Get a grip to prevent ‘digital dementia’

Have you ever shaken someone’s hand and it felt like a limp noodle? You know the feeling. We’ve all experienced that from time to time. Have you ever wondered what it means?

Wayne and our son Adam shake hands
Wayne and our son Adam shake hands

A weak grip in a handshake may not mean anything except that someone is shy or lacks confidence in social settings.

On the other hand, a strong handshake may mean that someone is strong, confident, and trustworthy.

Could there be more to the story? Yes, as it turns out. Grip strength may actually indicate more than a personality indicator. Several recent studies suggest a correlation between grip strength and longevity.

One study carried out by researchers from University College London found evidence on the association between measures of physical capability, grip strength and balance, and the risk of an earlier death.

Another study by The Lancet concluded that grip strength was a stronger predictor of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality than systolic blood pressure.

PLOS Medicine did a nationwide population-based study in Taiwan among middle-aged and older people. It found that weak handgrip strength showed a significant association between cardiometabolic risk, and the danger of coronary artery disease.

My daughter, a Bodywork Therapist, is continually teaching her clients about the importance of doing muscle strengthening exercises. Since she is an expert on muscles (like a muscle doctor), my husband and I have found that it always benefits us to listen to her teaching and follow her advice.

I asked her what she thought about the importance of a strong grip. Very important, she replied, She explained that the strength of hand grips are a product of something called ‘recruiting’. Recruiting happens when our hand muscles call on muscles from other parts of our body – such as arms, neck, shoulders and even our torso. If those other muscles do not have the strength to respond, than it could be an indicator of muscle weakness. I believe that she hit the mark. A strong core can provide strength to our entire body.

Focusing on our grip strength and ways to improve it can mean more than simply a longer life – it can mean a better quality of life as well. Other reasons why a weak grip can impact our lives: The ability to stay active and independent frequently begins with our hands. Weak hand strength can impair a person’s ability to open a jar, grip a steering wheel, brush your teeth, or hold a grandchild. If you can’t open your medicine bottle, then taking medications becomes difficult.

Time to ‘get a grip’

To get a stronger grip on life, here are some exercises to help you work on your hand strength.

Here are some handgrip exercises, but keep in mind that the overall goal is to strengthen the entire body.

Web MD Slideshow: 10 Ways to Exercise Hands and Fingers

Range-of-motion hand mobility exercises you can do at home

Your muscles and tendons move the joints through arcs of motion, such as when you bend and straighten your fingers. If your normal range of motion is impaired — if you can’t bend your thumb without pain, for example — you may have trouble doing ordinary things like opening a jar.

These exercises move your wrist and fingers through their normal ranges of motion and require all the hand’s tendons to perform their specific functions. They should be done slowly and deliberately, to avoid injury. If you feel numbness or pain during or after exercising, stop and contact your doctor.

Harvard Health Publishing offers exercises to improve hand mobility  Below are five easy-to-do range-of-motion hand mobility exercises. Hold each position for 5–10 seconds. Do 10 repetitions of each exercise at a time. Repeat three times a day.

  1. Wrist extension and flexion
  • Place your forearm on a table on a rolled-up towel for padding with your hand hanging off the edge of the table, palm down.
  • Move the hand upward until you feel a gentle stretch
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat the same motions with the elbow bent at your side, palm facing up.
  1. Wrist supination/pronation
  • Stand or sit with your arm at your side with the elbow bent to 90 degrees, palm facing down.
  • Rotate your forearm, so that your palm faces up and then down.
  1. Wrist ulnar/radial deviation
  • Support your forearm on a table on a rolled-up towel for padding or on your knee, thumb upward.
  • Move the wrist up and down through its full range of motion.
  1. Thumb flexion/extension
  • Begin with your thumb positioned outward.
  • Move the thumb across the palm and back to the starting position.
  1. Hand/finger tendon glide
  • Start with the fingers extended straight out.
  • Make a hook fist; return to a straight hand.
  • Make a full fist; return to a straight hand.
  • Make a straight fist; return to a straight hand.

For more information on the causes and treatment of hand pain, and strengthening strategies for hands, buy Healthy Hands, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.


A Digi-Flex helps users develop strength and dexterity in their fingers and hands. Trumpet players and softball players both use them to improve their manual agility, Evers said, so these devices are found in both music and sporting-goods stores.

Theraputty, which is like a more substantial Play-Doh and available in varying degrees of pliability, also is used in strength-building regimens.

“This is something we give out to patients. They take it home for home therapies and get different colors as they progress,” McKerrow said.

Although the putty can be satisfying to move around as a stress buster, McKerrow said there are specific exercises to go along with it, such as squeezing it between the thumb and forefinger to improve pincer hold strength.

In addition to working on the fingers and hands, McKerrow said the wrist and forearm are important aspects of total hand function.

“You need to have good wrist extension when you hold that coffee cup,” she said.

Want to get to work on your own hand strength? Evers and McKerrow shared the following exercises:

Rubber-ball squeeze: Grasp a ball in the palm of your hand and squeeze it as firmly as you can. Hold this squeeze for 8 to 10 seconds.

Theraputty pinches: Hold a small ball of putty between your thumb and finger. Squeeze it flat or roll it into a tube shape.

Rubberband stretch: Hold your hand with your fingers together and flat and your thumb directly underneath them. Place a rubber band over your thumb and fingers, then slowly move your fingers away from your thumb. Hold this position for a few seconds, then repeat.

Forward wrist extension: Sit near the edge of a table with your forearm supported from wrist to elbow. Your hand should be off the table and your palm should be facing the ceiling. Holding a light weight, slowly curl your wrist upward. Hold for a few seconds, then lower.

Backward wrist extension: Stand holding a light weight with your arm straight by your side. Your thumb should be pointed forward. Slowly flex your wrist to point the weight upward behind you. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly lower it.

Oh, one more thing. Don’t be too quick to judge someone’s health by their handshake – remember, some folks are left-handed and will naturally have a lighter grip with their non-dominate hand.

Berries are berry, berry healthy for you

It’s berry season. I love berries. One of my fondest memories, when I was a little girl, involves picking wild berries that grew along a dirt road behind my grandparent’s home in Michigan. Blueberries, raspberries, and even one that my Grandpa called ‘June berries’. I don’t know what they really were, but I suspect that he called them June berries because that’s when they became ripe.

Wayne Owensby is getting ready to enjoy a delicious smoothie made with berries as well as a bunch of other tasty ingredients.
Wayne Owensby is getting ready to enjoy a delicious smoothie made with berries as well as a bunch of other tasty ingredients.

Most folks know, or at least suspect that berries are good for you, but it is always a bonus to have studies back it up. As nice as it is to know that berries help keep our bodies healthy, those of us who have loved ones with memory loss, or want to keep ourselves from memory loss will be gratified to know that according to two recent studies,  those who ate a cup of blueberries per day showed improvement in cognitive performance and brain function.

Also, a study conducted by Harvard researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that berries also appear to slow progression of memory decline in elderly women. They learned that a high intake of flavonoid-rich berries, such as strawberries and blueberries, over time, can delay memory decline in older women by two and a half years.

WebMD also weighs in with a study: Eating More Blueberries and Strawberries Is Linked to Better Brain Function With Age

Summer is a great time to enjoy berries, but since frozen berries are available year-round, we don’t have to limit the benefits to summertime. I did a web search to see if freezing berries destroy any of the nutrients. According to Healthy Advice Blog: “Freezing raw berries, fruits and vegetables does not kill the enzymes contained in these foods like heat does”

Healthy Advice goes on to mention another benefit: “Frozen berries when local, freshly picked ones are not available is that frozen fruits, berries, and vegetables are often more nutritious than produce that has been shipped a long distance. In order to transport well, fresh produce needs to be picked before they fully ripen to minimize bruising. Plus, with the time involved transporting produce cross-country, what you think are fresh fruits, berries and vegetables may actually be 1-2 weeks old, if not more. This causes them to lose much of their nutrients.” adds a thought to the fresh vs frozen debate.   “Frozen fruit and vegetables are generally picked at peak ripeness. They are often washed, blanched, frozen and packaged within a few hours of being harvested.”

Strawberries arranged in a circle on a yellow plate.
One cup of fresh berries, like these organic strawberries, can be a part of a healthy addition to our diet.

One protest that typically arises whenever the topic is on healthy eating is cost. Eating berries may be part of a healthy diet, but if they are too expensive some folks believe they can’t afford them. No argument that berries can be pricey. I might maintain that though berries aren’t cheap to add to our diets,  perhaps instead of adding berries, there is something currently in the budget (less healthy) that can be substituted for berries? It may not be possible, but it may still be worth checking out.

To help determine what the cost of eating one cup of berries per day would be, next time you are at the grocery store, check out the frozen berry section and compare prices. Keep in mind that 1 pound is equal to about 3-3.5 cups of blueberries and about 2 cups per pint of strawberries (sliced).

If you’re still not convinced of the benefits, here is an article enlisting strawberries in the fight against cancer.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to choices.

Technology helps bring families together

Technology is Great!

Twenty years ago, our daughter Bambi moved across the country to go to school. I was sad to see her go but was thankful that her move took place just as new types of communication technology was beginning to embed itself into households across the nation and around the world. Free email systems such as Yahoo and Hotmail were emerging as fun, fast and easy ways to connect with each other.

Using the technology of Skpye to visit with Wayne Owensby.
Using the technology of Skpye to visit with Wayne Owensby.

Bambi and I loved it. Even while we were able to chat and keep each other updated electronically, it was heart-breaking to think of loved-ones everywhere who had been separated before the age of technology. Letters were wonderful, loving keepsakes that spread news far and wide, but email, it turned out was the stuff of everyday interactions. Many resisted the use of email due to the casualness often used when composing an electronic letter, but I felt that it was the very fact that one could be less formal with email enabled us to keep current with otherwise little things and events, questions, answers, and observations of the day-to-day. Another thing Bambi and I used email for was a  chess game we played by using a modified Excel document.

One thing that propelled email forward and increased its popularity was that it was easy to use. My elderly parents were able to use something called an E-machine. It’s only function was email so it gave them an easy way to connect with friends.

Electronic communication began invading businesses as well. A large percentage of my workday became devoted to the care and maintenance of our company’s website.

Suddenly, it seemed a plethora of digital options became available. In addition to my computer and cell phone, I got a ‘Personal Digital Assistant’, or PDA. They were sort of a forerunner to the smart phones. A pink Motorola Razr was the next big phone step in my life. My daughter had a nifty phone called a Blackberry that both made calls and had email functions.

Technology advances

Another subtle shift in the technology wind came through the arrival of Smart Phones. My first smart phone was a DROID.

Wayne and I loving the technology of Google's Duo app to visit with one another on our phones.
Wayne and I loving the technology of Google’s Duo app to visit with one another on our phones.

The advent of smart phones allowed more integration between electronic devices such as computers and later, tablets. We achieved a level of communication that had previously been displayed on cartoons such as the ‘Jetsons’. Software that allowed us to both see and hear the person we were talking with blossomed. Skype was the first one we used. It was free, so we downloaded it onto our computer as did our children and voila! It was amazing. We could actually see and hear our grandchildren on our computer screen when we visited.

Time moved along as two distinctly different operating systems made their own version for communicating. Apple’s iPhone developed ‘Facetime’ which worked wonderfully on any Apple device. Google came up with their own system, ‘Duo’. It was great to visit with our granddaughters using ‘Duo’ while they held a phone and were able to visit while moving around their living room instead of sitting still in front of a computer.

Due to this modern, mobile age, much of our family—like so many others, are living in other states and countries. Technology brought an unexpected blessing. When my Mama passed away, some family members were able to attend the memorial service by using Facetime. We set up two iPads on the front pew and everyone could see and hear quite well. Last summer, we were delighted to be able to witness our daughter’s wedding in North Carolina on an iPad when we were 750 miles away in Connecticut. Other family members watched from Canada 1,500 miles away. We used Facetime again a few months later when my youngest brother died in a motorcycle accident.

Facebook then moved the video bar forward with ‘Facebook Live’. Even though it isn’t like ‘Facetime’ where we can visit in real time. You can view the video and post comments. Unfortunately, we were able to see the benefit of ‘Facebook Live’ eight months later my other brother died in a car accident in California, and again, many family members were unable to travel to the memorial. Our niece used  ‘Facebook Live’ to video the entire service. It was wonderful to not only watch the videos, but to also comment and read the comments of others. Technology has indeed caused the world to become much smaller and more intimate. Ain’t technology great?

Chicken Soup: My Crazy Family

I recently received some good news! After submitting a couple of stories to “Chicken Soup for the Soul“, I was notified that one of my stories had been selected for their ‘My Crazy Family‘ book.

The front of the Chicken Soup: My Crazy Family book
The front of the Chicken Soup: My Crazy Family book

The story I submitted is called “Flights of Fancy“, (page 293). In the story, I relate some fun and fashion that we along with our son and his wife enjoyed on a trip to visit family living in Charlotte, North Carolina – more specifically, the adventure we had on the flight over.

The book is available:

Chicken Soup says this about the book

Everyone Has a Great Story about “My Crazy Family”A New Chicken Soup for the Soul Collection Showcases Those Wacky, Lovable Relatives
Nearly everyone thinks his or her own family is “crazy” or has at least one or two members who stand out from the crowd in a unique way. With its 101 stories of wacky, yet lovable, relatives, Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Crazy Family (Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC; Amy Newmark; April 10, 2018, 978-1-611599770, $14.95), provides a heartwarming and hilarious tour of everyone else’s families!

Chicken Soup for the Soul’s editor-in-chief Amy Newmark says, “What I loved about these stories is how much the writers truly care about their family members. Every story is filled with love and admiration for that eccentric aunt, that strict dad with a heart of gold, that flighty grandma who ultimately imparts the best advice, or that quirky mom who helps a family have fun together. As I read the stories, I felt even more strongly the bonds of family and appreciated my own.”


Chicken Soup for the Soul, the world’s favorite and most recognized storyteller, publishes the famous Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. With well over 100 million books sold to date in the U.S. and
Canada alone, more than 250 titles, and translations into more than 40 languages, “chicken soup for the soul” is one of the world’s best-known phrases and is regularly referenced in pop culture. Today, 25 years after it first began sharing happiness, inspiration and hope through its books, this socially conscious company continues to publish a new title a month, but has also evolved beyond the bookstore with super premium pet food, television shows, and movies through its subsidiary, Chicken Soup for the Soul
Entertainment, podcasts, positive journalism from, education programs, and licensed products, all revolving around true stories, as the company continues “changing the world one story at a time®.”

A Safety-Net for Wartime Veterans

Are you a wartime veteran of the US Military? Are you married to a wartime vet? During a recent experience at a VA Hospital, among the piles of paperwork my husband and I were handed was a small packet that explained a little-known benefit.

My husband Wayne, a Vietnam war era veteran. This is a photo of him in his Class-A uniform during basic training.
My husband Wayne, a Vietnam war era veteran. This is a photo of him in his Class-A uniform during basic training.

It is a VA Pension offered to wartime veterans by providing supplemental income to help them cope with financial challenges. (This is not to be confused with the 20-year Military Pension).

According to their website, VA’s pension program provides monthly benefit payments to certain wartime Veterans with financial need, and their survivors.

Who are eligible veterans?

A few of the requirements include the following:

You were discharged from service under other than ‘dishonorable conditions AND you served 90 days or more of active duty with at least 1 day during a period of wartime. Click here for additional eligibility requirements.

It is a small pension for qualified vets and their spouses who are over 65 or have a non-service connected disability. It works like a ‘safety-net’ to provide veterans with a minimum amount of monthly income.

According to the website, to qualify, your yearly family income must be less than the amount set by Congress to qualify for the Veterans Pension benefit. If eligible, your pension benefit is the difference between your “countable” income and the annual pension limit set by Congress. VA generally pays this difference in 12 equal monthly payments.

There is also an enhanced or special pension to help if the person is housebound or requires an aide or attendant. The VA website contains information about qualifications along with a video explaining the VA Pension: Enhanced Pension Benefits.

An early photo of Wayne's Mom and Dad. His Dad is a Korean War era veteran, this picture was taken upon his return from Korea.
An early photo of Wayne’s Mom and Dad. His Dad is a Korean War era veteran, this picture was taken upon his return from Korea.

The ‘Aid and Attendant’ feature would have been helpful to know back when my Dad, who was a veteran of the Korean conflict (June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955) became housebound for several years prior to his passing. Then, my Mama who was suffering from dementia needed to live with my sister and then my husband and myself.

Apply for Veterans Pension

To find out if you are eligible, You can apply for Veterans Pension online or download and complete VA Form 21P-527EZ. The application can be mailed in or taken to your local VA Benefits Office for processing. You can locate your local regional benefit office using the VA Facility Locator.

If you think you might meet the requirements, you should apply today. Don’t let another day go by without receiving everything you or your spouse has earned by serving their country. If you don’t qualify, be sure to pass this information along to anyone you know who might.

One more thing. There are a lot of scammers out there. Don’t be a victim! Be aware of pension poaching scams. Click here to learn how to keep yourself safe.

Bird watching is good for mental health

Birds of a Feather

Birds have an amazing communication system. One day, while my Mama was living with us, we attended a potluck lunch to celebrate the end of a project. Held in the dining area of a lovely home, we had a lovely view of a beautifully landscaped backyard.

As we munched and chatted, I noticed a multitude of tiny yellow birds. They were crowded around what appeared to be a tube sock full of seeds attached by a hook to ornate, wrought iron poles. I was told that the birds were goldfinches and they were eating a black thistle seed called Nyjer. The ‘sock’ was made of a netted fabric that allowed the birds to pull out thistle with their small, pointed bills. It immediately occurred to us that Mama would love watching this.

We hung a couple of finch socks in front of the window. Though I’m not sure how birds pass the word along,  it didn’t take too long before our finch socks were sporting a dozen or so little yellow birds. They were fun to watch as they flitted about, jostling for position on the sock according to a pecking order known only to them. They were always in motion. It was fascinating to watch them come and go. They provided a constant show for Mama as she watched them regularly with rapt fascination.

Birds love our feeder, this little guy is a frequent visitor to our bird feeder
Birds love our feeder, this little guy is a frequent visitor to our bird feeder

Birds in North Carolina

Our recent move to the east coast has given us new birds to entice to our feeders. Most notably, the famous North Carolina Cardinals. With a quick bit of research, we learned these beautiful red birds love black sunflower seeds –  abundant in the wild birdseed mix we found. We also discovered suet – a hard block of a seed mixture that sets inside a rectangle frame which the birds hang onto while feasting at the suet.

We found branches that were strong enough to hold the feeders, but too thin for squirrels to climb on. Since the squirrels here are quite clever about getting into bird feeders, we were careful to select just the right branches. We hung our new feeders, sat back and waited.

The bird communication system must have activated again as it was not long before a variety of ‘southern winged visitors’ began to show up. How lovely it was to watch the birds as they eagerly began to munch on the seeds. We began seeing cardinals, sparrows, doves, titmice, nuthatches, and wrens along with a variety of woodpeckers as well as the occasional hawk.

My husband and I found it a very peaceable thing to watch the birds (as well as squirrels) flit, fly and scamper around in search of their favorite munchies.  Watching them, I understood Mama’s fascination with the flitting little flyers as we began watching and learning the habits and songs as well as species of the winged visitors who come to our little backyard feeders.

As it turns out, according to ‘ScienceDaily’,  birdwatching is very therapeutic. However, birds may not be your thing; perhaps fish are more enjoyable or possibly petting cats. The important thing is to find something soothing that will enable you to take at least one ‘mental health’ break each day to refresh and recharge.

Do You Hear the Music? Dance!

I love our new home on the east coast. There are a lot of amazing attractions and amenities that were not available on the west coast – most notably, our grandchildren. In spite of the fact that we are transitioning nicely into our new world, and yes, culture, there are people and events that take place back home that cause a bit of homesickness. (Hint: it has to do with the word dance)

Near the top of our ‘favorite annual events’ list is the ‘Almond Blossom Ball’ (6 p.m., Saturday, February 10, 2018, at Ridgeway Park) held by the Whittenberg Country School every February.

Wayne and I enjoy a dance at the Almond Blossom Ball.
Wayne and I enjoy a dance at the Almond Blossom Ball.

It is a fundraiser for the school’s arts program. The semi-formal evening is a family-friendly delight filled with dancing and desserts. A photo booth provides a memorial of the lovely almond blossom themed event.

Dancing, it turns out provides many benefits. Of course the most obvious is the physical exercise but its value waltzes way past that. According to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, dancing may be one of the best means of actually avoiding Alzheimer’s. Dr. Joe Verghese, a neurologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, followed elderly subjects over a 21-year period to determine which activities most resulted in dementia resistance.

The study revealed the usual list of suspects such as doing crossword puzzles and reading did show a 47% & 35% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, but the results from golfing, swimming or bike riding produced an unexpected 0% lower risk. The biggest surprise of the study was that social interaction of dancing lowered the seniors’ risk of dementia by a staggering 76%.  Wow! Sorta makes you want to do the happy dance.

Another study, this one published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, has similar results. It revealed that dancing causes the part of the brain called the hippocampus, a region crucial for memory to grow larger. The study also indicated that dancing improved balance in the elderly.

What happens when we dance?

It turns out, the need for cooperation between two dancers, with one leading and the other following causes the type of quick decision-making process that makes the brain more resilient.  For best results, the dancers need to learn new dances (rather than just doing the same steps over and over) and the more the better.

There seems to be something beneficial when our brains are called upon to move in a required format while at the same time being aware of everything going on around you (so dancers don’t bump into each other). Dancing is also a very social activity; the positive effects of being social have been well known for some time. It becomes especially powerful when combined with music – which is another factor in dementia resistance, associated with dancing.

Spouses who dance together may, over the years be actually watching out for one another’s well-being in a fun way. Dance clubs and senior centers offer opportunities for both couples and singles to learn new dances in a social setting.

Listen, do you hear the music? What are you waiting for? It’s time to dance!

Smile For a While and Let’s Be Jolly…

My sister Peggy, age 5, smiling her beautiful smile
My sister Peggy, age 5, smiling her beautiful smile

The Cheshire Cat may have been onto something. Accounts differ as to what inspired Lewis Carroll to use the smiling cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but the majority agrees that he certainly made it famous. A multitude of studies has recently shown that smiling actually changes your brain (in a good way).

That is really good news for those who suffer from some form of dementia, who, along with Alice might find themselves in a strange and confusing world where nothing appears real and everyone seems to be a bit mad. They may also feel frightened and lonely and wish they could simply tap their ruby slippers together three times and go home again….wait; I’ve mixed up my stories. Suffice it to say, dementia is not a pleasant world to live in.

Those caring for loved ones who suffer from dementia may also find themselves living in a strange and lonely world. People they once had lively and meaningful conversations with can no longer chat and may not even recognize them. My Mama, who was smart, witty and a wonderful conversationalist, lost the ability to recognize me in the early stages of her battle with dementia.

This is the time of year when dark feelings of loneliness and depression can magnify – how ironic since the holidays are usually portrayed by scenes of happy family and friends getting together. Of course, the contrast between what is depicted and reality may be a contributing influence in the sadness factor. That, combined with what is referred to as Winter Blues (when days are short), can cause many caregivers to experience feelings of hopelessness.

Back to the smiles

<em><strong>My sister Peggy and me sharing a laugh. She was always making me smile.</strong></em>
My sister Peggy and me sharing a laugh. She was always making me smile.

Smiles are also contagious; if you smile at someone, they smile, and then you both get a little happier–which can be especially good news for caregivers. Try smiling at your loved one several times throughout your day and watch how they respond.  Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden concluded that frowning when looking at someone smiling is possible, but would be very difficult.

What if you don’t feel like smiling?

Senia, age 4

But wait, there’s more! According to, smiles– even fake smiles do a lot more than simply let the world know you’re happy. It turns out that there is also a whole host of health benefits to smiling. In an article titled, “15 of the best and free health benefits of smiling” including heart health, pain and stress reduction as well as an increase in productivity and longevity.

Everyone feels depressed now and then, and this is not meant to be a flippant post on the subject. Issues such as sadness and depression are not to be taken lightly. If you or someone you know is experiencing sadness that won’t go away, has some good advice on When To Seek Professional Help And Where To Find Help For Major Depression.

The takeaway here is that smiles might just be the best Christmas gift you can give out all season long…and best of all, they’re free!

Nature does good things to the human brain

The call of the beautiful wild

As a child, my family did a lot of traveling. My parents loved to visit national parks and forests, state parks, and scenic byways of every kind. As fun as it was, I didn’t really appreciate the beauty of nature displayed during those childhood trips until I was an adult.

One afternoon, while my sister and I were talking about all of our various childhood trips and travels, she told me about her first trip to Sedona, Arizona as a grown-up. She and her husband were going to attend a wonderful, company-paid weekend of rest and relaxation. On their drive up to Sedona from the Phoenix airport, my sister confessed that even though this weekend trip sounded delightful, she had a lot on her mind and was feeling rather stressed. Besides, she was more of an ‘ocean’ girl than a ‘desert’ girl.

So, while she was brooding and remembering about all the responsibilities she should be taking care of instead of spending time in the desert, their car rounded a curve in the road. Suddenly, spread out in front of them was a spectacular sight: Sedona!

The vibrancy and variance of all the colors in the stone formations jutting upwards from the painted landscape to the brilliant blue sky created a vivid, and mesmerizing scene. At that moment, she understood why Sedona is called the “Most Beautiful Place on Earth”. She also realized the stress that had been plaguing her began melting away.

The de-stressing effect is confirmed by a study done at Stanford University. It strongly suggests that getting out into natural environments could be an easy way to improve moods for city dwellers. Researchers discovered that people who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

Nature writer for the National Geographic, David Gessner also explains that science is proving what we’ve always known intuitively: nature does good things to the human brain—it makes us healthier, happier, and smarter.

The beauty of nature all dressed up for fall

My husband and I just experienced a wonderful, stress-reducing journey as well. We were able to travel up through the New England states into New Brunswick during this beautiful, fall season in order to visit family and enjoy Canadian Thanksgiving. The trees

Beautiful New Brunswick fall
Beautiful New Brunswick fall

(especially in New Brunswick) are stunningly beautiful. They turn every fall color there is to create some of the most enchanting landscapes I have ever witnessed. At some point in our trip, I remembered what my sister had told me about her experience in Sedona. I could relate.

An article in Mental Floss offers 11 Scientific Reasons Why Being in Nature is Relaxing. It turns out that spending time in the great outdoors has been scientifically proven to reduce stress levels. It also helps you find clarity, and rejuvenate your mind and body.

In spite of our busy lives, isn’t there a few moments we can devote to soaking in a bit of natural beauty. Listen, what do you hear? Is it the call of the (beautiful) wild?

Find a sense of balance in your busy life

Balancing Act

The word for today is ‘Balance’. It’s a buzzword we hear about all the time. Balance, it seems is the key to a happier, healthier life. Keeping our lives in balance is something we all strive to achieve. Our sense of justice demands it, but an honest evaluation may reveal that we are falling rather short of the goal. When we are ‘out-of-balance in some area of our lives it can be painful. But at times, the ability to find balance becomes incredibly elusive. Trying to keep up with all the daily demands in life can have us going to bed exhausted and waking up tired.

In order to find a sense of balance in our busy lives, it is first important to define what balance actually is. One definition is a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. But remember, what balance means to each of us is different. Since we all have unique strengths and abilities, we can’t compare ourselves with anyone else. Only you know when you find that mysterious spot between the rock and the hard place. Sometimes it can be difficult, and you may wonder if you can go on, but as Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving”.

3-legged stool provides balance
3-legged stool

We’re reminded to eat a balanced diet and as well as to get plenty of rest while keeping up with all our varied responsibilities. It can be enough to cause despair.

But wait! There’s hope. It turns out that little changes added to an existing routine can help pave the way to bigger changes.

The idea of balance can be illustrated by comparing it to the famous 3-legged stool.

3-legged stool provides balance

Leg #1, DIET: For instance. Can’t find the time/energy/money to eat a balanced diet? Try bananas. According to MedicalNewsToday, Bananas are one of the most widely consumed fruits in the world for good reason. Eating them could help lower blood pressure and reduce the risks of cancer and asthma. Bananas are a healthy source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, including potassium, and vitamins B6 and C. Bananas don’t need refrigeration, they are compact, tasty, and easy to peel and eat. Also, I’ve never heard of anyone who is allergic to them, they are healthy for you, and very inexpensive. If your life is so busy that you find yourself rushing out of the door without breakfast, or running through a drive-thru in order to get a meal, try taking a few bananas with you to eat and you may find yourself less hungry and able to save a bit of money on the fast-food meals. Icy cold water in a water bottle can also be a healthy and money saving idea.

Leg #2, EXERCISE: Now, for those who are currently living with your loved-one. Who has time to exercise when we’re constantly jumping up a couple of times every night to provide care, hoping to it in order to fetch items and fix meals, and springing up to offer assistance? But if you do happen to tilt toward the sedentary, it can leave a person off kilter. Adding a five-minute stretch every morning or evening is an easy add-on to your existing routine. One way is to sit on the side of your bed, lay back and stretch out your hands over your head. Wait for five minutes. Hint: it’s a bit harder than it sounds but worth it to help stretch out your core.

Here’s another thought about balance. Usually, when someone refers to living a ‘balanced lifestyle’ they mean it in an intellectual or intangible way. But actual balance (the kind that keeps you from falling over) is important as well. My daughter, who is a massage therapist, reminds me of the importance of balance. I have a post on my blog, MAINTAINING A GOOD BALANCE that explains some of the reasons that good balance is so important.

According to WebMD,  Keeping muscles fit matters:  In a 2009 study of 900 seniors, researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago reported that those who maintained muscle strength were significantly less likely to go on to develop memory impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.

In an article in the Alzheimer’s Reading Room,  Bob DeMarco talks about discovering his mother’s trouble with balance. After he began to take her to the gym (at the age of 88), her balance improved dramatically. The article goes on to say that poor balance may indicate memory decline – another reason to work on improving balance.

I have found I can work on it every time I brush my teeth. I have one of those toothbrushes that pause every 30 seconds to let you know it’s time to change where you are brushing your teeth until the front and back of both the top and bottom teeth are brushed for a total of 2 minutes. It occurred to me one day that if I stood on only one leg for each 30-second segment, it would help me maintain good balance.

Leg #3, SLEEP: No matter how busy and demanding your day is, somehow, sleep has to happen. If your loved one is active at night, you might have to consider exploring the possibility of overnight 0respite help so you can get some sleep. However, according to an article by the Family Caregiver Alliance, even though Caregivers often find themselves exhausted at the end of the day, many are still not able to sleep.

The National Institute on Aging offers a couple of tips to help you fall asleep

  • You don’t really have to count sheep—you could try counting slowly to 100. Some people find that playing mental games makes them sleepy. For example, tell yourself it is 5 minutes before you have to get up, and you’re just trying to get a little bit more sleep.
  • Some people find that relaxing their bodies puts them to sleep. One way to do this is to imagine your toes are completely relaxed, and then your feet, and then your ankles. Work your way up the rest of your body, section by section. You may drift off to sleep before getting to the top of your head.

At times, I have trouble falling asleep. When that happens I recite Psalm 23 and try to picture the green pastures and quiet waters from the sheep’s point of view. That usually helps. If after a little while it doesn’t help, then get up and read until I get sleepy.

Caregivers typically put other’s needs before their own. But remember, it’s not selfish to get a good night’s sleep, it is essential in order for you to take care of yourself as well as provide quality care for your loved one.

Unlike the standard 3-legged stool picture, once you become a caregiver your life (as you know), becomes much more complex. Not only do you have your own diet, exercise, and sleep to consider, you now have someone else’s as well. For instance, if you have three hours to be up and ready to go to a doctor’s appointment, you may find yourself streamlining and shortcutting your own routine in order to prepare your loved one for the appointment. That’s what reality looks like right now. Remember the definition of balance is that it is a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. When you thoughtfully plan out a way to shortchange your own routine in order to adequately care for your loved one, you are arranging the time required into correct proportions.

Bananas, stretching, sleeping, and standing on one leg, these are all elements of a good balancing act.

Great starts are easy, the goal is to finish well