Monday, April 27, 2009

Relating with Song

“Call me Helen.”

That’s likely the opening words that University of Pennsylvania medical students will hear at their first day of class in Microbiology.

Dr. Helen Davies, 83, is a living legend for her brilliance, creativity, engagement in social issues as well as her personal warmth and compassion. She has won a staggering number of prestigious teaching awards including the 2006 Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Robert J. Glaser Distinguished Teacher Award, Penn’s Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, was named fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was the first woman to receive the American Medical Student Association’s National Excellence in Teaching Award in 2001. As if all of her accomplishments are not amazing enough, she has developed a reputation for song.

Not any song. Helen develops special lyrics to popular tunes to help her students remember information they need to learn in their course of study. New lyrics attached to the Battle Hymn of the Republic will trigger facts about bacteria, carefully chosen words will keep memories fresh about leprosy sung to the tune of Yesterday by the Beatles, herpes facts will be sung to Sound of Silence, and congenital infections will be tuned to I Will Survive.

With her energy and passion, Helen continues to garner the dedication and respect from colleagues and students every day. Many students have returned to visit and, after years away, some can still remember those special songs that helped them succeed in remembering so many scientific details.

Singing is a special way of communicating. The words and the music in tandem are creative vehicles of expression. It also has a therapeutic healing effect that has been proven in many studies and is being aggressively studied by professionals in the medical field. It can reduce heart and respiratory rates and provide mental relaxation. Victor Sonnino, a neurosurgeon, can visualize how the melodic sound travels in the brain and has treated patients successfully with music. Passionate about opera which is the coupling of song and lyrics to convey a story, he is actively involved in promoting the value of music as a health tonic and an important part of the entire body wellness plan.

The Larks of Philadelphia is a group of 14 female singers between the ages of 50 and 70. Initially organized as a Junior League (JL) opportunity, it now encourages others to join who are not affiliated with JL. The women are dedicated and rehearse every week throughout the year, including summer. Their performances range from 2 half-hour back-to-back "cheer & carol" fests performed every Wednesday morning in December at area nursing homes, to longer programs of Jazz, Swing and Motown, and performed throughout the year. By joining with professional musicians for a concert at least once a year, they maintain a high level of musical excellence and perform madrigals and motets in addition to the modern foot-tapping rep.

Anjali Gallup-Diaz is the Musical Director of the Larks; she started singing with them in 2001 and became Director in 2003. She says, “While we certainly enjoy the heady experience of singing with pros for an alert and appreciative audience, the most rewarding moments of our performances often occur in Alzheimer-patient wards. When we belt out "All that Jazz" from the musical "Chicago" and I hear patients humming along, my heart soars. When we sing "Peace on Earth" - which we always do while holding hands with audience members - and an elderly resident, who hasn't spoken in weeks, mouths the words while staring into my eyes, my heart melts. There is no question in my mind that Music affords humans (and maybe our fellow animals, too) the surest and most direct means of communication. I live for those moments when people shed their inhibitions and break into song!”

Henry Van Dyke, writer, poet, essayist, said: “Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”

--By Judith Zausner

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Frugal Art of Giving

With the economy in a tailspin, financial worries all around us , how can we continue to give in the same way as we have in the past? With creative approaches, gift giving can still feel wonderful and generous. There are many ways to give joy and kindness to others without feeling impoverished. Remember that it is your thoughtfulness that is an integral part of gift giving and never hesitate to use plenty of colorful tissues and ribbons to make your gift look ultra fabulous!


There are boundless opportunities to craft your gifts; some more expensive and time consuming than others. For frugal approaches, try the following:

--Create a stack of greeting cards with your favorite rubber stamps and/or embellishments and tie the package with a festive ribbon. No stamps? Cut a potato in half lengthwise, carve it and dip it in paint and you have a stamp!

--Sentiments are always strong so making a scrapbook page with personal items, quotes, poetry and photos, will be a sure hit!

--Buy an inexpensive picture frame for your special photo (maybe it’s you, or the recipient or a pet); with extra time you can decorate the frame by gluing on some extra buttons you have stashed with your other sewing notions.


Take another look at disposables that would otherwise be in your trash; it is likely that you can reuse them to make wonderful gifts. With scraps of printed cotton fabric and Modge Podge glue, I used a decoupage technique to cover empty toilet paper rolls. The result? Elegant napkin ring holders, decorated with fun trimming on one end, are always an attraction at my dinner table with guests!

Found objects can have multiple lives. I rescued a crushed car hubcap from the road to make a fabulous picture frame. The embedded dirt actually gave it a special and wonderful shadow effect.


Everyone loves homemade goodies. If you don’t enjoy baking cakes or cookies from scratch, try using a mix; there are many wonderful brands that will produce excellent results even for the gluten free diet.

Another approach is to buy bags of colorful loose candy and layer them in an inexpensive glass container with a lid. Tie a pretty bow on the neck of the jar and it looks great!


Gather beautiful fruits and make your own gift basket. To make it extra attractive, place a paper doily in between the fruits or a large one under each one. Another basket may be a collection of travel size toiletries which you may have from hotel visits or cosmetic bonus packs. Add a special touch in the basket with a washcloth rolled up and tied with a ribbon and even a little miniature toy for fun! There are plenty of ideas that can fill your basket so just think of a theme and fill it up!


Buying a plant is usually affordable but you can also share a plant that you have in your home. Fill a new pot with soil and carefully separate part of your plant and repot it as a gift with a special ribbon. Want to get fancy? Take some acrylic paint and paint a pattern on the pot!


We all have received gifts that we did not want, tried to look the other way but graciously accepted with a smile and a thank you. These gifts need to be recycled and given to those people who will enjoy and appreciate them! Now is the perfect time to look in your closets, on your shelves and through those storage bins to find gifts to recycle. If you are scratching your head and not coming up with possible gift recipients, donate it!

When the material world of gift giving still leaves you in a quandary, consider ways to give of yourself.


This is a fabulous way to give a gift of yourself! Print out certificates for house cleaning, dog walking, car washing, babysitting or any other service that you can provide that is valued by the recipient.


Volunteers are an important part of our society. When you volunteer and donate your time to an organization, you are giving to people in need. This is truly a way to honor the spirit of the holidays by supporting the organization or charity that helps others. If you do not know who to contact or where to go, try for local opportunities.

We are living in extraordinary times and we are challenged to maintain our positive sense of self. By giving to others and being remarkable in our kindness to others, we can flourish and build a better society.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the poet, said “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.”

What gift ideas do you have in addition to the suggestions listed above?

--By Judith Zausner

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Are You a Penguin or a Peacock?

Or an eagle? Or maybe a swan? Or what about a mockingbird?
BJ Gallagher Hateley and Warren Schmidt have written the fabulous book, A Peacock in the Land of Penguins: A Fable about Creativity & Courage. It is charming and piercing, funny and poignant; a testimony to the beauty of being different in any organization and the struggle to gain a voice. Penguins are metaphorically portrayed as corporate styled birds in an icy climate dressed formally and universally in black and white attire at all times. Outsiders are other birds who have different but noble intentions and, despite integration efforts, cannot succeed in the penguins’ insular clan type organization. Ultimately these distinct feathered beings find themselves in a new space that embraces their uniqueness and offers them the freedom to be who they are; explore and invent opportunities, share their wisdom, reflect on possibilities and dream their dreams.
Are you a penguin or a peacock? Do you find it easy and safe to conform to a structured environment or do you fan your beautifully colored feathers wide and strut to a different drummer? Can you really change who you are or do you even want to?
Many large organizations have seemed to clone their staff to maintain internal harmony. The invisible logic is that employee sameness will allow the wheels to turn year after year without the risky diversion of change or implementation of new ideas. But this creates staleness in a competitive climate and hostile game playing to the more industrious person with good ideas and intentions. Eventually creative individuals find their paths but it is not often an easy journey. There are some companies that value special strengths (creative industries and small businesses are more open than their corporate counterparts) and will realize the value of these special birds but many “exotic birds” will find solace in building their own business on their own terms.
It is a credit to large companies that realize the instructional value of this book and teach diversity training and mutual respect among employees. The corporate climate is not friendly to peacocks but then it harbors grudges against outsiders of all types. And yet, it is important for penguins and peacocks to learn, listen and accept differences in one another without molting feathers. It is a life lesson for everyone whether or not they are still in the workplace.
So how did B.J. realize the world of penguins and peacocks? She was “much like the lead character…colorful and extravagant, noisy and messy, a bird who is difficult to ignore.”
She said, “ I lived it. I was working at the Los Angeles Times in the late 1980's and early 90's; we held regular meetings of the executive and middle management groups to review circulation figures, assess advertising revenues, and plan new goals. These meetings were always the same: The president with all his vice presidents and directors would sit in the front row in the elegant auditorium, and the publisher began the meeting by introducing each of them. One-by-one they would pop up out of their chairs and turn to face the 200 middle managers in the rows behind them. They all wore dark suits, white shirts, and business ties; they were all about the same height, save one or two tall ones; and all but one were white males (the lone female penguin wore a dark suit and pearls). By all appearances, you would think they all went to the same barber and the same tailor!

One morning I was sitting in one of these meetings, watching these fellows, like so many jack-in-the-boxes popping up, one right after another. “Huh!” I thought to myself, “They all look like penguins.” Then I looked down at myself. I was wearing my favorite Carole Little dress, a bright and bold floral, mid-calf, a bit flouncy (but very slimming). “What's wrong with this picture?” I asked myself. “I'm like a peacock in the midst of all these penguins!” I shook my head, wondering how this could have happened. How did I end up here?

Thus the metaphor was born.”

--Judith Zausner

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Soon after returning from a trip to see her first grandchild, Laniere Gresham started writing poetry. It just happened. And it gave her pleasure and pride. Some years later at the age of 56, she suffered a major stroke from a cerebral hemorrhage and doctors gave her only a 50/50 chance of survival. She could not talk or use her right hand yet 6 months later, with the encouragement of family and friends, she was writing again. “I did not have the speed but I still had the creativity in me” says Laniere. And then she won a prize for one of her early poems. This is one of Laniere’s poems:


Cicadas bought the sound waves

this summer, rented my trees

for orgies, assaulted my ears

with endless love songs_____

yet excluded me.

Sometimes it is a life changing event that propels us to express our inner creativity. It could be a positive event like the birth of a child or the sadness felt from the death of a loved one. We are stirred from our day-to-day ritual ways to focus on the change. Our emotions swell. We need to talk about it. And to reflect on this event and allow its release from our constant daily thoughts, writing is an excellent tool. It may be poetry or journaling or scrapbooking using photos with comments. There is no time limit; you will express yourself when you are ready and in the way that feels right for you.

Your writing may be personal and private or a project that you want to share. There is no right or wrong approach; what may feel private today can be shared tomorrow. Sometimes a recovery process is so difficult that we need to nurse our inner turmoil. However our healing is expedited by recognizing the pain and releasing it. It is important to validate your experience; to create permanence of your thoughts and feelings on paper or on the computer. Writing can help move you forward creatively and cathartically; it is the experience of liberating yourself that is both empowering and healing.

So it is not surprising that poetry therapy is valued by people all over the world whether they are home based or in an education setting, facility or other communal environment. The National Association of Poetry Therapy , , provides certification through to individuals who wish to guide and mentor others using words of expression through teaching, therapy or the ministries. And in our medical world, poetry can offer a profound sense of relief and healing. Dr. Rafael Campo,, teaches and practices medicine at Harvard Medical School. He writes poetry and also writes about the practice of using poetry with his patients. With the tools of integrative medicine, he approaches healing dynamically with the heart, mind and soul of a caring physician set on empowering patients to fight for wellness.

Take some time to think, dream your thoughts and express yourself. Healing can happen at any time and in many ways.

Gloria Steinem, American Writer and Activist: “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else.”

--By Judith Zausner