Saturday, October 30, 2010

Youth Caregivers

If you are under 21 and caring for a family member or friend with health needs, you are not alone. It can be hard work. It may cause you to miss school, social events, sleep and may even make it hard to maintain friendships.

You are not alone. There are millions of kids all over the world being a caregiver.

Other kids like you help family members take medication, get dressed, go to the bathroom, do the shopping, make meals, and stay at home to help out.

Understand there are resources out there to help. Places to look:
• the hospital or clinic where you family member goes for care
• your local church or place of worship
• school counselor
• a trusted adult
• health organizations like the American Cancer Society, Diabetes Association or Alzheimer’s Association. Use this link to find a chapter of an organization where you live.
• your local library

Taking care of someone is stressful. Follow these tips to take care of yourself
Learn about the health condition your family member is living with
• Stay in school, study as much as you can, ask for help
• Be aware of the signs of stress- Very tired; sleeping more than usual; easily crying; eating less; feeling sad; not enjoying life; panic attacks; resenting family members or friends; stomach problems
• Reduce stress
- Get 8 hours of sleep a night
- Eat a well rounded diet, stay away from junk food, eat breakfast
- Listen to music
- Exercise use the gym at school, walk, run, play
- Talk to someone, such as a parent, friend, an adult you trust
- Remember that your best is more than good enough, so relax
- Breathe!
- Join a support group
- Make time to do something you like
- Get help if you need it
• Read Treasure Talk: The Caregiving Youth Project Newsletter, which can also be e-mailed directly to you
• Keep a journal and write about your feelings.
• A fun way to learn more ways to caring for your body and mind is the BAM website
• Take a pass on the alcohol and drugs. They only make more problems.

Help is often just a phone call or e-mail away. Ask for it

American Association of Caregiving Youth

Camp Building Bridges

Caregiving Youth Project

Treasure Talk: Newsletter for Caregiving Youth

Caregiver Resources

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Take a Break: Dia de los Muertos Altar/Flowers and Halloween Movies

In writing this past Saturday’s post about creativity and mourning loss, I realized why Dia de los Muertos works so well for me. Since creativity can help in mourning loss, what better way to celebrate family and friends, who have gone before us with weeks of creative efforts in the areas of art, music, food and writing?

With Halloween just a few days away, this is a great opportunity to watch some films that set the mood. One of my favorite films as a child was “Fantasia,” which includes “Night on Bald Mountain.” I thought this was eerie and exciting all at the same time. I was never a big Mickey fan, but there was something funny about bewitched brooms in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Fortunately, you can watch both on-line

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Night on Bald Mountain

Then there is The Halloween Tree, which is often featured on the Cartoon Network at this time of year. Based on the short story and screen ply by Ray Bradbury, a group of children experience traditions of Halloween as practiced in many different cultures and times. The last place is Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration. Ray Bradbury is the narrator of the animated made-for-TV movie.

Ofrendas (Altars)
Built inside the home, the altar is a way to remember family and friends who are being honored. It feature foods, candles, photos, skeletons, flowers, incense and other items. Mexican Sugar Skulls has checklist for altars, as well as an information sheet about Day of the Dead. Marigold (cempasuchil) bouquets brighten the altar. Since marigold season is long gone where I live, a paper version works quite well.

Paper Marigolds
Using yellow or orange tissue paper, layer about six sheets on top of one another. I tend to make mine small, so they turn out to be the size of a marigold. If you are making a larger flower, layering more than six sheets will give you a fuller look.

Next, fold the paper back and forth in an accordion style, just like making a paper fan. Wrap a pipe cleaner or wire around the center of the accordion tissue paper. Twist it, so it holds the paper and leaves a steam.

Round off the ends with scissors. Using pinking shears makes a very nice effect.

Start pulling each layer into the middle so you have a circle and a full looking flower. Watch the video flor de meuertos for more instructions. They call for crepe paper but it appears they are using tissue paper.

Make small bouquets and place on your altar.

For other Day of the Dead projects, check out the following:

Paper cuts/skulls

Skeleton figurines /paintings

Food and coloring

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Creatively Mourning Chronic Disease: Why “Take a Break”

This post is being modified to include a very interesting comment made by Martha Beck about achieving contenment/happiness by making something. She put into words what a number of us have learned and it summarizes why I think it's important to have a "Take a Break" post each week. Her comment appears first and the original blog post follows.

How to Be Here Now: People started telling me to "be here now" when I was about 20. "Great!" I responded. "How?" Be still, they said. Breathe. Well, fine. I started dutifully practicing meditation, by which I mean I tried to be still while compulsively planning my next billion-watt wow. But one day, while reading up on the latest research in positive psychology, I discovered a two-word instruction that reliably ushered me onto the plains of peace when I couldn't force my brain to just "be still." Here it is: Make something.

You see, creative work causes us to secrete dopamine, a hormone that can make us feel absorbed and fulfilled without feeling manic. This is in sharp contrast to the fight-or-flight mechanism, which is associated with hysteria hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Research indicates that we're most creative when we're happy and relaxed, and conversely, that we can steer our brains into this state by undertaking a creative task.

To get a dopamine "hit," make something that pushes you to the furthest edge of your ability, where you're not only focused but learning and perfecting skills. Cooking an unfamiliar dish will do the trick, as will perfecting a new clogging routine. At first, depending on how addicted to mania you happen to be, the excitement-grubbing part of your brain won't want to stop obsessing about over-the-top experiences. It will cling to its fantasies about the next huge thrill, its fears of Suicide Tuesday. Keep creating.

As you persist, your brain will eventually yield to the state psychologists call mindfulness. Your emotions will calm, even if you're physically and mentally active. You won't notice happiness when it first appears, because in true presence, the mind's frantic searching stops. In its place arises a fascination with what's occurring here and now. Though this feeling is subtle, it's the opposite of dull. It's infinitely varied and exquisite.

The aftermath of a creative surge, especially one that involves a new skill, is a sense of accomplishment and increased self-efficacy—which psychologists recognize as an important counter to depression. Instead of a Suicide Tuesday crash, you're left with the happy fatigue of someone who is building strength.

Pay attention to this process, and you'll see that the motivation to be here now will gradually grow stronger than the cultural pressure to seek excitement. You'll find yourself increasingly able to tune in to the delights of the present even when you're not actively creating. When this happens, you'll be on your way to genuine happiness: abundant, sustainable delight in the beautiful moments of ordinary life.

In the past month, I have been watching someone very close to me grapple with the death of a good friend, so I’m a bit tuned into the idea of mourning loss and the importance of doing so.

Yesterday, I came across an article by Joseph Nowinski, entitled “The New Grief: Is Creativity the Way Out of Mourning? “ He writes, “It is in our long-term interest that we allow ourselves to experience this journey into darkness, having faith that doing so will in the long run lead us back into the light. To achieve that result -- as opposed to getting stuck in the darkness -- we must be careful to give mourning the respect it is due, and to avoid seeking refuge in quick fixes, such as medication. I, too, have worked with returning veterans, and I have seen how such quick fixes can backfire, leading not to light at the end of the tunnel but to continued darkness in the form of unrelenting depression and anxiety.”

Nowinski uses the term “new grief” to describe the emotional changes that have come about now that most people live for a long time before they succumb to a disease (chronic illness) This new grief is the product of medical advances that have been brought to bear on terminal illnesses. As a result, what was once a, more or less, time-limited process of diagnosis leading to death has evolved into a drawn out process of diagnosis, treatment, remission (or arrest), relapse, more treatment, and so on. Not only the patient, but the entire family gets caught up in this process. Initially we may be very much aware of the emotions we experience.

While initial fear and anxiety arise when a diagnosis is given, over time it becomes that dull background emotion. Last Saturday’s post was about how the brain always has a trickle of fear running through it, which can quickly turn into a raging river when situations, such as grief, loss, and anxiety arise. In short, people dealing with chronic illness, where these emotions are part of the process, have more reasons then most to learn how to reduce the flow of fear in their brain.

Dr. Shelley Carson, the author of “Your Creative Brain,” is quoted extensively in Nowinski’s article Carson describes how the ongoing flood of negative emotion can lead to a loss of creativity. ….one effect of an ongoing negative background emotion such as grief (or anxiety) is that it makes us less open to novelty, less willing to explore or experiment. These, being the keys to creativity, mean that as we get entangled in the new grief we may also experience a disturbing loss of creativity.

The “take home point” of Nowinski’s article, is that creativity can help us heal because it reduces the flood of fear and anxiety. "We are all creative. Creativity is the hallmark human capacity that has allowed us to survive thus far." Viewed in that way, exercising our creativity in response to mourning makes sense.”

When asked how to be creative, Carson offers the following advise: First, keep learning new things. Take courses, read widely, and learn how to play a new instrument or how to cook Tuscan food. Learn, learn, learn! Second, try not to judge the things you’re learning. Keep an open mind. Everything you learn is a possible element that may make its way into some future creative idea that you can’t even imagine today. And the more open-minded you remain about what you learn, the more likely you are to see how it can be combined with other information to form a novel and original product or idea.

Each Wednesday is “Take a Break Day” on this blog. There are now over 50 ways to do that. So if you aren’t inspired by one week’s activity, definitely explore the others.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Take a Break: Dia de los Muertos Food and Coloring

Food! Glorious Food! This holiday offers all sorts of lovely treats. Chocolate, sugar skulls, tequila and Pan de Muertos or Day of the Dead Bread decorate altars, along with foods that those being remembered enjoyed in life. Pan de Muertos, a yeast sweet bread, is molded into bones, skeletons or other shapes relating to the holiday. Below are several recipes to try.

Pan de Muertos (recipe is given in Spanish and English)

T’ant’a Wawas (Andean All Saints’ Day Bread)

Because Halloween is a much bigger holiday where I live, I have come across some interesting Halloween treats that lend themselves to Day of the Dead. The best collection I’ve seen is from Our Best Bites. They have some easy ways to make bones and interesting looking fingers. They also describe how tonic water, when exposed to a black light, will glow in the dark. If the mood hits you, you can make Jell-O look like it’s radioactive.

More than anything, make foods that were special to those you are remembering.

A very calming activity, there are some fun things to do with pages that you color. For the mandala patterns, you can cut them into four sections and have people color just a portion. Then assemble them to make unique art pieces. It also works by coloring the entire mandala, then cutting them into four pieces and reassembling. If you put a lattice pattern, use simple construction paper, between each reassembled picture, you create a very interesting quilt pattern.

Some of these coloring pages can be used as patterns for sand paintings, outlined in last week’s post.

Sugar Skull Mask Will work for mandala project

Skeleton Coloring Picture

Day of the Dead Skull

Skull and bones mandala

Teacher packet

I came across the Missoula Mandala Project 2009 Celebrating Day of the Dead while looking for coloring pages. This large community mandala was made using sawdust.

If you are needing more information about Day of the Dead in general, go to the first “Take a Break” post this month.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fear in the Patient/Provider Relationship: The Importance of Mindfulness

With the announcement of Stephen Colbert’s march to “keep fear alive” there have been some interesting articles on the topic. Rick Hanson, the neuroscientist and author of “The Buddha’s Brain,” has written several, which explains that our brains are in fact wired for fear so there is little need for a march to remind us of this fact. After reading the following passage in his Just “One Thing: What Makes You Feel Threatened?” I had a “eureka moment” about the medical appointments.

To keep our ancestors alive, Mother Nature evolved a brain that routinely tricked them into making three mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities). This is a great way to pass on gene copies, but a lousy way to promote quality of life.

So for starters, be mindful of the degree to which your brain is wired to make you afraid, wired so that you walk around with an ongoing trickle of anxiety (a flood for some) to keep you on alert. And wired to zero in on any apparent bad news in a larger stream of information (e.g., fixing on a casual aside from a family member or co-worker), to tune out or de-emphasize reassuring good news, and to keep thinking about the one thing that was negative in a day in which a hundred small things happened, ninety-nine of which were neutral or positive. (And, to be sure, also be mindful of any tendency you might have toward rose-colored glasses or putting that ostrich head in the sand.)

Additionally, be mindful of the forces around you that beat the drum of alarm - whether it's a family member who threatens emotional punishment or political figures talking about inner or outer enemies. Consider for yourself whether their fears are valid - or whether they are exaggerated or empty, while downplaying or missing the larger context of opportunities and resources. Ask yourself what these forces could be getting out of beating that scary drum.

For most people, myself included, just walking into the doctor’s office sets off fear responses. How well do we really listen to what we’re being told when the normal trickle of anxiety turns into a raging torrent? Since we’re wired for bad news, when we are given test results that vary, even slightly, from the norm, does it get blown out of proportion? The short answer is “many times yes. “

In this doctor/patient visit is the fear only on the part of the patient? No. Even if it’s subtle, and it is a trickle versus your flood, it’s still there for your provider. Issues of malpractice, payment for services rendered, a waiting room full of patients, and even concerns of competency to treat a patient, all factor into the provider’s anxiety and fear levels. This can easily translate into more tests and procedures, more medication etc.

So knowing that the brain is wired for fear, and it’s a tense situation, how do we ramp it down so that we can make the best use of the time with the provider? Below are some suggestions to consider. Keep in mind that you may have to try several different approaches until you hit on the strategy that works for you.

Implied in these suggestions are the givens of writing down questions and concerns in priority order before your visit. Take an advocate to your visit and ask them to keep notes. Make sure they know what your concerns are.

• Remind your self periodically that the brain loves to be extra vigilant, particularly when there is a potential of something to be feared.

• In the waiting area, talk to your advocate about something that will engage your brain and not add to the stress. This isn’t the ideal time to go over your concerns, as waiting rooms can be pretty stressful.

• If you’ve watched any of the snowboarding events, you’ll notice that many of them are listening to music on their MP3 players. It not only keeps them “in the zone,” but it reduces the high anxiety levels, which could wreck their run. Some anxiety isn’t a bad thing but too much and you’ve hit the deck of the half pipe before you’ve even dropped in. Listening to music or a book might be just the distraction you need.

• Be mindful of your breathing. Mindful breathing goes a long way to help you remain calm. Notice aspects of your breathing. Is there a difference in temperature when you breathe in versus breathing out? Are you taking deep breathes versus shallows? Try saying a word or phrase as you breathe.

• Read a magazine or a book; do a crossword or some other type of puzzle.

• If you practice relaxation exercises, this is a good time to do a check about where you might be holding tension-neck, shoulders, hands.

• Notice the room around you. Even mentally counting something can occupy your brain.

• If you are alone, try talking to someone else who is waiting. They might welcome the diversion.

• After being called into the examination room or the doctor’s office, you will still be in the “waiting” mode. This is often the hardest times to stay calm, since distractions in the waiting area aren’t usually available here. Whatever you were doing in the waiting area, try bringing it into this situation.

If you can keep your fear levels under control during the waiting periods, which are often the most stressful times, you should be a bit more relaxed when talking about test results etc. and therefore more accurately understand your situation.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Take a Break: Dia de los Muertos: Calaca (skeleton) Figurines/Sand Painting

Don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween-any excuse for a party is okay in my book. However, there is a difference between Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, aptly described by Bobbi Salinas-Norman: Halloween is based on a medieval European concept of death, and is populated by demons, witches (usually women) and other images of terror -- all of them negative. The Day of the Dead, in contrast, is distinctly different. It is a uniquely Indo-Hispanic custom that demonstrates strong sense of love and respect for one’s ancestors; celebrates the continuance of life, family relationships, community solidarity and even finds humor after death -- all positive concepts! "Indo-Hispanic Folk Art Traditions II"

Watch how Day of the Dead is celebrated in different parts of Mexico.

This week’s activity is to make calacas, the skeletons and skulls that dominate Day of the Dead celebrations, and to create paintings using sand, salt or flower petals.

Calacas (Skeleton) Figurines
The Day of the Dead Ofrenda (altar) includes figurines and sugar skulls to represent the person who has died. In addition to stores that sell Mexican folk art, the figurines are also available on-line:

Mexican Sugar Skulls: Includes paper mache and ceramic. The paper mache are more expensive.

In the Mexican markets, you can find calacas made from a variety of mediums-paper mache (papel pegado), wire, wood, cardboard, cotton and/or clay. However, it’s not that hard to make your own.

Start by making the basic shape of your figure using wire. Check out Make a Wire Man if you need help with the basic shape. Once you have your wire armature, start adding clay, molding it to the shape you want. Polymer clays (Sculpy, Fimo) work well for this. Skull Beads and Charms have directions and photographs to illustrate the process of making a skull.

Painting with sand, salt or flower petals
From the video links below, you can see that these paintings are used to decorate graves, adorn churches, and are even parts of contests. These are generally temporary works of art.

At this time of year, there isn’t much in the way of flowers where I live so I’ve been experimenting with dried leaves. They work but don’t have the same impact of flower petals. You can also use beans, seeds and herbs to get a similar effect.

The technique is simple-sketch your design and fill in with sand, salt or flower petals.

I’ve been experimenting with sand and salt all week and am amazed at how incredibly beautiful the paintings are. So some basics:

• Salt and sand can be colored by using regular food dyes. Putting the salt or sand in a baggie, add the dye and massage until the color is absorbed. Add more dye for richer and deeper color. Let dry before using. Using different types of salt will yield different textures.

• I used my small Zen garden to experiment with different sand on sand techniques. My favorite was laying down a stencil and pouring sand on top of it. Carefully taking off the stencil, I was stunned by how beautiful it looked. This is a technique that is used in some parts of Mexico and stencils are handed down from one generation to the next. You can obtain contrast and detail by using a pipette filled with sand and carefully outlining your design.

• By laying down a base of wet sand, patterns can be carved and filled in with different colored sand. As you’ll see in the videos, you can use funnels and small strainers to control the amount and placement of the sand.

• While these paintings are often large and in very public places, you can make small ones using a picture frame, tray, large bowl or whatever type of container that strikes your fancy.

As one friend noted, “Americans like permanence” so if you want to save your sand or salt painting, you can spray adhesive on them, or lay down a base of watered down white glue before adding sand or salt.

Sand Painting Links
• Day of the Dead Sand Paintings, Oaxaca
• Day of the Dead Sand Painting Video
• Video How to Make a Sand Painting

Other Dia de la Muertos Activities
Introduction to the Holiday Paper Cuts and Skulls
Food and Coloring 

Saturday, October 9, 2010



The following checklist has been developed to help identify resources that might be helpful. It also provides a way to track what you are doing for yourself or those you are caring for. As you go through the checklist, you may find that you qualify for a service, but aren’t sure how to find them in your community. To assist you in finding resources in your community, you can contact:

• Information and referral service helpline for your state: Go to to find the helpline for your state, check the front page of your phone book

• The Independent Living Center for your State Call 713-520-0232

• A condition specific organization, such as the Diabetes Association, Cancer Society Connects older Americans and their caregivers with sources of information on senior services. 1-800-677-1116 weekdays, 9:00 am-8:00 pm

State and Local Health Department Call 202-371-9090 or check the front pages of your local phone book.

Support Network: If you haven’t joined a support group, consider doing so on-line or in person. Places to find a support group include: local newspaper; clinic or doctor’s office where you receive care; condition specific organizations; asking friends and family; your place of worship; or local library. Find friends and places that can support you emotionally, and where it is safe to talk about your health issues. Be sure to consider AA, Al-Anon, church group, or even a social club. On-line resources.

Legal: Planning ahead is important for both you and your family’s future. You will need to have:
• a will;
• living will (advanced directives);
• durable power of attorney (makes financial & legal decisions for you if you are unable to do so);
• durable power of health attorney (makes health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so);
• legal guardian (who would care for your child or other dependent adult if you were unable to do so).

It is best that you work with a lawyer in completing the necessary paper work. All states have Legal Aid offices, which can assist you. Check your phone book for Legal Aid office closest to you.

Case manager for medical issues. A case manager is someone who can help you monitor your care. You can learn more about medical case management from your doctor or clinic; the social work department where you receive your medical care; or a condition specific organization.

Case manager for social needs. A case manager can help you with such issues as housing, transportation, finances and completing forms. Places which offer this type of case management include:
• Community Action Agencies (call your state information referral network for the Agency closest to you or go to and look under Community Action Network
• Independent Living Center
• Area Agency on Aging (sometimes called Council on Aging)
• Condition specific organization (e.g. Cancer Society, Diabetes Association)
• The social work department at the hospital or clinic where you receive your care.
• Visiting Nurses Association
• Your place of worship

Note: Your case manager for social and medical needs can be the same person. If you are already enrolled in a Area Agency on Aging, or have Medicaid, you have a case manager. Know who they are.

Personal Health Notebook: It is important to keep a health notebook about the care you are receiving as it helps to monitor trends, allows you to share information with other providers, helps to reduce errors at medical appointments, when your chart may not be available, and can be a resource in making important health decisions. There are a variety of free on-line e-health tools you can use. On-line tools.

Organize Help: Lotsa Helping Hands is a free private, web-based caregiving coordination service that allows family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues to create a community to assist a family caregiver with the daily tasks that become a challenge during times of medical crisis, caregiver exhaustion, or when caring for an elderly parent. If you are going to be needing help for any length of time, this is an excellent way to organize help and support. It’s the right answer to the common question, “What Can I do to help?”

Shared/Informed Decision Making: Programs that can help you with the process of making a health care decision. Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making also provides tools and resources. “Hard Choices for Loving People” is an excellent booklet resource to help when you are needing to make choices for other people.

Health Insurance Forms and Policies Help
• Within your state’s Health Department, contact Division of Elderly and Adult Services ; Office of Health Care Ombudsman; or Medicare Help To find your state and local health department, check your local phone book or call 202-371-9090

Paying for Healthcare: If you are having difficulties paying for your health care consider the following:
• Most states have a number of programs to assist those who can not afford health insurance, including:
• Medicaid with special programs for children
• Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Programs for women
• Low cost health insurance
Contact your state or local health department for more information

• If you are a veteran, there are a variety of programs to assist you. Call 1-877-222-VETS (8387)

• If you are disabled and/or 65 or older, you qualify for Medicare

• Many states have free clinics. To find out what is available in your community, check your phone directory or go on-line

For more resources, go to No Job/No Insurance/No Care: What are my options?

Paying for Medications: Drug companies offer a number of different programs to assist patients in obtaining necessary medication. Most states offer prescription programs for persons with low-income and Medicare has a special prescription program. Resources to consider:
- Prescription Assistance Program
- Free Medicine Program
- Needy Meds
- Together Rx Access
- Rx Assist
- Tricare Senior Pharmacy For uniformed services beneficiaries 65 years of age or older.

Non Medical needs: There are many indirect costs of living with a chronic condition, such as transportation, housing, childcare, home maker services etc. There are a wide array of community services that can be of help to you. Places to consider:
• The Community Action Agency closest to you. Check your local phone book for listing or go to and look under Community Action Network
• Area Agencies on Aging, if you are 65 or older, provide case management and a variety of other services: Contact elder care hotline for you state, use Eldercare Navigator to find your state’s hotline
• Social services department of the hospital or clinic where you are receiving your care
State Independent Living Center 713-520-0232
• Civic organizations, such as Rotary, Lions club
• Many area schools and colleges offer student power to assist with yard work and home chores

Be aware that even if you qualify for a particular service, because of funding issues, the service may still not be available. It is important to develop a good support network to assist you.

Disability Benefits: There are a variety of programs which you may be eligible for. They will involve filling out forms. Case managers, social workers and organizations like Area Agency on Aging or Community Action Agencies may be able to help you with this activity.

With the exception of Workers Compensation, information and forms for the following programs can be obtained by calling 1-800-772-1213 or (TTY) 1-800-325-0778 or going on-line

• Supplemental Security Income (SSI): A Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes), designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income. It provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

• Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Must have worked in a job that was covered by Social Security; meet Social Security’s definition of disability; and be totally disabled and unable to work.

• Social Security Retirement: Best to call three months before eligibility for funds takes place.

• Social Security Survivors: If a parent or spouse dies, you may be eligible for benefits.

• Special Benefits for WWII Veterans: If you qualify for SSI, and were a veteran of WWII, you will qualify for this benefit.

• Short-term disability benefits: Designed to provide a paycheck to employees during periods of serious illness resulting in total disability, many companies offer optional long-term disability insurance (often paid by the employee). Short-term disability insurance covers the employee during the "gap" between the two insurance policies. Check with your employer, human resources, to learn if you are eligible for short term disability.

• Workers Compensation: A program that provides replacement income and medical expenses to employees who are injured or become ill due to their jobs. Financial benefits may also extend to workers' dependents and to the survivors of workers who are killed on the job. You will need to check with your employer, human resources, about such benefits.

Life settlements and viaticals If you have a life insurance policy, you can consider these options. Be cautious about such activities and check with a financial advisor before doing so.

• Life Settlements allows policy owners to cash out of unwanted, unaffordable or obsolete life insurance policies insuring a senior over age 65.

• Viatical Settlements enable someone facing a terminal illness to utilize the present day value of their life insurance policy to ease the financial burdens that can be caused by the high costs of medical care.

Another option is a Reverse Mortgage, which is a loan against your home that you do not have to pay back for as long as you live there. For more information

End of Life Care
• Hospice Care is usually provided at home with the help of a visiting nurse and is usually time limited, six months or less. Talk to your care provider for a referral.

• Palliative Care provides focused care to improve overall quality of life. This approach offers relief from pain and other symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, and/or anxiety. It is not time limited and can be provided at any stage of the illness. Usually such care is provided by a team. Ask about services at the treating hospital or talk to your care provider.

• Funeral Consumers Alliance: Non-profit organization, dedicated to protecting a consumer’s right to chose a meaningful, dignified affordable funeral. Check for state program.

Work related: Consider the following:

• If you are no longer able to work, consider filing for disability.

• If you would like to return to work, but are afraid of losing benefits, contact your state’s Benefit’s to Work Program through your state’s independent living center or vocational rehabilitation program for assistance.

• If you would like to return to work, but are no longer able to do your old job, and/or you’ve never worked but would like to do so, contact your state’s vocational rehabilitation (VR) program. VR can help you find a job, keep a job as well as be train you for a new career.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

CAM Treatments: Introduction to Reiki

Research is showing that complementary and alternative therapy (CAM), which includes modalities such as meditation, body work, mindfulness, yoga, Qigong, Reiki, massage, have a role to play in the care and healing of people with chronic disease. I've been asking practitioners in my community to write about their speciality. Julia Gignoux, who has recently opened an office in my town, has written the following introduction on Reiki:


You may have heard someone talking about a Reiki healing experience they’ve had, or may have seen Reiki being offered at DHMC [Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center], the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, local clinic, or spa. Are you wondering what Reiki is exactly, and how it relaxes and heals?

Reiki is an ancient healing practice with many health benefits. It is a simple and gentle hands-on healing that accelerates the body’s ability to heal physical and emotional ailments, and promotes a sense of balance and well-being.

The practitioner transfers healing energy, known as Universal Life Force, to you. You receive the amount of energy you need to support the good health of your body, mind, and spirit.

Reiki complements and enhances all types of medical treatment and may address both chronic and acute conditions by

• reducing blood pressure, stress, and anxiety levels, enhancing restful sleep
• bringing about relaxation and rejuvenation, allowing for greater focus, clarity and mental agility
• relieving side effects from treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation
• strengthening the immune system and clearing toxins
• promoting the release of emotions such as anger, grief or anxiety
• providing comfort in palliative care
• accelerating healing of injuries and wounds
• enhancing personal awareness and creativity

During a typical Reiki session, you lie on a massage table fully clothed while the practitioner places her hands lightly on your body in a series of positions. Soothing music and aromatherapy aide in the healing session if desired. But Reiki can be performed in other situations as required: you can receive Reiki in a bed or sitting in a chair, in a crowded room or at your own home. A full Reiki session lasts from 45-55 minutes.

What one experiences during a Reiki session varies somewhat from person to person. However, feelings of deep relaxation are usually felt by all. As the Reiki energy encourages you to let go of all tension, anxiety, fear or other negative feelings, a state of peace and security is experienced. At the end of the treatment, one typically feels refreshed with a more positive, balanced outlook.

There is no belief system attached to Reiki so anyone can benefit from a Reiki session or a Reiki attunement. As in any healing the first step toward a healthier life is a desire to be healed.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Take a Break: Dia de los Muertos-Paper cuts/Skulls

I first learned about Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) from my mother when I was fairly young. It sounded a bit odd, but intriguing all the same. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I celebrated the holiday and it’s now one of my favorites. Involving good friends, food, music, and art what’s not to like? However, it’s also become a comforting way for me to remember those who have died.

Some background information for those not already Day of the Dead enthusiasts.

An ancient Aztec celebration in memory of deceased ancestors, Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 (All Saints' Day) and November 2 (All Souls' Day). The holiday is especially popular in Mexico, where it is a national holiday, and to a lesser extent in other Latin American countries and in some parts of the United States.

Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead joyfully, and with an emphasis on celebrating and honoring the lives of the deceased, and the continuation of life. The belief is not that death is the end, but rather the beginning of a new stage in life.

Plans for the festival are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the period of October 31 and November 2, families usually clean and decorate the graves. Most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas, or offerings, which often include orange marigold called Flor de Muerto, or zempoalxochitl, Nahuatl for "twenty-flower.” Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or little angels), and bottles of tequila for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased's favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas (altars) are also put in homes

Altars are decorated with cempazĂșchil flowers, images of saints, candles, traditional foods and things that once belonged to the deceased to honor and please the spirits. What the spirits consume is steam from the food. They do not digest it physically; they extract the goodness from what is provided. After the spirits leave, the living visit each other in their homes and exchange the prepared food. Images of favorite saints are frequently placed on the altar to elicit special divine protection for loved ones. A towel, soap and mirror are also seen on the altars for the spirits to freshen up before feasting on their favorite foods.

The colors of the various items on the altar have the following meaning:
Purple: signifies pain, suffering, grief, and mourning.
Pink: celebration
White: purity and hope
Orange: sun
Red: the blood of life
Yellow: cempazuchitl are marigolds that symbolize death. Petals are used to make a trail so that the spirits can see the path to their altars.

"Calaveras" – short poems mocking epitaphs of friends, sometimes with things they used to do in life originated in the 18th-19th century, after a newspaper published a poem narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future.”

A common symbol of the holiday is the skull (calavera), which is represented in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for "skeleton"), and foods such as sugar skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls are gifts that can be given to both the living and the dead. Other holiday foods include pan de muerto (or "bread of the dead"), a sweet egg bread made in various shapes, from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.

More information about Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead


For the month of October, “take a break” will feature various activities pertaining to Dia de los Muertos. This week’s break is to learn more about Day of the Dead and to make sugar skulls and Papel Picado (paper cuts).

Sugar Skulls
If you are interested in making sugar skulls, you will need a mold. You can purchase these on-line from Mexican Sugar Skull. They include recipes for the skulls and the icing. If this is something you’d like to try, order your molds now.

I have several different types and I use them for other purposes including molded chocolates. Clay, particularly the type that air dries, can be pressed into the molds. I’ve used the Crayola clay, which dries light enough to make pins. I’ve also filled my molds with plaster. They easily pop out and can then be decorated with paints, glitter etc. If I’m having a Day of the Dead party, I will set up a table so people can paint and decorate their plaster skulls to remember someone special to them. These can be added to the altar. I use watercolor paints with a final coating of acrylic.

Papel Picado (Cut Paper)
According to Mexican Sugar Skull, The technique of hand cut paper is traced to the 18th century when paper was imported to Mexico from China... thus the Spanish word "papel china" remains the word for tissue paper! Paper cut artisans, commissioned by the Church, would make thousands of strings of papel picados for religious festivals where they hung in church plazas and decorated the streets.

While you can buy Papal Picado, it’s very easy and fun to make it yourself. Once you know the technique, you can make them for all sorts of occasions.

Artists in Mexico lay a stencil on top of a stack of tissue paper and cut out the shapes using a special chisel and hammer. You can get the same effect by stacking a few sheets of tissue paper, attaching a stencil with pins or paper clips, and carefully cutting with a pair of scissors. An Exacto knife would work, but I’ve never been very good at using them so I tend to recommend scissors. Leave space at the top of your paper so you will be able to attach a string.

I save tissue paper all year long for papel picado and flowers for this holiday. While it’s easy enough to get from the store, I like the idea that the tissue paper items that adorn my altar for Day of the Dead are not only recycling, but a reminder of what was wrapped in the paper and who the person was that gave it to me. It does get a little old for my family though when they are opening presents and I’m telling them to be careful and “save the paper!”

For the stencil, make your own, keeping in mind the importance of positive/negative images. You can also check out some of the links below for ideas. Keep in mind that some are cut on the fold. Pumpkin carving, snowflake and stencil patterns also work well. A friend from El Salvador folds the paper back and forth, like you would for an accordion fan, and just cuts shapes. They look great.

If you are using a stencil, particularly if it’s one you think you’ll want to use again, make a copy on scrap paper, and use this as the pattern you’ll be cutting.

Once you have the paper cut, lay it out on a large surface. Across the tops, use a glue stick or white glue, and place string, and then fold a flap over to keep the string in place. Let dry and then hang.

I like my paper cuts so much, I leave them up through most of November. Sometimes I replace them with Christmas Papel Picado and I have a variety that I make for February (Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras). Living in snowy Northern New England, the bright colored tissue paper brings a cheery note to some of our very cold and gray days.

Pattern Links
Papel Picado Patterns

More Patterns

Other Dia de los Muertos Activities