Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Take A Break: Make Felt Fortune Cookies/Christmas in France

Whether you make these for a holiday party, New Years or Chinese New Years, these are simple to make but look great. They will amaze family and friends alike.

• Make a three- inch circle from paper. I used the inside rim of duct tape to get the right size. Pin to a piece of felt (readily available in small squares at craft stores, or in larger pieces at fabric stores) or a stiffer type of fabric and cut out the circle. Use what ever colors you like.

• Cut a piece of pipe cleaner (now called “craft sticks”) slightly less than the diameter of the circle.

• Lay the pipe cleaner across the circle. Fold in half and pinch the ends making a fortune cookie shape.

Watch the video on making felt fortune cookies if this isn’t clear. She glues her pipe cleaner to the diameter but I didn’t find that necessary.

• Create fortunes to put inside the “cookies.” If you need some ideas for wording, check out the following sites:

Not interested in fortune cookies? Check out Rick Steves’ European Christmas  in France. Since my son is in college in Paris, I’m just a bit taken with Paris this Christmas. It was lovely to see the places we had visited in the fall ablaze with holiday charm. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Prescription that’s rarely written: Stress Reduction

How often have you gone to a medical provider and had them write a prescription? While many office visits do result in a medication being prescribed, few patients are ever given one for stress management. 

 A new study in the Nov. 19 Archives of Internal Medicine, reports that only three percent of primary care patients receive any type of stress management counseling, falling behind counseling for nutrition, exercise, weight loss, and smoking. As stress is thought to be a contributor to 60 to 80 percent of all visits to a primary care provider, you may want to ask yourself the next time you make a medical appointment, “is stress contributing to how you feel?”

According to the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America Report,”  common effects of stress include: headache; muscle tension or pain; chest pain; fatigue; change in sex drive; stomach upset; sleep problems; anxiety; restlessness; lack of motivation or focus; irritability or anger; and sadness or depression. In trying to cope with stress, it is not uncommon for people to over or under eat, have angry outbursts; abuse alcohol, drugs and/or tobacco, or socially withdraw.

Year after year, the Stress in America survey paints a picture of a nation at a critical crossroads when it comes to stress and health. Overall, Americans appear to be caught in a vicious cycle where they manage stress in unhealthy ways, and seemingly insurmountable barriers prevent them from making the lifestyle or behavioral changes necessary for good health. Findings from the 2011 survey found that several groups of people in particular — caregivers and those living with chronic illness — are at heightened risk of experiencing serious consequences of stress that is too high and appears to be taking a toll on their emotional and physical health.

As medical providers are unlikely to “write a prescription” for stress reduction, and the incidence of stress is much higher for those with a chronic condition, consider the following ways to reduce the stress in your life:

• Identify what creates stress for you and how you respond to it. Keeping a “stress journal” can help you identify situations that cause stress, as well as different things you have tried to help cope with it. Keep in mind that while things like family, being a caregiver, and work are likely to be on many peoples’ stress list, recognize that it’s how you react to them that causes the stress. Remember the only thing you can change is yourself.

Consider the Four A’s of dealing with stressful situations:
-       Avoid the stressor: Learn to say no, limit time with people who are stressful for you, don’t get caught up in conversations on politics, religion etc.
-       Alter the situation: Reduce the “to do list;” compromise; be assertive not aggressive; practice time management
-       Adapt to the stressor: Look at the big picture; reframe how you think about the situation; look for the positive;
-       Accept the things you can’t change

The Serenity Prayer is a good reminder of incorporating the four A’s:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference

Develop “on the spot” stress reducers. When you find yourself tensing and becoming anxious breathing techniques, quick meditations, walks, laughing and other activities can help to short circuit a stress reaction. For more information

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Take a Break: Last Minute Thanksgiving Thanks/Countdown Calendars

As tomorrow is Thanksgiving, below are some last minute ways to express your thanks this season.

Start by making a list of all the people you are thankful for. Note the reasons why are you grateful for them. With this list in hand, consider the following:

• If you aren’t going to see them tomorrow, let them know by sending them a special Happy Thanksgiving e-mail or virtual card, or call them. 

• If you are hosting Thanksgiving, make place card holders, with a short sentence, or even a few words, of why you like and appreciate each of your guests. If you need some inspiration for place cards, check out How to Make Memorable Thanksgiving Place Card Holders. 

• If you are going to be a guest for Thanksgiving, consider a hostess gift of something simple, which relates to why you enjoy them. For example, give a favorite CD, with a note that thanks them for being such a good listener.  For other ideas, check out 46 Pun Intended Thank You Gift Ideas. 

• Practice a short loving kindness meditation (less than three minutes) for those that you are thankful for. 

Since Thanksgiving ushers in the holiday season, select what type of “countdown” calendar you’d like to use this year for the count down

Electric December: An end of year online showcase of young creative filmmaking talent from across Europe. On this page you can view some fantastic filmmaking and other digital treats from thirteen years of previous Electric Decembers. 

For those interested in solstice, check out New Age Calendar. 

Chanukah Countdown clock

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Does your doctor listen to what you say?

 A few years ago, my primary care provider (PCP) wanted me to have a particular preventive test, which I declined. Several days later, I received a phone call from a receptionist wanting to set a date for the test. Clearly there was a disconnect between what I wanted and what my PCP heard me say.

This is more common than one would think. In fact, a new study says that in order to provide appropriate treatment, the doctor should consider the patients wishes.

Unfortunately, there can be a large gap in what a patient says and what a doctor believes. One study found that doctors believed that 71 percent of breast cancer patients rated keeping their breast as a top priority, but the actual number was just 7 percent. Another study found that patients with dementia placed far less value in being kept alive with severe mental decline than doctors. A third study showed that 40% fewer men preferred surgery for benign prostate disease after they learned about the risks of sexual dysfunction. BMJ News Release 11/8/12 

There a host of reasons for this disconnect, with too brief an office visit for a full discussion and/or the provider forgot to make a note of it in the chart, being among the top. While this can result in an irritating phone call, such as I received, it can also be a very costly error with patients receiving, or not receiving the care they want or need.

There are some steps you can take to make sure your provider knows what you want. Consider the following:

• Put it in writing-Whether it’s advanced directives or your concern about specific treatments, put it in writing and ask that this be kept in your chart. While e-mails are great, depending on whether your provider uses this method, giving them a printed copy can reinforce the message.

Use an advocate for medical appointments. They can aid in better communication and understanding. 

• Have the provider repeat back to what you said, so you can be sure that he or she heard what you said.

If you find that there has been more than one instances where the provider isn’t listening, and you’ve brought this to their attention, consider changing providers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Take a Break With pumpkins

 While this may seem like a post that I should have done in October, I happen to love pumpkins. I did the same thing last year in November, Pumpkin Fun/What to do with Left Over Halloween Candy but found some additional things to try.

 Pumpkin Butter:  Thinking about making this for Holiday presents. Could also be a nice item to bring as a hostess gift for Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin as the Center Piece: These are some of my favorites and are pretty easy to do
• Southern Living’s Smashing Pumpkin Centerpiece: Jewel tone fall flowers tucked inside a pumpkin. Takes about 30 minutes. 

Leafy Centerpiece Pumpkin: Set leaves between paper towels and flatten them under a book for at least five days. Then brush decoupage glue on a white pumpkin and arrange the leaves. Cut small slits along the edges of the leaves as you go so they'll fit the pumpkin's contours. To finish, coat the decorated surface in decoupage glue. 

• Wrap a Pumpkin with Bittersweet: If you can’t find real bittersweet, check out your local craft store. By this point, they are so anxious to put out their holiday stuff; you might even find it for sale.

Ice Bucket: Choose a wide pumpkin. Cut off the top third, scoop out the guts. Insert a bowl and load with ice and drinks.

• Pumpkin Cake: Make two bunt cakes. Cool. With a layer of jelly, icing or another filling of your choice, but bottoms together. By carefully matching up the sides, it should look like a pumpkin. Make an orange icing and cover the entire cake. Sections can be highlighted with a darker orange and leaves and stems can be made out of colored fondant or marzipan.

Pumpkins not doing it for you today? Check out Art for the Healthy Spirit. The author of this blog, Kathy Parsonnet, and I are co-directors of Chronic Conditions Information Network of VT And NH. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thanksgiving Gifts for Hospital Patients

For the big holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, every effort is made to keep people out of the hospital. However, there are those times when it’s unavoidable. Most hospitals try to have special food that day, and some offer special meals for family and friends.

 Thanksgiving is generally celebrated with the four F’s-food, family, friends and football. People have unique customs and ways they like to celebrate the day. It may include attending a football game, watching the Macy’s Parade, preparing a very large meal, sharing what you are grateful for this past year, and spending an evening in front of the fire, playing games, watching movies, or telling stories, including the “remember the time.” If this is sounding a little to “Norman Rockwell,” keep in mind that most people would rather be someplace other than a hospital on Thanksgiving Day. A hospital stay can even make people nostalgic for Uncle Ted’s long-winded stories and Aunt Tessie’s really awful cranberry sauce.

As with the other suggestions for Unique Gifts for Hospital Patientsremember the best gift you can bring is yourself. So when you are planning to visit someone on Thanksgiving, think about how they would normally be spending this day. What aspects can you bring to the hospital for them to enjoy? It may require a bit of creativity, but consider the following:

• If attending the local high school football game is a usual part of Thanksgiving, video the game and watch it together later in the day or over the weekend.

• Watch the Macy’s Parade and football games together. If a movie is more appropriate, consider some of the following Thanksgiving related movies:
- Alice’s Restaurant: \
- Pieces of April
- Home for the Holidays
- Son in Law
- The Blind Side
- Planes, Trains and Automobiles
- A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
- Hannah and Her Sisters
- The House of Yes
- The Ice Storm
- Miracle on 34th Street

• Since Thanksgiving is all about family gatherings, this is a good time to talk about genealogy. Bring a printable family tree,  and work on it together or leave it as an activity they can do when they feel up to it.

• Connect them virtually with multiple family and friends Thanksgivings by using Skype and other on-line chat devices.

• Bring favorite Thanksgiving treats-provided they can eat them. Might want to avoid Aunt Tessie’s bad cranberry sauce though.

• Since Thanksgiving is rooted in the history of the Indians and pilgrims, consider some books on this topic such as 1621 A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac from National Geographic in cooperation with the Plymouth Plantation

• Paint fingernails or toe nails (check with the hospital staff to make sure this is okay) with special Thanksgiving designs.
-       Turkey 
-       Fall Leaves 

• If they like to play board games, bring some of their favorites. There are lots of travel versions available at places like WalMart and even the Dollar Store. If they prefer video games, and like football, bring one of the NCAA football games. Since the 2013 version is coming out, you can probably get a good deal on the 2012 game.  

• Let them know that you are thankful for their being part of your life. You can write this on a Thanksgiving card and/or bring flowers, a small plant or something else that can be a visual reminder to them of your gratitude. Since thinking of what you are grateful for each day has been shown to be healing, ask them what they are grateful for. Encourage them to let the hospital staff know they are grateful for the care and kindness they show them. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Take a Break Archives 8/09-10/12

With over three years of “take a breaks,” today’s post is an archive of the last three years. If you stayed up late last night watching the returns, maybe the best break you can take today is a nap.

November 2011 

December 2011

January 2012

February 2012

March 2012

April 2012

May 2012

June 2012

July 2012

August 2012

September 2012

October 2012
31 Halloween Food and last minute ideas 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Helping Those Impacted by Sandy Now and a Year from Now

Given the tremendous need for those impacted by Sandy, this week’s post identifies specific ways you can help. 

Having been intimately involved in my community’s emergency response and recovery from Irene, -we were an “island town” in Vermont-there are some important things to keep in mind that generally aren’t mentioned, along with all the places you can donate to and ways to help when you can’t make a cash donation.

• Recovery is going to take months or longer. Help as you can for as long as you can. Just because it does not appear in your paper’s daily headline, it doesn’t mean that needs have been met. Recognize that help comes in many different ways and at many different times.

• A lot of relief information-where to make donations, volunteers needed, fundraisers, workdays etc. is appearing on-line. If you have a particular area/community that you are interested in helping, once a site has been established, check it weekly.

• While ways to make cash donations are outlined below, be wary of newly formed organizations. People want to do something, and as well intentioned as they may be, raising money for Sandy Relief, with no designated charity-or a charity to be named-are red flags. There are plenty well established organizations that are involved or will be involved in this relief effort, so target your money where you know it will be put to work. If you have questions, use sites like Guidestar and Charity Navigator .

• Unless a town has an organized relief fund already established, don’t send checks to a town marked “for Sandy Relief.” This creates major issues on multiple levels. In the midst of dealing with FEMA and other agencies, town management doesn’t need phone calls and people coming in asking about “the money.” Figuring out how to distribute it can be the worst type of nightmare.  Instead, identify organizations within a community that are doing relief work and make donations there. These can be fire and rescue departments, community action agencies (more about these below), churches, hospitals, food pantries etc.

• Avoid using the “V” word, “victim.” At the moment, “flood victims” is being used to raise money, but over time it really doesn’t help people to think of themselves as a “victim.”  They will not continually need to be “rescued,” and not all of life problems stem from Sandy. Assuring them that they are resilient is a lot more helpful then calling them a “victim. “

• In the next week to ten days, those impacted may act in ways that look strange to the observer.  However, they are generally normal reactions to a very abnormal situation. Ultimately, the number one outcome to this sort of event is resilience. Our brains are wired for this. Long story short, unless the person is a danger to self or others, let them process as they need to.

• The week to ten days  following the event, is generally the time where neighbors and community band together. There can be an air of euphoria about this experience of everyone pitching in and helping. However, that feeling of good will is already disappearing in some areas. The hardest part is ahead.  The new reality of what you are left with sinks in. The paper work to obtain aid can be overwhelming and daunting. Putting energy, money and time is critical from this point forward. In the first 10 days following Irene, all I had to do was make one post about what we needed at the shelter, and we were swamped with donations. Six months later, when we were moving our last homeowners back in, I had to make lots of phone calls and beg for help.

• Just showing up to help, if you don’t live in the community, or have strong ties to it, can be a nightmare for those running the relief effort. If at all possible, call or e-mail ahead to see if they can use your help. Check websites to see what types of volunteers are needed. Remember, those most impacted are going to have needs for a long time, so try to volunteer when a clear need has been established. There is and will be lots of opportunities for “hands on” volunteering

•  If shelters are asking for food, bring healthy items. People can eat not knowing what they are putting in their mouths. Fresh fruit, raw veggies and nuts are much better than donuts and brownies. I now hate brownies or any baked good made from a box. If you and a group of friends, or your business, want to donate a meal for a shelter, work it out with the person in charge. Please don’t see a request for food donations as an excuse to unload your food pantry of expired items, dented cans etc.

• While we all need purpose and “to be needed,” this is about meeting the needs of those impacted, not meeting the volunteer’s “need to be needed.”

• Whether you have money to donate or not, as Hope for New York noted, as the number one thing people can do, is pray-for the safety of those in need, those providing emergency care and shelter and that all may respond with compassion and hospitality.

The most immediate needs are rescue, shelter, food, and accurate information. To help out during this phase, consider donations to the following:
• The American Red Cross can be supported in one of the following ways:
-       Going to
-       Text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation
-       Send a check to American Red Cross, PO Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013

•  Faith based relief groups
-       The Salvation Army  Text “SANDY” to 80888    to donate $10.
-       Catholic Charities 

• The Humane Society of the United States is providing animal rescue 

• Donate blood. Check for scheduled blood drive locations and make an appointment by going to or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (733-2767)

• Food Banks
-       New Jersey 
-       Connecticut Food Bank 

• Check to see if your state has set up a website about how you can help. Because Vermont was so impacted by Irene, it is not surprising that the Vermont’s Community Foundation has already set up a site called After Sandy: How Vermont Can Help Try googling your state’s name and Sandy Relief to see what you can find.

The recovery phase, which will last for months in some communities and years in others, requires a long sustained response. You can help in the following ways:
• If you have friends, family or know people that are impacted, consider doing the following:
-Send gift cards for gas, food, hardware stores, and places like Target and Walmart
-       Send notes of encouragement
-       Help with clean up, housing, child care, meals etc. as you can
-       Offer your home as a place to stay if they are displaced. Offering the opportunity to take a hot shower, have a meal in your home, watch TV, take a nap,  or do laundry can make all the difference.
-       Be their advocate as they go about trying to fill out FEMA and other grant and aid forms. This can be a very challenging process, and having someone to help you through can make all the difference. 

• Many of the communities, towns and even states will set up websites to let people know what’s needed and when. Monitor on a regular basis and help when you can.

• Community Action Agencies are local private and public non profit organizations that provide a wide array of services including housing, assistance with utility bills, home weatherization, job training, food pantries and coordinating community initiatives. These groups will be intimately involved helping people most impacted. Many will have relief efforts specifically for those impacted by Sandy. To learn more about the specific CAAs in the various communities, go to the Community Action Partnership Find a CAA website 

• Many of the fire and rescue units, particularly in the coastal and rural areas, are volunteer. They can use donations to help restock equipment and supplies, purchase items that may have been lost or destroyed during recovery operations.

• States impacted have 2.1.1 resource numbers and websites. A United Way project, you can dial 2-1-1, or use the websites  to identify community specific information and referral resources for food, housing, medical etc. If you wish to do targeted giving in a community, this is a good way to learn which organizations are in place. Many will soon start posting specific requests for donations, volunteers etc.

• Check Facebook for newly forming pages regarding a particular community.

• Organizations, such as the arts and libraries,  that don’t have an immediate impact on the relief effort, still need to be supported when they have their annual giving programs. An integral part of their communities, they are important in helping communities re establish themselves.

How to help when you can’t make a cash donation
• Organize: a fundraiser, food, clothing or furniture drive, or volunteer work party at your church,  work, among friends etc.
• If there is a particular community or group of people you want to help, set up a Lots of Helping Hands website  to help coordinate relief efforts.
• Donate blood
• If you live in one of the areas hit, volunteer as you can now through the recovery phase. There are going to be plenty of tasks-from serving food, cleaning up, to moving people into new homes.
• Offer your home as a place for those that have been displaced.
• Check the “needs” list regularly for communities that you are interested in helping and volunteer as requested when you can. 
• Become a Red Cross volunteer. Maybe not a direct benefit to Sandy, but you can help in subsequent disasters.