Doing Nothing

Over the last several weeks I discovered a luxury I’d been missing.  I didn’t know it was a luxury.  I didn’t know I was missing it.  I never thought of it as a luxury.  But, it is.  For the moment I’m indulging in doing nothing.  Yes, nothing.  Oh, I know we can’t ever be doing nothing.  Even when we’re asleep, we’re doing something.  One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced during the last year is overcoming the habit of being in constant motion both physically and mentally.  

After two months of decluttering, donating, selling, cleaning, paint touch ups, spring garden tidying, mulching, cleaning some more, making everything sparkle, the damaged deck replaced, it was show time. The house went on the market.  The new deck, which is the result of two cherry trees falling on the old one, the downsized amount of furniture and the fresh feeling of the house and yard almost make me want to stay here.  Almost, but not really.

Following the major clean-up I spent a week or two fidgeting as I looked for activities to fill my time.  Like a leaf in the wind I blew here and there doing whatever I convinced myself needed doing.

Then, I went to Detroit for a few days with a friend.  With tickets to experience Immersive Van Gogh, which was mesmerizing, but way too short, we decided to spend a couple nights so we could shop (I bought one tiny little thing) and visit The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.  Three days of wandering through museums and shops and art space.  Leisurely breakfasts and lunches and dinners.  Talking and sharing.  Sleeping later than usual.  I felt like I hadn’t felt in years.  

Immersed in Van Gogh

Returning refreshed I decided to just be for a while.  To do nothing.  Easier said than done.  Years of caregiving had my monkey brain still engaged full tilt.  Over my caregiving years I learned to anticipate the next need, upset, crisis putting myself into forever proactive mode.  If my predictive efforts didn’t anticipate the next caregiving event, there was, of course, flight, fight or freeze.  Rarely did I freeze because I never stopped thinking or doing.  And, there was never a time including respites where I focused on just being.  Now, I realize what a luxury it is to do nothing.  

Remember mindfulness? I wrote about it, practiced it and left it behind probably at the time I needed it most.  Mindfulness is achieved by being mentally present.  I’d been thinking for so long about the future and replaying the past in my head that I lost the habit of being conscious of my surroundings, my body, my emotions and not even paying slight attention to my current thoughts as they were swallowed up by stressing over what was to come.  Somehow, I had to unearth the ability to live in full awareness of the present moment.  It was there once; I could relearn it. 

Enter neuroplasticity.  Remember that?  I also wrote about neuroplasticity, took classes on the brain and brain research at Furman University OLLI.  Since then, the research on mindfulness and neuroplasticity continues to support the fact that we can create new neural pathways, even in cases where the brain is injured.  When we learn something new, we rewire our brains. I’m on a track to rewire my brain with new neural pathways to respond to situations sans flight, fight or freeze.  I’m reorganizing the connections in my brain.  Doing nothing is helping me.  By deliberately slowing my days I’m choosing what to do with intention each day, to be mindful and conscious.  

Intention is not the same as having a to do list where you tick off each accomplishment.  It’s not setting goals.  My goal is to rewire my brain, but it is the daily practice guided by my intentions, which enables me to reach that goal.  To me an intention sets the tempo for my day.  It guides me.  Working in my garden carries an intention such as, “I intend to be aware of the beauty and life in my garden.”  Other intentions could be “I intend to eat a healthy diet today” or “I intend to practice mindfulness today” or “I intend to forgive others and myself”.  

We often tend to believe if we put ourselves on idle, we’re being unproductive, lazy, wasting time.  For me, doing nothing is not actually doing nothing, but, instead, being present, mindful of the moment with intention.  Remember meditation?  I was always good for about 5 minutes and that’s where I’ve started over with my meditation practice.  Years ago I took a course in Buddhism, which is where I was introduced to meditation.  The one important part of the practice, at least for me, was learning thoughts enter our minds even as we want to empty the mind.  My instructor taught me to identify each thought as positive, negative or neutral, then let it go.  It works leaving me with a clear mind, which affords room to consciously rewire of my brain.

During my years of working I prided myself on what I could get done in a day. In the early years of retirement I felt the same way. Following Martin’s diagnosis and years of caregiving, however, I’ve changed my mind.  It’s taken the last year, and at times, I still find myself feeling as if I accomplished nothing in a day.  And that’s ok.  Letting go of old habits takes practice and time.  For the most part, I now cherish the ability to slow down, reflect, feel joy, be grateful, create and live in the moment.  It’s the luxury of doing nothing.

Decluttering – Or The Big Purge

My Mother’s good luck charm

In order to reinvent my life I must divest myself of fragments from my past.  Like my best memories of Martin, I’m keeping the possessions, which are dear to me.  I’m not seeking a minimalist lifestyle, but one honoring our past while giving breath to what lies ahead of me.  Unlike past decluttering this one requires a wisdom imbued with greater purpose.

I had a longtime habit of cleaning out closets and drawers each January as my version of out with the old, in with the new.  Somewhere along the path I’m on that annual ritual went by the wayside.  When we sold our South Carolina house, I did a major declutter.  Or, so I thought.  

In preparation for the sale of my Michigan house, I began going through drawers and closets with the purpose of decluttering.  As I cleared drawers of stuff, I also considered furniture, which won’t fit in my new smaller home.  Lists of things to donate and items to sell forced me to realize I wasn’t decluttering; this was the big purge.

There were obvious items that must go, like Martin’s bicycle, gear and outfits along with sport coats, dress shirts, slacks, leather belts and shoes. No reason for any of it to languish in closets and cubbies when someone else could make good use of it.  It took two weeks for me to act on selling Martin’s bike.  I cleaned it, polished it and looked at it day in and day out.  I felt frozen in time, slogging through quick sand.  After mustering the courage to drop his clothing at Good Will, I felt relief.  Then, a few hours later, came a serious meltdown as grief washed over me in a torrent of tears.  Divesting myself of his belongings was accepting he would never walk through the door again.  Once I was all cried out, I let go of the bicycle as well.  It was a kind of release.

Martin’s racing bicycle

As I sort through our lifetime with a mostly clear head I didn’t have in 2019, I often ask myself why I paid to have this or that hauled from South Carolina.  Taking a page from organizational expert Marie Kondo, so much of what I had didn’t spark joy.  “Did it spark joy for me?”, became my precept, albeit one which is resulting in keeping a few things that may not evoke a modern farmhouse style.  Looking at my Great-Great Aunt Josephine’s crystal jewelry box, I opened it.  I lifted out a chestnut.  Hard and brown my Mother carried it in her purse as a talisman.  As I ran my fingers over its smooth rich decades old surface this memento from my Mother was now my symbol of juju, mojo, good luck.  A practical woman, a strong woman, her spirit would help me push through this arduous task.

As with the chestnut, possessions carry energy in the memories they summon in our spirits.  I looked at the five sets of dishes from the dinner group we belonged to in the 1990’s.  I hadn’t needed nor used all this entertainment paraphernalia in decades.  The dishes, napkins and rings, table clothes and serving dishes.  In an epiphany I realized it was the memories I was holding onto, memories of those evenings when we gathered monthly to break bread.  Fun nights like the mystery dinners where we dressed up as various characters in a whodunit.  And then, there was the toga party where neighbors must have thought we were crazy traipsing through our garden, glasses of red wine in hand, with our guests,  all of us dressed in bed sheets!  I would keep the memories and some of the accoutrements, but it was time for most of the physical trappings to go.

Following my second car load of memories taken to Good Will the picture was becoming clear.  There were certain objects, furniture, glass ware, keepsakes I would never part with.  Antique pieces from both our families needed to stay with me a while longer.  A few pieces of the furniture we bought during our marriage were now vintage, slightly marred with scratches or glass rings where a coaster went unused.  There is no place for a couple of items in my to-be-built new home, but I’m making a place.  

The large marble coffee table in the great room was originally on the chopping block.  Then came the evening I sat in front of the fire place mindfully looking at its smooth surface and rough edges, the tiny scratches from grandchildren running toy cars across it along with a few water marks from spilled drinks. Martin and I had gone to The Street of Dreams charity event while living in Seattle.  In an 11,000 square foot show house sat a marble coffee table dazzling us both.  A couple weeks later Martin went on a motorcycle ride returning to announce he’d found such a table at Frederick and Nelson Department Store.  He wanted to buy it.  And so did I.  I knew now I couldn’t part with it. It represented a joint purchase, a joint love of beautiful things.  Though now imperfect with blemishes from nearly 40 years of use, this table also represents the joyous imperfection of our lives.  As with ourselves, we looked upon the blemishes as character.  There are possessions, which are just baggage.  And, then, there are things, which warm my heart each day, that spark joy and must continue to color my life.  Despite its ultra modern look the marble table stays.

As I empty the house of remnants of my past life I feel less overwhelmed, lighter, more forward looking.  I’m honoring my past.  And, making room for my future.

Beating Back The Winter Blues

Enjoying winter beauty on my walk to retrieve the mail.

Another snowy day.  Watching a Blue Jay on an oak branch outside my window, I feel a sense of peace. That feeling is not the norm for me this time of year.  Following the holidays I’m usually overcome by the winter blues.  It doesn’t matter where I lived, north, south, east or west, a certain melancholy always set in.  But, not this year.  This year I decided to embrace the season.  

Instead of pining for spring I would make a conscious effort to enjoy the snow, the cloud cover and even the cold.  I would be mindful of winter’s beauty.  Instead of seeing a stark landscape I would pay close attention to the birds flitting from tree to bare tree.  I would eye the snow covered branches and listen for the sound of the wind.  I would smell the clean cold air on my walk to the mailbox and filling the bird feeders and shoveling the walkways.  I would arise every morning with gratitude for waking up in a warm bed, having a roof over my head, food to eat, cats greeting me at the door and all of us herding to the kitchen for breakfast.  I would drink coffee and write about the smallest of things in my gratitude journal.  

It is working.  By starting each day with an attitude of gratitude, I find my spirit lifted.  In the past I wrote in my journal in the late evening.  The small change of writing in the morning or sometimes the afternoon turned my mind in an unexpected way.  I also occasionally write in real time right after something as simple as watching a Blue Jay on an oak branch occurs.  By doing so it keeps the feeling of gratitude alive throughout the day.  In addition to a reflection upon the immediate past, my journaling becomes part of the present, creating a more mindful approach to life.

Embracing the season seems easier with retirement.  I never thought I would enjoy living in the north again.  Yet, here I am.  Since I don’t have to go out on the roads during stormy weather, the luxury of settling in for the day with a fire going, instrumental jazz playing, a pot on the stove filled with water and scented oils like orange or cinnamon and later a hot cocoa or tea conspires to fend off the blues.

After shoveling snow I’m ready for a hot cocoa! (note:faux fur)

Self-care is my main agenda this year.  This past month of indulging myself in simple pleasures not only brought that goal into focus, it renewed my sense of purpose.  I started by preparing my house for sale in the spring and I started that by decluttering.  I thought I’d done a bang up job of decluttering when I left South Carolina.  Now, I look at what I dragged to Michigan and wonder why I brought so much stuff.  And the old paperwork!  I went paperless years ago.  Yet, I still found a couple of boxes of old records.  I proceeded with a shred-a-thon.  Having a clear space allows for clear headedness, at least I think so.  

Living in a basically neutral space also brings a certain serenity.  I like using furniture and art to bring in color.  Being homebound with the pandemic raging while also caregiving, I spent many days stripping wallpaper covered with oversized roses, plaids and wild game and painting over walls of bright pinks, greens and browns to create a more relaxing space.  For someone looking for a calming peaceful space neutrals did the trick. Add that to how buyers prefer a clean palette that’s move-in ready and it’s a win-win.

My mornings after coffee, breakfast, cats on my lap, writing in my journal and catching up with friends, I head for the shower.  There I sprinkle an essential oil before starting the water flow.  Lavender or camomile if I want calm, peppermint if I want invigoration.  My favorite is grapefruit, the light citrus smell creating a spirit lifting mood.  I also treat myself to hand milled soaps with similar scents of lavender, peppermint or lemon honey.  Finally, I make my own sugar scrub with a half cup of sugar, enough almond oil to moisten and a dash of essential oil.  That’s my spa-like routine adding to my self-care.

As I finish this it’s the day after the snowfall.  The sun is shining from a blue sky dotted with ghosted clouds.  The glistening snow reflecting warmth into my writing space.  I shoveled sidewalks yesterday and recovered my garbage curb cart from under a drift left by the snow plows.  I’m off now to feed the birds and enjoy the beauty of the season.  

I’d like to hear what you do to beat back the winter blues or perhaps you aren’t effected by them.  Let me know.  Enjoy you day!

Silence Your Inner Critic

The woman sitting across the table from me said, “I know I’m ugly.”  Instantly, I thought, she just told me what her inner critic was telling her.  I looked her.  She wasn’t going to be the next cover girl; nor was she ugly.  She had beautiful green eyes with lashes not needing mascara, blemish-free, teeny-tiny pore skin I would give my eye teeth for, and perfectly aligned pearlies surrounded by full lips.  There was a lot to like.  And I gave her my opinion (of course).

We all have one, an inner critic, that is.  According to my therapist (yes, I have one of those too), the inner critic shows up during childhood as others criticize or correct to the nth degree.  As children we internalize the negativism as a voice, often a destructive voice, inside our heads.  We tell ourselves we’re ugly or fat or can’t accomplish our goals or aren’t smart enough to understand this or nobody cares about us.  Whatever the dialogue, it is often not the reality.

Thirty-five years ago I read book after self-help book, took an employer-sponsored course called “Context Training” and learned to ditch much of my inner critic by separating fact from the fiction in my head, just as I hope I did for the woman mentioned above.  Books like “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale changed my life as I became more self-confident, enjoyed more success and became still more confident in my abilities.  I embraced failure as opportunity instead of failure.  My inner critic became a squeaky little buzz of white noise that was quickly silenced when doubt knocked on my door.

As a caregiver the voice recently tried to resurrect itself as I struggled with new challenges.  Faced with mounting stress, my caregiver coach (yes, I have one of those, too) told me, “The stress will never go away.”  My inner critic started saying things like, “You’ll never have a day of peace, so why plan for one?” or “You’ll never get to relax, so why try?”  It took me awhile to realize my inner critic was getting louder.  I needed to duct tape its mouth before a tough situation became tougher.

Self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-love is the first step to silencing your inner critic.  Today I did the best I could do with what I have to do it.  Even in retirement, if life presents you with a crappy hand, as with any other time in life,  tell yourself how much you did right today and how much went right today.  Remind yourself that most people do most things right most of the time.  Give yourself a break.

Oh, I’m no Little Mary Sunshine.  I still need to unload on someone.  My therapist gets paid to listen; my family and friends are there for me.  However, I remembered how our thoughts influence our view of life, our way of handling life and our confidence…the power of positive thinking.  That’s the next step.  Be mindful of your thoughts.  What you put in your mind is like what you put in your body.  You want a healthy diet of positive thoughts.

I started keeping a gratitude journal again.  I might write something like,  “I got up this morning to the sun shining, birds chirping, a garden full of flowers with more to come, a yummy breakfast, worked in the art studio with alcohol inks, talked to a friend.”  Separate the fiction in your head from the facts of your life.  Instead of thinking you are ugly, think about your beautiful green eyes. 

Or, remember making a list of pros and cons when trying to reach a decision?  It works for silencing your inner critic, too.  Make the two columns and write down all the good things about your life and then all the negative things about your life.  Chances are you can find more good than bad.  And recognize the negatives, not as failures, but as opportunities for improvement. 

My stress may never go away, but it can be reduced with positive thinking.  I just had a chance to relax by writing this post.  It gave me a slice of peace.  You see?  I just gagged my inner critic!  And you can, too.

Why Giving Thanks Is Important

 

This week is Thanksgiving. Being the most traveled holiday in the United States, like many other families, ours will be converging on our house this week, filling it with children and their spouses and our grandchildren. Controlled chaos is the best way to describe all the hoopla as we cook, make arts and crafts like cinnamon stick Santas and, of course, give thanks.

At the Thanksgiving table, our family has a longtime tradition of holding hands as each of us cites what it is we are thankful for during the past year. When each person finishes their personal prayer of thanks, they squeeze the hand of the next person signaling their turn. As you may expect, most of the thanks is for family, health, good friends and the food on the table. Occasionally, we have a moment of sobering reflection like the year our friend, Bonnie, who had terminal cancer, sobbed, “I’m grateful for another year of life.” The following November she passed away just before Thanksgiving.

Everyone faces adversity. Giving thanks is important no matter what time of year it is. But, Thanksgiving provides a special opportunity to celebrate our blessings. As with Bonnie, who gave thanks for life itself, Thanksgiving affords a moment to concentrate on the positive aspects of any misfortune. Focusing on the good in our lives helps us realize how fortunate we are. Devoting our attention to the gratitude we feel for the non-material aspects of living enhances our joy in life.

Positive thoughts are healthy thoughts. Dwelling on the negative results in negative thoughts. That in turn becomes anger, unhappiness and perhaps even depression. Conversely, expressing gratitude negates the negativity.

As you sit down to your Thanksgiving meal, whether at home or a restaurant, whether a big dinner with all the trimmings or basic fair, whether surrounded by family and friends or by yourself, give thanks for all that is great and positive and wonderful in your life, open your soul and your heart to your gratitude for the everyday blessings of life and immerse yourself in the joy of simply living.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Spanning The Brain

When we retire, our overall health is a huge consideration. Every financial planner I talked to pre-retirement, asked the question, “Are you in good health?” On the other side of that question, you may have to retire due to poor health. Even with Medicare and insurance policies, poor health can become expensive. It can also cost you in incalculable ways such as stress and reduced quality of life. Staying healthy is important no matter what your age.  Toward that end, I recently took the BrainSpan testing.

The test consists of a blood sample measuring:

Omega-3 Index
Cell Inflammation Balance
Carbohydrate Index

The second part of the test is a cognitive function assessment gauging:

Memory Capacity
Sustained & Flexible Attention
Processing Speed

The blood test looks at the chemical makeup of your cells, which reflect your dietary intake for the previous three months. What the test is telling us is whether or not we have any imbalances in essential fatty acids. In many countries, including the United States, we have altered our diet to the point where we are eating more Omega-6 than we are Omega-3 fatty acids. According to BrainSpan, there is mounting evidence from research by the American Medical Association, Harvard and the University of Maryland Medical Center that Omega-3 is essential to the overall functioning of our brain and body.

Many of us have been told by our doctors, including me, to take an Omega-3 supplement. But, what we are really looking for is the level of a couple of fatty acids produced primarily by oily fish such as salmon and mackerel — EPA and DHA. EPA repairs tissue, reduces inflammation in the body and supports a good mood as well as our ability to focus. DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain supporting development, cell structure and function.

According to the USDA Nutrient Data Lab 3 ounces of cooked wild Salmon provides 1564 milligrams of EPA/DHA combined. We need that at least 5 times a week — at the least. When recommending an Omega-3 supplement, my eye doctor told me farmed raised salmon is fed corn, making it high in Omega-6. Wild caught salmon is high in Omega-3. Reading labels both on the fish you buy and any supplements is important! In a study done by Tufts University researchers found that people with higher levels of DHA may lower their risk of dementia by as much as 47%. Be sure you are buying what you think you’re buying. Your longevity and quality of life may depend on it.

The cognitive function portion of the testing is done online with a series of challenging exercises. For example, I was shown 3 numbers, which quickly disappeared from the screen, and asked to repeat them in the exact order on a keyboard as fast as I could. Easy right? Not when it gradually increases to 9 numbers to remember in exact order. I actually did well on this portion of the test. On a scale of 1 to 7, 7 being optimal, I scored an average 6.5 on all three sections. On the other hand, I didn’t fair so well on the blood test. It revealed I was eating way too many carbohydrates (Omega-6) and not enough Omega-3 to be at optimal health. Consequently, I increased my Omega-3 supplement as well as Omega-3 foods and, while we need carbs, too, I am watching the intake of my old boogeymen of potatoes, rice, pasta and bread.

As an incentive to stay on track, I’ll be retested in January. Basically, I feel pretty good about my results, especially my cognitive functioning. As always, it’s a struggle to keep my body in the same shape as my brain. But, my brain depends upon me to take care of my body. I remember seeing a quip someplace in my travels to the effect, “If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?” I think that pretty much sums it up.

Your Brain On Eggs

This post first appeared on May 21, 2016.  With more research coming out about the benefits of Omega-3, which the egg provides as one of the best sources, I thought it was worth re-posting.  There are other sources of Omega-3, of course, and I will write more on current research on those sources in the future.

 

Your brain on eggs

Eating a balanced diet is important at any age. My mother used to hand me words of wisdom like, “you are what you eat” and “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” I guess that’s why I was never one to skip breakfast. One of the worst habits at any age, but even worse as we get older, is skipping breakfast. A cup of coffee won’t give you what you need. After all, breakfast is short for breaking the overnight fast.

For years and years I started my day eating eggs. However, after learning about my skyrocketing cholesterol numbers, I changed my eating habits to limit my egg consumption. Because they are believed to raise cholesterol in the body, eggs got a bad rap for many years. At one time, I totally gave up eggs for breakfast for an entire six months. Instead I ate oat based cereals. Anticipating a lower cholesterol number, I was shocked when my doctor told me my number dropped only one teeny-tiny point over my previous six month blood test. I’m no scientist or nutritionist, but that piece of information made me wonder if all the hoopla over eggs was — well, just hoopla.

Despite my questioning, I continued to eschew eggs at breakfast. Instead, I ate cereal or an energy bar. I didn’t feel more energetic. In fact, by 11 a.m. my stomach started sending signals of hunger. I felt depleted, even tired.

Now, along comes a book I’m reading, Rewire Your Brain by John B. Arden, Ph.D. It’s not a new book. The copyright is 2010. It’s been sitting in my to-be-read stack since 2015. While the book has a lot of technical information on how our brains work, Arden also offers up a chapter on “Fueling Your Brain”. Guess who is the breakfast heroine in this chapter — yup, you got it — the egg. There are lots of other foods we need and should eat to fuel our brains, but the morning egg, breaking the fast, carries a lot of weight.

Speaking of weight I, like many people, think about what I eat in terms of feeding my entire body and keeping my weight in check. Until reading Arden’s book I never really gave the specifics for fueling my brain a lot of thought (no pun intended). According to Arden, “A bad diet can have a major impact on the brain’s ability to function properly, making you less apt to think clearly, pay attention, and cultivate neuroplasticity.” As we know, all of these abilities are really, really important for aging well.

Memory is also important for aging well. Arden goes on to say, “One of the neurotransmitters you need for processing memory is called acetylcholine. Your body needs an amino acid called choline in order to manufacture acetylcholine. One source of choline is eggs.” While there are other sources of choline, the egg is the one for getting your brain off to a good start for the day. Remember, it’s been fasting all night long with the rest of your body.

As we age we also lose muscle. Protein builds muscle. Eggs are a good source of protein. Eggs are also a rich source of vitamins, including B vitamins like B12, essential for energy. Other vitamins are A, E and K plus riboflavin and folic acid. Eggs also contain Omega-3 that good for your brain and heart component. Exercise and a balanced diet can help keep our muscles, including our heart muscle, in good working order.

 

After reading all of this, I decided to try Arden’s suggestion of eating an egg (sans saturated or trans fats), a piece of whole wheat toast (sans butter), and a glass of orange juice for breakfast. It took about a week for me to start feeling more energy. I noticed I can go until noon or later without feeling hungry. Since mornings are when I write, I realized I was mentally sharper. And, I sleep more soundly. This is my brain on eggs.

What about the cholesterol? According to the Mayo Clinic, “Most healthy people can eat up to seven eggs a week with no increase in their risk of heart disease. Some studies have shown that this level of egg consumption may actually prevent some types of strokes.” They go on to say, the risk of heart disease is more closely tied to the saturated and trans fats used to cook the eggs than the eggs themselves. As always, you should check with your doctor about your egg consumption as, according to the Mayo Clinic, it is not recommended if you have certain diseases, such as diabetes.

Whether or not an egg a day is good for you is up to you to determine. For me, I’m continuing my breakfast egg routine. Regardless of what you eat in the morning, make sure you do eat to break the fast and fuel your brain and body. That’s essential for living well and aging dynamically.

‘Tis The Season

 

With Hurricane Irma threatening, as most South Carolinians converged on grocery stores last week to buy bottled water, batteries, non-perishable food and the like, I followed the herd. While there, I used the restroom. To my surprise, a woman in the last stall was having a conversation on her cell phone! This is not the first time I’ve shared the restroom with someone using their phone, nor was it the first time I watched them leave without flushing or washing their hands. Ugh! I then observed her cruising the grocery aisles, still talking on the cell phone squeezed between her tilted head and hunched shoulder, as she sorted through apples and canned goods, a vivid reminder that germs lurk everywhere.

What also surprised me was an article in the AARP Bulletin, “Boomers Are Skipping Needed Vaccinations”. I am not one of those boomers.  After two months of bronchitis last winter, I’m super aware of germs and getting vaccinations. My odyssey of antibiotics and inhalers started as a head cold after a shopping trip to, yes, a grocery store just before Christmas. While I always get a flu shot, last year’s ordeal is also a reminder that as we get older, we are prone to complications. A chest x-ray did not indicate pneumonia (whew!), but it was an obvious possibility.

Flu season is now closing in upon us again. According to my doctor, flu season in the United States is October through May. Vaccinations are widely available. If you are working in retirement, your employer may offer vaccinations for free.

In my area a doctor’s appointment is not necessary to obtain a flu shot. My local pharmacist can administer the vaccine. In fact, that’s also how I got my shingles vaccine after seeing a friend with the blistering, painful rash on her forehead. Anyone who has had chicken pox is at risk for shingles.  Even if you have already had shingles, you are at risk for shingles.  That’s right.  Just seeing what my friend was going through, not to mention the ugly sight, was enough to send me running to the pharmacy. Since then, I have known many, many people who have gone through the ordeal of shingles. There is much where I will take my chances, this is not one of them.

Other vaccines to put in your arsenal of staying healthy are the pneumococcal pneumonia and tetanus shots. Until I fell in October 2015 and cut my head open, a tetanus booster was no where on my mind. When the ER doctor asked me when I had had one last, I couldn’t remember. Did I ever have one in South Carolina or was the last one nearly two decades ago in Michigan? If you can’t remember when, that’s a clear indication to get one.

My experience with bronchitis last year is a strong reminder of our general growing resistance to antibiotics, which are used to treat other conditions such as pneumonia. Therefore, according to the AARP article, it is becoming increasingly important to prevent the spread of diseases through vaccinations.

As we age, our bodies do not recover as easily as they once did. Our immune systems may not fight off disease as well as they once did. It is up to us to be proactive about our health. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about vaccinations. Keep track of your vaccinations and get the next shot when it’s due.

At the peril of sounding downright germ-a-phobic I carry sanitizer in my bag and car. I use it when I pump gas, use a cart at the store, a menu at a restaurant or anything that has been touched by the general public. I wash all fresh fruits and vegetables. After all, we have no idea who sorted through the apples before us. I keep my vaccinations up-to-date.  And, of course I use one of the best ways known to prevent the spread of germs — I wash my hands!

 

A Recliner and A Bag of Chips

At High Falls

Last week Martin went to see his doctor. Referring to Martin’s bicycling and artistic endeavors, the doctor said, “When most people retire, they just want a recliner and a bag of chips.” I don’t think he’s talking about the people who can’t get around, but the ones who can and choose not to.

Admittedly, Martin is more physically fit than I am. He’s out on a 23 mile ride as I write this. His best time for that route is one hour and four minutes, so basically twenty miles per hour! Bicycling is a lifelong hobby he started in his late twenties. He wasn’t stopping it when he retired. In fact, he looked forward to having the time to do it more often. And, he does.

While I don’t own a recliner and only buy chips once or twice a year, I’m just not that motivated to work out in our modern way. We have a home exercise room complete with a BowFlex, Power Block weights and, of course, a stationary bicycle. There’s a TV mounted on the wall for my viewing pleasure while working out. But…I can’t even motivate my little self to walk through the door.

On the other hand, I also know aging well means continuing to move your body. What’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Neither too much recliner time or chips does anything good for a body. And, if you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?

Stone Steps

My lifelong hobby is gardening. I’m not a putterer. I remember Martin coming home one day to find me on the front bank with shovels, hoe and pickaxe amid a large curve of orange plumbers’ flags.

“What are you doing?” He asked.

“I’m making steps to split the bank. It’s too wide. It needs something to break it up.”

“What’s going on top of the dirt?”

“Natural stone slabs.”

Admittedly, such strenuous projects are few and far between. I compensate with activities like hiking, walking my neighborhood and cutting down dead pines on my property. Martin and I spent a morning this week taking out a dozen or more pines, cutting them up with chain saws and dragging them about 400 feet to our burn pile. Whew! In our South Carolina summer heat, that’s a workout!!!

The week before we hiked three miles at one of our favorite destinations, DuPont State Forest in North Carolina. Just getting to the foot of Triple Falls is a workout. Then, you have to climb back up. Oh, my aching thighs!

Whatever you do in retirement, if you aren’t already, get moving. Keep moving. You know the old saying, “Use it or lose it”. Walk, run, golf, tennis, hike, bicycle, swim, yoga, badminton, bocci, weights, ping pong, paddle board, anything at all. Just use your body. The recliner and chips will be there when you get home.

 

 

 

A Specter Among Us

Aphasia Poster

The big house, the fancy car, the expensive furniture and designer clothes will not make anyone happy. Finding a cure for diseases like dementia will. As I watched the PBS special on Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts, I know the feeling of urgency first hand. With the aging of baby boomers dementia is expected to become an economic train wreck taking down the health care industry and with it, the economy.  We cannot even begin to calculate the emotional toll.

While most people are familiar with Alzheimer’s, there are many types of dementia the general public is unaware of. They are just as devastating to the victims, families and our communities. They are even more under researched than Alzheimer’s.

Joey Daly has educated the public about Lewy body dementia through his YouTube chronicles of his mother, Molly as she slips away from him. He calls his efforts Molly’s Movement (https://mollysmovement.com). As NBC Nightly News reported, “Before these videos, you couldn’t explain it to people,” Daley said, adding that he couldn’t watch his mother deteriorating without giving the ordeal some purpose.” The videos are hard to watch. They are painful and powerful.     (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/battling-dementia-mother-son-s-incredible-journey-n757196)

Then there are the Aphasias. When you say, “Aphasia” almost everyone says, “What’s that?” To me, it is the most hideous disease no one has ever heard of unless they know someone who has it. The National Aphasia Association defines it as “an impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write. Aphasia is always due to injury to the brain-most commonly from a stroke, particularly in older individuals. But brain injuries resulting in aphasia may also arise from head trauma, from brain tumors, or from infections.” (https://www.aphasia.org)  One form of Aphasia is Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration (FTD).  It is most likely to lead to Alzheimer’s.

There are only (only!) two million people in the United States with Aphasia. Perhaps the most famous is former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was shot in 2011. There are several types of Aphasia. And like other forms of dementia, it is expected to rise in numbers as baby boomers grow older.

June was National Aphasia Awareness Month. When I posted that on Facebook, it received barely a notice. I have no idea if that is telling or not. I do know it’s my personal experience that most people don’t want to consider they may have one of these diseases someday. Sticking our heads in the sand won’t make it go away.

Lobbying our governments to fund more research and as quickly as possible may make it go away. We have spent trillions on wars when the biggest threat to our national security is right here in our own backyard. Write your representatives. Inform yourself. Educate your family, friends and neighbors. According to the Alzheimer’s Association there are about 5 million people in the US today with Alzheimers alone. By 2050 that number will have swelled to a train wrecking 28 million! The clock is ticking. Every minute does count.