Less Taxing

This is the time of the year when even the best of procrastinators have to reluctantly gather all the bits and pieces received from various financial institutions such as banks, employers, Social Security, brokers as well organizations that send retirement benefits.

When I was (much) younger, my Mama had me help her do their taxes so that I could be her backup if she couldn’t do them. That was back in the late 1970s when taxes were a whole lot simpler. I found that I actually enjoyed it. One day, I happened to hear about an IRS program that helped folks file their taxes and thought it would be worth looking into.

The first year that I volunteered, I took the classes in Redding with the intention of working at a tax site in Red Bluff. We opened a site, but it didn’t get a lot of response. The next year I discovered a group that had been trying to accomplish the same thing so I joined them. Classes were held at the First Baptist Church in one of their Sunday School rooms.

They took place in January and the only source of heat was from a wood burning stove – so along with pencils and calculators,  students were also required to bring a piece of wood for the fire. Those were the good ol’ days – we also used carbon paper and folks had to mail in their completed forms to the IRS. The tax classes had been taught by IRS employees, but they wanted to expand and advertised for instructors. I immediately volunteered.

Over the past 30+ years that I have been involved, the tax program has evolved to a much higher level of sophistication – we now use computers instead of pencils and carbon paper and e-file the returns instead of mailing them to the IRS – it is a more accurate and quicker way to accomplish this annual project. One thing that has not changed is our dedication to provide free help to anyone who needs to file their taxes.

To that end, the TaxAide program in Tehama County is in full swing for this year’s tax season. To make an appointment, call 727-8298 – you will hear a recording prompting you to leave your name and number so that someone can call you back with the details. TaxAide also has a web site with a few more details about the program TehamaTaxAide.weebly.com

USA.gov has a web site that may be helpful as well: Filing Your Federal Taxes

We have a knowledgeable, kind and caring crew of volunteer counselors who look forward to assisting you file your taxes.

P.S. We are always looking for volunteers.

The Power of Chocolate

There are several desserts and snacks that are not tempting to me at all. Unfortunately, there are also several that are. Chocolate – specifically dark chocolate is one of those on my ‘really, really like’ list. In light of that, I was quite pleased to read a recent article with the headline: “New dementia pill made entirely from CHOCOLATE hits shelves in Britain after cocoa was found to improve blood flow and help the heart” Yes!

The pill is called ‘Blood Flow+’ and (for the time being) is only available in the UK. The chocolate pill uses flavanols extracted from cocoa to improve blood flow and combat cholesterol levels, which help reduce dementia, strokes and heart attacks.

Dr Alf Lindberg, advisor of Cambridge Nutraceuticals, a research company, said: “We believe this is the way forward. New analysis is showing there are powerful compounds in many natural nutrients that could help maintain the health of everyone. We support the huge amount of research has gone into Blood Flow+ and we are delighted that it is the first cocoa flavanol product officially allowed to claim it benefits heart health.”

That seems to be great news for folks like me who love, love, love dark chocolate. Sadly, the articles I read all agreed that simply eating dark chocolate wouldn’t have the same effect. It turns out that in order to get an effective dose you would have to gorge on 400grams (almost a pound) of dark chocolate, containing a whopping 2,429 calories – every day! That might even be too much for me.

Take heart, though. Even we are not able to get the benefit from

My sweetie bearing chocolate gifts

the ‘Blood Flow+’ pill, a recent study led by Professor Ian Macdonald, a University of Nottingham expert has found that consumption of a cocoa drink rich in flavanols — a key ingredient of dark chocolate — boosts blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours.

Increased blood flow to these areas of the brain may help to increase performance in specific tasks and boost general alertness over a short period.

So it seems as if eating any amount of dark chocolate is still potentially good for you. I think it’s a risk I need to take.

In light of all this, if you’re not quite sure what to get your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day, it just might be a good idea to pick up some dark chocolate – to share.

Everybody was Kung-Fu fighting

How safe do you feel? I recently took a self-defense class for women. The class was a one-day workshop taught by a Kung-Fu Master – which means he had mastered the fighting style of the Chinese martial arts. Now, if they had advertised the workshop as a Kung-Fu class, I may not have attended, as I have no desire to begin learning martial arts at my age. However, since it was advertised as a self-defense class, I thought that perhaps I could learn some things that would be useful in case I needed to defend myself.

Ninja

Apparently others thought the same thing as the room was filled with women who were north of 50.

I immediately liked the teacher. He had a calm and confident attitude about him. His voice carried neither arrogance nor nervousness as he began talking about what he would be sharing with us that day.

My own confidence level increased when he explained that Kung-Fu was developed by the Chinese – who were generally of smaller stature – for self-defense. He went on to explain that the main requirements are brains and balance. It turns out that women have an additional benefit if they learn a few techniques – the element of surprise, as their attacker would likely not expect them to provide any resistance.

Even without a class, there are two things that anyone can work on immediately:

  1. Be more aware of your surroundings: Being aware of your surroundings seems obvious, yet in the rush of our busy schedules, as a caregiver, we also need to stay attentive to our loved one, and may not always able to be as alert to possible danger. Making a commitment to becoming more aware of what’s going on around you as well as practice will help.
  1. Maintain or improve your balance: This can be helpful for a variety of reasons, but for our discussion here, the more stability someone has, the less likely an attacker can throw that person off balance. Practice your balance by standing on one foot for 30 seconds – then switch to the other. You can do this almost any place or time, but be sure to have something close to grab onto in case you get wobbly.

It is also a good idea to make a plan to keep your cell phone charged at all times in case you need to call 911. An “Alert” button on a necklace would add a layer of security as well.

If it’s possible, try to find and attend a basic self-defense class that will give you the training to help equip you in case of an attack. The class I took was offered by my church but adult classes and workshops are often held at community centers or martial arts studios as well.

Ideally, never having to face a dangerous situation would be best, but since life isn’t always ideal, learning how to anticipate peril in order to avoid it would be the best way to keep yourself safe.

No one can completely avoid danger, but do everything you can to resist – the element of surprise is on your side. Then call for help.

The Messenger

Muriel Aasve Blankenship (Mama)

Over the past decade or so, my Mama’s communication skills progressively deteriorated throughout the entire journey of the disease called dementia (perhaps Alzheimer’s).  The first indicators that something was wrong began to manifest as seemingly normal conversations included statements that were repeated over and over (We referred to those incidents as her loop).

As time went on, her conversation skills melted slowly away as her ability to string sentences together decreased.  At first it was a back and forth thing – there were good days and bad. The good days gave us hope, while the bad days confirmed we were still on the same downhill path.

For a period of time, Mama retained what I called ‘Muscle Memory responses’. For example, if you asked her how she was doing, she would respond, “Fine.” Or, “Would you like something to drink?” her answer might be “No”, but then she would proceed to pick up the glass and drink it right down.

Mama’s ability to sing remained long after her ability to speak went silent. We knew a lot of songs and so the majority of our visits were spent singing. Eventually, her ability to sing left as well, so I sang all the songs for both of us.

In spite of the fact that her voice was silenced, Mama still had the ability to communicate with her eyes. Quite often when I was singing, reading or praying, her eyes would fill and tears would roll down her cheeks. I found a few Psalms, such as Psalm 23 and 71 that seemed to fit her so I read them to her over and over. I knew they would minister to her spirit so it felt as if I could still ‘do’ something for her.

Over the course of this extraordinarily long journey, various folks would comment that it seemed such a shame about her condition. I had more than one conversation with the Lord regarding it as well. Early on, our family was determined that we would do everything possible to help Mama finish well, but there were times that I wondered just what could be the purpose for this lingering a little longer.

Then one day while reading Psalm 71 to her, I noticed something. Verse 18 says, “And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come.

I wondered how Mama, who couldn’t even speak, be able to declare anything about God to anyone? I gave it some thought. I pondered it. I wondered.  Revelation came to me over time. I learned that the word ‘declare’ could also mean ‘messenger’.

Mama was a messenger. Her life was a message that didn’t need words. She silently communicated that God did not forsake her.  In spite of the long, downward journey into the valley of the “Shadow of Death” that lasted over a decade, Mama’s sweet quietness steadily declared God’s strength to everyone around her.

This season also gave her family something else. Time. The extra time we were given allowed us the opportunity to show her honor. Honor due a parent and honor to a fellow human being. We had time not only to care for her, but her condition opened doors that we never would have otherwise walked through.  We were able to get to know both residents and caregivers alike, and these visits were full of chats, sharing the love of Jesus, joys and concerns as well as praying and singing. Perhaps even providing hope to someone else on a journey that God will give them strength as well.

The day came and Jesus sent the angels; her work here was done. Mama finished well.

“What can she do?”

…that was the question a friend of mine asked me recently. She told me her Mother-in-Law just moved in with her and her husband from a rehab center following a knee replacement. The family had begun to notice she was beginning to become forgetful and was repeating herself fairly often, so they were worried about her living alone.

My friend loved the idea. She had some time off work and looked forward to spending some quality time with her lovely Mother-in-Law. At first, it worked out well – they had fun visiting and enjoying each other’s company. But then my friend had to go back to work. Suddenly, Mother-in-Law got bored.

I asked what sort of things did her Mother-in-Law like to do in the past. It turned out that she used to sew. Due to dementia, it seemed too risky to have her use a sewing machine, so we discussed other types of sewing, such as mending or hemming.  My friend remembered that she used to love to quilt, so she was going to find out if sewing the blocks together by hand might be an option – finishing the quilt wouldn’t be the goal – rather simply enjoying the process.

Discovering what your loved one enjoyed or was talented at prior to the onset of dementia is the key. Did they knit or crochet? Perhaps something like a working on a jigsaw puzzle might also be an option if your loved one has an interest in it. Grown-up coloring books have become very popular and might appeal to an older mind.

An important thing to keep in mind is that even though your loved one has diminishing abilities and might even act like a child at times, their likes and dislikes are still mature. Don’t insult them with a Barbie coloring book or puzzles with pictures of ‘Sponge Bob’

Each person has their own individual set of interests, skills, and talents, so it may take a while find just the right type of activities that will keep their interest. This process may require you to be both patient and flexible.

Sometimes a person just wants to feel useful. My Mama loved folding towels so I would sometimes quietly throw a bunch of clean towels into the dryer to fluff them up for a few minutes and then bring the whole pile of warm towels to her to fold. Mama loved it! At first she would hug the towels for a few minutes and enjoy their warmth and fragrance. Eventually, she would become surrounded by little stacks of neatly folded towels.

I also found a list that might also contain some helpful ideas: 50 Activities for Caregivers to do With People Who Have Alzheimer’s or Dementia

At the end of the day, your loved one simply wants what we all want – to know we’re loved. Some days will be better than others, but remember: You’re doing the best you can, and so are they.

It’s beginning to look , (smell & sound) a lot like Christmas

One of my favorite Christmas decorations.

🎼Jingle Bells, Yuletide smells, Christmas on display – bringing back the memories of a long past Christmas day.

A Christmas tree trimmed with old fashioned decorations and stockings hung by the fire along with the wonderful smells of gingerbread mingling with the sharp fragrance of pine and familiar songs of the season all work together to invoke memories of Christmas past.  Our senses are doorways through which memories can flow.

According to an article in LiveScience.com, Brain’s Link Between Sounds, Smells and Memory Revealed: Sights, sounds and smells can all evoke emotionally charged memories. A new study in rats suggests why: The same part of the brain that’s in charge of processing our senses is also responsible, at least in part, for storing emotional memories…Previously, scientists had not considered these sensory brain regions all that important for housing emotional memories, said study researcher Benedetto Sacchetti, of the National Institute of Neuroscience in Turin, Italy.

Since the Christmas season is chalk-full of sensory delights, this is the perfect time to take advantage of anything that could stir up memories in your loved one.

For example, if making gingerbread houses or gingerbread men was a beloved annual tradition, then the smell of gingerbread baking or the sight of a gingerbread house could trigger fond emotional memories of happy times past.

The Christmas wreath on our front door.

Pine trees are another seasonal smell that is fairly easy to come by this time of the year– even just a few boughs can produce that wonderful fragrance.

According to Fifth Sense, The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses.

Besides smells, the sights associated with Christmas such as decorated trees, poinsettias and twinkling lights might provoke a sense of joy accompanied by a memory or two of yesteryear.

Sounds abound as well this time of the year. Christmas songs and hymns are ring out everywhere you go – stores, coffee shops and even offices. Churches sing many of the beloved Christmas hymns and if your loved one has attended church prior to developing dementia, going to a service will provide a plethora of sights, sounds and smells of the season.

Since the senses are connected to memories, it is possible to provide your loved one with memory-triggering pleasures year around, but at Christmas, it is almost as if the whole world is in this process with you. So as much as possible, take the time to enjoy the sweet-smelling, merry, twinkling, singing most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas!

Twiddle de dee

I remember watching my grandma twiddle her thumbs back when I was a little girl. It fascinated me. She did it all the time – usually while she was sitting in her favorite chair and either visiting or watching TV. She told me it was good to have something for your hands to do while you were waiting. That made sense to me and I remember trying to copy her when she wasn’t looking. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal now, but back when I was very young, teaching my thumbs to twiddle felt like a huge accomplishment.

finishing-well-in-life-twiddle
This one is from AbuelaVicky found at Etsy.comhment.

It turns out that no matter how old you become, it is still good to have something for your hands to do. Last year I wrote a post called For that Fidgety Feeling” about something called Fidgety quilts. I loved the idea.

When my Mama lived with us while she was in the middle stages of dementia, she constantly needed something to do. Prior to the onset of dementia, she both knitted and crocheted. But as the dementia became more and more pronounced,

BizzieLizzieKnits
This one is from BizzieLizzieKnits found on Etsy.com

she found it difficult to maintain any type of ongoing focus.  She would quickly become bored and forget what she was working on.

We kept her busy with short-term activities such as folding warm towels, sorting colored beads into small bowls according to their color, and one of her favorites: picking lint off of sweaters. Before dementia struck, Mama was very detail oriented. It made sense as she was a laboratory scientist and paying attention to details was extremely important.

If I had heard about fidgety quilts back then, I believe that Mama would have loved the idea. The fact that they don’t require any special skills or knowledge to play with the various ribbons, buttons and interesting items attached to the quilts makes them perfect for every ability level.

I recently watched a short news video on BBC titled: “Lancashire knitters ‘twiddle muffs’ dementia tool plea” where there was a plea for area knitters to make and donate “twiddle muffs” to local hospitals. The muffs are a great idea – especially if you are a knitter. If you don’t knit, you can still purchase a Twiddle muff for your loved one. They seem to be a bit less expensive as well as more portable than the ‘Fidgety Quilt’ so would make a marvelous Christmas present for a loved one who tends to get fidgety.

Twiddle Kitty
Twiddle Kitty

Once you begin to look, you will discover a whole world of items designed to help give loved ones’ fingers something to do and perhaps reduce periods of agitation.

If you happen to be a knitter perhaps you might consider creating a few extra twiddle muffs to bless someone who could use a thoughtful and helpful gift this Christmas season.

Jack Hansen re-retires (again)

55 years in the world of education just might be enough for Jack Hansen, but he’s not saying for certain that the third time for retiring will be the charm. When asked why he continued to return, he responded simply, “I missed it.”

Jack was recently recognized by the School Board for all that he has done to enhance education in California.

Todd Brose, Superintendent of Red Bluff Joint Union High said, “Jack Hansen has had a profound impact on education during his 55-year career. As an educational leader in Tehama County, he collaborated with many school districts developing leaders and finding solutions for the betterment of students. Red Bluff Joint Union High School District thanks him for his service and wishes him the best of luck. Thank you Jack.

jackhansen-sm
Jack Hansen

He came by his love for the teaching profession honestly as his mother and older sister were both teachers (his father was an attorney), and he was able to see first-hand both the rewards and challenges of the classroom. He didn’t initially plan to go into teaching, but after doing some volunteer work during college, he became hooked.

When Jack began kindergarten in 1944, his teacher might not have predicted that he would have a career in education: On the first day of school once he realized that his mother had left the room, he had a couple of tearful hours adjusting, by the end of the day, all was good.

Jack’s career began back in 1961 when he taught in Sacramento. In 1966 he was hired in Yuba City as a principle and at the age of 27 he was the youngest person on staff as well as the youngest principle in the state of California.

Jack’s vocation, which spanned from teacher, to principle, to superintendent, and school board member has taken him to a variety of counties, but Hansen believes that the 25 years he spent in Tehama County were some of the most enjoyable.

There have been many changes in the world of education over the past several decades, but Jack believes that the one thing that has not changed is the need to interact with the kids and building relationships. There are more electronics and tools for teaching, but it still comes down to interaction.

If Jack had to name his most rewarding and most challenging positions, he replied that they were both at the same time. He spent a year in a dual role as Superintendent of Red Bluff Elementary and Principle of Vista Middle School in the early 1990s.

Jack and his wife Cindy love to travel – especially enjoying river cruises, they have been fortunate to have visited a good part of the world. They have 8 children and 10 grandchildren, most live in California and one even lives in Red Bluff – they love spending as much time as possible with them.

Being an avid golfer, one thing that Jack really enjoys about retirement is that he gets to get out on the golf course about three times a week.

When asked again if he was done, he replied: “If something challenging or interesting comes up again, I’ll consider returning to the workplace.”

Only time will tell.



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and  tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

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Joy has the ‘Wright’ idea

I just had a delightful phone conversation with a dear, old friend of mine, Joy Wright. It’s not that I have known her for so many years, but Joy is one of those people that once you become acquainted, it seems that you’ve been friends always.

finishing_well_in_life_joy
Joy Wright pauses from sorting blankets for a photo at the Recycle The Warmth 2016

She is interesting and amusing, compassionate and energetic. Joy’s personality reminds me of an M&M (not the kind with the nut inside), colorful and hard on the outside and sweet and soft on the inside.

We met one year when she volunteered to help at “Recycle The Warmth”, an annual project that provides blankets and warm coats to anyone in need. We immediately hit it off and she has returned to volunteer every year since.

Joy, who was born in 1928, has always been a bundle of energy. She is involved in a variety of projects and volunteer activities. I knew she was a busy girl, but until recently, I had no idea just how busy. Joy operates on the principle that when she sees a need, she tries to fill it – not wait for someone else to come along. Well, she certainly filled a need at Recycle the Warmth – coming early and staying late.

Joy’s  willingness to jump in and do what’s needed even captured the attention of the Soroptimists International of Red Bluff. They awarded her  Senior Citizen of the Year 2016 at the annual Farm City Night banquet hosted by the Tehama County Farm Bureau.

Other ‘needs’ that Joy is trying to fill includes “Alternative To Violence” (ATV). She was one of the founding board members. Joy also volunteers at the P.A.T.H. shelter three times a month as well as helping with the Presbyterian Church’s annual Thanksgiving dinner they offer for anyone who might find themselves alone on the holiday.

Joy spent 14 years as the then newly–minted ‘Executive Housekeeper’ for St. Elizabeth Community Hospital where she oversaw ‘all things clean’ in her own, unique style.

After retirement, Joy returned to college and received a BA in Business Administration from Simpson University. She can be seen regularly doing various office projects at the Shasta College Tehama Campus – she began when it was on Palm Street before they built the nice, new campus on Diamond Ave. Her focus there now is proctoring tests.

But wait….there’s more! Joy is also a member of the Soroptimist International Red Bluff whose motto is: “Improving the Lives of Women and Girls” – a perfect fit for her. For over a decade, Joy has also been involved in providing the ‘building guards’ for the Tehama District Fair each year. The guards keep an eye on things and watch over the exhibits during the fair.

Wow. It makes me tired just thinking about it. I asked Joy why she is so involved and she told me about something she read on a wall in Truckee where her husband was working for PG&E back in 1969: “Not here on Earth to see through each other, but to see each other through”.

Joy is well named – it’s what she brings to those in her world. She is always at the ready with acts of kindness that will help see someone through.

 



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and  tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

Are you a Caregiver? Do you know one?

 

William Shakespeare wrote:  “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Most family Caregivers I know fall into that last category.

It turns out that November is National Family Caregivers Month. Caregivers are typically folks who stepped up to finishing_well_in_life_cargvrthe plate and accepted the role of caring for parents, spouse or other loved-ones.

This is a good time to celebrate the contribution of those volunteer friends and family members who care for loved-ones – not by a pat on the back, but in some concrete ways. Family Caregivers are certainty heroes, but not ‘Superhero’s (meaning they can go on endlessly and never tire).

Usually Caregivers are not complainers and are often reluctant to ask for help. Because of that, I thought I would offer a few suggestions that will provide concrete help for those who are either a Caregiver or a friend of one.

  1. Friend: provide a meal for someone who is caregiving. Caregiver: Accept/request a specific meal.
  2. Friend: Offer to sit with a loved one.  Caregiver: Accept the offer for someone else to sit with or visit your loved one.
  3. Friend: Offer to run errands.Caregiver: Accept the offer and make a list.
  4. Friend: Clean/do laundry (even taking larger bedding to a laundromat.  Caregiver: Accept the offer – you can’t do it all.
  5. Friend: Ask your friend specifically what you can do to help.  Caregiver: Accept the help, answer honestly.

Additionally, ‘Progressive Care Partners’ offers some very specific ways to help the unsung heroes in our world. Click on the following link for ideas: 10 Ways to Celebrate National Family Caregivers Month

Remember, you can’t do it all whether you are the caregiver or friend. Sometimes the best help may be a welcome visit that provides a temporary distraction.