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