Gratitude

I know, Thanksgiving was last week.  That is precisely why I chose this week to write about gratitude.  My daughter pointed out to me on Black Friday that it's strange that people in our country say how thankful for everything they have on Thursday, and then go out and buy a whole lot more on Friday.  Now, I know that much of that buying is for gifts for others, and I'm not here to shame anyone for buying gifts, but it is strange, none-the-less if you think about it.

Gratitude is a tricky, slippery thing.  You can be grateful at the same time as wanting more.  If you're only able to afford beans or rice to eat, you can have gratitude that you have those things, but still be hopeful for steak or salmon in the near future.  And for some people, gratitude can become a warped thing because they're glad they have basic necessities covered, but they do not think they are deserving of anything more or that they ever will have anything more.  Once  that line is crossed, stinginess can set in.  One can be grateful for what one has, but hold too tightly to it & not be open to anything new or different because of it.   So, it's important to practice gratitude with thanksGIVING.

That was not a misprint.  Gratitude is the attitude that we  ought have about life, the people in it and our material goods.  Thanksgiving, on the other hand, should be an outward expression, an action.  An example of this would be to have gratitude, or be thankful for a bowl of rice in our bellies  Thanksgiving would be to express that gratitude using our voice and consider if there is someone else who might need some rice that day.  This may seem extreme to some, but it can be life changing.

When you have your next meal, and while you are eating it you find yourself grateful to have something to give you strength and energy for the day, that is a good thing.  If you eat it, however, and while you eat you think of a family that is struggling to put enough food on the table, or a widower who might not get a home cooked meal very often, or a food shelf in your area that is seeking donations, it amplifies your gratitude, but gives you a place to express that gratitude with giving, thankful giving.  Make an extra meal and bring it to someone, or bag up a bag of grocery items to drop off at the local food pantry.

How about when you're driving your vehicle & find yourself warm and cozy and glad that you haven't had vehicle troubles in awhile?  You could practice thanksgiving by paying for an oil change for someone who is driving a jalopy that is barely holding together, or even paying for a vehicle repair that they need done.

If you're reading an excellent book in your spare time, think of someone who might like to read it after you and pass it on instead of selling it on an online marketplace.

If you have plenty of warm clothing, pass some on to someone else who needs it, especially if they have children growing out of things every 3 months!

Even when it comes to mundane things like tax season, consider paying for a senior friend's taxes to be prepared for them so that they do not have to fret over how to pay for that on their fixed income.

There are so many things that we take for granted and do not even approach with gratitude because we've never thought  to be grateful to have enough money to pay to have our taxes prepared, for instance.  Despite how we feel about the  tax laws, we can find gratitude to have the ability to pay. If we practice enough, our gratefulness should have no limits.

Once we find gratitude, it shouldn't stop with us.  Giving should be a natural expression of gratitude, because we've all experienced what it is like to do without and not have quite enough.  When that need is met, there is a resting, a bit of relaxing that can take place inside. That relaxing is a bit of something that is beneficial for us and would be beneficial for our entire society!  While we cannot help everyone in the world, we can help at least one other person.  And once you start, it can become a bit addicting.  Giving something to someone that they truly need is actually quite fun.  Try it.  Do not limit yourself to giving just during the holidays, but all throughout the year, and you'll find yourself feeling more gratitude for what you have & more outward looking for needs that you can meet in your community!

Gift Giving on a Limited Budget

  As most of you reading this have discovered by now, growing older is not always cheap!  Even with good financial planning, good insurance & a somewhat healthy body, there are unexpected things that can come up and break the bank pretty quickly.  Because of this, it can make birthdays and gift exchanges at other holidays all the more stressful.  The bad news might be that you find yourself in the position of not being able to spend much, if anything, on gifts for those you love.  The good news is that there are options other than buying expensive gifts that are open to you if you are able to take the time to look.

The gift of time.  Many people do not realize how valuable the gift of time may be to another person.  If you are older, but greatly enjoy cooking, perhaps you could offer to cook a few meals for a growing family that is busy.  If you enjoy reading children’s stories, have someone help you start an account of youtube where you can record yourself reading to your young family members so that you are able to read to the children even if you’re not able to be physically present at the time.  Think through things that you’re good at, or things that you’ve done for work in the past & offer services in those areas.  Perhaps someone could benefit from your tax knowledge & would love to not have to pay someone to do their taxes if you’re able to do it.  Maybe someone could use help with mending clothes or framing a window.  Do not think that just because you’re aging that you cannot offer your knowledge & skills to those that would appreciate it.

Food.  Food can be a very economical gift to give if you’re on a tight budget.  You could bake sweets before a gathering & box them up.  You could create your own baking mixes or spice mixes & put them into jars to be use.  You might even go so far as to make a few freezer meals that would be of great benefit for other people with busy schedules so that they could just pull it out of the freezer, thaw & cook for a real meal.  If you wanted to do something like this, you’d need to be sure that the person(s) in question do not have any particular food allergies.  If you’re unsure, always provide an ingredient list to those who will be receiving the gift.

History.  A very thoughtful & inexpensive gift for those close to you might include a small book of memories of them.  You would have to begin writing in advance so that it would not become a chore, but rather a delightful walk down memory lane.  Include some photographs if you have them.  If you are quite elderly, perhaps a book of memories would be in order for those younger ones in your family.  Include the struggles that you’ve gone through, things that have helped you remain positive in order to overcome defeat & maybe even some inspiring quotes or pictures.  This gift is greatly appreciated by loved ones & could prove very helpful for them if you are related and you include a bit of anecdotal health history, as well.

Books.  They are generally inexpensive & can be given with the recipient in mind.  If you know hobbies or interests that they enjoy, they are sure to love books that you give them on the subject.  If you do not know their interests well, you could always give them a book that you’ve found enjoyable, inspiring or helpful.

Love.  At the end of the day, all that most people really want is to know that you care. If you show love & care for them, there is no greater gift that you could give & there is not greater gift you could hope to receive.

Traditional Christmas Fare

In many countries and cultures throughout the world, celebrations of major holidays revolve around loads of particular foods that are only made during that celebration.   In America, the celebration of the Christmas holiday is traditionally centered on a full host of different kinds of food. Because our cultural fingerprint has changed over time, some of the foods that were traditional for a certain subset of Americans living in a certain place has changed as they’ve accepted traditional foods from other cultures that they come into contact with.  The melting pot mentality can clearly be seen as you look over historical records of holiday foods.

 

As more people eked a place out of the woods for their families, they also began keeping more domesticated animals.  Eventually the ground was prepared enough to be able to have gardens that produced enough that could be prepared for larger feasts.  In the South, you’d notice that pumpkins, sweet potatoes and lemon pies became more standard fare.  In the North, you would find far more apple & pear desserts along with breads and stuffings made from the products obtained through extensive wheat fields.  Wild turkeys were often on the menu throughout the US because their range covers nearly the entire nation.  Rabbits were another common meat fare that everyone loved.

Early in our nation’s history, holiday meals were heavily dependent upon the foods that were readily available.  Venison, wild fowl and berries and nuts gathered from the forest were a large part of the fair for those who lived further inland.  For those on the coast, oysters or oyster stew, fish, ducks and geese were more common.  But if you look at the westward movement in our country, and agricultural expansion, traditions and cookbooks changed over time.

In modern times, our tables are often determined by foods that are the most readily available from processing plants, since most of us are not willing to go out and get our own foods from the land.  Turkeys and hams are often very abundant.  As food from other cultures becomes readily available at the market, many people choose to change traditions and add in things like spring rolls or tamales for their Christmas meal.

One of my most memorable Christmas meals was when the food that was brought to the table had all been raised, grown, foraged or hunted by those in attendance.  Some brought hams from a hog they’d raised & the sweetest sweet corn I’ve ever tasted.  Someone else brought a venison roast and a small amount of wild turkey & grouse.  There were pumpkin pies made from pumpkins from the garden.  Apple & pecan pies from trees in someone else’s yard.  Crackers held jalapeño/raspberry jam that was prepared by someone who had both of those things at their place.  Asparagus canned from summer, carrots and potatoes dug in the late fall.  All of the offerings were labors of love & it was not even an intentional sharing of goods, it just happened that each person had been successful in their hunting, farming and gathering that year and desired to share it with those they loved.  Perhaps the only thing that were not produced from scratch were the wheat that the bread was made from, the butter and the cheese.

While this is a nostalgic memory for me, I fully realize that this will not happen every year in the modern times in which we live.  This year while you are celebrating, consider looking at the things you already have in abundance.  Of course, we all love to have certain things on the table for the holidays, but over the full scope of history, the meals were more representative of the fare that was readily available rather than one specific dish.  The main consideration when sitting down to your holiday meal is to be thankful for those you eat with and thankful for the food you enjoy.  If those two elements are in place, it really doesn’t matter what adorns the table.  It will be a meal to remember!

Minimalist Gifts

 

The gift giving season is upon us.  Not that we do not give gifts during the rest of the year, but for many, this quarter of the year is fraught with frenzied buying, wrapping & giving, as well as receiving, returning or re-gifting.  Why so much frenzy? Why so much stress?  Often, it has to do with too little thought.  Of course, the giving of a gift to another person is a sign that you are thinking of them.  Most people feel gratitude when they receive a gift, even before they’ve unwrapped it.  But, once the gilded paper is off the gift & you’ve returned home, does it still hold the same warm spot in your heart?  Or has it now become an extra burden?  You must find a place to store it.  It was not precisely what you were looking for.  It doesn’t fit you properly.  The material irritates your sensitive skin.  The list goes on.  Added to this is a sense of obligation to keep said gift because of the thoughtfulness of the giver.  The shirt you received may make you itch incessantly, but you feel obligated to keep it hanging in your closet for years because you love the person who gave it to you.

For the elderly, this problem is even more pronounced.  They want to show love & care by giving gifts, but often their income is very limited in their later years.  They love to receive gifts, but space in their apartments or rooms may be very limited & it is very difficult for them to get rid of anything that they cannot use.

We are in search of a better way.  Refraining from giving gifts would take much joy out of the season we’re celebrating.  We do not want to turn into the Grinch.  We just need a bit more thoughtfulness to go along with the gift-giving.  Gifts that will not give the recipient a disappointed or frustrated or obligated feeling once they’ve brought them home.  Gifts that will show that we really care, without burdening the giver by their expense or the receiver by their bulkiness.  Because of that, I’m going to offer a few minimalist gift suggestions that might help during this season.

  1. Give the gift of paying for something they already purchase on a regular basis.  Whether that something is gasoline, a haircut, a meal out, or a coffee, getting that item paid for can be just as exciting as opening a traditional gift because you know that the next time you go to the shoppe, you won’t have to purchase that item.  It’s like receiving cash, only better, because the person giving it knows you well enough to know which places you frequent & what you like.
  2. A family history. If you have grown children, this gift would be an amazing one that costs very little monetarily.  Write or verbally record your family history.  Include any important dates that you can think of.  Include prints of photographs that you have.  Include mementos if they are in your possession, or the location of those mementos for them to look at when you both have time.  This gift would not be appropriate for most six-year-old children, though they would appreciate sitting to look at photos of their ancestors & hearing the stories just as much as anyone.
  3. An excursion. Perhaps plan an excursion for someone you love.  It’s better if the pair of you can do this together, but if that’s not possible, plan it all the same.  Perhaps a trip to see a theatrical production with a hotel included.  Maybe a trip to a national park.  Maybe a fishing expedition.  Think about things that they would like & plan them far in advance so they can arrange their schedule around it.  Provide anything that they might need for the excursion.  Many people need time away, but few people will take it for themselves.  This forces the issue, as they will not want to waste the effort you’ve put in.
  4. For younger children/teenagers consider gifts of lessons in some area in which they’re interested.  Music or voice lessons.  Dancing lessons.  Horseback riding lessons. Cooking lessons.   Sculpture lessons.  The list of possibilities is long.  These things are often fairly expensive & not something that families can always afford.  Find out an interest area for them, the time commitment involved and be sure to check with a parent to ensure that the child would have transportation available if needed.  This gift might also be suitable for an adult with varied interests.
  5. Gift a massage or chiropractic appointment.  A house cleaning service.  A makeup or skin consultation. A membership to a gym.   Giving anything that includes a little bit of pampering makes it feel like a luxury.
  6. Something they won’t do for themselves. If you know someone who is going through trying times, consider giving them something that they need but will not get for themselves.  If they’re without insurance, gift them a dental or eye appointment that they need.  Oftentimes parents will go without these necessities if they have children that are also needing them. When choosing between wants and needs, they see their children’s issues as needs and their own as afterthoughts or wants.  If they are having true difficulties, this will mean far more to them than that adorable sweatshirt you found at the department store! You’ll have to use discretion on this gift, so  as not to make the person feel like a case for charity, but rather that you understand times of life that are tough & have walked them before.
  7. Pay for a subscription that they already order or something new that they’d be sure to use.  Whether it’s Netflix, Amazon Prime, Audible, The New York Times, or GRIT magazine, it is always fun to gift things that you know the person will get use out of. 

This list isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but to start the brainstorming process.  You can give & receive gifts that enhance the lives of those giving and receiving without being a source of frustration for them or you.  You can give things that make people feel cared for without burdening them.

This holiday season, give with that end goal in mind.

7 Tangible Acts of Gratefulness 

 Gratitude That Changes Things

It’s that time of year again when people all over America are getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with friends and family.  We’ve begun to see that days of gratitude posts on social media, we’ve seen “gobs” of turkeys in the store (see what I did there…gobs/gobble?), and in some parts of the country we’ve started to fear that all the fall décor outside will be covered in snow before the big day.

Gratitude is an amazing thing.   It is genuinely good for you.  Many say that it has health benefits for the thankful ones.  Even if it doesn’t do anything for your health, it is good for you as you seek to be a more compassionate & empathetic person.  But, are there other ways that this season of gratitude could benefit those around us in need?  Saying we’re thankful is necessary & wonderful.  Showing that we’re thankful by what we do each day is even better, especially if we’re feeling less than thankful because of present circumstances.

So here are 7 ideas to show that you’re thankful for the life you’ve been given, even when the going is tough.

#1. Food.  This is usually a safe place to start.  If you live in America, chances are that you have had or will have a meal today.  Now, maybe it isn’t exactly what you would prefer.  Maybe you haven’t been able to go out to eat in a year or two, but you’ve most likely had food recently.  When you find yourself thankful for food, there are a variety of ways to express that appreciation by giving to others who are struggling.  Give to a food shelf or pantry.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen or for meals on wheels (trust me, they’re always looking for volunteers).  At the very least make a bit of something and share it with a neighbor or a friend that could use a hand because they work long hours or have been in the hospital.  If those don’t suit you, consider giving to charities like Heifer International to give the gift of animals or seeds to people in developing countries so that the investment keeps growing.

#2. Warmth.  If you are feeling especially grateful for the heat that you get to experience, especially if you live in a northern climate, consider giving warm gear to your local clothing drive.  Coats, snow pants, hats, scarves, gloves, etc. are usually accepted at coat drives for those struggling to stay warm or to clothe their children for the winter months.

#3.  Shelter.  How often do you walk into your home with overwhelming gratefulness to be out of the elements outside (whether it’s too cold, hot, or pouring cats & dogs)?  If you are grateful for shelter, consider that others would be grateful for the chance at shelter.  Most cities & even some smaller towns now have shelter for those in need.  Give a gift of money or something else that they’ve stated that they need.

#4.  Healthy relationships.  Sometimes being around people that have unhealthy relationships is enough to spur our thankfulness for those with whom we share a good relationship.  When you find yourself thankful in this way, consider helping those who are struggling in this way.  There are multiple battered women’s shelters & homes that help children transitioning out of abusive situations.  If you are really struck by the need of the children in these situations, consider more than just giving monetarily.  The need for foster parents in good homes is huge in every state in our country.  You could have a direct impact in their lives.  If that seems too extreme, perhaps a big brother/big sister program might be a better fit.

#5.  Education.  It’s always an option to contribute to scholarship funds for others who attended your high school or other less fortunate areas of the country.  Help someone else out in the same way in which you were helped!

#6.  Extended family.  Donating time or items to nursing homes is a great way to show thankfulness for those in our extended family that are elderly.  They are often looking for volunteers to help with activities, reading aloud, giving small concerts for residents, etc.  It can be a great way to give back.

#7.  Health.  If you’re extremely grateful for your health, consider giving to hospitals that do not charge their patients, like certain children’s hospitals.  They’re always looking for donations.  If you’re unable to give monetarily, perhaps volunteering might be an option, or making needed items like chemo hats or lap blankets.  Be sure to call in advance to be sure you’d be filling a need & not creating extra hassle with items that you’d make.

These are just a few ideas, but I’m fully confident that if you dwell on how thankful you are, you will probably come up with many more ideas that can show your thankfulness in tangible ways & help to make someone else’s life a bit more bearable.

Summer Holiday Tips With Seniors

Spring is progressing steadily into summer.  Memorial Day officially marks the beginning of lazier days for many people.  Family & friends gather for BBQ's by lakes, fish in rivers, go for hikes & enjoy the company of one another.  Sometimes, however, these types of activities can become more challenging as we, our family or friends age.  We still want to continue on with the traditional holiday celebrations for Memorial Day, the 4th of July & Labor Day, but find certain aspects difficult.

Accommodate for bugs. As we age, our skin thins & we can become extra sensitive to bug bites.  Scratching at bites can cause tears in the skin that can take months to heal.  You do not want your loved one to spend months recovering from a visit to your home.  Plan ahead to either hold your gathering in a screened area or to provide bug spray or bug machines that will deter the pests from landing and biting.  If you plan for a hike, walk or even a boating trip, be sure to bring along light-weight clothing or blankets that can be used to keep insects at bay.

Many older people enjoy being on the water, but find that the process to board & exit a boat becomes increasingly difficult because of sight & balance issues.  Provide support as the walk down the dock.  The waves of the water can make anyone's eyes play tricks on them.  Consider a pontoon instead of a boat ride, as the entrance is straight across from the dock instead of a large step downward.  Be sure that if you are going out during the bright sunlight that you provide a large brimmed hat, sunscreen or long-sleeved shirt to prevent sunburns.  Also provide an ample supply of water to drink as dehydration becomes more of an issue with age & can have lasting effects.  Also, remember that if your guest has hearing issues, the noise of the waves & the water can be irritating over a long period of time.  Allow for breaks away from the water where they'll be able to hear well without difficulty.

Think about their digestion.  Meals heavy in meat can be detrimental to the precarious balances going on in aging digestive systems!  Provide meat, but also provide plenty of vegetables, & even consider some yogurt or other probiotic rich foods that will help digestion stay normal & healthy during their stay.

Try to place chairs on even ground.  If you must place them in uneven places in the lawn, be sure that there is a cane nearby to make it easier to rise from the chair & also to walk around the grounds.  Provide well padded seats for them to sit on & try to be sure that the seats are not too near the ground so that they will not have difficulty in taking their seat or getting up from it.  Place a table & possibly an umbrella near them to keep them comfortable & make drinks & food available without having to balance them on their laps.

Be considerate of the amount of time that they may feel up to socializing.  If they love to talk & tell stories, this may not be an issue, but if they've become accustomed to turning in earlier, take note so that they will not be too worn down the following day.  You want them to have happy memories of gatherings, not to dread another one.  Allow them to choose when they'd like to turn in or return home.

These tips may seem basic to those who are around an aging population on a regular basis, but are good reminders for all of us to try to see things from their perspective.  If we'd like them to be active & involved in our holiday celebrations, there are small things that we can do to make it a more enjoyable time for everyone.  If we're prepared in advance, we won't spend precious time with our guests by running for things to accommodate them better & can instead spend the time enjoying their company.

 

Changing Traditions As We Age

The holidays, I suppose, is the perfect time to address this subject on graciousness.  While various families and acquaintances have a myriad of traditions around holidays, it is common for many families to adhere to those traditions every year throughout their lifetimes without much change.  As we age, however, that can sometimes begin to change.  Once our own children begin having their children, but especially when grandchildren have children, the long standing holiday traditions that we've built up begin to crumble apart & leave us feeling at a loss as to what to do with ourselves.

First, it's important to note that this is a very real & very normal part of the aging process.  There is no need to see it as an affront to us personally, this “changing of the guard”.  There reaches a point when we can no longer do the things that we used to be able to do.  This could include trekking through the snow & ice in sub-zero temperatures to get a Christmas tree to trim, or making a meal fit for a king that will serve at least 50, and insisting on using all the finest china that needs to be hand-washed afterward. There is a point in life when our physical bodies are not up for the monumental tasks of some of the traditions we've set up.

Second, it's okay to be a bit nostalgic about it.  These traditions do not encompass what the entire holiday is about, but they are certainly things that we've looked forward to and done for many years.  In some cases, the traditions have helped glue our families together when the circumstances of life are trying to tear us apart.  Nostalgia is good.  It helps soften the edges of the harsh world we live in & give us hope for a brighter future.

Third, it's also okay to admit that while we have these feelings of nostalgia, we're physically and/or mentally unable to continue to carry on the traditions as we've known them in the past.  This is admitting to changes that have occurred in us, not necessarily to weakness, but to changes that naturally occur with the passage of time.

All of these changes can be difficult to process, and some of the changes may come before we are expecting them.  Our children may go away to spend time with their grandchildren instead coming to visit us.  With the arrival of spouses & children, other aspects of our tradition may need to be graciously set aside or arranged differently in order to incorporate traditions that are important to those loved ones who are new to the family.

If all of this talk of changing traditions has made you sad & long for days of old, take this time to contemplate what NEW opportunities this may afford you.  Could you make new traditions of your own?  Could you go and help those in need in a way that you've never had time to do before?  Could you arrange a food drive for a food shelf?  Could you serve in a soup kitchen?  Could you help crochet, quilt or sew things that would help those less fortunate?  Could you give the gift of time and read to someone who can no longer see well enough to read?  The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.  So this year, welcome the changes with gratitude & graciousness and continue to make the world a better place!

 

 

What We Can Learn From Old Family Stories

 

The Holidays have a tendency to bring out stories from the past.  It can be a great time of re-living tales of holidays past, or other entertaining memories.  It can also be a time of disturbing or deeply saddening stories that tell tales of your family history.  As family members age, sometimes they feel the freedom to finally speak about times past that they haven't been able to bring themselves to speak of before.  These times are certainly meant to be enjoyed, but sometimes they can be greatly beneficial to those who are willing to think a bit more deeply about what they mean.

 

Listen attentively to the stories going around you.  You may catch hints of the emotion behind them if you listen carefully.  Ask questions for clarification if you do not understand certain parts.  Ask about where the events took place, ask about the age of the people involved.  Get as many details as you can so that you can record the stories for future generations to enjoy.

Record the stories later by writing them down in a special book that you've set aside for this purpose. If you speak with older family members on the phone frequently, consider keeping  notebook beside the phone so that you can jot notes while you speak.

Think through the implications.  If you hear disturbing stories about women in your family history who have gone through strange events after giving birth, consider whether that might mean that post-par tum depression could be a pre-disposition in your genes.  If there are bizarre stories of ancestors, question whether mental illnesses might be prevalent. If several people struggle with alcohol or drug abuse, think about what that could mean.  There might not be official health diagnoses from those time periods, but stories can give you valuable information that may shed light on struggles that surface in your own life or those of other family members.

Research.  Find out if there are ways to ensure that you & your loved ones can overcome those undesirable things that have been recurring in your family history.  Even if there are things that are not physical in nature, but rather more emotional.  If you see tendencies toward bitterness or unforgiveness, consider how you could change that trajectory in your own life so that you don't have to live with that extra burden.  Instead of lamenting about how awful things have always been, take a chance at changing it!

Focus on the good.  When you hear family histories that are about good in nature, be sure that you share those with others!  Take note of those around you who have attributes that you would like to adopt.  If you have a grandmother who is uncomplaining despite physical pain, ask her how she maintains her positive outlook.  If you have a family member that is always good at choosing the perfect gift for others, ask them their secrets.  If you have a father who perseveres despite repeated hardship, ask where he finds his strength.  In short, learn from those in your family that have things to teach.  They may also have tons of other attributes that are not so endearing, but choose to focus on their strengths & improving your strengths.

Old family stories can be valuable just for passing the time of day, or they can be valuable for generations to come, it just depends on you perspective.  Listen, to the good and the bad.  Take the good & learn from the bad.   Then tell the stories (and the things you've learned from them) to those younger in your family & continue the family history!

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