Tag Archives: love

Aging with Your Pets

Long View: Aging With Our Pets

My grandparents had a Chihuahua that lived to be 20 years old. Suzy had her own knitted sweaters to wear when she went outside. Every night, Grandma cooked and cut up liver in tiny, bite-sized pieces for Suzy’s dinner.

I’m not sure what the life expectancy and living arrangements for most dogs were in the 1950s and 1960s, but I would wager that Suzy’s life was particularly plush for that era. When I came along in 1968, my parents gave me the middle name of Sue. I often wondered if this was a happy coincidence or a tribute to that beloved Chihuahua.

Today, I have a yellow Labrador retriever puppy named Harvey. Grandpa’s name was Harvey. Touché.

Americans love their pets. Take a stroll through your local big-box pet supplies chain, and the number of things a person can buy for their animals will amaze you. Strollers, raincoats, probiotics, gluten-free and vegan dog food, and even memory foam mattresses. Within just a few miles of my house, Harvey can go to a doggy day camp, swim at an indoor pool just for pooches, and later have his hair and nails done at the pet spa.

Your pet pampers you in different ways. Owning a pet lowers stress, reduces blood pressure, and raises mental sharpness. A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia showed that petting a dog for 15 minutes releases the feel-good hormones serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, while also lowering the stress hormone cortisol.

Pets can open up a lonely world and get you out of bed in the morning. Walking a dog (or a cat, if you are particularly brave and the cat is extremely cooperative) is good exercise. Those of us with an empty nest find a new sense of purpose. And nurturing a beloved animal gives us unconditional love in return.

An older person with a pet companion can be a heartwarming love match. I reached out to Stacey Teager, from the Quad City Animal Welfare Center, for some advice for those who are looking to add a pet to their home in later years.

  • Make sure your pet gets regular checkups and immunizations. Have your animal spayed or neutered.
  • Never give your pet “people” medications. Always consult a veterinarian before medicating your pet.
  • Have a plan in place with your family or close friends for caring for your pet should you become sick and need to be hospitalized or stay in a nursing facility.
  • Match your pet with your physical capabilities. My 50-pound Labrador retriever puppy can drag my mother down the sidewalk. This is dangerous for both her and the dog. A quieter, smaller animal is a better choice for her to walk around the neighborhood.
  • Despite my grandmother’s loving intentions, don’t feed your pet table scraps or human food. Animals can get overweight and unhealthy with just a few added ounces. If you like to bake, there are lots of recipes for animal treats that use ingredients found in your pantry.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

Warm and Cozy Winter Relaxation

Chasing Health: Writing, Resting, and Winning Winter

Even with an occasional 60-degree day, February isn’t exactly my favorite month for getting active (or doing anything really, except maybe watching college basketball and catching up on TV shows). I prefer to spend my winter under a warm blanket with a giant sweatshirt and my bunny slippers, remote in hand, butt on couch.

The Infamous Bunny Slippers

As someone who thinks the first snow of the season is magical and who saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens (chock-full of hope from crawl to credits) three times this winter, I know if I’m running a little low on hope and motivation, lots of others probably are, too. After the holiday goodies go stale, I’m kind of done with winter. The mere thought of being outside in the cold makes me cringe. (Once again, thank goodness for those rare warm February days.)

Despite the snow, ice, and occasional subzero wind chills (gross), you don’t have to hibernate for the whole season. A little rest mixed with a hobby here and there is a great recipe for a productive and satisfying winter, even if you’re like me and think stepping outside in the cold is pure torture.

Winter is the perfect time to knock some indoor projects, big or small, off your to-do list. Hobbies can be great for your overall health, even if they’re not fitness related, by helping you reduce stress and sharpen your mind. And there’s no shame in resting, either.

In fact, relaxation is healthy, too. It not only helps refresh your mind, but it also helps lower your risk for certain diseases. Relaxation doesn’t mean lying in bed all day doing nothing. You can take some time to do something you love, catch up with a friend or family member on the phone (or in person if you’re ready to brave the cold), or try a new, relaxing hobby.

Winter is a gift-wrapped, guilt-free excuse handed to us each year (at least in the northern half of the United States), allowing us to put off our outdoor activities for about three months.

I need to cherish that gift, and here’s a short list of how I plan to do so with a mixture of stimulating and relaxing hobbies. You can customize the list and make the most of winter, too.

Nicole’s Ultimate Relaxation & At-Home Projects List

Make my dream a reality.

Although writing is literally my job, after years of writing about real-life events and health facts, I want to try my hand at fiction. I’ve dreamed of writing a novel since grade school, and it’s at the top of my bucket list (or sunshine list, as my friend aptly named it).

The verdict is still out on whether I’m any good, but this item is mostly about achieving a personal goal. Plus, writing is the perfect indoor activity for me (I can wear my bunny slippers AND make my dream come true).

Complete a major organization project.

Although it’s not quite as empowering as writing an entire novel, I would love to someday have every photo I’ve ever taken, or at least the good ones, organized both digitally and in print. (Not having printed photos makes me uneasy every time I watch a post-apocalyptic TV show or movie). Like my book, this one will take more than a season, but it’s another activity I can do inside.

I’m staying away from scrapbooking, though. I learned firsthand while creating a (very thorough) scrapbook of my senior year of high school that my perfectionism and scrapbooking don’t mix well when stress relief is my goal.

Take something old and make it new.

I spent a large chunk of last winter painting Mason jars to use as brightly colored vases in my apartment. I also started saving and painting olive, pickle, and pepper jars in the process, and suddenly, I had a winter hobby. I love olives, pickles, and peppers almost as much as candy, so my collection grew pretty quickly.

They were easy to paint (there are different techniques with varying degrees of difficulty) and reminded me of spring.

Mason Jar Project

Get active.

There are plenty of physical activities you can do without getting out in the nasty weather. Last winter, I started a step challenge. I got a LOT of steps, about 10,000 per day, sometimes closer to 20,000, mostly by walking around my apartment during commercial breaks, sporting events, and phone conversations. (Sorry, downstairs neighbors.)

I sometimes also do pushups, squats, crunches, and various other exercises while watching TV, and my all-time favorite exercise, dancing, is living room-friendly as well. Basically, as long as dancing and/or being able to watch TV is on the table, I’m a fan of exercise.

Channel my inner kid.

I’m somewhat of an expert at this one. For instance, I ate SpaghettiOs while writing this blog post.

Anyway, adult coloring books are a thing now. My co-workers and I have started having coloring nights after work. I use a kid coloring book, though. To me, the adult ones look too tough to be fun, and I’m a bigger fan of Disney characters than abstract designs anyway.

Coloring books can help you relieve stress and relax while also stimulating your brain, and they’re a nice indoor escape.

Get Coloring

Health Alliance Coloring Club
Health Alliance’s Coloring Club

Spruce up for spring.

Spring sprang in my apartment about a week ago because, like I’ve mentioned again and again, I’m tired of the cold. Decorating helps me cut back on boredom and allows for some creativity. Once it’s done, it’s a daily reminder that spring isn’t too far away. I highly recommend this one.

Spring Decor Everywhere

Enjoy those rare warm days.

If it’s going to be 60 degrees outside (or even upper 50s), I intend to get out and enjoy the spring-like temperature. As much as my relaxation and indoor projects list motivates me, nothing is quite as motivating as being able to go outside on a sunny day in a spring jacket.

 

Disclaimer: While the items on this list can help you fight boredom, escape from stress, feel accomplished, and stimulate your mind, they’re not magic. Winter will still be winter.

When the relaxation and indoor hobbies aren’t masking the winter grind, just remember, jelly bean season is in full swing, and pitchers and catchers reported this week. Spring will come.

Jelly Bean Season!

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Pre-Planning for the End of Life's Stroll

Vantage Point: Pre-Planning Is Key Part of Life’s Stroll

There is nothing like a summer evening stroll—the sounds of people reminiscing on front porches, American flags flapping in the warm breeze, birds chirping, and children’s laughter. Smells of barbecue and freshly mown lawns tickle the nose as eyes feast on the sights of gardens overflowing with flowers and kids riding bikes as their wet swim trunks leave a trail of water from the city pool.

I think back to summers past and family celebrations. These are the nights I want to remember when the days turn shorter, darker, and colder. Walking past the town cemetery, I think about a recent visitor in our Health Alliance office. A distraught spouse tearfully informed us of an unexpected passing. She seemed so lost, not knowing what to do next, and looking over the tidy headstones, I decided I don’t want that experience for my loved ones.

Reaching out to Beth Pent, continuing family care and pre-need counselor at Jones & Jones-Betts Funeral Home, I learned funeral planning can be a lot like wedding planning. There are seemingly unlimited choices to reflect your expressed wishes and unique style, and planning ahead provides peace of mind. Everyone will need to have final arrangements someday, and if you don’t take care of it, the burden of planning and funding it will fall to the grieving next of kin.

Even if you choose not to have a service, there is still a long checklist of responsibilities and state- and county-required documents survivors must take care of, in addition to the transportation and handling of the body. Some choices require authorization, so pre-planning can record everything you think the executor of your estate will need to know to carry out your wishes.

Consulting with a trusted resource, like Beth, not only helps you determine your pre-made decisions, such as final resting place, but it also helps relieve family members from having to guess and possibly argue over what you would have wanted. Pre-planning encourages you to consider your loved ones and is a way you can help them through their grief.

Funerals can be a celebration of life, and I want mine to serve as my last gesture of love by taking care of everything I can ahead of time. I want it to feel like a midsummer-evening stroll that evokes a sense of family, friends, and community.

Me Time Crafting

My Healthy Journey: Me Time

I feel like I have spent the last month drastically overhauling my physical life. And I have. But now, I’m ready to focus on making me time and self-care.

While I’m giving you advice on how to succeed at Rally challenges, I’m kind of doing them all at the same time. For the first time since high school, I’m exercising every day. And for the first time ever, I have radically overhauled my diet. Like I’ve said the past few weeks, I’ve been cooking at home every day and am eating more whole grains, fruits, and veggies, and I’ve cut out caffeine, processed foods and sugars.

So although there are still plenty of food mission posts to come, so you can use my new experiences to help you succeed, in my head, these are a little bit like old news. Been there, conquered that.

But as you can probably guess, now that I’ve settled into a rhythm, this isn’t actually what I spend all day thinking about. As a matter of fact, not focusing on this stuff is exactly how I got so unhealthy.

Now that healthy eating is more of a habit for me, though, I’d like to talk about something that feels more like real life to me. You know, the stuff that occupies my mind all day.

If you’ve been following along with me (from my writing to going all out for Halloween), you probably know that I like being creative. This job definitely requires a degree of creativity. I spend most days writing, picking out photos, and cruising Pinterest, which means that when I go home and crash into bed to watch Netflix with my dog, I don’t really feel guilty.

But I have spent my life going through creative phases. I like to learn new things, and I like to make things, which has made my life a long line of creative experiments. Over the years, I’ve mastered soap making, candle making, jewelry making, origami, juggling, the yo-yo, theater makeup, knitting, and crocheting, to name a few. And not only do these random projects (sometimes) leave me with nice, new stuff, creativity has many benefits.

I find that creative activities relax me. They let me disengage from the stress of my work and social life and just do something I enjoy. They also make me feel accomplished. When you write a blog post, take a picture, even make a nice meal, you don’t always feel like you’ve actually added anything to the world. But even these simple creative activities can make you feel like you’ve achieved something. That plain piece of paper is a heck of a lot cooler as a swan.

And I’m not the only one. As this CNN article talks about, we stress creativity in our kids because it matters. Even as funding for the arts falls in high schools, most parents with preschoolers still know finger painting and coloring matter.

Creativity helps you believe in yourself, learn to deal with failure, continue to learn throughout your life, and even know yourself better. And the more you exercise that learning portion of your brain through fun stuff, the easier learning things for say, work, can get.

And that’s why Rally also has a mission to help you remember to do something creative. This is one of my favorite missions on Rally because that creative stuff can get really lost in the shuffle of daily life as you get older, but it really is important to make time for it once in a while.

So here are some of the projects I’ve done or am planning to do that feed my creative side. Maybe they will inspire your own creative juices.

1. Write something

As I’ve said before, you never really know what all you can get out of writing until you start. Maybe you won’t end up with a finished product you can use, but you can definitely get something creative and fulfilling out of talking to yourself through writing.

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2. Decorate something

I recently painted a shelf gold for my new(ish) apartment, which I will show you when I talk about organizing . But if you’re anything like me (or my HGTV-addicted mother), few things are as satisfying as making something beautiful or helpful that you use in your house every day. If you’re looking for some cool and affordable DIY projects (and tips) for your home, explore this list.

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3. Make some art

I have the advantage of knowing how to use some software that lets me create some pretty fun artwork for my walls, which is great because drawing isn’t always my strong point.

But you can always find a quote that you love, make it look pretty, and hang it. And sometimes, with a nice frame, your doodles can look amazing on your walls, too. Or just spend a day scrapbooking and reliving some good memories.

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4. Grow something

I’ve never really thought about myself as a plant person, but it turns out, I kind of am.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m obsessed with terrariums, and I own an orchid. I also recently bought a lavender topiary on a trip to Nashville. It smells amazing but requires regular trimming.

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But the biggest way I think I just have to expand my plant collection is by growing indoor herbs. There are loads of different kits online and plenty of advice. Fresh herbs are expensive, but they make every meal so much better! I end up throwing a lot of the ones I buy away because they go bad before I can use them all.

Home Herb Pots

Growing your own herbs means you can have a never-ending supply of the ones you use most, and they won’t go bad. I think I will go with mint, cilantro, basil, and rosemary, but you go with what you will use!

And of course, if you’re interested (and don’t live in a tiny apartment), growing a full garden can be amazing. It would be great exercise to work outdoors, and the fresh fruit, veggies, and flowers you get out of it can only add good things to your home.

5. Sew (or knit or crochet or …) something

There are tons of books out there to help you learn these sorts of things, and better yet, lots of free (or cheap) patterns all over the Internet. And nothing else I’ve ever made is as satisfying as the things I can wear. When people ask where they can buy something you made — there’s nothing better!

If you love fashion and want to learn to sew, I have the book for you: Famous Frocks by Sara Alm and Hannah McDevitt.

Famous Frocks Cover

My mom got this for me for Christmas one year, and it has patterns so you can make your own versions of some of the most famous dresses from this century. (They also have a Little Black Dress version!) It is a little pricey at about $20, but you get 20 dress patterns with it. That’s a whole new wardrobe!

Etsy is also the place to go to find cheap, wonderful patterns. For instance, I plan on making a  complete set of these cross-stitch cities from Satsuma Street for adorable nursery art the second my sister-in-law gets pregnant.

3 Pretty Little City Patterns

And there’s no place better for knitting patterns. If you like The Hunger Games movies, this pattern of Katniss’s amazing scarf from Catching Fire was just $5 and took me just 2 days to make:

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Creativity time is my me time. It’s when I get away from the hectic demands of my life and just make something. So the important thing is to take the time to try something new and make something you love!

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Knit with Heart

Vantage Point: Seniors Knit with Love to Help Others

Before I met with Aїda Bound—a social worker and fierce fighter for civil rights, social justice, the aged, and the underserved—I hoped to impress her with the yarn I was going to donate to the greater Wenatchee Area Hat Project. But as Aїda talked about collecting, sorting, storing, and delivering the hats and the difference the program makes to the (mostly) seniors who make the hats and the children in need who receive them, I was the one who was dazzled.

Health Alliance Medicare employees get the chance to help members every day by giving them great customer service and healthcare benefits. Having a local presence means we can also be involved in North Central Washington communities. Helping others is the principle behind the Hat Project, too. Seniors can join in, even if they are homebound with poor health. Yarn is donated, and hat makers get to choose the design, color, and pattern of each hat and can knit, crochet, or use a loom.

The hat makers know their time and talents are helping others, and it gives them a chance to be creative and social while having fun. One 98-year-old member said it gave her a reason to live. Aїda helped a woman who had dementia and couldn’t remember the pattern keep participating by having her tie knots for quilts made by another member. That way the woman could still benefit from the social support the program provides.

Aїda said, “Love is knitted into each hat and is what makes the difference to the children.” For some kids, choosing a handmade hat may be the first time they have ever been able to pick out something brand-new for themselves.

To donate to the Wenatchee Area Hat Project, please drop off yarn at Wenatchee and East Wenatchee Washington Trust Banks. (They welcome gas card donations, too.)

As someone who donated yarn, it was fun to choose the colors and imagine a senior making something so beautiful for a child in need. If you think a Hat Project could benefit your community, Aїda is willing to help. Call her at 509-888-1953, or email her at gutsgranny@nwi.net.