Reflections on 5 Year Parkinson’s Anniversary

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead. ~ Louisa Mae Alcott

Five years ago on an ordinary beautiful South Florida day, May 13, 2014, I left my neurologist’s office going down an unpredictable extraordinary path. I had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Signs popped up as early as 2011. However, until enough symptoms surfaced for the right doctor to observe, I thought my challenges were due to growing older.

What has my life been like the past five years? What have I given up? How have I adapted? To reflect on these questions, I turned to my lifelong personal values of helping people learn, continuing my education, preserving moments in time, expressing gratitude and having faith.

I value helping people learn.

I launched Parkinson’s My Way website, blog and Facebook page in 2018 to help people live quality lives and to showcase their creative side. Before PD, my personal mission was “to make a heartfelt difference” and that is unchanged. Through my sharing in Parkinson’s My Way, the intent is to educate, to inspire, and to give hope. Five artists and poets have been interviewed, and it’s been my honor to meet these incredible creative people with Parkinson’s and to share their talent and determination with the world.  Although I retired from a full-time career in education in 2013, I am blessed to continue teaching strategic management online for Northwood University—Michigan. In this senior capstone course, I am also my students’ loudest cheerleader to help them cross the finish line.

I value continuing my lifelong education.

The World Parkinson Congress took me to Portland, Oregon in 2016. My love of poetry was discovered after PD diagnosis and led me to study under the presidential inaugural poet Richard Blanco at Omega Institute in 2016. I was honored with a Cat Writers’ Association Muse Medallion for a cat poem The Morning Visitor in 2016. I studied English Country Houses at Oxford University in 2017 residing on the Christ Church campus and dining in the Great Hall. I was selected to attend the Palm Beach Poetry Festival in 2018 and studied under Mississippi state poet laureate Beth Ann Fennelly.

I value preserving moments in time.

I have been a top rated eBay seller since 2015 of anything vintage—from buttons to books. My writing is published in twelve anthologies, seven journals and one cat book. Nine of those publications have been in the past five years. I photograph cats, country scenes and abandoned houses. I have collected brooches for 40 years and still add favorites such as Christmas trees, women’s faces and cats to my collection when I travel.

I value expressing gratitude.

Every morning before I get out of bed I express one gratitude. Today it is living my best life the past five years with Parkinson’s. Every evening before I drift off to sleep, I count ten blessings for the day. Since 2010, I have created My ABCs of Gratitude in November to represent the current year.  A sample is as follows:

2014 Lexie Lee…our 12 years together
2015 Weinberg…a special healer
2016 Tai Chi…class 2 minutes from house
2017 Knight…picture with Coach Knight & brothers
2018 Yellowstone National Park…trip with Joe for memory bank

I know I am incredibly blessed in thousands of ways. I’ll always be in gratitude to  my dentist. In 2015, I fell on my face (nothing to do with PD) but due to a poorly maintained village sidewalk near my home. An ambulance took me to the emergency room where I had x-rays and was released with my two front teeth sticking straight out. My private driver took me to Dr. David Podbielski and with phone coaching from an oral surgeon, he popped my teeth back into place without them breaking off. I was a mess for several months. My jaw was broken and eating was difficult. I cancelled Christmas travel to the farm. The stress brought out the worst in PD and my medications were adjusted.

I value faith in God.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.  Psalm 143:8

Rather than asking why do I have Parkinson’s, I ask why not me? I believe I have been given all the time I need to fulfill my life’s purpose.

How has Parkinson’s changed my life the past five years?

Before Parkinson’s,  medical appointments were routine and preventive, and the pills I took were vitamins. Now I spend over twenty hours a week on Parkinson’s self-care such as doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, support groups, exercise, tai chi, yoga, social media, reading, researching, writing and blogging. I am blessed to have Dr. Michael Okun at the University of Florida’s  Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration  become one of my doctors in 2018. Having this world renowned movement disorder specialist on my care team is worth the five-hour drive and over-night stay.

I am in better physical condition than I was five years ago. Although my brain is short on dopamine, it is stuffed with PD knowledge.  Chemistry keeps me going. I take a baker’s dozen of pills a day to manage symptoms. Gotta love chemistry! Although I have excellent insurance, not all needs are covered, so I have to budget a hefty amount each year. I have learned to be mindful of the moment and to breathe through the pain. Dr. Adam Holleman, my physical therapist taught me to rub a tennis ball on stiff muscles or ones stuck in contracted state. In most instances, I can manage the pain and trust that I will be better in fifteen minutes! I wear a Lifeline necklace  for peace of mind and flat shoes for safety and comfort.

Suffering from Rapid Eye Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD), I acted out  many terrifying dreams. I was chased, stabbed, drowned, robbed and even attended my funeral in these vivid and violent dreams. I screamed and talked out loud. When a jet plane landed in my bed, I was ready for medication. My last RBD dream was August 19, 2018 as  I started a bedtime pill the next night to shut down the disturbing drama.

In 2014-2016, I served as vice-regent of Daughters of the American Revolution of Seminole Chapter. DAR is near and dear to my heart and also represents my values of education, historical preservation and patriotism. I was on track to be on Seminole’s slate of officers as regent for 2016-2018. But due to PD, I withdrew. Two perfect trade-offs were waiting for me. In 2018, I was ask to serve on executive board as advisor to regent. I was also appointed chair of DAR School Committee and created an award winning project for Crossnore School in North Carolina.

How has Parkinson’s not changed my life the past five years?

PD has not changed the core of who I am or the essence of my soul. My longtime values still guide me in how I live and what I say “yes” to doing. A variety of interests still add richness to my life including antiques, travel, baking, animals, nature, reading, photography, poetry, family farm visits, education and DAR.

According to Danny Kaye,” life is a great big canvas and you should throw all the paint on it you can.” I keep a watchful eye on my yearning list and checked off five yearnings in the past five years. These included getting another cat (in reality the backyard stray Tortie adopted me!), returning to London for tenth time, staying in Mayfair Chesterfield, being an Oxford student for The Summer Experience and going to Omega Institute. I still go and do—but at a slower pace.

When my life gets too whacky

I do my best and forget the rest. I watch I Love Lucy and laugh until my stomach hurts. Or I make my signature dessert from the 1990s–Baked Alaska. In spite of Parkinson’s, some of my interests will never change!



Creative Springtime Easter Tablescape


During Parkinson’s Awareness month, I think it is important to consider that some people  live well with the disease for a long time and in some cases even decades. “Not everyone is affected by Parkinson’s equally,” Hubert Fernandez, M.D., director of the Center for Neurological Restoration at Cleveland Clinic, says. “It’s a disorder that you can live with for a long time—it’s doesn’t have to define you.”

One way I live well with the disease is to participate in a dinner club as part of a social group in the American Association of University Women. I joined in 2011, three years before my PD diagnosis.  We meet four times a year. One of those times, Joe and I host three other couples at our home usually in March or April. The objective is to meet with different couples in different homes on a rotating basis. The hostess sets the theme and provides the main entrée, and the other three couples bring appetizer, salad and dessert. I have as much fun designing the tablescape as I do preparing the food.

Salad served on rabbit plate and white charger

We hosted our dinner on April 7 with an Easter in Springtime theme. I found these adorable ceramic rabbit plates and plastic white chargers at Hobby Lobby and that inspired the rest of the setting. I did not go shopping with the goal of creating an Easter table. I was just browsing, but the creative process  unfolded naturally. It was meant to be! The new pieces were combined with my favorite vintage and antique treasures, and there you have it!

New linens form the backdrop for the tablescape

The white napkins with a brown embroidered rabbit hopped out at me at Burlington Coat Factory. The yellow mats (only had 8 and that is what I needed!)  plus the long blue and yellow plaid tablecloth (needed for table with three extensions) also came from Burlington Coat Factory. This store is next door to Hobby Lobby where I also found the garland of blue, green and yellow eggs strung on a fuzzy brown cord!

Conservatory dining room

My dining room is like a glass conservatory with all windows that are  three-feet by five- feet on two sides of the room. During the day it is a light spilled room and at night white lights strung around the patio on one side reflect in a mirror on south wall and add magic to the room. White lights also decorate an arbor on the east side. I love being in this room–day or night.

A short Fenton hobnail ruffled milk glass epergne from mid century is conversation friendly. Large yellow chysantheum heads adorn each of the three horns. Milk glass candlesticks with blue and white candles are on each side of epergne. The flatware is primarily Gorham Fairfax sterling silver, and yes, polishing silver is great therapy and keeps my Parkinson’s challenged fingers moving. I really do like to polish silver! The hand painted stemware was found in a thrift store decades ago and makes me smile.

Vintage salt cellar displays colorful jelly beans

Crystal napkin rings, salt cellars and knife rests create continuity as well as contrast with casual tablecloth and brown cord. Jelly beans are in the salt cellars and serve as a table favor for each guest. People like to talk about jelly beans and eat them as well! My mother had a lovely collection of salts, and they were passed on to my siblings and me. Salt cellars date back to classical Rome. Salt shakers took their place in 1911, but salts became collectibles.

The knife rests never fail to be a curiosity with guests. So it’s fun to share a little history. Victorians protected their fine linens from stains by using knife rests. My collection is mainly cut or pressed glass with dumb bell ends.

Entrée and dessert were served on Meissen Blue Mitterteich plates

A look into kitchen and west end of dining room

This year marks our eighth dinner club that we have hosted. I have never considered resigning due to Parkinson’s. The event is a fun social evening. It requires planning, creativity and multi-tasking. I end up with an extra clean house, patio and yard. I also do one new household project each year in anticipation of the dinner, such as new living room drapes or adding a rug. The saying “if you want something done around the house, plan a party” is true for me. The end result is this dinner club party is one way I can live my best life now!


Happy Easter

Raphael Tuck & Sons


This antique Raphael Tuck & Sons Easter postcard was chromographed  in Bavaria in 1910. It is part of Artistic Easter Postcard Series with floral and rural setting,  Lilies and a cross are to the left and trees are to the right of road.  The unique card is beaded.

Back of postcard



Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Parkinson’s

Michele Keir’s First Painting Completed in 2018

Artist Michele Keir

How It All Started

“When I was five years old I overheard my kindergarten teacher tell my mother I am an artist. I knew from that moment on,” says Michele Keir. Mr. Robertson, who was her art teacher in both seventh and twelfth grades, was a graduate of Pratt Institute. He was the biggest influence on her educational choices. She grew up in New York and graduated from Pratt Institute with a bachelor of industrial design and a concentration in advertising design and pottery electives. While at Pratt, Michele won the 1968 Alumni Day banner competition where she experimented with juxtaposing colors and patterns. To this day she describes ”learning that out of all the talented freshmen at Pratt I was one of four artists to win that Alumni Banner competition is her most amazing moment as an artist. I only entered the contest because it was mandatory.”

Love Affair with Color and Pattern Begins

Blessed to Work in Art Field

Michele graduated during the 1971 recession and oil shortages. She was the only one in her department at Pratt who got a design job at graduation. She started in the Art Department of Hasbro and had the distinction of creating the images of the first two production years of the ”Weebles Family.”

She was dating her husband-to-be and dressed the father Weebles similarly to him. “He was the first “preppie” I had ever dated. Everyone else wore denim,” she says. She worked for Hasbro followed by Milton Bradley for six and one-half years. From there, using her training from both Pratt Institute and Rhode Island School of Design to be a creative problem solver and inventor and to never stop a train of thought, she made a career as a graphic designer, product designer and potter.

Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Parkinson’s

However in 2013, she was forced to retire due to Parkinson’s disease. Michele was no stranger to this disease. Her father died after a three-year struggle with Parkinson’s just before she began classes at Pratt. Although genetics is a rare reason for getting Parkinson’s, Michele’s brother and sister also eventually became PWP.

Painted Nails Inspire Abstract

Years ago, when Michele was first diagnosed, she discovered painting her nails stopped her tremor. “I was painting wild designs on my nails years before it became vogue. One day I noticed my nails looked like my tulip garden and  I took a photo of my hand with the flowers behind. Then, for no particular reason, I uploaded the photo and used my computer graphics knowledge to abstract the image. I was intrigued and compulsive about creating this way. I just painted my nails, photographed my left hand in different parts of my house and had fun abstracting the images until I saw something I liked.”

All the designs were derived from photos of Michele’s tremor hand. She printed and framed the images and sold inexpensively with an average price of $50 donation to American Parkinson’s Disease Association. In the end, she raised over $12,000 for Parkinson’s research.  She did not keep any money to cover her costs. “Except for my husband paying for my expenses, this was a one woman fundraiser,” she says.

Another Pleasure and Purpose of Parkinson’s

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, Photo credit

This past year Michele started to create art as a kind of personal therapy to take her mind away from the reality of Parkinson’s. The Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt was one of her favorite artists during college because of his use of patterns and colors. Her favorite Klimt painting, The Kiss set in a profusion of patterns and colors has reemerged to influence Michele’s art. She also recalls appreciating Lee Bontecou’s three-dimensional art at the Museum of Modern Art when she was a student. “I never anticipated being a fine artist. I didn’t think I could create without a reason. Never before have I created art without a teacher, boss or client limiting my creative process. It is liberating to not have to please anyone but myself. Having disposable income to buy my materials and having unlimited time to experiment are big contributors,” she says.

Blue Dog

Michele is always evolving techniques and style. “The only constant seems to be my love of color and creating things unconsciously from my mind. I am an innovator. I surprise myself.” For example, she did not set out to create a blue dog in relief/assembled style. “I glued down found objects to a canvas and just started painting patterns. I kept turning the canvas around until the dog jumped out at me. I attribute that technique (if you can call it that) to Mr. Robertson, my seventh grade art teacher,” she explains.

Home Studio

Studio Creations–Miniature Portraits for 70th Birthday

“I create at all hours of the day and night at my home studio in Warwick, Rhode Island. Parkinson’s decides that for me as I am awake a lot at night,” says Michele. When walking downstairs to her studio became problematic, she relocated her studio in her daughter’s former room. Michele is preparing for her 70th birthday party by painting a miniature portrait  place card for each of her guests.

Happy 70th Birthday

Photo Credit: Nick Stephenson

According to The Lion King lyrics, it’s the circle of life, and it moves us all through despair and hope,  through faith and love, till we find our place, on the path unwinding. In the Health Monitor–Guide to Living with Parkinson’s Disease magazine, Michele Keir is interviewed on tips and adaptations that keep her active and fulfilled. She emphasized “use all the tools available to you.” Turning to art is one of her go-to tools. In essence, she has returned to her love of color and pattern this past year that inspired her creations at Pratt Institute over five decades ago.

What a rewarding and productive year she has had! As a result of this joyous endeavor, her home is overfilled with her explosive art. In an attempt to have her art seen by others, she began entering local juried exhibitions the latter part of 2018. Michele’s art is already exhibited in eight places the first six months of 2019. She also has four “one woman shows” scheduled through November. When she discovered an April invitation, she responded, “It is my great pleasure to be offered this one woman show at The Gallery @Sprout CoWorking in Warren. This exhibition is the best seventy year birthday present I never expected! “  See video below.

Keeping in Touch

If you would like to contact Michele to purchase a creation, arrange an exhibit or see her additional work, please visit her website or email her at  [email protected]

Question: Pretend you are attending one of her exhibits. What would you ask Michele?

It has been Parkinson’s My Way’s pleasure to publish this interview on Michele’s 70th birthday and during Parkinson’s Awareness month.