Thai Red Curry Poutine

 Leftover french fries get an upgrade with this Thai Red Curry Poutine recipe.

Leftover french fries get an upgrade with this Thai Red Curry Poutine recipe.

I made this Thai Red Curry Poutine  a few weeks back sparking lots of interest in a recipe.  I was kinda making it up as I went, throwing stuff together somewhat haphazardly.  At the time I was only thinking about how best to stuff my face with some left-over french fries that were hanging in my fridge so my how-to specifics here are a bit vague. When I posted this on social medial many of you asked about a recipe so I thought I should try and write one out. Granted, I'm going off memory here so measurements might be a bit wonky but more importantly, this is the type of dish you can gauge more on appearance.  If the gravy is too thick, add more coconut milk.  If it's looking too soupy, let it simmer down.  This gorge-fest is a far cry from rocket science.  You can wing it.  Have faith!

Ingredients

  • Some left-over french fries or baked potato
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/2 ground meat (beef, pork, or chicken...)
  • 2 thinly sliced green onions (keeping the whites and greens seperated)
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 TBSP minced ginger
  • 1+ TBSP Thai Red Curry Paste (or more if necessary for taste)
  • 1/3 cup shredded, mild white cheese like Mozzarella or Provolone
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream
  • lime wedge

Directions

  1. Reheat your french fries on a baking sheet in 350 degree oven
  2. In a pan sauté the white parts of the green onions with the red curry paste.
  3. Add the ground meat, minced garlic, and ginger cooking it all together. (I used ground pork but you can use whatever.)
  4. Once the meat is kinda cooked and broken up, stir in 1/2ish the can of coconut milk and simmer lightly. You want to cook it down so it thickens into a "gravy". Add more or less coconut milk if necessary. You can also add more curry paste if you need to.
  5. After heating your fries (or baked potato?) top with the "gravy" and the cheese and melt it in the oven.
  6. After heating it up, remove from the oven and add the green onion tops,fresh cilantro, dollop of sour cream (or yogurt) and then squeeze with fresh lime.

If I had any sense about me I would have topped this all off with some runny-yolked egg and called it breakfast but you know...  Still good! And for anyone in need of council, I'm here for you.  Like I said, my measurement are roughly a guess at good estimates so let me know how it goes if you make this, which you should probably plan to do ASAP. Enjoy!

Tips For The Long-Distance Caregiver

 Homeward bound...

Homeward bound...

As some of you may know, I started the journey of caregiving several years prior to moving back to South Florida to care for my folks.  I was living in Massachusetts and was utterly in denial about the situation back home.  Having only just begun my journey into "adulting" I was somewhat naive as to how avoidance typically breeds more problems then it ever fixes.  As you might imagine, nothing got fixed. I was making frequent trips to Florida to check-up on things only to escape back to Massachusetts and ignorantly live by the expression, "out of sight, out of mind". 

Things began to escalate.  Stress was getting the best of me and it was manifesting in ways I could no longer ignore or disguise.  I lost a noticeable amount of weight and perhaps more concerning, I lost my voice.  I went through strange bouts of laryngitis that would last for months at time.  The muscles around my throat were so tight from being constantly verklempt, that the persistent laryngitis started to interfere with my work.  My professional life was falling apart because my personal life was falling apart and I hadn't even a smidge of a plan in place.  Long story short, everything about my life change abruptly.  And I mean EVERYTHING!

My naivety left me crippled and I frequently think back to how different I might have found my circumstances if I had only prepared a bit more. I think a transition would still have been inevitable but I can't help wondering if life might have been easier had I taken incremental steps toward addressing my aging parents' needs.  Baby steps to address challenges from afar might have given me more time to pack-up my belonging, leave my job with two weeks notice, and perhaps most importantly, say good-bye to my beloved friends and community in MA that I had built my life around.  I left my "life" in a state of emergency (you can read about that here) and had to sift through the mess of pieces to restore order for my folks all while allowing chaos to consume the life that I abandoned.  I was surrounded by wreckage which is why I am so happy to introduce you to Claire Wentz, the creator of caringfromafar.com.  She is the author of the upcoming book, Caring from Afar: A Comprehensive Guide for Long-Distance Senior Caregivers which I can only imagine will be a "life" saver when it is released. Claire is a former home health nurse and recognizes that our aging population means many more people will become senior caregivers over the years. Specifically, she is interested in providing assistance and support to those caregivers who do not live near their loved ones.  Below are a few of her tips on how to pull-off long distance caregiving...


Seeing our parents become more frail with age is difficult.  Their minds and bodies may not be as capable as they once were, and sometimes we don’t live close by to help.  What can you do when mom and dad are far away and they need your assistance?

Growing older and moving farther...

Trying to help from a distance can be daunting, and it’s a challenge more of us face than ever before.  Research shows that since the turn of the century our 65 and older population grew twice as fast as other age groups, and on top of that, families are more spread out than they used to be.  The good news is there are many ways you can provide care even from afar, making life happier and healthier for your aging parents.

  Photo courtesy of  Pixabay .

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

1. Share Information

You will find it helpful to get important information from your parents before facing a crisis.  Ask your parents to share with you their essential information and record it in an easily retrievable place.  You can start a notebook or computer document with their vital phone numbers, emails, medical data, and banking records.  Something as simple as a three ring binder or a spreadsheet may be all you need.  Be sure to include current prescription and pharmacy information, as well as neighbors’ contact information. There are health-monitoring devices that can be installed in your loved-one’s home to help keep track of their medication schedules as well as their daily activity. Caregivers can access this information from a website to determine if there are any issues or schedule disruptions.

While you’re at it, arranging direct deposit for mom and dad may be helpful, or you may want to set up online banking for them so you can help from the comfort of your own computer.  You can even establish automatic payments for utilities or other routine bills. 

Now is also a good time to consider preparing and recording legal documents such as a power of attorney.  You or your parents may not feel ready for that, but you are better off planning ahead rather than waiting for a crisis.

2. Enable Transportation Measures

Your parents most likely want to stay active, but may need some assistance from you.  This can be complicated if they have physical limitations, especially when you are a long-distance caregiver.  How do you help your parents keep up with their doctor visits, much less their social lives?  Fortunately, there are several options available.  Many communities are instituting senior shuttle services, taxi voucher programs, public transportation, and volunteer services.  Contact the agency on aging in your parents’ hometown, or check with some national resources for help.  Trained, professional assistance is available for your mom or dad who can’t travel alone, such as parents who are wheelchair-bound or need oxygen.  You should write down questions you want to ask before calling the agency so you can cover all of your concerns. 

3. Housekeeping and Maintenance Assistance

Keeping up with the house, lawn, and other chores that once were basic may become physically challenging for your aging mom or dad.  A visit once a week from a housekeeper or a routine meal delivery may be a huge help to your parents.  Don’t forget they may need help with the outside of the home, too. 

Remember that handling heavy equipment may be cumbersome for your elderly parents.  Also working outside on a hot day can cause seniors to overheat.  As we age, our bodies have more trouble managing heat.  Setting up help for mowing and other basic lawn care can relieve a physical burden for your parents and eliminate these concerns.  If your parents live in a climate with winter snow, also consider a snow removal service.  Professional services are available that would cover both lawn care and snow clearing, or you may want to check in with the neighbors to see if a teen could lend a hand with mowing and shoveling.

Distances can be overcome...

Even if mom and dad live far away, you have many ways to help them.  Be sure to line up all their important information and keep it handy.  Set up organized systems to help with their finances and medical concerns, and be ready if you need legal documentation.  Arrange to keep them active and mobile through area services.  And you can establish help for them in and around the house.  Taking these steps will help you keep your parents happy and healthy, even when you have to aid them from far away.

*Caring from Afar: A Comprehensive Guide for Long-Distance Senior Caregivers by Claire Wentz is under review and currently awaiting  it's release date.  Stay tuned for future announcements!


Luckily, the age of technology is enabling long-distance caregiving in ways that previously have been unthinkable.  There are apps and websites full of resources to help anyone searching for caregiving assistance but it's important to recognize that these tools only comfort those caregivers that put in the work.  Do your research and don't wait when it comes to gathering the information.  It's overwhelming in the moment so prepare your game plan early.  Know which resources you will call upon months before you need them and talk to loved ones frequently to best understand their needs. 

Do you have any experience with long-distance caregiving?  Comment with all your pro tips cause I certainly don't have much to share in this department but this information is desprately needed  If you want to know how not to do this, well then I got you! But there are a vast many of folks facing this challenge so comment with the intel!  We need your knowledge.

Taking Control of Your Physical and Mental Health in Your Golden Years

Heyo!

June Duncan from Rise Up for Caregivers and I are back for another tag-team venture on senior health and this time we are changing-things-up!  Rather than the usual intro/outro format we are adding a bit of weaving.  Within her article, I've peppered my thoughts and added points of perspective and resources that I've found to be personally helpful during my own careship.  That's right!  Careship, which is the new term I've started to use in identifying my role as a caregiver.  Like any tour of duty, my time serving in this role is temporary.  I'm an active duty caregiver but I'm also so much more and I'm finding it increasingly important to make that distinction.  I'll have more on that topic later but for now June and I are doing our thing.  My thoughts are below in italics.


Our lifespans are getting longer worldwide. Thanks to improvements in medical science and technology, humans have seen marked improvements over the last several decades, and many people alive now can expect to live well into their 70s and 80s. The percentage of centenarians -- that is, people who reach 100 years of age -- is also rising. The choices you make each day help determine not only how long you will live but how well you will live in your final years. Your quality of life and your quantity of years are dependent on taking care of your health right now.

See Your Doctor

The best way to ensure you stay healthy is early intervention. Regular checkups help you catch problems early when they are easier to address. Even if you feel healthy, it’s important to get regular checkups. Everyone needs an annual exam, but seniors may benefit from more frequent care. It’s also important to comply with your physician’s directives and take medication as prescribed. Get regular vaccinations, including the annual flu shot, and get tested for bone density so you can identify concerns and respond promptly. Broken bones are more dangerous for the elderly, and osteoporosis is a serious issue for your health and longevity.

I'm gonna add, take care of your feet!  If there is one thing that geriatrics could advocate a bit more for it's podiatry.  As senior mobility decreases I find it ironic that there is not more awareness around foot care.  Get pedicures!!!  And if you are a caregiver to seniors get them together.  Feet are easy to neglect, especially when they are not your own and the last thing anyone wants is long, sensitive toe nails that making walking or wearing shoes painful.  This only adds to the risk of falling so get-on these trips to the salon and self-care yourself! 

Take Care of Your Body

A healthy diet and a good exercise program will give you more energy and resilience. Talk to a nutritionist to help you identify any nutrient deficiencies you may be experiencing. Replace empty calories with nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables, protein, and heart-healthy fats. Eating well will help you heal from injury and illness, and it may also help you to improve your mood and preserve your mental cognition.

Anyone familiar with the website Blue Zones?  Their motto is "live longer, better" and exploring their research is worth the time suck.  Go get lost in their website and see what you learn...

 Twice a week I would take my mom to the local gym for a program offered through  Silver Sneakers .  It is a light, group exercise program for people on Medicare and I used it as an opportunity to work on my own health at the gym at the same time.  And obviously, she was all about her gym look!

Twice a week I would take my mom to the local gym for a program offered through Silver Sneakers.  It is a light, group exercise program for people on Medicare and I used it as an opportunity to work on my own health at the gym at the same time.  And obviously, she was all about her gym look!

Studies show that moderate exercise for as little as 30 minutes per day can lift your spirits and help you to retain your physical mobility. It helps prevent the onset of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. You can break it up into 10-minute increments throughout the day and switch up your activities to help you stay motivated. Take a walk in the morning, go for a bike ride in the afternoon, and do yoga or tai chi in the evening.

If you are a stay at home caregiver, unable to leave the home and need your own physical outlet, I strongly recommend this book:

I've been working my way through these workouts with the goal of completing all 100 by the end of 2018.  It's great for anyone too mentally exhausted to come-up with workouts.  Personally, I don't want to have to think about what I'm going to do for exercise.  I just want to do it and be done with it.  I have too many other things to think about during my day.  As for fitness, I know it's important and just want to get it done and move on.  So far this book is working for me.  It rids me of my many excuses, the biggest being "stuck at home with no time or equipment".

Lower Your Stress Response

The long-term consequences of living with high stress levels are anxiety, depression, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, and maybe even dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise is a proven stress reducer, but you can enhance its effect by learning a few relaxation techniques. Focused breathing exercises help you to reduce your heart rate and blood pressure and get into a more relaxed frame of mind. Mindfulness meditation lowers stress-related hormones like cortisol in the body. Additionally, you can do things to make your life less stressful overall. Avoid over-commitment with family or friends and learn to say, “no.”

Have you tried Headspace?  It's a meditation app and website dedicated to helping you get calm.  There are subscription options for those ready to dive into a committed practice but there is also a free program that I highly recommend.  For anyone that's been a bit lost in how to get zen, Headspace offers smart guidance with a series of introductory meditations that are worth exploring. 

Just as you scale down your social obligations, you can scale down your household junk. If you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it. Cluttered homes make people feel uneasy and sad. If they impair your ability to clean, they can even make you ill. And if there are things in your home that aren’t safe, consider making some modifications.

June and I dedicated a whole post this very topic.  You can read it right here.

Get Plenty of Rest

The physical and mental effects of sleep deprivation can lead to serious health concerns. Initially, being overtired can affect your performance and thinking in the same way as an intoxicant. But over the long term, your missed sleep can add up to diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Set a bedtime and follow it. Cut out caffeinated beverages in the afternoon and evening to help you get sleepy at the right time. Invest in room-darkening blinds, good sheets, and comfy pillows to help you find sweet dreams.

 #koolbob still reads every night before bed.

#koolbob still reads every night before bed.

Your quality of life is a direct result of the care you give your body and mind, so make sure you’re giving yourself every opportunity to have a long, healthy life. Your loved ones want to enjoy your company for as long as possible, making memories for years to come.


Alright, now it's your turn! Whether you are in your Golden Years or not, let us know in the comments below how you are harnessing efforts to address your physical and mental health.  We are in an age that is ripe with self-care and long drank the kool-aid that sharing is caring.  Share your self-care tips!  Tell us about resolutions, best practices, new routines, and failed attempts. You're the expert of your experience and we want to hear from you.

Sincerely,

June & Ashley

*June's book, The Complete Guide to Caregiving is expecting to be released this winter!

The Joy Of Carving

Love

I've been thinking lots lately about why I love spoon carving and it always comes back to time.  When I sit down with a piece of wood, I lose myself to the process and for a few moments, or hours really, I become consumed with the task of turning a random piece of wood into a functional kitchen tool.  Wood which is little more than debris or even compost, has a life still full of potential if just given the chance.  And the shape of spoons are quite forgiving. One doesn't need to be an artist to rough-out something functional. Maybe even beautiful...  You just have to go at it and keep at it.  It will get there.  As the time passes and the form begins to take shape, a spoon will emerge along with parts of oneself; parts you might not have realized you've been hiding.

Make time to take time.
 A little hand carved, wooden jam spoon and spread knife.

A little hand carved, wooden jam spoon and spread knife.

The spoons aren't all perfect.  Rarely do they begin as true love, but again, time has its own way with magic and as with most things, it seems to heal the pains that came before it. Frequently it's towards the end, after a spoon is carved and sanded that I give it the appreciation it so deserves.  A little bit of oil helps preserve the wood and reveal the grain.  Similar to scares, the grain and gouges tell a story and almost immediately I realize how overrated perfection is. My spoons are misshapen  The handles are crooked and the balance is sometimes wonky.  But when has life ever come with an easy grip that's perfectly balanced?  Rarely are our stories that simple. 

 Small, hand carved, Wenge wood spoon with brass peen. Cracked but not broken...

Small, hand carved, Wenge wood spoon with brass peen. Cracked but not broken...

There is no greater joy than that which you make for yourself.

If you are looking for something quick then perhaps carving is not for you.  But if you are trying to slow down, working though something painful, or need an escape while resting in place, then  go make something  designed to serve you.  It doesn't have to be a spoon. Make something you want. There is no greater joy than that which you make for yourself and there's no better time spent than the hours investing in you. The journey lives in the process and your story might benefit from a reminder. If you slow down and listen, time will tell you everything.   

Next workshop: May 12th, 2018; Ticket details here

5 Tips For Downsizing Seniors

 Almost 20 years after I moved out, this is what became of my childhood bedroom.

Almost 20 years after I moved out, this is what became of my childhood bedroom.

Hey there!

June and I are back with some tips for downsizing seniors.  This is actually much easier said than done and I can say this with certainty as I've now spent the last three years bringing a sense of order to the house I grew-up in. It was never the most organized of homes but as my parents health declined, the house grew further and further from any sense of security.  Their slide into dementia and Alzheimer's was increasingly complicated by the sheer presence of stuff.

Stuff I realize is often a sore subject.  Those that have it, struggle getting rid of it and those that inherit it feel burdened by the responsibility of managing it.  Seniors and youth often find themselves at odds.  Arguments about the value of antiques and heirlooms need to be measured alongside the expense of missed work, cost of storage, and the cost of transportation.  It's not that the youth of today value low quality items made in China or whatever the case may be, but rather the youth of today are in fact working and  providing for their own families and have purchased their own belongings as time and means allowed.  As any generation with the privileged to afford goods, they purchase items that speak to them with regard to their personal taste, budget, and space.  The assumption that items will be passed on and swapped out can belittle the hard work one took to establish their own household and I encourage seniors to pause before assuming younger generations will want their wares.  I would also encourage younger generations to ask questions and learn the history behind family belongings as many items are valuable because of their stories.

 Part storage, part childhood... 

Part storage, part childhood... 

Needless to say, "stuff" is a complicated subject for families and June from Rise Up for Caregivers is here with a handful of tips to help give the process of downsizing some momentum. Read hers below and please share any you have discovered.  Decluttering and downsizing can be a massive undertaking so please don't hold back on suggestions!


For seniors, there are plenty of reasons to need to downsize - you’re moving to a smaller home, moving to an assisted living community, decluttering to make aging in place easier, or simply because you want to get rid of some things and streamline your life. Whatever the reason, it’s never a pleasant task to begin, however, the results are usually rewarding. Here are some tips to make it more manageable.

Put gadgets in boxes

This is a trick to figure out exactly what you use and what you don’t. If you have a month or two to spare (before a move, for instance), pack up like items into boxes. Put all of your kitchen gadgets, electronic gadgets, and other gadget-like items in their own boxes. Now, over the course of the next couple of months, take out the items as you need them. What’s left in the box after a few weeks are items you probably don’t need. Do note, this works best for “useable” items. There are plenty of things that you won’t “use” in the course of a month that you still want to keep like photos, jewelry, and other sentimental items.

Institute a “one in, one out” rule with collections

When it comes to books, DVDs, CDs, and other types of collections, we can amass more than we know what to do with by the time we are seniors. One way to make downsizing these collections easier is to institute a one in, one out rule. For every one you keep, throw one out (or donate it).

Precisely measure your new living space

This tip is crucial if you’re moving to a retirement community, where you’ll have significantly less living and storage space. Have a loved one go to your new space and measure everything - closets included. Make a quick sketch of the floor plan and then get to work planning where everything will go. Once you have a place for everything you truly need in your new retirement community space, it’ll be easier to part with the stuff that simply cannot fit.

Go digital

Downsizing is about getting rid of physical items to unburden yourself and create more space, but that doesn’t mean you have to get rid of memories. Use internet storage to your advantage. If you have a bunch of old photo albums or scrapbooks, think about scanning these images into a computer and uploading them to an online photo storage site (here are some of the best). If you have other keepsakes and mementos, take photos of them and get rid of the physical item. This will allow you to keep the memory, but ditch the bulky items. More on downsizing your photo collections here.

Take “maybe” out of your vocabulary

When deciding what to keep, what to throw away, and what to donate, you should make those decisions as you pack and organize. Ditch the “maybe” pile. If you allow yourself the option of not making a decision on an item, you’re much more likely to keep it later on. If you truly want to downsize, you have to make hard choices as you go.

Downsizing is always going to be stressful. For many, it can be downright emotional. Getting rid of possessions is never going to be easy, but it’s vital if you’re moving to a smaller living space or simply want to declutter your life to give yourself more independence. Start early, give yourself time to organize, make tough decisions as you go, and don’t be afraid to get rid of duplicate items. In the end, you may find that you feel better - or at least less burdened - after you rid yourself of all that physical baggage.

 Stuff just hanging out in the dinning room. It wasn't just a matter of what to do with the stuff.  I had to to first assess what the stuff even was!  

Stuff just hanging out in the dinning room. It wasn't just a matter of what to do with the stuff.  I had to to first assess what the stuff even was!  


Ok, now its your turn!  Please comment below with thoughts and suggestions or any best practices you have on this topic.  I personally find it overwhelming  and as you can tell from the pictures above I have many thoughts on this subject.  So many in fact I found it hard to capture my thoughts and needed to pull June in to help us get the conversation going. Let's here your suggestions!  I'll add some of my own thoughts in the comments and we'll see where the topic goes.

Ham & Cheese Strata

 Ham and cheese strata with a little parsley on top.

Ham and cheese strata with a little parsley on top.

With Spring holidays approaching here's a simple recipe you can create with some left-overs.  This ham and cheese strata is pretty basic.  Nothing fancy.  These items just happen to be the things our house tends to have on hand after Easter dinner.  You can substitute other ingredients too.  Peppers, onions and other watery-type vegetables are best sauteed first so they release their moisture prior to baking but for the most part feel free to use whatever.

Ingredients:

  • Left over biscuits or bread
  • Ham
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Parsley

Directions:

  1. Combine eggs and milk in a bowl and add your biscuit/bread and give it a good coat.
  2. Let it sit in the fridge overnight soaking up the egg mixture.
  3. The next morning add the ham and cheese to the bowl and thoroughly coat it. (At this stage you can almost add whatever you want. Onions, peppers and cooked potatoes make great additions.)
  4. Pour out into a buttered, oven safe baking dish.
  5. If the mix appears dry, with no excess egg mixture add more, whipping another egg or two with a splash of milk. Pour that over the top of your strata mix where it will pool at the edges.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 or so minutes until the strata puffs slightly and the center is cooked through.

Happy Spring everyone!

Daily Needs Assessment: A Key to Quality of Life

 Mornings with #koolbob.

Mornings with #koolbob.

Hi folks!

I'm back here with another guest post from June Duncan, the author of the soon to be released book The Complete Guide to Caregiving and creator of Rise Up for Caregivers.  This time around she comes to us with great information relating to senior independence and some tips for assessing when a caregiver may need to step in.  Identifying these things early can help caregivers (or future caregivers) mitigate problems. Forecasting possible scenarios is a step towards putting a plan in place and I speak from experience when I say you don't want to be caught off guard.  Many of these suggestions are short-term solutions that can help pad the timeline surrounding a more significant transition.  It can be overwhelming to tackle all at once but take notice, address what you can, and begin assessing the needs of your senior loves. 

Now, some words from June:


  Image courtesy of    Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Caregiving for a senior loved one can feel like walking around in the dark sometimes.  However, there are key ways to improve your senior’s quality of life and meet needs more clearly.  With a well-defined assessment, you can enhance your loved one’s independence and relieve that stumbling-in-the-dark sensation.

Gauging independence

Certain tasks performed in everyday life are necessary for independent living.  Those tasks are termed Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), and include items such as dressing, bathing, eating, using the toilet, and being able to move from laying down to standing.  Sometimes with a little support in these areas, seniors can continue living at home and remain reasonably independent.  The first step in deciding whether your loved one can safely remain at home is clearly gauging how much assistance is required in performing those tasks.  Carefully assess your senior’s ability in each of the ADLs, using a sliding scale on how much help is needed to accomplish each task.  This may seem a bit overwhelming, but there are a number of tools available for making this evaluation, such as the Bristol Activities of Daily Living Scale

Simple alterations

Once you complete an assessment of your senior’s abilities, review your loved one’s living situation.  Oftentimes, the home environment can be effectively improved with minimal effort, allowing greater safety and peace of mind.  Ensure the main living area is entirely on one floor, with access to a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen.  Then review the living area for enhanced mobility and reduced safety risks. 

For example, the National Institute on Aging recommends reducing slipping and tripping hazards in the home.  You can do this by removing furniture and opening floor space for your loved one.  Reduce clutter such as magazine racks and piles of newspapers, and eliminate or secure throw rugs.  Stairwells should include a sturdy railing for support, and electrical cords should be safely secured away from walkways to reduce the risk of tripping on them.  Ideally, floors should offer improved traction; you can leave surfaces unpolished or install nonskid strips to enhance your senior’s safety.  Some experts also suggest removing thresholds so your senior doesn’t need to navigate steps in and out of the home and between interior rooms.

Improving visibility is another simple but important way to enhance your loved one’s safety and independence.  Even if your senior is still enjoying good physical vision, sometimes comprehending what is being seen is an issue.  There are several simple ways to help.  Stairs can be marked with different colored tape so the changes in levels are more easily seen.  Similarly, use high-contrast colors for floors and walls.  Eliminate window coverings and rugs with complex, confusing patterns. 

For better accessibility in bathrooms and kitchens, consider installing lever-style faucet handles instead of knobs.  Single levers are best, since they are not only easy to grip but also reduce the risk of scalding.  Use base cabinets for the majority of storage so your senior doesn’t need to climb to reach items, and add lazy Susans and pull-out drawers to reduce bending.  Some professionals advise adding grab bars in bathrooms to reduce risk of falls. 

Services and resources

When considering what ways your loved one’s quality of life can improve, explore resources in the local community.  As the experts at HomeAdvisor explain, seniors can often enjoy remaining in their own homes through the benefits of supportive services.  Meal providers can deliver nutritious food and reduce shopping and meal preparation responsibilities.  Transportation services can allow your loved one to run errands and reach medical appointments even if driving isn’t feasible.  Money management professionals help seniors who are no longer able to perform all of their bookkeeping obligations.  For specific services and resources available in your locality, contact your Area Agency on Aging. 

Assessment is key

A good assessment will help you identify your senior’s limitations.  Once you have a clear understanding of where needs are, you can directly address those concerns.  By modifying the living environment and employing supportive services, you can improve quality of life for both you and your aging loved one.


Alright, now it's your turn.  Do any of you have experience implementing any of these suggestions?  Or, do you have any questions that June or I might be able to address?  We understand that the world of caregiving is increasingly isolated and decision making is often challenging without a sounding board or support system to help provide some perspective.  As always, this space strives to create a community for the unique needs of caregivers so please don't hesitate to tell us your thoughts.  We want to hear from you but we also want to learn from you. Drop us your thoughts and lets get to discussing!

Life Updates- 2017/2018

It's been a while since I've done an update but let it be known that no news is good news!  At the close of 2017, things were moving rather quickly.  Suddenly, life had an uptick. I needed to refocus some priorities and maintain momentum.  And just like that, January was over too.  Again, all good stuff and I hope this tide continues, however caregiving remains the riptide and it dictates everything else. So, here's what's been goin' on...

December 2018

Spoons

 Hand carved, wooden spoon...

Hand carved, wooden spoon...

December was incredible for my spoon venture.  I sold 4 spoons at the end of the year and felt the pressure of filling "orders".  This still blows my mind. I officially opened the shop section of this website only a year ago and it's been so well received.  I can hardly establish an inventory but that's a production problem that fills my heart. 

In addition to selling spoons, I thought I would explore the knife business by selling carving knives to budding carvers.  In theory, this is great but the reality of shipping knives in the mail without proper blade protection is a bit of a liability.  Safety first! I needed to make protective sheaths...  Wha-what? Knife sheaths?!  As you might imagine, I was clueless, especially for this curved blade below.

 Curved blade knife used for carving the bowl part of a wooden spoon.

Curved blade knife used for carving the bowl part of a wooden spoon.

YouTube was full of suggestions for straight blades but the curved blade left me stumped.  Insert Jesse, a good friend and owner of the Jewelry Studio of Wellfleet.  She suggested I take the leather jewelry class offered through the Art School at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. The logic here was that instructor would likely have enough experience in leather working to point me in the right direction. It would be a fun class and get me out of the house.  Sure enough, that's exactly what happened!  

Leather Jewelry Course

Honestly, the class didn't exactly fulfill my sheath dreams but it did solidify fun into my schedule.  I got so much joy from the creative process.  Learning something new scratched my own creative itch.  It helped break-up the caregiving monotony and the perpetual thoughts of feeling stuck.  This leather class reconnected me with my "old" self, the person I was before this whole mess started and reminded me of these wise words by Nayyirah Waheed in her book Salt.

Where you are, is not who you are.
— Circumstance

The class reminded me that at heart I'm a maker and my soul is forever analogue.  I fell in love with the process. Leather work aligned with my attraction to raw materials.  Something about it clicked.  Below are a few bracelets that represent the beginning of a brand new hobby:

 Adjustable, yellow-dyed leather bracelet with eyelet detail.

Adjustable, yellow-dyed leather bracelet with eyelet detail.

 Secured, teal-dyed leather bangle with brass and nickle eyelets and riveted closure.

Secured, teal-dyed leather bangle with brass and nickle eyelets and riveted closure.

 Secured, navy-dyed leather bangle with assorted rivets.  Cause, I love rivets!

Secured, navy-dyed leather bangle with assorted rivets.  Cause, I love rivets!

January 2018

#koolbob - Health Update

Unfortunately, it's not all fun and games. My dad was in the hospital at the end of the year. We made our way to the ER at 3 AM via ambulance which my hope is for the last time.  The event proved tragic for both of us.  Awaking to his health concerns in the middle of the night, I was forced to recognize the hopelessness of our situation as I too was sick.  Only hours before I was throwing up for some unknown reason.  Food poisoning?  Flu? No idea... But the reality was stark. We were alone.  I was slow to respond and overwhelmed at the crisis.  I called 911 somewhat unsure if he was having a 911 moment.  This is a frequent mental debate I think many caregivers experience.  Is the given episode worth the chaos that follows?  Am I ready to light this match?

True to form, that phone call was the match that started a fire, and swept us straight into all the misgivings of the healthcare system. If it were my own life, then I might be more obliging to the procedural side of things.  The parlay of treatment makes sense in regard to the longevity of health but not when measured alongside that of dementia.  My father (and I suspect many seniors that end up in the ER), became a matter of medical whims.  A test subject for assumptions...  The inability to describe what's wrong often leads to random tests, many of which are safeguards backing medicare compliance and have little to do with physical health and everything to do with who picks up the tab.  The liability on part of the healthcare industry is much too great and therefore procedural tests and treatments, (several of which I now know were absolutely unnecessary) have become the backbone in determining a diagnosis for many elderly.  This medical process of elimination is nothing short of confusing for anyone with some form of dementia and is often physically painful.  The excruciating cries, barely muffled by a curtain, are damages accrued to both the individual and their caretaker.  Where one feels the physically pain, the other is destroyed at heart, and the over all sense of hurt and suffering only gets compounded. It's these visceral cries that continue to haunt me from my mom's sudden passing.  These sounds I can't unhear...  Sounds that have been nothing short of brutalizing and ring all the more loudly when it comes to paying premiums.  Ultimately, my dad's hospital trip proved "minor".  He was discharged later in the day with a diagnosis of mild constipation and some acid reflux.  We were sent home nearly 10 hours later with over the counter prescriptions and I had a new headache in how to unwind the trauma he just incurred. 

What people don't realize is that managing dementia is the art of managing chaos.  Rather than implement chaotic measure at the ER, staff could better their services by foregoing some procedures and listening first to patients between their garbled words and observing their behaviors in their most basic form.  Treating through the distortion is not exactly "treating" a dementia patient and the health profession could learn a lot by just looking and listening.   Doctors will likely refute this statement but that illustrates the refusal to listen.  To truly care for someone with dementia you must first care for their environment.  Actions and procedures need to be assessed with regard to overall comfort because it's what happens later, behind the scenes, that ultimately impact one's quality of life.  

To truly care for someone with dementia you must first care for their environment.

When we returned home, my father's anxiety was at an all-time high.  He was restless, experiencing a new pain (urinary, because he was forced to have a catheter rather than water that would help him pee on his own), and agitated in a way that I found abnormal to his norm.  He repeatedly said he was in pain and dying, leaving me again feeling helpless and ultimately hopeless.  Somehow we got through the night and after a follow-up check-in with his primary, it was determined after he left the hospital (where he had an EKG) and prior to this doctor's visit where he had another EKG, he suffered a heart attack.  The worst part is that I think I watched it.  I saw it happening and yet remained inactive both out of fear that another hospital trip might in fact kill him while also taking foolish comfort in the idea that he would never have been discharged if his condition was at all serious.  His condition at the time was not serious but his endured stress from the experience went overlooked.

Long story short, I enrolled him into hospice care shortly there after.  For those of you that feel sorrow towards what you think hospice means, I encourage you to do some research. (You can start right here.)  This is actually one of the best decisions I have made and stand by their approach of patient and family centered comfort-care.  I'm happy to share more about this decision in the comments or through private messaging if you want but for now just know that this is a good thing. I'm hoping the hospice team will enable my dad to live his best version of life for the time that remains. I want to do small things with him when I can and I don't want to live in fear that taking him somewhere might risk his health.  He's almost 86 years old.  The risks are plenty obvious!  But I need to part ways with the burden of caregiver guilt and feel confident there is a team of health professionals that get us. We want to live life, not wait for its passing.  Thus begins our new forward perspective... and below is a little taste of what that looks like.

 At the Boca Raton air field for the WWII airplane tour.

At the Boca Raton air field for the WWII airplane tour.

Knife Sheath Class

Ok, back to knife sheaths!  At the start of the new year, like a gift from the universe a leather knife sheath class was being offered locally.  (Wwwhhhaaaaattt?!!!!!!!!!!!) Clearly heeding the sign, I enrolled.  It was a five hour workshop and as expected, it was for straight blades. But, beggars can't be choosers!  I took my straight craving knife to the class thinking I needed a sheath that runs parallel to my belt.  Not the perpendicular style where the knife points down.  I wanted it across my lower back all discrete like a bad a**.  Granted, this is a work in progress but you kinda get the idea.  Just imagine this sheath like a rugged tramp stamp.  You with me?!

 Straight knife sheath for my Mora carving knife.

Straight knife sheath for my Mora carving knife.

Spoon Carving Class

Well, you know how one thing leads to another. It just so turns out that the place that was offering the sheath classe is interested in hosting a spoon carving class! Like a true act of fate, I met the fine folks over at The Guild Folk Art School and in a few short weeks we will be hosting a spoon carving class for the community.  I'll keep you posted on dates when we work that all out but in the mean time, take a look at their offerings.  Everything from blacksmithing to ceramics to knife making (you know that's next;)) and more!  Take a look

Darebee Exercise Challenge

Another new year high has been completing this 30 Day HIIT Challenge during the month of January.  There are lots of excuses I could have made to fall short on this goal but when my friend Erika sent it to me post binge eating holidays (which I continue to stand by!), I  realized, I had no excuse.  I could make excuses but none of them truly held weight and rather then complain or pass judgement on why this challenge wouldn't work, I just committed. I suspended judgement and expectations and pursued the challenge of discipline.

I find it easy to fall prey to the inertia of caregiving and neglect things.  What's worse is society almost makes the excuses for me... "Oh, go easy on yourself.  You have a lot on your plate".  That might sound reasonable but deep down I know when I'm being lazy.  So yeah... An experiment in exercise but more, an experiment in follow-through.

About two weeks in I realized the hard part about exercise for me is just knowing what I was going to do on a given day.  Good intentions are nothing without action.  This challenge told me exactly what to do and no equipment was necessary.  Bingo! I have no mental space to create an exercise strategy here.  Just tell me what to do and I'll do it!  So, I also pulled the trigger on this workout book! I figure, 100 workouts to complete over the rest of 2018 shouldn't be so hard.  That's about 9 workouts a month (cause it's February now) which seems more than manageable. And the no equipment necessary/can-do anywhere factor helps eliminate the obvious excuses. 

Workout Book.jpg

If you are curious what's inside I put an Amazon link below. It's the same deal at the challenge link above but expanded.  Also, if you have any suggestions for timer apps please send them my way!!!  

As for anyone following my pistol squat attempts, just know that they are coming... one day.  Not sure why I thought I'd have those down in a month but reality checks are a good thing!

Alright, that has to be it for now.  I'm impressed if you are still reading this!  I could keep going but my soul is running dry from being on the computer this long.  I told you I was analogue. ;)

TL;DR- Life updates

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Building Flavor Profiles & Holiday Soup Recipe

 Sweet potato, pumpkin and apple soup topped with blue cheese crumbles, pomegranate seeds, and pepitas with a little bit of fresh thyme. 

Sweet potato, pumpkin and apple soup topped with blue cheese crumbles, pomegranate seeds, and pepitas with a little bit of fresh thyme. 

What’s the difference between a cook and a chef? This was a question an old kitchen colleague and I were having when he stated quite frankly that a chef is “creative”.  I thought we were going to banter about ideas of technique or execution or knowledge of basic sauces but nope.  Just creativity!  Apparently, those other things can be taught.  Cooks can follow directions but that doesn’t mean a cook can necessarily create.  Creativity requires vision and a chef always has a vision. I’m sure that theory is largely debatable but it’s good enough for me!          

I’m not much of a recipe chef. I love a good cookbook but honestly, it’s the pictures that inspire me.  A photo and a list of ingredients is often enough to get the gears turning and that’s when the fun begins.  And since we are on the topic of cookbooks, I want to introduce you to two of my favorites. The Flavor Bibles!  They aren't exactly cookbooks in the traditional sense, and they definitely aren’t full of picture, however, these books serve as a reference for food items that pair well together.  They are a great place to start when building a “flavor profile”.  A place where your inner chef can start to develop it vision…  The Flavor Bibles, one of which is vegetarian, are books that basically allow you to cross reference ingredients to find flavors that work well together so you can construct you own vision using complimentary ingredients.   Below I've included Amazon affiliate links if you are interested.  

 Both books, minus their jacket covers.

Both books, minus their jacket covers.

They both are wonderful and if you are looking to inspire creativity in your kitchen these books are a great place to start. Again, these are not recipe books.  These are reference books to help you develop a foundation for tasty meals.  For example, say you have a head of cauliflower in the fridge and you are wondering what you can add to make it into a full meal.  Well, flip the book open to cauliflower and there you will find a list of ingredients that go well with cauliflower. It includes herbs, spices, vegetables, and meat items (assuming you don't have the vegetarian book) that are known to pair well with cauliflower.  You can then compare the list to items you have in your fridge or pantry and begin constructing your meal. As you gather the ingredients you start to have a better feel of what you can make.  Next thing you know, boom! You just just chefed!   I don't like following directions but I still appreciate guidance and these books allow me to develop my own style.  They have become the backbone of my kitchen and I'm sharing them because I love them and I think budding chefs and the gourmet crowd would love them as well.

 All mixed in...

All mixed in...

Ok, and now back to this holiday soup recipe.  It's sweet potato, pumpkin, and apple soup topped with blue cheese crumbles, pomegranate seeds, pepitas and a little fresh thyme.  According to the Flavor Bible all these items paired well together and, well... let's just say after my bowl, I agree! 

Ingredients:

  • 1 diced yellow onion
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 cup pumpkin
  • 1 peeled, cored, and chopped sweet apple
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water (or enough to thin soup)
  • 1 lemon wedge
  • 1 tbsp. blue cheese crumbles
  • 1 tbsp. pepitas
  • 1 tbsp. pomegranate seeds
  • ¼ tsp. fresh thyme

Directions:

  1. Sauté the onion in a pot with a little oil until it begins to soften.
  2. Add the sweet potato, pumpkin apple and the vegetable broth.
  3. Bring to a low boil and cook for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
  4. When the ingredients have cooked through, carefully blend the soup into a puree with an immersion blender or in batches with a standard blender. Just be sure to let the steam vent if using a standard blender. (Trust me. I’ve made this mistake.)
  5. Once pureed add the water to thin the soup. You can add as much as necessary to reach your desired consistency.
  6. Squeeze the lemon wedge into the soup and add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve in bowls and top with blue cheese crumble, pepitas, pomegranate seeds, and a sprinkle of fresh thyme

* This page contains two Amazon affiliate links. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. This helps maintain the cost of How To Feed A Senior. Thank you for your support.

Self-Care In The Chaos Of Caregiving

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Today I want to introduce you to June Duncan, the author of the upcoming book The Complete Guide to Caregiving.  It's due for release in 2018 and offers support for friends and family members who have taken on the responsibility of caring for their loved ones. She is also the co-creator of Rise Up for Caregivers as well as the primary caregiver to her 85 year old mother.  Yes, it's all things caregiver and caregiving!  She is here today with a peak into the world of self-care with some handy tip to any new caregivers just touching down in the trenches.  Take a moment to read her words and suggestions and please comment with any thoughts or feedback.  We all recognize the need for more "village" support and therefore we  would love to hear from you on tactics that you feel do and don't work.  Thanks in advance for your participation and thank you June for embarking on the task of creating this much needed resource!

Cue June:


  Image courtesy of    Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Taking care of the needs of a senior loved one is stressful, and many of us learn the hard way that life needs to be balanced to be healthy and happy.  The good news is that a lot of other people are in the same boat, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone.  It’s vital that you don’t neglect your own health, or you won’t be able to perform well as a caregiver.  You can reach the breaking point if you aren’t careful. 

You’re not alone

Americans are living longer, and as a result, more of us are providing supportive care to elderly family and friends than ever before.  Mayo Clinic notes that 80 percent of long-term caregiving is performed by informal caregivers.  If you are providing care to an elderly loved one, you are at risk for caregiver stress.  No matter how much you love someone, tending to their needs and watching them decline is a heavy burden.  Many times, the caregiver’s own health suffers, reducing the ability to function in many ways.  Watch for these signs that you could be overdoing it:

●     Moodiness, irritability or angering easily

●     Significant changes in weight

●     Changes in sleep habits

●     Feeling exhausted

●     Feeling overwhelmed or anxious

●     Feeling sad or depressed

●     Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy

●     Frequent headaches, pain or illness

●     Substance abuse; drinking too much or abusing drugs, including prescriptions

Self-care

It’s critical to learn to take care of your own needs and embrace self-care.  Caregiving is demanding.  Without a self-care plan, your mental and physical health can decline.  Make your burden lighter and recognize you are doing it for both yourself and your loved one.

●     Reach out.  Don’t try to do everything yourself.  Ask family members and friends to give you a break.  Think of some options and let your helper pick something to tackle, like taking your senior on an errand or for a walk, or preparing a meal once a week. 

●     Stay connected.  Engage in a support group.  Set aside time to spend with friends, and don’t become isolated.

●     Be realistic.  Make lists and prioritize. Do what you can when you can.

●     Take care of your health.  See your personal physician, and don’t put off your routine exams.  Get enough sleep, eat right and exercise. 

Finding time

You’re probably thinking to yourself that you are already maxed out; how can you squeeze in time for doctor visits, much less exercising?  The AARP offers some great advice on organizing your schedule and realizing these goals.

●     Schedule it.  Make arrangements for respite, whether from an agency or family members.

●     Organize and communicate.  Review schedules and commitments ahead of time with those sharing the caregiving burden.  Make sure there are no gaps in coverage, and that things like appointments are coordinated. 

●     Divide duties.  List responsibilities and delegate who will do what.  Make sure everyone understands who handles insurance issues, who orders prescriptions, and so on.  This eliminates concerns of schedule gaps and of duplicating efforts.

Physical well-being

Exercising is vital to your self-care routine.  According to the professionals at the Mental Health Foundation, we need to keep moving.  Activity is good for your bones, muscles and flexibility, and will also improve your mental health and well-being.  You can be active through household chores, running errands or organized exercise.  It doesn’t take long.  According to the American Psychological Association, “Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.”

A home gym

A small home gym is a practical addition to a caregiver’s lifestyle.  It’s inexpensive, you only need a little elbow room, and you can squeeze in a workout when it’s convenient.  A handful of well-chosen pieces of equipment, like a yoga mat, dumbbells and resistance bands, will put you well on your way to fitness with minimal space, time and money.

Meet your own needs

Without tending to your own needs, your mental and physical health will suffer, and you can’t be as effective in your role.  Develop a self-care plan, get organized, manage your time well and make exercise convenient.  By taking these steps, your life will be more balanced, healthier, and you’ll be a better caregiver.

Author: June Duncan


Ok, now its your turn!  Do you feel your own health suffering?  Do you have a self-care regimen?  Are you meeting your own needs or can you express the obstacles that stand in your way?  Many of these things are easier said than done so it's important we share tips and strategies for tangible ideas that work.  The caregiver community is growing exponentially yet public resources remain scarce.  Truly addressing challenges will only come from the voices living them so lets hear it!  I'll go first.  The best thing I have done for myself within the world of caregiving/self-care was to create a schedule.  It sounds silly in that the idea of creating a schedule is obvious however, personal circumstances warrant personal tailoring for something to stick and sticking is the hard part!  You can read about it here if you are curious but now it's your turn.  Do tell!

Pumpkin Hand Pies With Fresh Whip Cream

First, I just have to say, I have no idea how I came across this song, but it couldn't be more fitting, especially if we are talking about my Dad. I haven't been posting many recipes because the senior I feed is increasingly picky and often refuses to eat what I make.  It's hard to run a food website called "How To Feed A Senior" when your muse snubs the goods. But... not when it comes to pie! Thanksgiving was a feast and the first leftovers to disappear where these little pumpkin hand pies. I'm honestly not surprised given his tendency towards sweets and their hand-held convenience.  As his dementia's been worsening, he's slowly losing his mobility and competency with utensils.

 Pumpkin hand pies with fresh whip cream.

Pumpkin hand pies with fresh whip cream.

As for making these pies, just know you have options.  I used this recipe for the dough.  It utilizes cream cheese which compliments pumpkin but also contributed to a soft pastry crust that I knew would be easily eaten. As with many seniors, aging teeth or dentures can be a real deterrent when it comes to food so the softer the better.  You can however use store bought crust if you are short on time or seek out a basic pie crust recipe. Like I said, you have options!

 More pumpkin hand pies...

More pumpkin hand pies...

As for the filling... I roasted a Cinderella Pumpkin earlier in the week and wanted to use it up.  You can absolutely use canned pumpkin which might allow you to skip over pre-baking the filling (see below). Using the fresh pumpkin was much too runny in my case and if it's too wet, it will damage the dough.  Don't be afraid to bake the filling first if necessary.

Filling Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • splash of cream

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. (If your filling is thick then you can immediately fill your hand pies. I used fresh pumpkin and the filling was very wet. I pre-baked the filling in mini muffin cups for 15 minutes until the custard solidified and used that as my filling.)
  2. Roll-out your dough and cut out circles with a biscuit cutter if you have one. (I used a pint glass to cut-out circles.)
  3. Roll out each circular cut-out to about 1/8 inch thickness and top one side with some filling.
  4. Wet the outer edges of the dough with a little water, fold over, and seal the edges by pressing down with a fork.
  5. Brush tops with an egg wash and poke a few holes to vent steam in each one.
  6. Bake at 375 degrees F for 20-40 minutes or until the dough becomes a golden brown.
  7. After baking, cool on a rack.

When it comes to the fresh whip cream just add a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a teaspoon of powdered sugar to some heavy whipping cream and whip on high until stiff peaks form.  Then dip the hand pies in it until your hearts content!

How To Cope With Caregiver Guilt

Life is what we make of it, right?  This is what we are told.  That if we push through time with the right amount of vigor, we can achieve our dreams with a full heart and a happy ending.  But rarely do these tales mention entrapment via circumstance.  Seldom do they reflect that choice is usually conditional. 

 White Pumpkin Recipe 1: Curry pumpkin soup with barley, fresh tomatoes, scallions, cilantro and coconut milk.

White Pumpkin Recipe 1: Curry pumpkin soup with barley, fresh tomatoes, scallions, cilantro and coconut milk.

As caregivers we are often accustomed to squelched hope and rarely do these stolen dreams leave us clues for reparations.  However, a passage through loss, be it people or dreams, is never short on perspective.  Hindsight hurts for all the things we didn’t see before.  The pain doesn’t stem from whom or what is now gone; it’s a pain from recognizing what we had, and the failure then, to act.  It’s all the missed opportunities we can’t get back, and learning in the now, how to sit with forever. These are the seeds of our guilt and no one else can help us sow them.

 White Pumpkin Recipe 2: Pumpkin paratha with cumin seeds and cilantro.

White Pumpkin Recipe 2: Pumpkin paratha with cumin seeds and cilantro.

Caregiver guilt is akin to a wet blanket and industry insiders are quick to call for its disposal. It’s heavy, burdening one’s mental health, and hardly the stuff of optimism that dominates the world of self-care.  But in truth that blanket, wet as it may be, is constructed of fibers, entwined with layers that represent so much more than what most outsiders perceive.  It’s a compass that governs our future selves.  It’s not to be cast off, but rather something to heed, as it provides a rare peek at our unmasked emotion.  It’s the truest reflection of the stranger we keep inside.

Sometimes the only thing that’s different is our perception of what ”is”.  And sometimes the only way to see that is to listen...
 White Pumpkin Recipe 3: Warm white pumpkin salad with barley, kale, cilantro, pepitas, and lime.

White Pumpkin Recipe 3: Warm white pumpkin salad with barley, kale, cilantro, pepitas, and lime.

Guilt doesn’t have to imply flawed. It can be embraced for growth even when it doesn’t fit well with the mainstream social construct.  We can’t be afraid to feel guilt’s weights.  We’ve been carrying it around long enough for it to become us. It's in our fiber.  And to quote the song from this previous post: "it's in my honey, it's in my milk".  Why not give it pause and listen to what it’s saying.  There is more to it than just the burden of weight.  It has a message and needs some breathing room to develop it's voice. 

Just breathe… 

Things might begin to look different, even sound different, even when circumstance remains the same.

Tips For Creating A Caregiver Schedule

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Here's the pattern. I wake-up optimistic and end the day collapsed in defeat.  I wake-up every morning like your neighbor's annoying dog, brimming with pep and vim, only to feel that enthusiasm fade into disappointment.  I know, I know... It's annoying to be a morning person but I love the idea of a fresh start and relish the chance to begin again.  Who doesn't love a do-over? 

Mornings are my romance. They embrace that do-over love story but unfortunately, somewhere around noon I start picking fights with the day.  I develop a restlessness and it starts encroaching on my mood, echoing reminders that today is just like yesterday and it will likely end in rout.  True to form, it often does.   Luckily, I've never been good at grudges so come morning, that bad attitude is nothing but a bad dream, until noon, and then here we go again...  It's cyclical. I know this, and yet it's been impossible to break.

We all have habits we're not proud of but habits themselves are telling of something more deeply seeded in our character.  They are these little comfort zones that will never change without effort.  Well, good news! For the past month I can honestly say I have been putting in the effort and I feel a shift.  The failures are still abundant but the cycle has been disrupted.  There is a freshness that's emerging for the first time in years. 

Caregiving (and I imagine parenting) is so all consuming that its immersive nature leaves little room for planning and perspective.  Yet, in order to maintain your own sense of identity, it's absolutely necessary to find an approach that works for you.  There are too many "experts" ready to thrust their opinions and suggestions your way but for advice to feel useful it has to resonate to stick.  Our situations are often much too personal for peripheral advice to feel helpful.  If anything, it complicates things.  It's one more voice in your head suggesting shoulds and shouldn'ts.  It ends up as more noise and ultimately little gets accomplished.

Boom!  Next thing you know it's two years later and your facing those same demons.  That was me until about a month or so ago when I came-up with a plan.  Not just any plan.  My own freakin' plan!  My own, nonsensical sense-making plan to provide a strategy for getting my head above water and my feet out of the mud cause I can't take one more day of slogging through the fact that this role... this unforgiving caregiving job, is what's become of my life!  

So here is what I did.  I spent several weeks prior to plan implementation, just coming up with the pieces.  I took into account the types of tasks necessary for this role as well as personal things I wanted to include but were being neglected.  I compartmentalized them all within the standard Monday- Friday work week with regard to weekends and themed each day. Instead of having one massive to-do list, I actually have seven.  I know that sounds crazy but stay with me.   It's not really seven lists but a single list that I add to and rotate through the week prioritized by theme.  These are the themes: 

Monday- Business/Administrative Tasks

This is the mail, the bills, paperwork, phone calls, etc... All the stuff that's keeping the household afloat. It's the kind of stuff made of modern nightmares. Taking care of business on behalf of another person is an administrative circus. It's time consuming and it's important and it's the last thing I ever want to be doing so I put it right up front so I can get it out of the way and put the dread to bed for the week. I also deal with my own such affairs on this day too. I think of it as a household business day but only for that day. This kind of stuff will bleed over if you let it so don't! Just do it on Mondays and move on.

Tuesday- Education/Research/Learning Tasks

On Tuesday's we go to the library and I check-out books and movies for my dad. These are critical to the success of the other days of the week as they act as excellent pacifiers when I'm preoccupied with other things. Additionally, I designate research type stuff on this day. Things like finding additional senior resources or Youtubing how to fix the dryer, or scowering Pintrest for a new recipe... Those tasks I prioritize on this day because they require some investigating at their essence they're educational. I also make a point of reading the paper on Tuesdays as a way to better understand what is happening in the outside world. Clueing into to what's going on "out there" helps with decision making on the home front. Everything from health care, to the real estate market, to the new fiduciary rules, and the pending tax reform all provide intel on how the "system" works. This is important because the system cannot support the needs that exist in elderly care and it's falling on the shoulders of caregivers and crippling them in the process. As a caregiver, I need to know what's coming. I'm already at the point of adrenal fatigue so the last thing I need is another surprise. It's also increasingly important to understand the severity of this problem to assess your personal strengths and weaknesses. There are many layers to this stuff and I feel you really need to know yourself so you know when to ask for help.

  • My tip here is to play to your strengths and pay for your weaknesses.

Wednesday- Core Activities

It's the center of week so why shouldn't it represent the center of my life? It's all the things I love doing but sacrifice for the sake of excuses. So now, on Wednesdays, all the things I've wanted to do but never seem to prioritize have an official spot in the calendar, smack dab in the middle of everything, right where they belong. For me this consists of spoon carving, bread making, knife sharpening, and other crafty endeavors that reflect my passions and enable me to retain my sense of identity. Caregiving is all consuming and if you don't drive a wedge into it for the sake of the things you love, you will lose yourself. The caregiving world is a vacuum and you must protect what's important.

Thursday- Community/Outreach

Every Thursday I help my dad make a phone call to someone he knows. He can hardly speak in full sentences but he lights up at the sound of a familiar voice which is enough to tell me this activity is a must. We also try and get out of the house. We run small errands. We go to the bank or the hardware store or if the suns not blazing hot, we might stop by a park. This is a chance for us to be out and engaging in the public sphere. It's a day of outside stimulus. It's typically no longer than an hour or two but upon returning he's often tired and takes a nap. I then set about working on other such "community" matters like initiating emails, writing thank you letters, networking/marketing type stuff... It's really nothing too spectacular. I think what gives it meaning is that it's proactive outreach rather than just responding to things. It's also a pretty decent mix of my dad's world and mine and it's actually kinda fun to think about community in this intentional way.

Friday- Clean-out/Downsize

The time will come where I'll one day have to sell our house and the surplus of belongings will have to be dealt with. I can say I have truly turned this place around but still, there is a ton stuff. I've moved enough times prior to living here to know packing-up means you typically can't take everything. So, on Fridays, I try to focus on collecting things to donate, list on Ebay or Offer-up, or just straight-up purge depending. This in truth is time consuming. Taking photos and creating ads for stuff begs to wonder what your time is really worth and I think this question can only be answered by those in the trenches. For me personally, this is a solo mission. If I think too much on what I'm physically doing, I become angry and frustrated that I've succumbed to hawking goods that aren't even my mine! It feels like a burden. But, a little bit one day a week feels manageable and with time, you'll notice improvements.

Saturday- FREE DAY

There is no theme for this day. You can use it however you want. If you didn't manage to tackle something from your list earlier in the week, you can do it on this day, or you can make plans with a friend, or whatever you feel like doing. I don't hold myself to anything on this day. I leave it to desire...

Sunday- Prep Day!

This is for whatever needs to happen to prepare for the coming week. It typically includes getting groceries, cleaning common areas, doing laundry, reviewing the above schedule, and making a big family meal that will provide a day or two of leftovers. It's mostly chores but the kind of stuff that feels like we are off to a strong start. And it's important to feel that! Caregiving often feels defeating so having alignment with positive momentum is important.

Then repeat...

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.
— Maria Robinson

As for implementing this schedule I list things forward.  What I mean is that as new tasks pop into mind, I list them on the most applicable day for the following week.  For example, if I need to pick-up a new prescription for my dad or have the tires rotated on the car, I schedule those things on the next available Thursday because in my mind, those tasks reflect community  engagements.  If I want to try a new recipe or sew some flour sacks, I note it as a Wednesday task where I leave room for the pursuit of craft.  

This themed schedule approach is not a 100% cure-all but it has been a significant game changer for feeling more control when managing responsibilities.  It has worked so well I've even adopted a similar approach for exercise and self-care which I can tell you about some other time if anyone is interested but for now this will have to do.  And I hope it's a concept that might work for others feeling overwhelmed.  The good news is that it's flexible.  You can theme the days in a way that works for you and construct a better sense of fluidity when it comes to "how" you are going to get all the things done.

Good luck and let me know how it goes if you try something like this.  Also, please, please, please let me know of any methods or tips that have helped you structure your caregiving time.  The "how" of it all still feels impossible on some days so any suggestions are much appreciated!

Grieving The Loss Of A Partner

For those of you that have lost a partner... 

Not just any partner.  The partner.  The one that you can't let go of and in many ways you never will.  Cause why would you?  One is one and one only.  Don't let go.  Move along but never let go.  Such tragedies represent life's finest achievements. You won at love...

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Hold tight!

Recipes For Life

It's exhausting to carry a heavy heart and never put it down. You start to wonder what it holds, examining which parts are disposable and unnecessary or even replaceable.  Everything is becoming murky.  Everything feels like a mix of tragedy and destruction in the wake of natural disasters, nuclear threats, terrorism, and politics.  Its never felt like a more important time to rise to the occasion and stand up for what you believe.  But what do you believe? 

We are all hurting.  Circumstances aside, I think it's safe to say there is a collective hurt but now what?!  I've been stewing in my own misfortune long enough to realize there is no rescue committee for your life and if you want to feel better you have to do better.  There is no recipe or instruction book on how to pick-up the pieces. You just start picking them up.  Put things together, create piles, salvage what you can and move on.  There is no greater leader right now than you and there is no better time than now.  Ready?

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PS- This is a green pea curry soup with house croutons and chives, topped with a drizzle of garam masala brown butter.  You don't need a recipe, just initiative. ;)

Cinnamon Rolls

These cinnamon rolls don't exactly represent my dietary belief in "how to feed a senior" but you know... Life is for living!  Items like these gooey cinnamon rolls feed happiness and I think that's just as important as nutrition when it comes to living a good life.  We need to indulge more in simple pleasures.  That's been a real thing for me lately.  Simple pleasures...  I keep an eye out, trying to take note of when I happen upon one and I'm often surprised at their ubiquity.  Sometimes observing one turns into a slew many and I feel a wave of gratitude for this "time" and that doesn't quite fit the stereotype of the caregiver demise.

Caregiving can feel much like purgatory but I'm often taken aback at the moments I catch myself quite content with my baking, gardening, and crafting. I'm frequently bitter at all the moments this experience has stolen from me but its been long enough now that I've come to accept the terms.  There's no going back to the days of what was.  There's only forward. And in this march, I've grown deeper into my hobbies.  This journey is cultivating skills that only come with time and for that I am grateful.

Ingredients

For the rolls:

  • 3 cups flour + more for kneeding
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water

The filling:

  • 1/2 stick of melted butter
  • 3/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp of cinnamon (or even more to taste preference)

The frosting:

  • 1/2 cup of softened cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp softened butter
  • 1/8 cup of powdered sugar (or more or less per taste)
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Combine all the ingredients for the rolls into a large bowl and mix to combine. Add a dusting of extra flour as necessary to absorb moisture and work into a manageble dough ball.
  2. Turn dough ball out onto a floured surface and kneed for about 10 minutes adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.
  3. After the dough is well combined and you are done kneeding, lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in it and give it a swirl so the dough has been lightly oiled. This will keep it from sticking to the bowl later.
  4. Cover the bowl and let rise for about 1 hour or until it's doubled in size.
  5. While the dough rises prep the frosting.
  6. Place all the frosting ingredients in a bowl and combine with a mixer till all ingredients are well incorporated (be careful not to over mix).
  7. In another small bowl combine the brown sugar and cinnamon for the filling and set aside.
  8. When the dough has doubled in size, dump it out onto a floured surface.
  9. Roll it out into a rectangular shape roughly 1/2 inch thick.
  10. Drizzle the melted butter on top and brush it to cover the top leaving an inch on all sides.
  11. Sprinkle the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture evenly over the buttered area.
  12. Starting with a long side, roll the dough up into a long dough snake (Dough snake? Is that a thing?).
  13. Cut the dough into 2 inch pieces, discarding the two end pieces that lack the filling.
  14. Place the rolls cut-sides up into a buttered pan, nestling them next to eachother but leaving room for them to rise more.
  15. Cover and let rest for about 30 minutes
  16. Meanwhile begin preheating the oven to 375 F degree.
  17. After 30 minutes and the rolls have swollen in size, place in the oven and bake for 30-35ish minutes until the tops turn golden brown and the inside tempurature reaches 160 degrees F.
  18. After baking scoop spoonfuls of the frosting on top while the rolls are hot.
  19. Wait a few minutes and let the frosting melt a little then spread it around the tops in sheer decadence.
  20. Next, give most of these away so you don't die from a binge eating bender... ;)

A Twig's Life

I have a pretty big stick pile.

Leaf litter is slowly starting to accumulate around the house because I have "ideas".  I have lots of ideas...  Like any good hoarder, I see potential in scraps and find myself defending their storage.  As long as I do something with them, then they amount to more than trash matter, right? Or that's what I tell myself.  The truth is, I have a vision and that vision is generously being fostered by the fine folks at Knoll Farm where I am proud to announce I've been awarded a Better Selves Fellowship spot this August!  I am beyond excited!!!!!

My fingers are crossed that I make it to this Vermont refuge.  You never know the challenges when it comes to dementia caregiving, and deciding now that I will attend, will ultimately be determined in the hours, maybe even in the minutes before my departure.  But for fun, lets just go with it and assume I am going.  I am going!!! 

The fellowship is a nurtured self study of sorts.  Everyone attending will be on their own journey yet together, as a community, we will help each other achieve our goals.  My goal will be spoon related but more specifically I want to focus on carving.  And I don't just mean technique, although, I do hope to acquire new skills.  I want dive deeper into the other aspects of carving like knife care and sharpening but also the spiritual side.  I want to explore the intention, the meditation... 

There is something healing in the process of making a tool with your own hands.

I've long thought carving was meditative.  There is something healing in the process of making a tool with your own hands.  It's a placeholder for empowerment, slowly revealing that applied effort produces results and that ultimately, you can in fact do whatever you set your mind to.  It's so easy to surrender to hopelessness but the act of carving always provides a renewed perspective.  With each shaving you are reminded that you're closer than you think, a small echo in your head, akin to a mantra, tells you "keep going".  

As the shape begins to reveal itself, so do all the metaphors.  The "handle" usually appears first.  It's the comfort zone in skill development but then you get to the "neck" and the "bowl".  As with any neck, it's fragile.  You must maneuver delicately or risk breaking it, and I'm reminded of the similarities between these moments and life.  You go on thinking you have a "handle" on things only to realize at some point, your burdens are nearing a breaking point.  It (or you) might snap under the stress without care.  It's a reminder to nurture sensitive areas, a case not to neglect self-care... Then you get to the "bowl".  Perhaps you jump around while carving the spoon but I find the bowl to be one of that last areas of attack.  My students often avoid it till the end.  There is a different technique involved and it requires a different knife but non-the-less it's a critical component to making a spoon a spoon.  It's actually the single most identifiable trait of the spoon yet on the carver's journey, it's often left to the end.  

It's always an interesting pause at this point.  Questions arise as to what things we are avoiding in life?  What single task, if just accomplished, would make a considerable impact in how our days are lived?  What techniques or tools are missing so you can move beyond this block? Wait. Are we talking mental block or block of wood?  It's hard to keep up with the narratives...

I wish I could explain better the thoughts I have on this whole topic.  It's hard to write about carving and a general summery feels impossible.  I have so much to say but can't seem to organized the words for a reader and partly I think the words escape me because so much feeling is at play.  So much is left unsaid here and it's a huge part of why I will do whatever it takes to get to the Knoll Farm refuge and participate in the Better Selves Fellowship.  I know something there is waiting for me.  The mantra keeps telling me "just come"...

 

 

Dark House

I can only speak for myself when I say that the desire to produce anything personal, at this point stems from the utter frustration of maintaining a life that prioritizes other people's priorities.  Nothing feels like it's for myself. I spend my days picking-up the crumbs of a life in regression and hope it amounts to something meaningful.  I'm not sure that even makes sense but you know what? NOTHING MAKES SENSE!

Can you feel my rage?!  I am angry!!!  I am angry that every single day I spend an absorbent amount of time cleaning-up after my dad, understanding his insurance, watching his "shows", paying his bills, and running his errands.  These things are not for me!  Just like your office job is likely not for you.  But the grudge here is that you get to go home after your crappy day to a house that you keep for you, upholding your lifestyle, consuming your preference in media, enjoying your version of downtime...  Well, there is no down time here.  Not in the way that bodes well for sanity.  The stress fractures are everywhere and the cracks are slowly giving way...

 

 

Survivorship

It's been two years now...

en·dur·ance

inˈd(y)o͝orəns,enˈd(y)o͝orəns/

noun

  1. the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way. "she was close to the limit of her endurance" synonyms: toleration, tolerance, sufferance, forbearance, patience, acceptance, resignation, stoicism

adjective

  1. denoting or relating to a race or other sporting event that takes place over a long distance or otherwise demands great physical stamina. "the annual 24-hour endurance race"
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You Are A Survivor

The bits of you that are broken, the bits of you that are damaged, do not see them that way.
Instead see them as slowly being filled with beautiful experiences and truths you have learned from the damage, the equivalent of lacquered gold.
I want you to remember you are not a broken thing. Instead, you are a human full of incredible and wonderful experience, made of the same things swords and diamonds are made of.
You are a survivor, my darling, and I salute you for everything you have been through, and for making the universe so proud, so very proud of what you have become.
~ Nakita Gill

Cream Of Asparagus Soup

First you have to set the mood with this sound track I provided for you below. I suggest cracking a window and letting a fresh breeze roll in.  It's officially spring and we're all probably long over due for a deep breath and an even longer exhale.

Ok, now you can dive into this recipe...

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 3 shallots chopped
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 lb asparagus, ends trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces, reserving 1 stalk for garnishing
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp toasted walnuts, chopped
  • croutons (optional)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a heavy pot melt the butter.
  2. Saute the shallots with the thyme until they soften and begin to brown.
  3. Add the stock a little at a time, and mix it well.
  4. Then add the asparagus and bring the pot to low simmer.
  5. When the pot starts to simmer add the lemon juice (This will help retain the bright green color of the asparagus as it cooks).
  6. Simmer for about 10 minutes or so until the asparagus have softened and then blend with an emersion blender (or carefully in a blender after its cooled) until smooth.
  7. Stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve and garnish with croutons, walnuts, asparagus, etc. You have creative license here!

My dad pretty much runs the show around here and I'm getting quite the education on all forms of classic entertainment.  Dean Martin has risen to the top!  Mr. Martin and  some good ol' Andy Griffith...  Two guys I had no idea were after my own heart!