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 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.
Everyone Has a Great Story about “My Crazy Family”A New ChickenSoup 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.”
ABOUT CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL
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 aplus.com, education programs, and licensed products, all revolving around true stories, as the company continues “changing the world one story at a time®.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. The luncheon was held in the dining area of a lovely home. As an added bonus, 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. The birds provided a constant show for Mama as she watched them regularly with rapt fascination.
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. It was great to find a wild birdseed mix abundant in those seeds. Learning about suet added additional joy. Suet is 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. It was not long before a variety of ‘southern winged visitors’ began to show up. 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). They would endlessly flit, fly and scamper around in search of their favorite munchies. As we watched them, I understood Mama’s fascination with the flitting little flyers. Over time we began 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.
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)
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!
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
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?
But wait, there’s more! According to PhychologyToday.com, 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.
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
(especially in New Brunswick) are stunningly beautiful. They turn every color o fall 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?
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”.
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 toMedicalNewsToday, 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 theFamily Caregiver Alliance, even though Caregivers often find themselves exhausted at the end of the day, many are still not able to sleep.
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.
A friend of mine was frustrated. Her Mother is in the early stages of dementia, and although she is one of four siblings, the weight of decisions regarding her Mother’s care falls to her.
After an extensive search, she and her husband found an acceptable care home that had an opening in the city where they live.
My friend is able to visit her Mother a few times a week. She was pleased with the level of care they provided, which included a wide variety of activities. Her Mother regularly enjoyed strolling through the garden area and sitting on the shady benches while visiting with friends among the beautiful flowers. All seemed well as her mother settled into the routines at her new home.
Then one day my friend received a call from the director of the facility. He informed her that a decision had been made to move her mother to a different house within the complex. The care home campus consists of three homes, with each one housing residents of similar abilities. She and her husband were a bit uncertain about this move since they had been quite happy with the previous arrangements and were concerned that this change could be detrimental to her mental well-being. He stated that she would be given a thirty-day notice if they did not go along with the move. Due to the lack of options, they agreed to this unsettling change.
As feared, her mother’s condition worsened after the move. The residents in the new home were much less active – or talkative. Before long her mother began to settle into a more sedentary lifestyle as well. It was at this point where my friend was sharing her frustrations with me. She was concerned that her visits would not be enough to counteract the effects of her Mother’s new living situation.
Shortly after our visit, I came across a wonderful study published in “Neurology Advisor” that found that just one hour a week of social interaction improved patients’ quality of life and eased their agitation. The study included more than 800 dementia patients living in 69 nursing homes in the United Kingdom.
The key word here is ‘social interaction’. As long as there is any willingness or ability for a loved one to be actively involved in the visit there seems to be a measure of benefit. Some examples of active involvement include conversations, singing together, playing cards, board games, or bingo.
Try to discover what activities your loved one might enjoy doing, (although this may change over time). I would encourage you to venture out when you can. Help your loved one go to their place of worship, attend concerts, browse art galleries, feed ducks at the park, or visit a zoo.
Do whatever your loved one enjoyed prior to the onset of dementia and even add a few activities whenever possible. When it comes to food, help your loved one share a meal with others, whether it’s at a restaurant, with family, or in the dining room of the care home.
The best part of this study is that it shows what only one hour of ‘social interaction’ can do to improve quality of life, additional time spent may help even more.
An additional benefit may be the discovery that the increased ‘quality of life’ and ‘sense of connection’ may flow both ways.
While my husband Wayne was a tour bus driver, some of his favorite trips were the “Road Scholar” excursions.
Their adventures took them to a wide variety of interesting places – not just the touristy spots, but also out-of-the-way destinations with educational value.
That is why I was so pleased when I learned that the Road Scholars would be offering Caregiver Grants to adults age 50 and over who help care for a loved one. The grant would also offset the costs of arranging substitute care while attending a Road Scholar learning adventure.
You are an eligible caregiver if you are the primary unpaid caregiver providing daily care and support for an ill or disabled family member (spouse, parent, adult child, partner or sibling).
A quote found on the page of the Road Scholar website states:“The leaders took a personal interest in me, and in each of the participants. They understood I was on a respite from caregiving for my daughter who is very ill and in hospice care. I felt I had permission to sleep as much as I needed and to socialize only as much as I was able. Each presented their topics in such a way that I was inspired to learn more when I got home, or to restart former activities such as painting and Tai Chi. They gave me a new lease on life and I am so grateful.” — Road Scholar Caregiver Grant Recipient
If you have any questions regarding Caregiver Grants, you may contact Participant Services by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling toll free at (877) 426-8056, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., ET.
Not much happens in my friend Evelyn Ensbury’s world that she doesn’t note, jot, type and photograph. Her closets shelves display binder after binder chalked-full of photographs, letters, cards, clippings, and love. She has worked tirelessly to make sure she has collected and cataloged not only her life and history but has also created individualized binders for all her family members – including great-grandchildren.
Born in Cook, Nebraska, on June 22, 1913, when Woodrow Wilson was President, Evelyn was the oldest of six children, three girls, and three boys. For the first 100 years of her life, she believed that her birthday was June 23, but one day while filling a prescription, it came to light that it might actually be June 22. After sending off for a certified copy of her birth certificate, she was surprised to learn that she was indeed born on June 22, 1913. It may be hard to imagine how it didn’t come up earlier, but it seems that there just wasn’t a lot of need to produce birth certificates during the previous century. Her Mother broke her leg just prior to giving birth to Evelyn, so the record-keeping may have had occasion to slip.
Her formative years were spent in Omaha, Nebraska, but in 1927, her Father packed up the whole family and headed to California. The journey would take them almost three months as roads were rough and they experienced many breakdowns and flat tires. The California destination was triggered by her mother’s asthma and the doctor had suggested they try living in a dryer climate.
Evelyn moves to California
Her father saw an advertisement that said, “Come to Rio Linda, raise chickens and get rich!” So they tried to make a go of it, but the ground was too hard to grow anything. Her Father had driven a street car in Nebraska, and in California became a streetcar driver for PG&E.
Her mother passed away when Evelyn was 22 leaving several young children to care for. Even though she had already met the man she was going to marry, Evelyn spent the next four years caring for her younger siblings. With so many mouths to feed, Evelyn did what she could to supplement the family’s income with a variety of jobs including babysitting and ironing. Her mother had been a housekeeper for a local doctor, and after the death of her mother, she took over that responsibility as well.
She married Bill Ensbury, the love of her life on Oct. 15, 1939, and was married 52 years until Bill passed away in 1991. They had one son, Richard who lives in Northern California.
Bill was a forest ranger. They lived in Sterling City while young Richard was in elementary school, but when he graduated from the 8th grade, they moved to Chico. Evelyn was a housewife when they lived in Sterling City, but after they moved to Chico, she went to work capping toothpaste tubes to earn enough money to buy a Television Set. She also worked at Grants Department Store. After Chico, they moved north to Yreka, where she worked for the Welfare Department.
Evelyn has always been involved in church. While in Sterling City, they became acquainted with a pastor and his wife Bernard and Doris Johnson who were planning to go to Brazil as missionaries. Evelyn spent the next several decades creating hundreds of beautiful placemats out of recycled Christmas cards each year to send to the Johnson’s to brighten up their holidays.
Evelyn has shown that same industrious spirit in everything she turns her attention to. The history she has kept and preserved will continue to bless family and friends for countless generations to come.
Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book,“Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tipsabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.