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