Memories of Madeline

Me as a baby. My grandmother's hands are holding me on either side.
Me as a baby. My grandmother’s hands are holding me on either side.

From the time I was six years old, February 15 has been a melancholy date on the calendar because it marks the anniversary of losing the only grandparent I’d ever known: my maternal grandmother, Madeline Cauterucci. Readers familiar with the back story of Water Signs already know that my main character’s name, Madeline Rose, is derived from my grandmother and my mother (although in the story, “Rose” is also the family surname). The circumstances surrounding her death and my mother’s decision to leave me at home with a babysitter rather than attend her viewing and funeral led to a very interesting resolution to my panic and anxiety disorder much later in life. I blogged about incorporating this real-life experience into the book a few years back:

Which brings me to perhaps the most controversial element of the book, which is also an event straight out of real life. While still battling panic and anxiety disorder — in spite of embracing just about every known remedy from prayer and meditation to Yoga and exercise — I bumped into a very interesting woman at a monthly business/networking meeting. Trained in what is known in military circles as “remote viewing”, she was in reality what most civilians call a psychic — and many Christians a “handmaiden of the Devil”, although upon first sight, she looked like just another no-nonsense businesswoman.

When Maddy meets Ann Claire in the novel, it’s an accurate retelling of my own experience. Thus, when Ann accurately calls out Maddy’s guilt for “leaving behind a middle brother who is handicapped” (my brother Ralph who is in-between oldest son, Mark, and youngest son, Paul), and notes that she is still “in mourning” for a grandmother who’d passed away over 20 years prior, it’s an example of fact that has only been fictionalized marginally. I might have changed the names and altered the descriptions a bit, but the basic events are 100% true, including the fact that Maddy awakes one morning — six months after a private reading with Ann — to discover that for the first time in years, her head is clear, her stomach is calm and that the black cloud that seemed to relentlessly hang over her head has completely dissipated:

I believe I’ve had such a close connected to the woman I called “Nanny” even after she left her earthly body in 1974 and crossed over the the other side because of the circumstances of my own conception and birth. I was not a “planned” pregnancy (although I am grateful everyday for Catholic, pro-life parents). In fact, news of my existence could not have come at a worse time for my mother and father, who were struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over the heads of their four children. Having been blessed with at least one girl, my mother was happy. My father was a new resident and even given the fact that he would go on to a successful surgical career, nothing was guaranteed at the time.

Me at around 18 months.
Me at around 18 months.

Then a month after receiving this unexpected, earth-shattering news, my mother’s father — husband of Madeline — had a sudden heart attack and died. Having been very close to him, my mom of course was devastated, adding even more stress to the pregnancy. My grandmother subsequently spent all of her time in mourning. Until several months later when I was born on March 14 and gave her a reason to smile again. Ok, maybe that sounds a little self-serving but from all accounts, I was like her little “doll.” She was constantly bathing me, dressing me up, fussing over me and just loving me the way a devoted grandmother would.

Although I was a young child I’ll always remember her warm smile, happy-go-lucky personality, affinity for Lawrence Welk and adherence to all things feminine in the form of skirts and blouses, regular hair appointments, dresses, and matching pearl and/or gemstone necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Come to think of it, I don’t believe I ever once saw Nanny in a pair of slacks. Like my mother, she was a consummate lady in terms of fashion and sensibility.

After my grandfather passed away, Nanny lived with my wonderful Aunt Emma and Uncle Al but frequently made visitations to our house where she’d stay with us for weeks at a time. One the night of February 14, she and I curled up on the couch to watch a movie called Ryan’s Daughter — something she’d talked excitedly about for days. My parents had gone out to visit a friend who’d been in the hospital so it was just Nanny and my four siblings in the house.

The movie had barely begun when she suddenly succumbed to heart failure, although as young kids we had no idea what was going on — just that it was incredibly frightening. Nanny began shaking violently as her body temperature dropped, prompting us all to run around gathering blankets, make her hot tea

Nanny (middle) with her friend Angie (left) and my Great Aunt Emma enjoying a vacation together.
Nanny (middle) with her friend Angie (left) and my Great Aunt Emma enjoying a vacation together.

and comfort her as best we could while my oldest brother called our parents. Having been diagnosed with diabetes several years earlier, I’d later learn that this was not an unexpected event. I remember Nanny being in and out of the hospital for treatment of various diabetes-related complications and watching her administer scary-looking insulin needles into her arm every day — always with a smile on her face. The woman never complained about anything, at least not in front of me. But even at a tender age, I’d vowed to myself that I would never get that awful disease and suffer the same fate of daily insulin injections. And thanks be to God (and dieting + exercise discipline) I’ve thus far managed to keep that promise.

It’s hard to describe the sheer terror and helplessness I experienced as little girl that night. Watching my beloved grandmother struggle for breath and for warmth while we all did our best to remedy a futile situation is a memory that will be with me forever. I vaguely recall an ambulance coming to take her away and subsequently receiving the devastating news the next morning (delivered gently by Dad with Mom by his side) that Nanny had “gone to heaven.” In response, I ran out of the room crying. Some time later, my mother gifted me with Nanny’s engagement ring, left to me in her will. Since becoming an adult and having it sized down to fit my finger, I’ve never once taken it off, except to clean it. When I made my Confirmation at the age of 12, I took the name Madeline in her honor, although I remember making that decision in anticipation of being confirmed someday in the future soon after her death.

As a child and adolescent, I had no idea that decades later at the age of 30 I’d be engaged in a battle to overcome panic and anxiety disorder partially caused by a lack of closure with my grandmother’s death. Or that it would be a psychic I’d bump into a monthly women’s social meeting who would make that diagnosis and suggest holding my own private ceremony to honor her memory and to ask her spirit to let go of me just a little. This woman strongly sensed that Nanny’s

Me (left), Mom and  Carolyn on Easter Sunday, 1970.
Me (left), Mom and
Carolyn on Easter Sunday, 1970.

presence around me was a bit too suffocating and that I needed to gently find a way to assure her it was ok to release me.

I followed this woman’s advice, lit some candles, said some prayers and thanked my grandmother for loving me so unconditionally. Then I told her how much I loved her and asked her to continue to hang around me in spirit — just not as intensely because it was affecting my ability to fulfill my own God-given purpose.

Not a day has passed since February 15, 1974 that I haven’t thought of Nanny, if only briefly. Her loving presence, her warmth, her smile, her sense of humor and her appreciation for the simple things in life will never be forgotten. Nanny lived a good and happy life if not an extravagant one. She raised four kids, suffered through the loss of a son during World War II and dealt with a myriad of diabetes-related health issues. But she did it all with grace and always with an appreciation for the simple pleasures of life: playing cards with her friends, spending time with family, going to the movies, cooking, shopping and being the strongest influence on my life for my first six years on earth.

Thanks for the memories, Nanny. You are loved and missed always but I know I’ll see you again someday.


Just Believe with Lisa Tarves and author Virginia Swanson

DiabetesDietWritestream Radio host of Just Believe Lisa Tarves has an excellent program lined up for this Sunday, March 24 at 1 p.m. Eastern with fabulous guest, author Virginia Swanson:

Author of Diabetes Diet, Virginia Swanson worked for many years adjusting catastrophic home claims all across America. She became tired of traveling and decided to try her hand at the stock market. There Swanson became wealthy.

A few years later, Swanson’s Father suffered a heart attack. Early on it became apparent he was not recovering the way everyone had hoped. He was a diabetic and was slow to heal. A few months later his kidneys failed and he was put on dialysis awaiting a kidney transplant.

Swanson began studying diabetes and heart health shortly after her Father became ill. A year later her Father was diagnosed with skin cancer. Swanson stepped up her studies and tried to get her Father to begin taking digestive enzymes by Dr Kelley. Her Father’s doctor refused to let him take the digestive enzymes.

Frustrated and determined to help her Father, Swanson tried to get him to take apricot seeds (B17) in an attempt to kill the cancer. Once again her Father’s doctor refused to okay the treatment. After the kidney transplant it seemed like her Father was recovering. One year later, the cancer was back. They operated again telling Swanson’s Father he would be fine. One year later he was dead.

After years of frustration, pain and research, Swanson put the final pieces together  and wrote the book Diabetes Diet . The book outlines how to prevent and naturally treat diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Her book has sold worldwide. She teaches thousands how to eat right and stay healthy.

Coming from a family with a history of diabetes, I can’t wait to tune in to hear what Virginia has to say. As always, the host and guest welcome your calls at (347) 945-7246 and your participation in the live chat. Listen to Just Believe with Lisa Tarves and author Virginia Swanson on Sunday, March 24 at 1 p.m. Eastern!

P.S. Can’t make it live? Be sure to check out the archived podcast later. Follow the #Writestream hashtag on twitter for updates and links. 🙂


Atkins Diary — 11 Weeks Down!

I am happily cruising right along, noticing subtle changes in my clothes and generally enjoying the low-carb lifestyle. So for this week’s update I decided to post five things I love about the Atkins diet:

1. Distinguishes Between Good Fat and Bad Fat – When I first did the program back in 1999, it was at the suggestion of a co-worker who was having great results. Having been fully indoctrinated at that point into the low-fat, high-fiber, calorie-counting mindset, it boggled my mind that I could eat things like full-fat cheese, butter and — wait for it — real whipped cream! Not only that, I could even enjoy my morning cup of coffee with my preferred half-and-half, instead of watery, icky skim milk, sweetened with stevia (although now I use Truvia). Ah, the simple pleasures!

So what exactly is good fat? According to the Atkins site:

Good fats are all fats which are naturally found in foods; they are not heat processed, and are therefore not damaged. Especially important good fats are the essential omega-3’s, but any fat that’s normally found in food- like avocados, eggs, flaxseed, olives, coconut and nuts can be a good fat when consumed in a healthy diet.

All foods containing fat – even pure oils – contain a mixture of three kinds of fat- saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. (Foods are often identified by their predominant fat – for example, olive oil as “monounsaturated,” butter as “saturated” – but all real foods contain mixtures of the three).

Bad fats are damaged fats. They include oils that have been used and reused in frying. Bad fats are hydrogenated oils, also known as “trans-fats.”


Good fats are absolutely essential for human health. They provide the building blocks for many important hormones and structures in the human body. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, are the building blocks of anti-inflammatory hormones.

For more information on good vs. bad fats, visit the Atkins site.

2. Offers A “Kick-Start” to Weight LossPhase One, also called Induction, is perhaps the most commonly misunderstood part of the diet. Too many people assume the strict 20 grams of carbs per day allotted during Induction applies to the entire diet. Actually, many of the Atkins‘ diet fiercest critics (including members of my own family) have no idea that it’s a Four-Phase plan. Phase One helps your body get to ketosis (fat-burning)  quicker by limiting carb intake and of course, cutting out sugar permanently while forbidding “bad carbs” like those found in bread, pasta and rice. You eat green, leafy vegetables including spinach, green beans, broccoli and asparagus and of course proteins such as eggs, poultry, fish, chicken, turkey, and meat. It’s recommended to stay in this phase for at least two weeks before moving into Phase Two, Ongoing Weight Loss (the phase I am currently in).

As Atkins explains:

Induction is your initiation into the Atkins Diet weight loss program. All too often, people confuse this first phase of the program with the whole Atkins Diet, but Induction is only the first of four progressively liberal phases. The two main objectives of Induction are:

  1. To switch your body from burning primarily carbohydrates (in the form of glucose) to burning primarily fat (including your body fat) for energy
  2. To jump-start weight loss

To encourage your body to burn fat, you’ll initially consume only 20 grams of Net Carbs per day. The carb foods you’ll eat in this phase are primarily vegetables low in carbs but rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients, including fiber. For specifics on how to do Induction, see How to Do Induction Right.

It’s not essential to start Atkins in the Induction phase, but doing so is the fastest way to blast through the barrier that blocks your fat stores, enabling you to transform your cells into an army of fat-burning soldiers. You’ll stay in this phase for at least two weeks, unless you have very few pounds to shed and they come off very quickly, in which case you can move sooner to Phase 2, Ongoing Weight Loss.

3. Packs Their Website with Helpful Information and Recipes – Unlike back in 1999 when I bought Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution book, read it from cover-to-cover then highlighted and carried around with me everywhere, today I can simply go to the Atkins website for guidance, clarification and of course, fabulous recipes to keep the taste buds happy! If you so desire, there’s even an online community where Atkins dieters can encourage, inspire and educate each other so if you’re the kind of person who enjoys and benefits from that kind of support, it’s right at your fingertips. No need to drive anywhere for a weekly weigh in! And by the way, I still own the book. 😉

4. Makes Great Products for Busy Dieters – In addition to all of the tasty food you can consume on the Atkins Diet, you can also supplement/substitute meals with their delicious line of low-carb products. My favorites? The Wild BerryVanilla and Strawberry Shakes. But you can also enjoy Atkins Peanut Butter Cups, Protein Bars and even an All Purpose Baking Mix (to create yummy low-carb alternatives for pancakes, muffins, etc) and Atkins Penne Pasta. Abbondanza!

5. Easily Adapts to Your Lifestyle – With the exception of having to resist the temptation of bread (at least until you get to Phase Four – Maintenance) at a restaurant, Atkins easily lends itself to eating out, entertaining and generally enjoying life. Because it’s so much simpler to count carbs than calories and due to the fact that good fats are allowed, you can savor an endless variety of menu options — even a Caeasar Salad (hold the croutons) and Eggs Benedict (without the muffin). If you don’t want to eat bacon, fine. You don’t have to. Ditto for eggs, steak or anything else you don’t want to consume. There’s so much to choose from, you have the flexibility of selecting the proteins, vegetables and fats that tickle your unique taste buds. But no matter what you choose to eat, you will feel full and satisfied since the menu options are all nutrient-dense foods.

Bonus: If you come from a family in which generational diabetes is a reality, this is an excellent program to help you avoid/manage that difficult disease. I decided a looong time ago as a little girl observing my grandmother administer shots to herself that diabetes was not for me. Thanks to Atkins, even if I do eventually have to deal with diabetes, I’ll be in a much better physical position, though I’m hoping adherence to the plan will keep me out of the danger zone.

So that’s my Atkins Update for this week….hope it’s inspired you to take the plunge or if you’re already on the plan, to keep going. And don’t forget to join the Low Carb Divas on Facebook!