that made my class-mates flock to my country home every weekend. A huge state-of-the-art pool table was the true star of the show!

Pam prepared me to become a Broadway maven, but later gave me the ultimate life lesson --cooking instructions. To this day, cooking is one of my passions and that first lesson (Pasta by Pam) whet my appetite for a life-long adventure with food.

Cooking was not even on the itinerary at our household. My mother had a permanent “CLOSED” sign, hanging in our kitchen. No diva to domesticity, if forced to make anything for dinner, Mother made reservations!

Pam’s secret family spaghetti sauce was filled with juicy tomatoes, olive oil and something I had never ever seen in my mother’s kitchen--garden-grown fresh spices. My mother had two spices that covered everything: salt and pepper.

Our friendship did not end when the band played Pomp and Circumstance. Au contraire! Pam was the role model for the saying “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

Her most selfless act was escorting my 94-year-old-mother from her home in Palm Beach, Florida to my adobe abode in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

My late mother’s role model was Queen Victoria and at a brunch in honor of her birthday, she held court in my living room.

This soiree, filled with magnificent food, charming presents  and chocolate galore was a spectacular event if I do say so myself (and I do).

The party’s theme was “the universality of women’s friendship” and my living room was filled with my lovely granddaughter and favorite girl friends who had all stepped up to the plate since I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Armed with a microphone and my “show-off” personality, I saluted these chums who had been there for me. In the audience as well was Peggy, my namesake, and my mother’s OLF (Oldest Living Friend).

The two lifetime friends had that special bond that comes from privileged summers spent lakeside in an oversized Victorian cottage in northern Michigan, complete with nannies and cooks.

It was the last happy memory of my mother and I owe the success of the fete to Pamela.

The one thing I have learned for sure as an adult is that “Friends are the new family.”

You can’t pick your family of origin, but you can create a lovely, nurturing family filled with delightful friends.  Pamela, in my heart of hearts, you have always been my honorary sister, someone who never failed to deliver the goods.

Thanks for always being there!

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are
 the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
Marcel Proust

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Cup of Comfort

Friends are the family you choose for yourself. There are friends on Facebook—intangible, invisible and untouchable. And then there are real chums—compadres and comrades-in-arms who help you over life's hurdles, quietly and heroically.

Like my high school mates who, last week, showed up at my mother's funeral to hold my hand and offer a cup of comfort. It was a display of "Hoosier hospitality" at its finest. The day after the memorial service, a three-hour lunch was held in my honor. My time-travel gyroscope whirled into action and voila...we 70-year-old grandmothers were magically 17 again. We shared stories from high school, we shared stories from today. We never ran out of conversation or laughter.

I had known these people longer than I had known my husband. There was a deep and binding connection. This group of chums was splendid and supportive in high school and, amazingly enough, half a century later, they still are. Thank you Sara, Lanie, Jenny, Judy, Helen, Ruth, Mary Helen and, especially, Pam!

Monday, July 7, 2014


Parkinson’s disease is the unwanted third party in my marriage: he’s the elephant in the room, the man who came to dinner, and the worst house guest ever, all rolled into one.

How has this insidious intruder affected my wedded bliss? Initially his shenanigans did indeed cause havoc in our household. This spook, who I cynically call the Parkinson’s gremlin, was determined to put a “Foreclosure” sign on our lives. To be sure, he has huffed and he has puffed, and yet our house still stands.

He is a formidable opponent, but we are stronger than he is. My husband, David and I figure that there are two of us but only one of him, so we will prevail!

A comforting and powerful way to view this relentless battle is to realize that those of us with Parkinson’s are part of a global community and that we are not alone. When we recently attended the 2013 World Parkinson’s Congress (WPC) in Montreal, there was an inherent sense of community and hope.  During the welcoming address, Bob Kuhn, a WPC Ambassador and a person with Parkinson’s, encapsulated this feeling of optimism with the simple, yet profound observation:

“The biggest difference between illness and wellness is that illness starts with the word “i” and Wellness starts with the word “We.”

David and I are the “We”, with a capital W, in this battle and Parkinson’s disease is the insignificant, lower case “i”.

The only thing that my husband and Parkinson’s disease have in common is that they both entered my life quickly and unexpectedly and caught me by surprise. But I am getting ahead of myself, so let me start at the very beginning -- a very good place to start.

David and I met on a blind date, six months after I had pulled the plug on the “wedding of the year” to my high school sweetheart. The Midwest circa 1968 was an uncompromising place where your word was your bond, so when I phoned the printer to order “The wedding has been canceled” cards, he informed me in no uncertain terms that “In Indiana, if we say we are going to get married, we get married, no matter what!”

I fled back to my home and job in cosmopolitan Atlanta, where I worked as a movie publicist. My friends there, much more understanding and supportive, took me under their wings, offering to play matchmaker.

“I’m through with Love! “ I declared defiantly. “From now on, there will only be superficial dating, uninvolved fun and gourmet food.”

So, when Carol, a childhood friend, told me she wanted to fix me up with a recently divorced physicist who would be passing through town, I agreed, reluctantly, thinking there would at least be a free meal. The stats of this mystery man, however, sounded dreary. Physicists are known to be nerds with calculators on their belts; they wear mix-matched socks and their conversations are filled with equations and formulas. What was I thinking?

Sighing, I made a dinner reservation at the brand new Hyatt Regency, the current talk of the town. Even if the date turned out to be as dismal as I expected, at least I’d enjoy a delicious repast at this elegant hot spot.

Imagine my surprise when I met David at the airport. He looked nothing like a member of the cast of The Big Bang Theory. Rather, he was a good-looking chap with beautiful curly hair and an engaging smile. His clothes, admittedly, could have come from the physicist ready- to- wear rack, but they were obviously covering a magnificent body.

During the drive to the restaurant, I discovered that David was extremely intelligent and that he had a dry wit and a flair for word play. I was delighted to find him a fellow wordsmith, employing language with precision and insight.

We stayed up the whole night talking. Giddy with champagne and urbane conversation, our repartee was as sparkling as a Noel Coward play. We were finishing each other’s sentences with language inspired by P.G Wodehouse and The Bard. By the time “light in yonder window broke” I had decided that this was the man I was going to marry!

My erstwhile supportive friends in Atlanta had, in the meantime, prepared a list of would-be blind dates for me. “Married?” they scoffed. Had I taken leave of my senses? Before my very eyes, they instantly became a Greek chorus of naysayers:

“He’s not Jewish.”
“He’s a physicist.” “He’s divorced with kids.”
I paid them no heed and instead followed my heart.

Reader, I married him !

And now here we are, 45 years later.  

We began our married life in quirky, delightful Austin, Texas where David was an assistant professor of Electrical Engineering at The University of Texas and I owned a small, creative advertising agency. I relished being a stepmother and raising David’s two children, ages 5 and 9. I apprenticed myself to the cookbooks of Julia Child, mastering the most delicious of the domestic arts, even as I was a passionate  advocate for the Women’s Movement.

Five years later, we moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where David had taken a position as a research scientist at the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory. My transition, however, wasn't so easy. My “Are-we -there-yet?” personality did not match the laid-back manana style of mellow Santa Fe.
Although a cultural mecca, laden with a rich history of science (birth of the nuclear age) and art (from rock art to pop art, from Aztec to high tech), Santa Fe was the slowest place I’d ever been. I was told by the locals that I suffered from what the Navajos call the “hurry sickness.”

I had always planned to write books “someday.” With no job market in Santa Fe, I realized that “someday” had arrived and made the enormous professional leap from the adrenaline rush of advertising to the slower, more reflective world of author and teacher. The adjustment was difficult, but, eight books and hundreds of articles later, I am very grateful that I was forced to switch gears.

Drawing on my experience, I wrote several books on women in business, then branched into humor pieces, penning articles for local and national publications. When I took on travel writing, David joined me in this pleasant research, and we took long lovely journeys to explore places I had never heard of before. Throughout it all, we were madly in love.   Like our first conversation many years earlier, our relationship tripped along with harmony and humor.

In 2000, though, I started to notice a strange assortment of nagging annoyances. My voice, never loud to begin with, now took forced effort to project, a growing problem when I was delivering speeches and conducting workshops. My left arm lagged when I walked, out of synch with the rest of my gait. But when I started losing weight for no perceivable reason, my confounded doctor referred me to a neurologist.

My central nervous system was on Red Alert when we showed up for the appointment. Independent research on my symptoms had posed a wealth of unsavory possibilities, and I was torn between suspense and a desperate desire to hide under the bed with my cat, Bosque. David sat beside me,  calmly holding my hand  until we were ushered into the doctor’s office. With a bedside manner as cold and sterile as her instruments, the neurologist ran me through a battery of coordination tests before pronouncing in a monotone voice, “You have Parkinson’s disease.”

I was shocked into silence. David, ever so staunch and cheery, was stunned. Moments after delivering this life-changing diagnosis, the honorable doctor informed us that she had a hospital board meeting to attend, and we would have to leave. I literally felt like The Little Match Girl who was hurled out into the snow.

The voyage on the S. S. Parkinson’s is clearly not the journey we signed up for, but David has been by my side every step of the way.   PD is not a welcome guest in our relationship, but David and I constantly remind each other that our mantra will always be “there are two of us but only one of him, so we will prevail.”

During the 13 years since my diagnosis, life has definitely been difficult, and at times, felt impossible. This unwanted third party of a disease has made itself at home in our lives, and with each progressing symptom it has educated us, not only about the maddening, unpredictable nature of Parkinson's disease, but also about each other. I have gradually learned to surrender my fierce independence, allowing myself to be vulnerable in ways I would never have dreamed of before.

And David, considerate husband that he is, has risen to the challenge. His help and perspective have daily provided shelter and guidance. Administering medications to try to balance the wildly fluctuating levels of dopamine in a PD patient is a guessing game and a gamble, but at least I have a backer. David's methodical, scientifically trained mind is much better at tracking the never-ending schedule of prescriptions I must take. And, when I am mystified by my own symptoms, he can tell, by a single glance at my face, whether or not I'm over-medicated.

Our relationship has adjusted to incorporate the work of managing my symptoms, but we haven’t been overcome by this task. We still enjoy romantic dates and visits with family and a circle of diverse and loyal friends. Our love of travel inspired us to take a transatlantic voyage aboard the Queen Mary 2 last year.

I am engrossed in the various projects that make up my thriving writing career, and have recently celebrated the release of a book on yoga for people with Parkinson’s.  David has shrugged off his paltry attempt at retirement and parlayed his 40-year love of folk dancing into developing a scientific study on the myriad benefits of folk dancing for those with PD.

Obviously, Parkinson's disease has changed and revised our perspectives, both in the intimacy of our relationship and in our public lives. PD has provided writing and scientific material we would have never otherwise tackled. But it has never disempowered us, and in its way, has even united us in a common focus.

That sharing of focus has proven essential in keeping our relationship vital. I look at David and see not only my love, but a comrade in arms. As Antoine de Saint Exupery wrote,

“Love does not exist in gazing at each other, but looking outward in the same direction.”

Award-winning author Peggy van Hulsteyn divides her time between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Tucson, Arizona. Her new book, “Yoga and Parkinson's Disease: A Journey To Health and Healing" (Demos Health Publication) , is in the top 20 of Amazon’s “Best Sellers in Parkinson’s Disease" list and is available at

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


February 4, 2014

TUCSON, A.Z.—Award-winning author Peggy van Hulsteyn signs copies of  her new book “Yoga and Parkinson's Disease: A Journey to Health and Healing “ on Sunday, March 16 from 11 am to noon at the Tucson Festival of Books. 

Van Hulsteyn also presents a lecture on how yoga can greatly improve the quality of life for Parkinson's patients on Tuesday, April 1 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. as part of a monthly educational lecture series, at Tucson Medical Center's El Dorado Health Campus, Seniors Classroom, 1400 N. Wilmot Rd. in Tucson. 

Tucson yoga instructor Stephanie Christenson will join van Hulsteyn at the Tucson Festival of Books and the lecture at the Eldorado Health Campus to lead the audience in short and simple yoga poses.

“Yoga and Parkinson's Disease,” endorsed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, is a practical, how-to guide for using yoga to manage stress, improve mental alertness, increase flexibility, correct posture and improve the quality-of-life of readers with Parkinson's. The book chronicles  the author's own experience as well as research studies that document a correlation between yoga practice and better health after a Parkinson's Disease diagnosis. More than simply an exercise guide, the book is a deeply soothing form of moving meditation and physical activity that provide a safe, effective way to rebuild strength, stamina, and flexibility.
The Tucson Festival of Bookstakes place March 15-16 at the University of Arizona Mall and in nearby venues. It includes  exhibits, author presentations, panel discussions and book signings. Featured authors include Alice Hoffman, Larry McMurtry, Scott Turow and dozens of others.
Van Hulsteyn is the author of six books, including “Diary of a Santa Fe Cat,” “Sleeping with Literary Lions: The Booklover's Guide to Bed and Breakfasts,” “The Birder's Guide to Bed and Breakfasts” and “What Every Business Woman Needs To Know To Get Ahead.” She has published humor, feature, business and travel articles in Mademoiselle, Cosmopolitan, Modern Bride, Country Living, Cat Fancy, New Mexico Magazine, American Way (American Airlines in-flight magazine) and newspapers, including The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star, The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Examiner and USA TODAY.  Her work has been translated into Japanese, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese and has appeared in Australian periodicals.

During her career, van Hulsteyn has been assistant travel editor of Mademoiselle Magazine and owner of an award-winning advertising agency in Austin and advertising lecturer at the University of Texas. She has won the Southwest Writers Workshop Storyteller Award for Best Novel for her murder mystery in-progress and was awarded first place for non-fiction by The New Mexico Press Women for her book “Mind Your Own Business.”
Visit van Hulsteyn's blog for more information: To schedule an interview, please contact Lynn Cline at, 505.466.6277

Monday, December 2, 2013


By Peggy van Hulsteyn and Sasha Mahar

I am convinced that the only escape from the Theater of the Absurd is a sense of humor.  Case in point:
Recently, we attended the World Parkinson Congress in Montreal, Canada.  The event was a vast  melting pot of neurologists and experts, PD patients and their partners.  After three days of non-stop workshops and networking, David and I decided to take a brief foray to romantic, charming Quebec City. We settled into a cozy room in a pleasant hotel in the heart of “Vieux--Quebec.”
In the spirit of gastronomical adventure, I  asked the  handsome and knowledgeable concierge to make reservations at the best French restaurant in town. He did so with aplomb.  After he made the arrangements, we chatted, and I came to learn that he was a hockey coach as well as a bon vivant. This should have given me a clue as to his preference in restaurants.
"Restaurant Pierre" was classically French, he assured me.  It provided a magnificent rack of lamb and Crepes Suzette.  The food was stellar, the ambiance perfect, the champagne was flowing...
If only I could get there!
For when the taxi deposited us at the given address, beneath the carved wood shingle for "Restaurant Pierre", swaying in the brisk autumn breeze, we looked to find the entrance at the top of two flights of very steep stairs--and I in a wheelchair!!

The situation was so absurd that I felt like Alice in one of Lewis Carroll’s maddening conundrums, peering at the door to a magnificent land, but unable to enter. David and I caught each other’s eye and began to laugh. It was frustrating, yes, but tres amusing.

Not to worry--our hosts had everything under control.  Once the maitre’d received news of our arrival, he opened the distant door at the top of the steps to unleash a team of waiters who, presumably, were off-season, hockey players themselves. They swooped down the stairs, grabbed my wheelchair and carried me up.   I was terrified; I was grateful; I was amused.

And suddenly, with a fan fare that only the French could pull off , I was placed at my table.

Breathlessly gazing  upon this beautiful table, shining with silver, wine glasses and candles, David and I started to laugh again, as he observed  “Talk about being carried away by the perfect dining experience!”

“You know, there’s nothing I like better at dinner parties  than a dramatic table setting,”  I piped up, “but  this is the first time that I felt like  the centerpiece!”

At that moment, the entire dining room began to applaud as the waiter poured us champagne ordered by an anonymous customer.

“Bon Apetit,” many of the dining room patrons said in unison.

Even before the splendid rack of lamb and Crepes Suzette graced our table, we knew this was a repast we would never forget!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Confessions of a Wordsmith

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug”
                                                                                                            Mark Twain

Words, to a wordsmith are like paint to an artist. A skilled author can transport us to another time, make us see what the hero sees, hear what the villain hears, smell what the chef has conjured up. This is not a matter of stringing a bunch of words together; it is selecting the one word, the only word, that will do the job. The truly great wordsmiths accomplish all of this while making it look simple. When I read Mark Twain, it makes me want to sit down and write. It is only then that I come to appreciate what a truly magnificent craftsman he was.

I have just completed a book,  YOGA AND PARKINSON’SDISEASE,  filled with 200 pages of words. My tome is about to hit the stands or more accurately be available on Amazon,  Therefore, bring out the bubbly; it’s time to celebrate.   The simple act of having a book published in 2013 is a genuine event, some would say a miracle. Being an author has always taken a great deal of fortitude. It requires working long hours with little (or even no) pay; it entails endless periods of loneliness, of staring into space while trying to find the right word.

Most of the authors I work with write in spite of the difficulty and frustration because they have some important idea they need to convey and know that they must do this in a beautiful, well-crafted way. They obey the basic rules and pay their literary dues. When they complete a chef d’oeuvre they re-write it many times. They show this work to a tried-and-true writers group for analysis and to chosen literate friends for approval. When the final hurdle has been surmounted, they find an agent who agrees to relay their carefully polished tome to an editor at some prestigious Manhattan publishing house. This was, at one time, the way the noble profession of writing was conducted.

In today’s bizarre book market, being an author is either a valiant act of courage or an absurd act of lunacy. It’s a brave new world when Amazon buys The Washington Post. Journalism and the book trade are forever changed and we are not in Kansas anymore.

Suddenly anyone who can pound a computer key is an author. Today if you have written one blog, then voila, you are a writer. It’s a little disconcerting for those of us who were trained in journalism. In today’s market which is far too equalitarian, anyone can be a writer and everyone is. The new motto is: “I blog; therefore, I am.”

In an insightful article in The New Yorker (March 18, 2013), Adam Gropnik discusses today’s market and income for contemporary authors:

“The future of writing in America—or, at least, the future of making a living by writing—seems in doubt as rarely before. Thanks to the Internet, the disproportion between writerly supply and demand, always tricky, has tipped: anyone can write, and everyone does, and beginners are expected to be the last pure philanthropists....... It has never been easier to be a writer; and it has never been harder to be a professional writer.

Writing used to be a craft; now it’s a tweet! 

I saw signs of this computer-dominated New World Order when I taught writing classes at writers conferences. The questions that beginning writing students asked demanded a universe of “instant gratification,”  lots of luck, and not too much work.  Here are the questions I always got from wannabe authors, along with my answers:

Q: Do you write only when you are in the mood?

A: I‘m usually in the mood. I dislike so much of the promotion, the business, the nonsense, of the writing business, but I love the actual act of writing.
       I keep writing because writing saves my life each and every day. It’s the purest therapy available. I think writing has been my greatest medicine in my battle against Parkinson’s disease.  My first neurologist,  Dr. Paul Gordon, thinks a great passion  can  perform miracles.  During a Skype interview for the book I am about to celebrate, he told me that “some of my PD patients have an unbridled passion that over-rides everything. It makes a big difference!  It helps if there is a goal tied in with this passion." 
      I felt privileged to be cited as one of Paul’s examples. “You’re a good example of how this works --with your books, speeches, and deadlines.  Your mind is in good shape."

Q: You are very funny. How many classes do I have to take before you teach me to be funny?

A: If I could teach people to be funny, my name would be Jehovah and I would be booking acts for “The Daily Show.” Honey, I hate to tell you, but you are either funny or you are not. You can dye your hair but not your personality.

Q: How do you choose a publisher? Do you just call up Random House and tell them you want a minimum of $50,000 for your tome?

A: Wait a minute. You are funny. This bit is hilarious.

Q: Did you start writing because you realized it would be a good way to build a website?

A: I started writing as soon as I could hold a pen! I loved the physical act of putting words together on a page and how they would interact with other words.  Words are my tools and paintbrushes. I love the way words dance, glide, shimmer across the page.
      Making a living as a writer is a constant struggle, but the actual act of writing is a pure joy. It always astonishes me how putting the right words in the perfect sequence can bring so much satisfaction. Words are the music of your soul and your completed opus becomes your symphony!

 Favorite words of admired writers are always bouncing around in my head---Sentences that pop to make the book come alive for me.The ‘ah-ha moment of reading.

To wit:

--When F. Scott Fitzgerald says of Daisy and her husband in “The Great Gatsby:

“.........  They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” 

--Or Ernest Hemingway's perfect line to describe the cynicism of the Lost Generation in “The Sun Also Rises:”

“Oh Jake," Brett said, "We could have had such a damned good time together."
. . ... .........   Yes," I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?”

---Or a small expression Harper Lee uses in “To Kill a Mockingbird” to describe the deep respect for a man who defies an entire town to do what he feels is right -- Atticus Finch, the last good lawyer in fiction:

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'.”

As a humor writer, I appreciate the crisp, clear zing of the master, Mark Twain:

“Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
And nobody can make me smile more than one of the great wits
of all time, Oscar Wilde
“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.”

“I love hearing my relations abused. It is the only thing that makes me put up with them at all. Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven't got the remotest knowledge of how to live nor the smallest instinct about when to die.” 

I also admire the patter rhymes in Gilbert and Sullivan, the cleverness of a Cole Porter tune, the inventiveness of a brand new language in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

I am constantly searching for the show-stopping sentence that takes my breath away! I like to read them, but I prefer to write them.

So let’s hear it for words, sentences, for paragraphs galore. Let’s celebrate writers and readers, independent book store owners and librarians.   I revere books so I’m thankful for both  Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I applaud quality paperback and E-books. (My book is both)

 The point is I've got a new book coming out and I’m excited!   Cheers!
Peggy's book: Yoga and Parkinson's Disease is being released today, 8/28/13. You can purchase her book on or Collected Works Bookstore.

You can reach Peggy on Facebook or on Twitter at @PeggyvanH

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

I am not a cock-eyed optimist.   No one ever mistakes me for the perpetually cheery novel heroine, Pollyanna. My personality is best typified by my recent election to the post of Grand High Inquisitor in the local chapter of the Oscar Wilde Cynical Society.

And though I try to see the glass as half full, life experience has instructed me to equate skepticism with realism. Recently, I took a trip on board an Amtrak train with an upbeat friend.  As we settled into our Lilliputian sleeping car, which showed signs of former elegance, now faded and shabby, my friend looked around and envisioned the archaic railroad line someday being updated and transformed into a European style bullet train.  Whereas I, listening to the creaking of the car around us, and to the groans and sighs of the engine, concluded that The Little Engine that Could indeed could not, and never would again.

But my seasoned world-weariness and lack of trust in humanity has been sorely tested of late by some amazing acts of random kindness.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are always shifting, and my condition varies greatly day by day.  Often, thanks to my helpful yoga practice, I am as graceful as Grace Kelly.

Then there are other days during which I relate to PD’s guru, the incredible Michael J. Fox, who says that he used to walk the walk and talk the talk.   Now, he confesses, he stumbles the stumble and mumbles the mumble.

On these days, I am ungainly at best. Walking across a room takes resolve, and stairs and doorways are especially daunting passages.  When I’m at home, I make these my writing days, grab some snacks and set up shop in my office.  But when I am traveling, I have no choice but to carry on as best as I can.  And the remarkable thing is that people not only notice my condition, but they try to help improve it.

Just this week, at the San Diego airport, during the hubbub of the 4th of July weekend, countless strangers stopped in the midst of their customary rush to hold doors open for me, extended arms to lead me to my destination, and asked if I needed help.
I was blown away by the amount of aid offered from every direction; it was life-affirming and hopeful, as if the Dalai Lama himself had sprinkled his words of wisdom over the heads of the kindly strangers.

“Compassion and kindness are the only things you really need,” says his Holiness.  And what is shocking to misanthropic me is that so many people are practicing his message.

This isn’t the first time I have been surprised by unexpected courtesy. Last summer when I was standing in a long line in a pharmacy in Avignon, France, an employee noticed my discomfort and quietly brought me a chair.  Later, in allegedly hard-hearted Paris, I encountered many kind hearts and coronets. When I stumbled into a chic bistro, without blinking an eye, the proprietor rushed over, took my arm and seated me at the closest table, removing the “Reserved” sign there and placing it on another table. He checked on me throughout the evening and, after I praised my dinner, even shared the recipes, which were his grandmother’s.

I had become so accustomed to the fast and roughshod ways of our over-complicated world, overflowing with people infected with what the Navajo call the “hurry sickness,” that I am startled by these disruptions to the norm, especially when they happen so often.   Despite my ingrained cautiousness, I find it impossible to ignore what Blanche DuBois dubbed the “kindness of strangers.”

Odd, this wave of benevolence.  But very nice.  Despite myself, it makes me hopeful. Keep it up, and I might have to resign my post at the Cynical Society.