Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dilemma: Your opinion whether it’s been asked for or not

Think of a good friend, or family member and asks yourself how you would respond if they asked for your opinion on something they just purchased. Chances are you would probably be fairly honest in your reply. Now think of this same person. They have a very serious health crises and they ask you “Do you think I should have treatment?”

Reverse the process and think about the times you’ve asked others for their input? Did you want an honest answer or were you just wanting them to collaborate what you were already thinking or planning to do?

There are multiple things that come into play when we ask for input or our advice is being sought. A lot of the responses come down to the people involved, the situation and the level of honesty in the relationship.

I’ve had reason to belabor these questions because of several recent situations where people are asking friends, family and the occasional provider, about how they should be managing their health care. There is no simple answer when someone asks if they should continue treatment, have surgery, opt for hospice, move to assisted living or enter a clinical trial. These are major life altering choices and so it is important to weigh your answers carefully.

When faced with such a question(s), consider the following:

• For people with chronic and life threatening conditions, the provider will expect the person and/or family to make the choices and decisions about type of care and treatment and when and when not. If a person is dealing with pain, metastases disease, malnutrition, dementia or anything else that may alter their thinking, they may be in a very difficult position to make such choices. These are very challenging situations. If a friend or family member asks your opinion, help facilitate discussion by responding honestly, recognizing that they, more than anyone else, has to live with the consequences of the decision.

• Sometimes people will ask not only for opinions but also make requests of you, which are illegal. It could be a matter of obtaining medical marijuana, which may be illegal in your state. Over the years, I’ve known many people who have said that if they became too ill, senile or are in considerable pain, they want their family to terminate their lives or they will do it themselves. These are definite ethical issues, which need to be weighed on a case-by-case basis. Below are resources that might be helpful:

Resolving an Ethical Dilemma

Top 50 Medical Ethics Blogs

Medical Futility Blog: Has an excellent list of links on medical ethics.

• What weight might your response carry in their eyes? In other words, do they consider you a valued and trusted person whose advice they have sought before?

• What about the situation where you see a good friend/family member who is in real trouble with their health care? They may not be asking for your advice, but you also don’t want to stand by and watch them damage themselves. When or do you intervene? This can be an incredibly difficult situation. Step one is to let them know of your concern. If they respond negatively, your options are limited. Again, what is your relationship to the person? If there are people closer to them, such as a spouse, partner, parent or adult child, talk to them. They may share similar concerns and together you may be able to come up with strategies to intervene. If you are the caregiver, and have permission from the patient to speak with the provider, talk to them. Even if you don’t have permission to talk with the provider, you can contact them and relay your concerns, basically having a one-way conversation. If you truly believe that this person is a danger to self or others, you can call adult protective services and report the situation.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Take a Break: Solve the Mystery

Minute mysteries come in all shapes and sizes. You can download the Sleuth App for your iPhone or try out some of the links below:

Mystery Digest: This site contains two minutes mysteries to solve and a whole lot more.

5 Minute Mystery

One Minute Mysteries: These are really easy

5 Minute Mysteries Old Time Radio Shows

If you like medical mysteries, once a month (or so) the Well blog of the New York Times provides case information and you can figure out the diagnosis.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Go-Go Eating /Exercise and Stress

This post is dedicated to Mark, who specifically requested information for those over 55 who need to exercise and how to eat healthy when they are constantly on the go.

To the first request, the Feb. 10, 2011 post covers exercise. But as to eating, well that’s a bit more complex.

Since it’s Christmas Eve, and this blog’s focus is on chronic conditions, a quick reminder that in this time of excess food and drink, what you put in your body can impact how you handle medications, how you feel and how you heal. For example, eating cranberries can increase the effectiveness of coumadin (Warfarin). Dark chocolate contains theobromine, which is also a diuretic, and can decrease the effect of sleep medication or increase blood pressure. Mixing alcohol with medications is a bad idea as it can block the effect of some medications, increase gastrointestinal bleeding and so forth.

There is no time like the present to think about how you use food to celebrate events, holidays etc. Think about options other than food, e.g. in honor of your new promotion, great test results, birth of a grandchild you go to see a play instead of having a big dinner.

Since chronic conditions very significantly, I’m the last person to tell you what foods to eat or even when, as medication schedules and interactions with certain foods are real issues for many. Clearly, it is important to check with your medical provider, as well as a dietician about what’s right for you. Also, organizations focusing on your condition will include diet programs and suggestions. However, most important is paying attention to your body.

Another resource to consider is the Diet & Nutrition section of the University of Minnesota’s “Taking Charge of Your Health.” Note that as research is published on nutrition, exercise and other topics relating to chronic conditions, I post them to the Healing Whole Facebook page.

I digress. Mark’s specific request was how to eat healthy when you have little time to shop, are in the car a large part of the day, and since we live in a rural area, when shopping options are limited. So to that request, here are some very doable suggestions, even for someone who is on the go as much as Mark:

Plan meals in advance and shop accordingly. Not much on meal planning? Check out Meal Planning 101.

Use your local CSA (community supported agriculture): A farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. If you don’t know where your local CSA might be, check Local Harvest. There are almost two million farms in the USA, so there is bound to be one close to you. Have a last minute Christmas gift to purchase? Why not a share or a partial share at your local CSA.

• Shop Locally: Farmers’ Markets abound. Check your local newspaper for dates, time and location or use one of the apps-Locavore or Ample Harvest. While this is a great way to get locally grown produce and meats, as well as support your local farmer, it’s a good time to socialize with others in your community.

Prepare snacks in advance. If you know you’ll be traveling quite a bit in the coming week, or you have a variety of medical appointments, prepare five days of healthy snacks on Sunday night. You can do this while watching the football game. Such items may include: almonds and cranberries (a portion size is generally twenty almonds and a 1/4 cup of cranberries-check label for serving information). Other ideas for healthy snacking:

Snacks: How they fit into your weight loss plan from Mayo Clinic

The Best Healthy Snacks in Your Supermarket: 24 snack ideas to satisfy your cravings from WebMD

The Healthy Snacks Blog

Cook once, eat two or more times: When you do have the time to cook, prepare enough for the freezer. That way on days you are very busy, it’s a simple matter of heating up a meal.

Use a crock-pot: Slow and low is the way to go! I use mine at least two or more times a week. Put it on before you leave for work and when you return enjoy a wonderful home cooked meal. So if you aren’t familiar with this magical device (you can pick them up for cheap at your local thrift store), check out the Food Networks Eleven Tips for Slow Cooker Meals.

Crock-pots aren’t just for making stews. I make beans, soups, sauces, jelly and much more in mine. You can easily adapt favorite recipes, but if you want something new, check out the following:

Best Crockpot Recipes

Crock Pot Recipes from

Easy Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes

Buy in season and freeze: Frozen fruits and vegetables keep very well. On the subject of freezing, if you live alone, there are now many single serving choices for frozen vegetables.

Restaurants are an option. You can eat quite healthy even at fast food restaurants. Use the USDA’s Healthy Restaurant Eating guide to help you make choices that are healthy. And yes there is an App for that. Try Weight Watchers Mobile is also another option. Of course there is the ever popular Eat This, Not That.

While Mark and I discussed various strategies for eating and exercising, one of our colleagues mentioned that he found the most helpful thing for him, more than exercise and eating, was managing his stress. I realize that this is one topic that I discuss frequently (each Wednesday is “take a break” day) but have never dealt with in-depth. A post for January for sure. In the mean time, check out the following links, which do address holiday stress.

Holiday Songs Can be good Reminders for People With Chronic Conditions

Holidays: Over Do the Laughter and Under Do the Stress

A Merry Christmas to all and a special greeting to Mark and those working in FAR today and tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Take a Break: Celebrate the “Other” Holidays

December is awash with holidays, but this week marks several that are often over looked in the mad dash of Christmas. In fact, the real “reason for the season” is Winter Solstice, which takes place on Dec. 22. Marking the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere, my husband refers to this as the first day of summer. Given that it’s close to the single digits where I live, as I write this, that’s a very welcome idea.

A historical review shows that Christmas grew out of Solstice traditions. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar, in his Julian calendar, established Dec. 25 as winter solstice for Europe. The Emperor Aurelian selected Dec. 25 as Sol Invictus or the birthday of the “Invincible Sun” in the third century as part of the Roman Winter Solstice celebrations, Saturnalia. Prior to Sol Invictus, Dec. 25 was the birthday of the Persian hero and sun god Mithra. In 273, the Christian Church adopted this same day to represent the birth of Christ. Interestingly, January 6, known as Epiphany or feast of the Magi (three kings), was originally an Egyptian date for the winter Solstice.

Some ideas for celebrating winter solstice can be found at the following links:

Celebrating Winter Solstice

Dream Catcher Native Flutes Ron Allen-6 Winter Solstice

Newgrange Winter Solstice in Ireland

Christmas, Yule and the Winter Solstice from Mysterious Britain & Ireland

Since this festival is all about the sun, make some sun ornaments to hang around your house or tree. You can make them out of clay; paper Mache or whatever strikes your fancy. Sun catchers are easy to make. Use a small ornament and hang it in your window so that it reflects the sun. It can be a simple piece of glass, such as a pendant from an old chandelier, or something more elaborate made of beads.

Dec. 20 is the first night of Chanukah. This eight-day festival of light begins on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month Kislev. It commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BX. Learn more about this celebration.

December 23 is Festivus. Recently, I watched a snippet of the Seinfeld episode featuring George’s father Frank:

Frank Costanza: "Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way."

Cosmo Kramer: "What happened to the doll?"

Frank Costanza: "It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born: a Festivus for the rest of us!

It made me laugh out loud. So while this post is about celebrating lesser-honored December holidays, it’s also about doing something that makes you laugh and celebrate.

Not familiar with Festivus? "The Strike" episode of Seinfeld featured George’s Dad explaining how to celebrate the holiday season without commercialism and religious aspects. As celebrated by the Castanza family, Festivus includes such practices as the “Airing of Grievances” during the Festivus meal, whereby each person tells everyone else all the ways they have disappointed him or her over the past year. There is also the Festivus pole”-an aluminum pole unadorned, and “Feats of Strength.”

To learn more about Festivus and how it’s celebrated, start by watching clips of the Seinfeld Festivus episode, then check out some of the links below:

Festivus Song

Practical tools for Festivus: Feats of Strength Challenge Card and Airing of Grievances Worksheet

Festivus Web

Friday, December 16, 2011

Messin’ with Meds

The holidays are a time when people forget to take meds or call in a refill because their normal routine is interrupted by parties, guests, travel etc. However, I’ve had a very recent reminder of what happens when you don’t take meds as prescribed.

The situation was not unusual. In order to save money, the person was taking their medication once every three days and not daily as prescribed. Thinking the medication wasn’t working, the medical provider ordered a lot more tests, which ultimately resulted in higher medical costs. However, the patient paid the highest price, as symptoms were not controlled effectively and became progressively worse over a six-month period.

People “mess” with their medications by doing the following:

• Not taking them because they: forget, have side effects, can afford them, feel better, or don’t have symptoms

• Taking them for a reason other than there intended purpose.

• Sharing them with a friend or family member.

Some simple solutions for taking medications as prescribed:
• Use a “friend with a pen” at medical appointments. Have them write down what the provider says about the medication, how to take it, possible side effects. The research shows that patients have a much better visit when they have someone with them. Read more about the importance of a health advocate.

• Ask the provider about the cost of the medication being prescribed. Be clear if you don’t think you can afford it. Ask for samples, as well as generic alternatives. The latter are often a lower priced option. Ask if the company has some type of program to help those who have difficulties paying for it. Check out the following sites for additional resources:
- Prescription Assistance Program
- Free Medicine Program
- Needy Meds
- Rx Assist
Tricare Senior Pharmacy For uniformed services beneficiaries 65 years of age or older.

• Understand the how and when to take the medication-e.g.when is the best time to take it; should it be taken on an empty stomach or with food; are there certain medications, supplements or food that shouldn’t be taken while on the medication; what happens if you miss a dose.

• Some drugs aren’t easy to take, such as interferon for hepatitis. Pharmaceutical companies will often set up programs to help patients with adherence. Inquire if such a program is available for a medication that is being prescribed.

• Ask for a clear explanation of why the drug is being prescribed and what the consequences are if you don’t take it.

• Discuss possible side effects.

• Talk to the pharmacist about any questions you might have. They can often provide helpful tips about taking the meds, such as whether a tablet can be broken in half; where to store it (medication cabinets in bathrooms are often not a good location because of humidity)

• Use the same pharmacy if possible and take advantage of automatic refill prescription programs.

• Use reminder devices such as a pill caddy, which organizes medications in a variety of ways-daily, weekly and by time of day. There are a lot of varieties out there so shop around for one that you think will work for you.

For more information on this topic, go to Medications Made Easier

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Take a Break: Create and Be Inspired by Fibonacci

Named for the mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, who was known as Fibonacci, his number sequences is o, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55 …Each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two. What is amazing about this sequence is that it occurs throughout nature, art, music, literature (it’s the code broken by Sophie in The DaVinci Code) and of course mathematics.

If you count the number of petals in flowers, nearly all will be a number in the Fibonacci sequence-an iris has 3, buttercup 5, delphinium 8, and ragwort 13. For more examples, watch Fibonacci Numbers-Numbers in Nature.

The ratio between successive Fibonacci numbers approximates the “golden mean,” also known as the Golden Ratio, Divine Proportion or Phi 1.618. This ratio has been used for centuries. The first use may have been by the Egyptians when they designed the pyramid.

I’m particularly interested in the Fibonacci sequence as I’m trying to make jewelry based on it. So today’s “take a break” is having fun with Fibonacci. Enjoy some of the following:

Fibonacci Puzzles

Unfold the Golden Rectangle

Creating the Fibonacci Musical Scale for Piano

Fibonacci’s Chinese Calendar

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Living as if we might die tomorrow: Does it work?

Attending Catholic School, the nuns would say things like, “When you go to bed tonight, pretend it’s your coffin,” or “How would you change your life if you new you’d die tomorrow?” The right answer was to change nothing as you were living the perfect Catholic life.

Last week a friend Facebooked an article, “Top 5 Regrets of The Dying,” whose author had worked for many years in palliative care. Having witnessed many people closing out their lives, I would agree with this author’s selection: live a life true to myself and not others expectations; not work so hard; the courage to express feelings; staying in touch with friends; let your self be happier.

Since my colleague and friend Kathy, she’s the other half of Chronic Conditions Information Network, and I have often discussed aspects of this, I forwarded the article to her with the following note, Saw this article today and it certainly reflects what I've seen. So the question in my mind is can we really live like we're about to die in the next few weeks for years on end? While I try to practice happiness and recognize the critical need of friends and community, and to really nurture those that I love, there are some very practical issues-like making a living-that aren't necessarily there for those that are about to exit. Puzzling thoughts.

Her reply was spot on, and probably the best response I’ve read to the adage “Live as if you die tomorrow.” You ask a very good question, and the answer is no, we can't. The last few weeks or months of one's life allows one to have those kinds of reflections and take the liberty of acting on them, since there is literally no time left to put it off. I think that all the messages in that article are valid and worthy of acting on in small ways, but you can't do it full time.

I speak from experience. Because of all the deaths and losses in my family, we were raised to live every day to its fullest, give to and love the other as if it were his or her last day on earth, and to be grateful simply to be alive. They are good concepts, noble messages, and engender a kind of fullness of experience that I appreciate having had.

There is, however, a dark side to it that can be very destructive and hard to lighten. The energy that sustains that approach to living is fueled by a strong current of anxiety, fear of loss, and pessimism about the future. There is little room for attending to the relative minutia of getting along in the real world and taking care of one's own needs. In the face of impending death, career planning and goal setting for one's own future seems trite. In fact, everything that is not life or death seems trite. It is a huge burden to assume.

Kathy’s last paragraph was an “I get it” moment. It helped me understand some of my own negative thoughts and actions. Instead of dwelling on the fact that we all come with an expiration date, and I could be gone tomorrow, a healthier approach is living a mindful life where one is present for it.

It is interesting that in the past few months I have though about life expectancy from the vantage point that I’m not financially prepared for old age. That’s been an eye opener for me to realize that I do need to be a lot more mindful of how I earn a living.

Thanks Kathy for your insightful words. Even though Kathy is a nurse by training, she is an amazing artist. Check out her website Fraglets and scroll through her “ Where in the World are Fraglets” section as her art hangs in some pretty amazing places, like MOMA in San Francisco, the Louvre in Paris and anywhere there is a scrap of metal.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Take a Break: Create Green and Memorable Gifts

This past Saturday, I blogged about balancing giving and receiving this holiday season. Following with the “giving” theme, today’s “take a break” is about making gifts that have meaning, are affordable and help the planet.

Green Cleaning Products: While no one needs the harsh chemicals used in household cleaning, it’s even more true for those living with a chronic condition. Study after study has shown how household cleaners can make people sick, cause asthma flare ups etc.

A simple, but very welcome gift, are cleaning products that you make yourself. Pick up some squirt bottles from the Dollar Store, or recycle ones you may already have. Make simple labels for each bottle, that include directions for use as well as the recipe for remaking when empty.

The basics are generally things you have in your house- baking soda, white vinegar, lemon juice, salt, washing soda, liquid soap. You can make a simple all-purpose cleaner by combining 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup baking soda and 1/2 gallon water (8 cups). Mix, pour into containers and use. You can add a few drops of essential oils.

Want to get rid of the bleach? Use 2 cups of water, 3 Tablespoons of liquid soap and 20-30 drops of tea tree oil. You can make your own Oxi Clean solution. It’s just hydrogen peroxide (1 cup) and washing soda (2 tablespoons-note this is not the same as baking soda). Pour the hydrogen peroxide into the spray bottle, add the washing soda. Let it sit for a day. Give it a gentle shake before each use and use as you would oxi clean.

Check out the following links for recipes:

Green Cleaning from Pink Pistachio
Non Toxic Home Cleaning from Eartheasy
The Easiest Green Cleaning Recipes You Can Make at Home

The Dollar Store is a good place to also pick up cleaning clothes. Microfiber ones can reduce your cleaning time.

Give Experiences They’ll Enjoy and Remember: Research shows that experiences bring about more happiness than things. Below are some ideas to consider:
• Tickets to a sporting, concert, play or some other event.

• A weekend get a way, a day at a spa, a massage

• Membership to museums, public TV or radio, community garden , local historical society etc.

• Fees for a special class or workshops, such as car mechanics for dummies, beginning piano, yoga class etc. All the better if you have a special skill that you are willing to share.

• If you have a special skill that you are willing to share via a workshop, pick the date, make up invitations and send. While it’s nice to try and coordinate everyone’s schedule, it’s going to be a lot easier if you pick the date and time and limit the size of your “class” to what you can realistically manage.

Food: Known the person’s taste and special needs (e.g. salt restricted, gluten free etc.) and make or purchase wholesome food accordingly. If you can afford a “fruit of the month” program great, but you can also achieve the same thing by doing something like making soup the first Monday of the first three months of the new year. As much as people like sweets, there is enough of it around to rot everyone’s teeth.

Go Junking: We use to call going to second hand stores, yard sales and the occasional antique dealer, “going junking.” We would paw through a lot of items before we found “treasurers. “Pick up items that will either amuse your friends and family or is part of a collection they may have.

Natural gifts: I happen to love stones, so I enjoy it when friends return from vacations and bring me items they found on the beach. Consequently, I have a lovely collection of beach stones. Consider what's in your natural environment that may appeal to a friend.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Balancing Giving and Receiving This Holiday Season

We’ve all been raised with the idea it is better to give then to receive and where this is most exemplified is during the Holidays. “What do you mean you aren’t going to go to your parents (who live 300 miles away) for Christmas? How can you be so selfish?” “It’s the perfect present for Jack (substitute any name). You can always put it on plastic.”

I’ve done a variety of posts on this topic. However, at this time of year, we all need the reminder to try and achieve some sort of balance in this season of excess.

The fact is, when you are dealing with a chronic disease, you don’t always have the energy to travel or party or have the money to pay for expensive presents. At the same time, you may have to heavily depend on others to help you with the basics of daily living, such as getting to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, child care etc. If you are a caregiver, you may be so depleted from giving that the idea of “holiday giving” is more than you can stand

We need to keep a balance of giving and receiving. It can’t go all one way. We only need to look outside our window to get the picture. At this time of year, when we have just celebrated the bounty of harvest, the ground now lays quiet. Living in snow country, it is if the land is tucked in for a long much needed sleep. It is it’s time for the earth to recharge so that in the spring it can once again bloom and provide.

Consider the following:

Watch for warning signs that you are out of balance. These can include: feelings of being very anxious and tense (clenched jaws); a flare in symptoms; complaining; feeling listless and not wanting to do anything.

Identify yourself: Are you a constant giver? (No rationalizations about why you give too much). If so, be willing to receive. Are you a constant taker? If so, start giving of yourself. For tips on balancing giving and receiving, read January’s post on this topic.

Read previous holiday posts:
Holiday Songs Can be good Reminders for People With Chronic Conditions

Holidays: Over Do the Laughter and Under Do the Stress

• Do what you can realistically do. The idea of sacrificing yourself for others is not a good idea.

• Use this time to let people know how special they are to you with meaningful gifts that do not deplete your income. Check out the following posts for ideas and suggestions:

Balancing Giving and Receiving: Includes ideas on giving when you are relying on others for help and assistance

Holiday Gifts for People with chronic disease

Unique Gifts for Hospital Patients

The Best and Worst Holiday Gifts for People with Cancer

Keep the joy alive by reminding yourself daily of what you have to be grateful for and brings you joy. They can be as simple as watching snowfall, the smell of baking cookies or a fresh cut pine tree or the smile of appreciation from someone you helped.

Take a Break. Every Wednesday is “take a break day.” If you don’t care for this particular weeks “break,” try the archive section, which includes hundreds of ideas.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Take A Break: Make Count Downs to Christmas

I grew up with the tradition of an Advent wreath. The Sunday before Advent began, my mother would manufacture a wreath using four candleholders with greens wrapped around them. Three of the candles were purple and one was rose colored. Each candle represented one of the four weeks before Christmas, with the rose candle being lit the third Sunday of Advent or Gaudete Sunday. Purple, being the color of royalty, represents Christ as the “Prince of Peace,” while the rose for Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday combines the mixture of the Advent purple and the Christmas White.

Each evening after dinner, my brother, sister and I would fight for the chance to light the candle(s) of the Advent wreath. Once that was decided, we’d light the candle(s) and sing “O Come O Come Emanuel.” With each passing Sunday a new candle would be lit so that by the last Sunday before Christmas, all four candles were ablaze. On Christmas Eve, the candles were lit for the last time and allowed to burn down.

My children enjoyed Advent Calendars, most of which came from Germany. If they were the kind that didn’t have chocolate behind each day, we’d close all the doors and store them flat so they could be reopened the next year.

After we were grown, my mother still had an Advent wreath, but surrounded it with the various Advent calendars we would send her. She loved her ritual of marking the days until Christmas

So if you want to mark the days until Christmas, using a calendar or a wreath, below are a variety of ways you can do that.

• Use a small Christmas tree, or several branches stuck in a vase and add an ornament for each day. You make small snowflakes and add per day.

Printable Advent Calendar Definitely for the crafty folks.

Christmas Treasury Advent Calendar. You download the front and back, tape together and have a calendar that’s just as pretty as anything you would purchase.

Online Fun Advent Calendar: Each day contains a different stencil that you can print Use the free stencils for decorating windows, cakes, friezes in schools and play schools or just for fun at home on a rainy day. Size them all to small squares and make your own advent calendar in felt by adding one item every day.

• Opt for a digital Calendar. Below are links to various ones.
- Busted Halo: This calendar brings its sense of surprise by showing you the whole calendar, but not letting you open each day and find out what’s behind the picture until that day comes along. This year’s calendar has weekly themes — hope, love, joy, and peace — that will help you connect to the significance of the season of Advent. Each day, that day’s link in the Advent calendar will start working, leading to a special Advent-themed Daily Jolt, with an opportunity for reflection, a microChallenge and a chance to enter our contest. Some of the reflections come from unlikely sources, and the challenges help you to take an action, usually a small one, based on the reflection.

- Advent Calendar 2011-Countdown to Christmas

- Christmas Advent Calendar

- Other Christian Advent Calendars

- A German Advent Calendar with Daily Christmas Facts (in both English and German) h

- Calendar video (a different video each day)

• Bookmark Count Down to Christmas, and you can see exactly how many days, hours, minutes and seconds before Christmas arrives. This site also offers a variety of activities, such as reading Santa’s blog.

• Advent wreaths can be done without spending any money-you don’t have to have purple and rose colored candles. Some new ways to consider:
- Use four votive candles, in holders, placed in a bowl filled with cranberries.

- Take a wire clothes hanger and stretch into a circle. Undo the wire by the hook end and string Christmas Tree balls to create a stunning wreath. Place four votives in the center. Cut off the hook, or place a large bow over it. Of course, if you’d prefer, you could skip the candles and have a nice wreath for the door.

- Using a bread loaf pan, place four tapered candles in holders and fill with greens, cranberries, nuts, rocks or something that appeals to you.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Relaying information: Be mindful of the how and when

Recently, we had a situation in my community where an 18 year old was killed in a car accident. The fast means of today’s communication-cell phone, text, e-mail and twitter-presented new challenges in distributing factual information in a timely manner.

We wanted to tell our son, since this was his friend, versus getting a text message or seeing it on Facebook. Since the accident took place during school hours, we did have the option of having him taken from class. Ultimately, we sent him a text (since he can’t use his cell phone at school) and told him to call home.

Since we were able to talk to him, we made sure he wasn’t driving before we relayed the information and provided him with facts, versus rumors that were swirling around. Ideally, we would have preferred to tell him face to face, but given the circumstances, particularly the rapid way information is now spread in this digital age, particularly among teens, this was the best we could do.

Several years ago, a friend called to learn about test results while driving. The information was not good. Fortunately, the person was not alone in the car, and the passenger had the presence of mine to tell them to pull over.

In the past week, we learned that a friend is very ill. Again, the e-mails, texts etc. are flying. Factual information is needed and a tweet isn’t necessarily the best way to distribute it.

Below are some ways to consider relaying information in our digital age.

• When relaying difficult information, try to do it in person if possible. If you have to call, start by asking where and what the person is doing. If they are driving, ask them to pull over or call when they have reached their destination. Be mindful that newer cars are equipped with speakerphones. The information you may be relaying may be broadcast to everyone in the car. Check to see who is with them.

• If the person is not available when you call, leave a message asking them to call you as soon as possible. When they do call, ask them where they are.

• When making calls about a family or friend’s situation, or your test results, do not do it when you are driving, operating equipment or doing something, which if distracted, could cause problems.

• Take advantage of the various free websites like Cares Pages, CaringBridge and my favorite Lotsa Helping Hands as a way to keep family and close friends aware of the situation. It’s easier to set up a Cares Page or CaringBridge initially. The down side is that once a person has the password to the site, they can forward that to anyone they choose. Lotsa Helping Hands is a bit more involved, since it requires a site manager to approve those who wish to be members.

• Check out the previous post on Communications

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Take a Break: Learn Wampanoag

Many of us were taught that the first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621, when the Wampanoag (wahm-pah-no-ahg) "eastern people" or "people of the dawn" and white settlers-think Mayflower 1620- celebrated a three day harvest festival together. This was not a “Thanksgiving, “ as Pilgrims viewed such celebrations as days of worship, in which they prayed to God in thanks for a specific event. A good harvest, victory in battle during the Revolutionary war, and sufficient rain were all viewed as reasons for a Thanksgiving.

The Wampanoag had lived in southeastern New England for over 12,000 years. Within 50 years of the 1621 harvest feast, the Indians were driven from their land and many died from disease brought by the Europeans. Today, there are less than 5,000 of their descendants.

Along with the destruction of their culture, the Wampanoag were banned from speaking their language. However, thanks to Jessie “little doe” Baird, the Wopanaak language is once being spoken.

The Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project began in 1993 under the direction of Jessie 'little doe' Baird who earned a Masters Degree in Algonquian Linguistics from MIT in 2000. Through the joint collaborative efforts of members of The Assonet Band of Wampanoag, The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah and the Herring Pond Barnd of Wampanoag, the project aims to return fluency to the Wampanoag Nation as a principal means of expression.

Today’s “take a break” is to learn some simple words in Wopanaak. Check out the following links:

Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project

We Still Live Here Details Effort to Restore Wampanoag Language (PBS Documentary) Excerpt

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Setting Your Own course When Living with a Chronic Condition

Recently, I watched a video Video of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” speaking at the tenth anniversary celebration of “O” magazine. She talked about how women are in a unique position as they have few role models, as the choices and opportunities that we have today were never available to our female ancestors. As she noted, her dust bowl era grandmother didn’t wake in the middle of the night obsessing about whether she should learn to speak French.

People with chronic conditions are in a very similar situation. Diseases, such as cancer and AIDS, which even just a few years ago were terminal diagnosis, are now conditions people can live with for many years. Fact is, people are outliving their diagnosis and dying from something totally different.

The “baby boomer” generation has now entered the “golden years,” as they turn 65 this year. They too are facing unique challenges and are lacking for role models since many did not have parents that lived to see retirement. Still others are sandwiched between very elderly parents, children of various ages and even grandchildren they are raising. To top it off, many of the boomer generation are already living with one or more chronic conditions.

The big question is how do we live? Who is doing it right? If I try x, y or z, because that’s what Fred is doing and he’s having great results, and it doesn’t work, does it mean I’m a failure? Am I failure because I have this diagnosis? Do I feel worthless because I’m 70?

While we can look at our career paths, or lack there of, and think about the choices we made, it’s seems a bit different when it comes to health care. Why? Because medicine is suppose to be a science. “This medication works for 90% of the people.” “By the end of five years, only 5% of those with that diagnosis are alive.” And so it goes. The fact is, medicine is far from an exact science. Statistics they give today, have no relevance when a new study comes out a week from now. Or does it?

The bottom line, is that as much as we’d like to think that scientific method is the end all and be all when it comes to health care, living with a chronic conditions, and aging, are just as much a journey as figuring out what you want to be when you grow up. (As if I’ve succeeded in that department.)

As Gilbert noted in her talk, women are pioneers in continuing on. This is very true for those learning to live with chronic conditions. A hundred years ago, 80% or more of the population died from an acute illness and a small minority lived for many years with the condition that would result in their death. Today these numbers are reversed-most of us will live for many years with one or more chronic conditions.

Consequently, the medical community, which is based on an acute care model, is still trying to figure out how to handle this very different situation. Those with chronic conditions can’t afford to wait while it’s being figured out. We need to be in charge of our health care.

For each of us, the journey will be uniquely ours. We will make mistakes. We will take risks and succeed and other times we will fall flat on our face. However, we need to continue on, charting our own course, sharing what we know, and supporting one another in the process.

If you haven’t checked out Healing Whole on Facebook, you’ll find regular postings on a variety of topics, including the latest research. You don’t have to join Facebook to read the posts.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Take a Break: Thanksgiving Center Piece/Seven Wonders of the World

With Thanksgiving just a little over a week away, give yourself a few days to collect leaves and other out door items to create a unique Thanksgiving centerpiece. So here a few ideas to get you started.

Leave bouquets: I tried this a few days ago and was amazed how beautiful they turn out. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be.

• Cornucopia (Horn of Plenty): While you can find inexpensive wicker cornucopia baskets, you can also make simple ones.
Bread dough

How to Make a cornucopia (video)

Mini Cornucopia: Instructions on making cornucopia using a Styrofoam cone shape and covering with jute of felt.

Once you have your cornucopia, be it purchased or made, fill with gourds, apples, pears, leaves, colored corn, and of course some wonderful wrapped chocolates.

• Cranberries: There are lots of ways to use cranberries. Pour a bunch in a large clear vase and then fill with flowers or pillar candle. Use a trifle bowl and layer cranberries with other fruits, such as apples, oranges, limes and add some flowers or greens coming out of the top.

• Lentils, split peas: Layer in a clear glass container, dried split peas, lentils, small red beans etc., and stick in a burnt orange pillar candle.

Easy and Elegant Thanksgiving Centerpieces from Good Housekeeping

So if making a Thanksgiving centerpiece isn’t your idea of a break, check out The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World at the Museum of Unnatural Mystery.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Polypharmacy: Are you taking too many drugs? What can you do?

Recently I was an advocate for a patient that when asked about medications, named the one prescribed by his doctor, but didn’t mention the variety of vitamins and supplements that are part of his daily regiment. Since they were experiencing some serious side effects from their prescribed meds, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the supplements, at least one of which I had never even heard of, could be interacting with medications.

People with chronic conditions are often prescribed a number of medications, plus many add vitamins, supplements and over the counter (OTC) drugs. It is not uncommon for people to be taking drugs to counter side effects from another medication. Further, some people want to take all their meds, including vitamins, at the same time. The fact is all this “mixing” can lead to nasty effects (tiredness, confusion, falls, dizziness etc.) and/or needed medications not working.

Food can also interact with medications, both prescribed and OTC. They can combine to make the drug more effective, keep nutrients from being absorbed, or render the medication useless. When you eat and take your medications can also make a difference. Alcohol and meds should never be mixed and drinking something hot should be avoided as it may destroy effectiveness.

You are at risk for polympharmacy if you:
• Take five or more prescribed drugs.
• Take supplements, OTCs, vitamins etc.
• Use more than one pharmacy
• Take meds more than once a day.
• Have a hard time remembering to take medications

To avoid the complications caused by Polypharmacy, consider the following:
• Make sure all your health providers (primary care, specialists etc.) knows all medications you are taking, how you take them and when. This includes prescriptions, vitamins, supplements and OTCs. Write down the name of the medication, supplement, OTC. For each one, write how much you take, when you take it (e.g. with breakfast), and how you take it (with a glass of water). Up date it regularly and provide a copy to all your medical providers. Be sure to include it in your personal health notebook and carry it with you.

• If you are being given a new prescription, ask about possible interactions with your current regiment. Both medical provider and pharmacist can check a drug interaction database. You can also check Drug Digest, which provides information on possible interactions for all medications including vitamins and herbs.

• Use only one pharmacy to fill prescriptions.

• Learn your medications by name and what they are for

• Read the directions and labels on all medications (including OTCs) to avoid interactions. Don’t hesitate to ask the pharmacist or your health care provider if you have questions.

• Avoid combination products such as cold formulas. Ask the pharmacist and/or medical provider for other options.

• Take medications as prescribed.

• Consider alternative solutions that do not involve medications. For example, exercise, mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and/or therapy can be effective for treatment of depression and anxiety. The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School has been conducting research for years on MBSR and finds that it can positively and often profoundly affect participants’ ability to reduce medical symptoms and psychological distress. The Stress Reduction Program has benefited people reporting a variety of conditions and concerns including chronic illness or pain, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, heart disease, asthma, GI distress, skin disorder and many other conditions.

• For more information: University of Chicago Polypharmacy and the Elderly

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Free Webinar for Caregivers

November is National Family Caregivers Month. Lotsa Helping Hands is holding a Webinar for caregivers on Nov. 16, 2 pm EST. Learn the most common challenges, solutions for caregivers and how to create a LHH free community. For more info go to the Lotsa Helping Hands website.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Take a Break: Pumpkin Fun/Left Over Halloween Candy

Yes, I know that Halloween is over, but pumpkins are so plentiful at this time of year, plus Thanksgiving isn’t that far off. So, today’s “take a break” is all about fun things to do that involve pumpkins, other than carving them. Well actually, the first option does require hollowing out the pumpkin.

Cut off the top and scoop out the pumpkin guts. Think of this as the holder for your Thanksgiving centerpiece. Find a vase or candleholder that will fit inside the pumpkin and place a pillar candle, flowers and/or leaves inside. If you are going to use leaves, you can use some of the techniques described in last year’s post. I’ve recently read a bout a new one where you first iron the leaves between two sheets of wax paper. Let them completely cool and then coat with Mod Podge. Of course you have to peel back the wax paper before painting.

If you do include leaves or flowers with a pillar candle, watch carefully for fire.

Fun things to try

How many words can you make from the word pumpkin? Hint, there are 33 if you count one and two letter words and words in all caps. Check your wordlist.

Carve a Virtual Pumpkin

Color a virtual pumpkin or download pumpkins to color.

Cook with Pumpkin: Try a different dish, other than pumpkin pie or bread, such as
Risotto with Pumpkin, Ginger and Sage.

What to do with left over Halloween Candy
So it maybe a little late, but if you still have Halloween Candy laying around, consider the following:

Operation Gratitude: Sends care packages to troops over seas.

Freeze your candy: Chocolate will keep for up to a year. While you could give it to trick or treaters next year, there are lots of ways you can do with it over the next 12 months, such as
- Decorations for gingerbread houses, cookies and cakes
- Make a Candy wreath
- Use as a topping for ice cream
- Put it in baked goods
- Save it for the Easter Egg Hunt
- Use it as stocking stuffers for Christmas

Center piece for Thanksgiving: For the "kid's table," fill a horn of plenty with the candy. You can also scoop out a small pumpkin, insert a bowl or basket and stuff it with the candy and leaves, so it overflows down the sides. Either way, the kids will love it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

There will always be a top 10 cause of death: Death is part of life

I have been trying to write a post on the topic of why it’s important to accept death as part of life for some time. In the last three weeks, my very small town has had four deaths, which has propelled me to look at this and once again try to write about it. I dedicate this post to my friend Sophie Snarski, who was 95 and to Spencer Huntley, an 18 year old who died in a car accident just a few days ago.

When my oldest son was in the fifth grade, it became very clear that his teacher was in the process of dying. When I spoke to the principal about preparing the students for this eventuality, I was told to take it to the school board. Three parents, including myself, attended the next school board meeting to discuss this issue and were promptly beaten up by the school superintendent. “We should be talking about life, not death.” “The union protects her right not to have this discussed.” In short, we were told to go away and that the school was not to discuss it. Their version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” We met with the board in late September and the teacher died on Thanksgiving Day.

While I was furious at the time of the school’s unwillingness to help their students with such a difficult lesson, it was also clear to me that we are continually being sent messages that death is not a subject for polite society. They were pretty much responding out of their own fears and societal norms.

True our life expectancy is much longer than it was 100 years ago, and for many, their first experience with a close death may not come until they are in their 50’s or older when their parents die. As each era has its own issues around death and dying, we have moved into a very unique situation with longer life expectancies, increased medical technology and a shift of death from acute conditions, where people died very rapidly, to chronic disease, where people live for many years with the condition that will result in their death.

It may change from decade to decade, or from country to country, but there will always be a top 10 causes of death. You can find the cure for cancer, but another condition will take its place at number two on the hit parade of mortality. Why? Because we’re programmed to die.

You don’t win friends and influence enemies by writing comments like this, but we’re also not helping people by the constant barrage of articles and materials on how we can avoid a particular condition if we exercise, eat right, take vitamins etc. etc. Researchers, doctors and the media love to talk about “preventable deaths.” A drug, lifestyle changes, or whatever else is couched in terms of preventing death by 10%, 20% etc. Contrary to the numbers, death is never prevented. It is only delayed.

It’s easy to dismiss this as some sort of a semantic issue, or maybe a George Carlin routine that never made it to HBO. However, the continual mentioning of this from drug commercials to the doctor trying to convince a patient to take medication, is creating a subtle messages that death just may be optional, and not just for those in California, as the joke goes. How this plays out can be problematic.

In keeping with the top 10 theme, below are my 10 reasons why we need to accept death as part of life.

• People with terminal, life threatening or chronic conditions are shunned because they represent what we most fear. Friends and families disconnect from them to spare themselves the reality of their own future.

• It seems that the “politically correct” thing to do, when learning of a friend or family member’s terminal illness, is to kept it to your self. We are really into the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. People do not know how to respond when someone is very ill, let alone when they die, which results in the person and those closest to them, not getting the support that would be so helpful. The dying have much to teach the living, but we have to be present to learn from them.

• Frequently, families and friends, regardless of the age of the person affected, will say that the individual’s dying could have been prevented if he or she “just took care of themselves,” didn’t smoke, do drugs, have sex, gone to the doctor sooner and so forth and so on. The person that is dying will express concern that they are letting down family and friends by being ill, let alone dying. They too will voice about this being their fault and/or “if I only hadn’t…” Some are embarrassed that their bodies are failing them; they interpret it as a “personal failure.” It doesn’t help people to be dying thinking they are failures.

• Because of our fear of death, the charlatans prey on those fears and rob people of money, valuable resources and time.

• Regimenting ones life by eating certain foods, exercising, taking lots of vitamins etc. in order to live indefinitely, can take up so much time, the joy of living is lost in the process.

• The regimental approach, as noted above, can also eliminate the opportunities to develop a spirituality that can nourish and enrich one’s life, regardless of its length.

• Lack of discussion results in end of life decisions being made for you, which may not be to your liking.

• Massive amounts of resources are being used to extend life, even if it’s just for a day or two. Just how long can the planet sustain such a practice?

• By not acknowledging our impermanence, we neglect to enjoy the moment as we fill our time with striving for “bigger and better.”

• By accepting that we all die, and that we are on temporary loan to one another, maybe we can become a more honest and compassionate society, where we make the time we have together a valued experience.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Take A Break Archives 8/09-10/11

Today's take a break is all about selecting something you haven't tried from over two years of "take a breaks." Enjoy!

Take a Break Archives August 2009- October 2010

November 2010
10 Soda Can (Aluminum) Art

17 Preserving Leaves

24 Thank in Thanksgiving

1 Candles: Decorate them

8 Candles: Make Them

15 Candles: Holders

22 Compassion Meditation

27 Calligraphy

January 2011
5 What to do with Old Calendars

12 Take a Break: Redecorate While You Undecorate

19 Find the Rainbow in Your Clouds Maya Angelou

26. Paper Quilling

February 2011
2. Valentine’s Day Activities Paper and Scissors (chains, cobweb, German Paper cutting)

9 Eatable Valentines

16 In Six-Words or Less, Tell Your Story

23 Start a journal

March 2011
2 Celebrate Women’s History

9 Spring-Make a Ribbon Wreath

16 St. Patrick’s Day Make St. Brigid’s Cross

23 Spring: Look for Signs of Spring

30 Spring: Make Carrots

April 2011
April 6: Enjoy Water

April 13 Be Amazed

April 20 Jellybean Projects

April 27: Reusing/Recycling Easter Candy

May 4: Fascinators

May 11: Stargaze

May 18 Create Mindfulness reminders

May 25 Paper Mobiles

June 2011
1 Recycled Art from Old Magazines

8 Pinatas

15 Staycation

21 Stars

28 4th of July

July 2011
6 Fruit Carving

13 Make Bubbles

20 Stay Cool with a No Rush Day

27 Body Art and Tattoos

August 2011
3 Holiday Day Gifts 2011

10 Make anything a chalk board

17 Dance

24 Draw With Willow

30 T-shirts

September 6, 2011
7 Plastic Bottle Art

14 Palm Reading/Mazes

21 Design a TV Show

28 Draw a Stickman/Enjoy Apples

October 2011
5 Name Skeletons/edible Acorns

12 Samhain (Irish Halloween)

19 Divination Games

26 Tricks and Treats

Saturday, October 29, 2011

So Just How Stressed are You? What You can Do About It.

A new study, published on-line in the Journal of Aging Research, found that men, who consistently experiencing more than two major stress events in a year (spouse dies, divorce, coping with an aging parent) have a higher risk of death then their less stressed peers. Only three things seem to reduce this stress: good health, marriage and the occasional drink. The author of this study concludes, “People are hardy, and they can deal with a few major stress events each year. But our research suggest that long-term, even moderate stress can have lethal effects.”

Stress isn’t always bad. We’re programmed for “fight or flight,” since that’s our body’s way of protecting itself from real or perceived danger. When we are threatened, our nervous systems revs the engine with hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. This allows us to flee the tiger or apply the breaks when we’re about to run over the tiger in our car. Stress also comes into play when you give a presentation you aren’t sure about, go to the doctors for lab results, have a job interview or even ask someone out on a date.

At some point, having your body constantly on overload because of stressors starts taking its toll. It’s a bit like trying to run your computer with a number of different programs operating all at once. It will freeze, crash and just stop working. This is how the body responds when it has too much stress. It not only can impact your mood and your ability to remember things, but it can also lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and worse.

So how much stress is too much and how stressed are you? Start by taking the Stress Quiz: How Stressed Are You? This particular quiz looks at how you handle your daily life. Next try the Life Stressor Test Developed by Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe in 1967, there are a few items that aren’t as accurate today as they were in the 60‘s. However, it is an indicator of what type of events are stressful for people. Between the two, you should have a good idea of what the stressors are in your life, how well you handle them and whether stress could be a contributor in your health and well being.

So once you have a handle on your stressors and how you handle them, what’s the next step?

Determine what stressors you can change or control and act accordingly. There are many things in our life we have no control over (the weather, life events such as the death of a loved one) When confronted with a stressful situation, ask yourself: is this my problem? If it isn't, walk away. If it is, identify what you can do to address it now before it blows way out of proportion. As the saying goes, “don’t sweat the small stuff “ and don’t spend hours obsessing about would a, could a, should a. Most importantly, accept what you can’t change.

Take a break. If you are a caregiver, schedule time to get out of the situation for a few hours at least weekly if not daily. Use the Five Minute Kripalu Yoga Break and of course, don’t forget that every Wednesday is “take a break day” at Healing Whole. If you aren’t interested in one week’s activity, check the side bar for the summary posts of archived “take a breaks.” There are now 100s of these, so you should find at least one or two that peek your interest.

Avoid the stressful situation all together. If going to the annual Thanksgiving party at Aunt Jane’s leaves you with an emotional hang over for the rest of the weekend, make other plans this year.

Identify the priorities in your life. If it’s not a priority, and it makes you anxious, let it go.

Change how you view and react to a situation. If you think about it, there are often more than one way to see something. So if you do decide to go to Aunt Jane’s for Thanksgiving, identify who and/or what makes you crazy. Is there another way you can view this situation?

Stick to the basics of sufficient sleep (more than 8 or less than 6 is not healthy) exercise and a well balanced diet. Certain foods, such as sugar and caffeine can add to your stress.

Breathe! When you are feeling the most tense, remind yourself to breathe deeply. Shallow breathing reduces the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream, which leads to an increase in muscle tension. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Connect with others. If you find you are spending more and more time alone, reach out to other people. Attend a support group, accept invitations, and/or create invitations so people come to you.

Talk about it. Talking to a good friend, family member or members of your support group can help you problem solve and reduce stress. Since Aunt Jane’s Thanksgiving party is quickly approaching, talk to your cousins or Aunt Jane about what makes you feel so stressed about these events and look for solutions.

Laugh. It truly is the best medicine.

Avoid self medicating with alcohol or other drugs.

Practice meditation and mindfulness.

More Information
Healing the Whole Person: Ways to Increase Well Being

Stress Mastery from Taking Charge of Your Health

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Take a Break: Halloween 2011 Tricks or Treats

So this year, have tricks and treats for your visitors Halloween night. If you live in a house with a lawn, have a volunteer pretend to be a statue (such as a witch or monster) and have them come to life as the children approach. In Vermont, many people make odd looking people using stuffed leaves. Older teens have been known to sit in a chair, looking very much like the “leaf people,” only to come to life when trick or treaters pass them by. Makes for a wonderful scream. Hiding under a pile of leaves, or even laying flat to the ground can create a good scare.

For those in apartments, there may be a number of restrictions on what you can put on your door, but the skies the limit once you open it. There is the classic “hand in bowl,” so when the kids go to select their candy, a hand grabs them. This is done by placing a bowl, with a hole in the bottom large enough to fit a hand through (cheap bowls from the Dollar Store are perfect), on a table. This can be a thick piece of cardboard on two saw horses, which also has a hole that the candy bowl rests on. A person sits under the table, which is covered by a cloth, and grabs people as they come to collect their candy. Watch the video to see how one family set their “hand in bowl” outside with a sign that encourages trick or treaters to “take one.”

If you have the time to rig it up, as the door opens, a spider drops down in front of the kids.

For more ideas, check out Halloween Pranks.

Of course it wouldn’t be Halloween with out some special candies and other goodies. One of the best selection of things to make comes from Our Best Bites. This year they feature a mad scientist potion drink, which is Kool Aid mixed with a little bit of dry ice. Their “easy Halloween Party Food” section has lots of wonderful ideas. Keep in mind that for trick or treating wrapped store bought candy is the best.

Of course if you don’t want to celebrate with food, consider classic cartoons as your treat:

Donald Duck Trick or Treat (1952 Cartoon)

Betty Boop 1933 Banned Cartoons Halloween Party

The Skeleton Dance-Silly Symphonies Walt Disney 1929

No matter how you celebrate it, Halloween has something for everyone. Don’t forget that the “take a breaks” for October have all been related to Halloween, so if this doesn’t inspire you, try one of the other weeks from this year or last.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Three P’s: Purpose and People

Last week, I wrote about the “gotta haves, “ the three essentials that help sustain in living well-people, purpose and passion. Last week’s post was on passion and in September I blogged about the Power of Purpose, so this leaves people.

Study after study shows that having friends and a social life are key to healthy living and aging. Who we spend time with impacts how we think and feel about ourselves, and even impacts what we do. With that in mind, these are some ideas to consider about who is or isn’t in your life.

Do the friend assessment: Take an inventory of the people in your life. Who do you spend the most time with? How do they make you feel? Do you look forward to seeing them? Are you relieved when they are gone? Do they help you make good choices for you? Do they bring you energy or take it from you? In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor talks about how to help a stroke patient. She describes the visitor that came bringing hope and encouragement versus the ones that took energy from her. In short, are you surrounding yourself with people that inspire you and are fun to be with?

Avoid, reduce and eliminate the energy vampires in your life. There are people that always want something from you, get on our last nerve and in general zap ideas, strength and good feelings. It doesn’t matter their relationship to you, they don’t need to be in your orbit if they make you feel lousy.

Have friends that are passionate: Again, it’s who you hang with that helps you define yourself. If your friends are passionate, it doesn’t have to be the same interests as yours, it increases the chances you’ll develop a passion if you don’t happen to have one.

Care and invest in people. Whether it’s someone you’ve just met or an old friend you haven’t seen for a while, letting people you care about them and are willing to be there for them helps to retain friendships.

Seek out new friendships: A very wise therapist told me many years ago that friendships are like a pail of water with a hole in the bottom. People are always leaving our lives because they move, change jobs, die, don’t want to be with you any more etc. etc. Therefore, if we want to keep the pail full, we need to continually be adding new people. So how do you meet people? Consider the following:
- Participate in a support group
- Engage in activities that you like doing-this increases the chances that you’ll meet someone who likes the same things you do.
- Attend parties and accept invitations from friends and families.
- Host a party and tell people to bring friends
- Volunteer, if for no other reason it gets you out of the house and if you are among other people, you have a greater chance of meeting someone.
-Join a church or civic organization (Rotary, Lions Club etc.)
- For more ideas, check out

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Take a Break: Halloween 2011 Divination Games

On Halloween, my mother had us do all sorts of funny games, such as walking down the cellar steps backwards, throwing peels of apples over our shoulder, and some odd way of looking into a mirror. As I grew older, I realized these were divination games that she and my father had grown up with.

In high school, we would take the apple from our lunch, and while twisting the stem, we’d say the alphabet. On whatever letter the stem came out, that was the initial of the man you would marry-I went to an all girls school. While this was not a game I learned at home, I’ve since seen variations of it as part of the divination games at Halloween.

Oct. 31 was believed to be the time of year when the veil is thinnest between this world and the next, so the idea that spirits could tell your future was quite popular. Try out some divination games so you’ll be all set for Halloween:

Halloween Divination Games

Victorian Era Halloween Divination Games

Bobbing for Apples: Prophecy and Divination Games Using Apples

Halloween Tarot Card Reading

How to Read Tea Leaves

Monday, October 17, 2011

Steve Jobs on Passion

Since I wrote about passion this weekend, it was interesting to come across an article on Steve Jobs and the 7 Rules of Success with his first item being, “"People with passion can change the world for the better." Asked about the advice he would offer would-be entrepreneurs, he said, "I'd get a job as a busboy or something until I figured out what I was really passionate about." That's how much it meant to him. Passion is everything.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Three P’s: Finding Passion

This is the last fall I will have a school age child at home. While he’ll be in college this time next year, it’s not the same, as nearly all of the colleges he is applying to are a plane ride away. In short, it’s made me think a lot more about life in general, what it means to be getting older and an “empty nester,” and what are the keys to a successful life regardless of age, health status etc.

I’m pretty convinced that the important things in life can be boiled down to a few basic “gotta haves”: people in your life that you love and who love you; purpose; and passion. Hmm three P’s- people, purpose and passion. So how does one cultivate these?

Instead of trying to cram them all into one post, each will be explored over the coming weeks as well as their inter relations. Today’s pick is passion. How does one find a passion if they don’t already have it?

Chances are good that you already have a passion but haven’t called it that. What is it that you think about it or do that absorbs you? That you love? What makes you smile? Talk about? Read and learn about? It doesn’t have to a career or job but it’s nice if it works out that way. It is the thing that you want to do.

I’ve read many an article on making your passion your career. It’s a nice concept, but sometimes what we love doing, such as being a quilter or a lover of 17th century fiction, can be ruined for us by making a job out of it. Besides which, an ideal passion should last a life time.

In her article “Find Your Passion in Three Steps,” Mary DeMuth talks about why we’re afraid to find passion-fear of rejection; the need to do something about it; it may be something that others think is worthless etc. Regardless, knowing your passion and engaging in it have positive consequences. It can increase happiness as well as life expectancy.

One of DeMuth’s steps is the “three movie exercise.” List your three favorite movies and then see what the common thread might be.

That was not an easy task, so I started to think about films that I will watch again and again. It didn’t take long for me to realize a common thread. I like “slice of life” films, those movies, which look at a finite period of time in a person(s) life and explore it. Yes, that’s a good reflection of my interests. I am fascinated by the choices we humans make, what makes us happy, how we respond in various situations and so forth.

Another indicator of our passion can be answered by asking our friends what they think we’re passionate about. Their responses may yield new insights.

It seems fitting to end this post with one of the best examples of living one’s passion- Steve Job’s Speech at Stanford’s graduation, Among his closing remarks was the following, Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

For addition information, try Finding your passion.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Take a Break: Halloween 2011 Celebrate Samhain

Being of Irish decent on both sides of my family, my mother was particularly interested in our knowing that many of our Halloween traditions originated in Ireland, where the Celts celebrated Samhain, (sow-en).

In Celtic lore, the year is divided into two halves associated with the dark and the light. The dark half begins at sunset on November 1st with Samhain and the cycle ends when the light half begins at sunset on May 1st, which is the festival of Bealtaine. Both festivals are closely linked, but in general, Samhain is considered to be the most important. Irish Culture and Customs

This was the time between the end of summer and the beginning of winter that the dead revisited the mortal world. When the Catholic Church arrived in Ireland, they took the Druid custom and created All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day on Nov. 2. Oct. 31 became the All Souls Evening or All Hallow’s Eve.

In the old days, the ancients believed that on this night, hobgoblins, evil spirits and fairies traveled about the country in great numbers. For protection against fairy mischief, holy water was sprinkled on animals, food offerings were left outside the house, oatmeal and salt were put on the heads of children, iron or a dead ember from the fire was put in an infant’s cradle, and little ones were taught not to eat wild fruits on this night, or afterwards, because it was believed that the Puca, a particularly nasty spirit, went about spitting or urinating on them. It was also the custom to make a special cross called a Parshell. Two small sticks were laid crosswise and shafts of wheat were woven around the junction until the cross was secured. It was then hung over the door on the inside of the house to help protect the family from illness, bad luck and witchcraft until the next Halloween when a new cross would be made. The old cross would then be moved to another part of the house. ‘Everyone has debts at Halloween' is an old Irish proverb and this was a time when people attempted to settle up. Workers were paid, as was the rent, and farm folk secured crops and livestock for the hard winter to come. While the adults were completing these chores, children visited relatives and friends and were given gifts of apples and nuts. They also played lots of games. Irish Culture and Customs

The Druids believed that the living and the dead were at their closest on the night before Samhain. Since the spirits would try to collect as many souls during this time, people would disguise themselves so that they would appear to already be spirits. Thus began the tradition of dressing up on Halloween.

As for Jack O Lanterns, the tradition of carving turnips (now pumpkins) dates back to a blacksmith named Jack, who was so nasty, he was denied entry into heaven. He was so rotten that the devil didn’t want Jack in hell either — too much competition for him! So Jack’s spirit was condemned to wander the earth for eternity. But one request the devil did grant Jack was to give him something to light his way. What he got was a burning coal ember, which Jack placed inside a carved out turnip. Thus, the tradition of the Jack O’ Lantern was born. To this day, people in Ireland still carve out turnips and illuminate them with stumps of candle. They’re then placed in a window or put on a gate post outside the house. Here in the United States, the custom was continued by millions of Irish emigrants who carved out pumpkins because they were a lot more plentiful than turnips. Irish Culture and Customs

Today’s “take a break” is learning about Samhain and incorporating a tradition or two in your own celebration of Halloween.

Make a Barnbrack Cake: The fruit caked served on Halloween, filled with fortune telling objects e.g. a ring for finding true love, a coin for obtaining wealth in the coming year.

Make a Parshell, the Halloween cross that woven on Oct. 31. It is placed on the front door or inside the house and is believed to help protect you from bad luck. It’s very similar to making a God’s Eye, with the exception that wheat straw, plant material or paper twist is used. You can practice how to make it now so you’ll be all set for making one on Halloween.

Irish Halloween Traditions

Samhain-The Irish New Year

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Why It’s Important to Celebrate

This weekend is my town’s celebration of the 250th year of its founding. Last night was a community dance, which my husband’s band played for. Prior to the event, he said, “if we have as many as 20 people I’ll be surprised.” As it turned out there were many more. Not as many as our older residents thought should be there but still way more than either of us thought would show up.

One friend I talked to said that she had an offer of a wonderful free weekend away, but instead opted to be in town. “Just how often does one’s town celebrate an anniversary like this?”

Many people I talked to through out the day had all sorts of reason for not coming to the dance or any of the other activities planned. They ranged from kids soccer games to having company. Would this have been like this a hundred years ago?

The answer was simple. No. Everyone and their brother would have shown up to celebrate. For starters, it would have been the only thing in town and the only major activity for the year. In those days, the town wasn’t just a place to sleep at night. It was where they fully lived.

We do not view being in the same room and socializing as a priority in the same manner our early settlers did. Further, if we do get together, people are texting and going outside to take cell phone calls and are rarely fully engaged in the present.

Even though this sounds rather glum, those of us who showed had a wonderful time. I met several new people in town and look forward to being around them the remainder of the weekend. Because there was music and dancing, with kids running around and making merry, there was very limited use of electronic devices. Just like many years ago, the wall was lined with people that no longer could dance, but just wanted to be among those that could, enjoying the music and talking to old friends and “remembering when.”

Is it worth it to go to the effort to celebrate an anniversary or some other occasion, particularly if you are not feeling all that great or are concerned about you might appear? I think it is for two very important reasons:

• When we celebrate we are “counting our blessings.” The literature is full of research that shows that if we want to increase our happiness level, count what you are grateful for. An Oprah moment "The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate."

• There is no substitution for being together physically. If I were a physicist, I could probably explain the quantum physics of it, but the chemistry we create when we are together can be powerful. Besides, there is no virtual hug that equals a real one.

So for whatever reason celebrate and enjoy it with other people.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Take a Break: Halloween 2011 Name Skeletons/Edible Acorns

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays in the whole year. There are just so many interesting and fun things to do. So today starts the next four weeks of activities to prepare for Halloween. Note that last year, I provided four weeks of activities pertaining to Dias de la Mortis (Day of the Dead). The links for each week are as follows:

Paper cuts/skulls

Skeleton figurines /paintings

Food and coloring

Altars/Flowers/Halloween Movies

But now for this week’s activities
“Name Skeletons.” This is an easy project, that makes quite a statement. Take a piece of white paper, the bigger the larger the skeleton. Fold it in half. Along the half, print a name-yours, a friend’s, a favorite pet or even an object. Make sure the letters connect. Now cut out the name. Small cuts across the centerline make interesting design details. Unfold and you have the center of your skeleton. Paste on black paper, adding a skull, arms and legs.

Edible Acorns: By “gluing” (a dab of melted chocolate, Nutella or even peanut butter) a Hershey kiss to the bottom of a Mini Nilla wafer, with a dab of chocolate on the top for the stem, you have something that looks like an acorn.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How To Fundraise When Someone is in Need of Specialized Care

While medical science can provide incredible advances in effective treatments, it comes with a very high price, particularly for things like transplantation and recovery from spinal cord and/or brain injury. It’s becoming more common for people in need of specialized equipment or services to find that insurance does not cover the costs. Family and friends frequently rise to the occasion to supplement costs with donations, fundraisers and direct appeals.

The purpose of this post is to help those who are in a position to organize effective fundraisers in such situations.

The first step is to organize family and friends. The simplest method is setting up a Lots of Helping Hands website. This is free, easy to do and it only lets those people have access to the site that you deem appropriate. In this way, you can quickly identify who is willing to help out and in what types of ways. Just because some friends and family may not be on-line should not be a deterrent. Pair them with someone who is, so they are “in the loop,” and what they’re doing can be logged on so duplication of efforts is reduced.

Keep in mind that people are more likely to give if a) they know what you need and b) you keep them updated and informed. If you set up a Lots of Helping Hands website and rarely update it, it will become a source of frustration.

Document everything you do, so that if you’re not available, someone else can easily pick up where you left off. Be sure to keep the names, and contact information of everyone you talk to and include dates and brief summaries of conversations. This can be done on-line, or just keeping a special notebook with you will help considerably.

Understand what the financial obligation might be. What will insurance pay for? If money is raised for this person, can the insurance company insist that this fund be used before they will reimburse? In short, do your homework. Call the insurance company. Get them to put in writing what they will and will not cover. Make sure you keep information on who you talked to and when.

Most hospitals will have a “patient advocacy” or social services program that can help you determine what types of unreimbursable costs as well as limited benefits you will most likely encounter. They can give you a good idea from past experience about what the patients needs will be, impact on family and caregiver, what’s covered and what resources might be available to help you with costs.

In putting together your “costs” be sure to factor in things like money lost from missed work, travel, meals, and hotel rooms. Keep in mind that donations such as frequent flyer miles and gas cards can go along way to help reduce travel costs. Share your list of expenses with your circle of family and friends. You never know who knows who, which can help move you quicker to your goal or ease staying in a strange town.

Whether you are dealing with a transplant or not, the National Bone Marrow Donor Program’s Mapping the Maize has good on-line tools for calculating expenses, understanding insurance etc. You can download a copy from the website or obtain a free printed copy by calling 1-888-999-6743 or 612-627-8140

Once you have completed this exercise, you will have a dollar amount that is needed. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed by it. Keep in mind the “March of Dimes” model, where the goal was if everyone could just send a dime a cure could be found for polio. Many people did just send a dime, but many more contributed hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

Develop a plan for raising the money needed, while taking care of day to day expenses. Ideally, the cash flow in will balance outgoing money needed for care. Use the on-line tools from Mapping the Maize to help you develop your plan.

Because an individual is not a registered charity, donations are not tax deductible. There are non profit organizations, such as NTAF (National Transplant Assistance Fund & Catastrophic Injury Program) and National Foundation for Transplants that can receive designated funds for the individual, whereby donations then become tax deductible. Sometimes a church or civic organization (e.g. Rotary) will be willing to take on this role. These groups can provide a lot of assistance with fundraising ideas and support.

Use caution in selecting a fundraising organization. Make sure they are legitimate and you have seen their audited reports and their 501© 3 credentials. Talk to other people who may have used them and ask at the hospital what they know about the organization. The last think you want to do is raise money that benefits an organization and not the person in need.

If you decide to do this on your own, identify someone who will be in charge. A separate trust account, with a designated person to administer it, should be established. This account can only be used for specific purposes, which are identified to anyone wishing to make a donation. Be clear that if money is left in the account after the goal is achieved (e.g. transplant takes place, equipment purchased) identify where remaining funds will be distributed. Finally, know the tax laws for donating funds and keep good records of all donations received.

Once you have figured how much money is needed and where it will be “housed,” it’s time to raise the money. Below are ways to go about fundraising:

• Ask individuals for their assistance in raising money and make it easy for people to donate. A well written fundraising letter can be a good tool. Keep in mind that people like to have options in how they give and what they give to. If you will be doing a lot of traveling, make sure people know that they can donate gas cards or frequent flyer miles. Make sure that they are aware who is running the fund and that all checks can be mailed directly to the bank handling the account. To make it easier, send self addressed stamped envelopes to them.

• Offer multiple ways for people to donate anonymously, such as donation boxes at churches, school, local stores or other community locations. Raffles work.

• Have fundraising events that relate to the person in need. For example, if the person was a golfer, holding a golf tournament would have special meaning. Where the person goes to church, school, work or play are all potential places that can take leadership roles in planning and carrying out fundraisers that have particular meaning.

• Have fundraisers that community will enjoy. Having events that will appeal to a broad spectrum of your community, whether they know the person or not, will help to generate both money and interest. Road races are very popular. If you can find someone willing to do a matching donation, this can add a boost to your event.

• The ever popular “spaghetti dinner” can make a quick $2,000. These are easy to organize, ingredients aren’t expensive and many places will be willing to donate ingredients, paper products etc. It’s always good to combine another activity with the dinner, such as a 50/50 raffle, silent auction, door prizes etc.

• Work with a local group so that you can have a “give-a-way” for people to take home. Things like mugs, T-shirts, and pens are used so people will notice that you are raising funds. Include a web address where people can go for more information on making a donation. The more eye catching the art, the more people will read it and take notice.

• Use social marketing tools like Facebook and Twitter to keep people up to date, where and when fundraisers are happening. Check out Rob Laird Organ Transplant Fundraiser on Facebook There is also a free web resource called Give Forward, which lets you set up a free web page to collect funds.

• Press coverage really helps. Everything you do, where public can attend, should have good advertising.

• Keep information current. Those who are donating are invested. They want to know how the person is doing, so be sure that each step of the way, you keep your web information up to date and press releases active.

• Write thank you notes. If appropriate, mention donors in your press releases.

Fundraising for a Friend of Family Member from the National Marrow Donor Program

Mapping the Maze: A Personal Insurance and Financial Guide to Marrow and Cord Blood Transplant

Children’s Organ Transplant Association