Aging Parents: Gifts That Look Great!

They say “It’s what’s inside that counts.” No argument here. That said, doesn’t anything that looks great on the outside raise our spirits…and those of our elders?

Two gift-giving holidays are fast-approaching. I think of the value of extra nicely wrapped gifts–where the initial fun is seeing them, followed by the joy of discovering what’s inside. Again this year, the Garden Section of our Woman’s Club has purchased gift items and wrapped them attractively–always making sure they contain some plant material (nothing artificial).

Three days ago they were on display, lining one side of the main room at the Holiday Open House. Some are above, once again ready to be taken to a nearby nursing home the next day. The Club member, who has always headed this project and transports the gifts to the nursing home, reports that the patients “light up” when they see the carts filled with these packages come through the door.

The stuffed dog has its nose in the air, while the list of contents in the adjoining basket looks you right in the eye.

All gifts are on the approved nursing home list, since we don’t know the recipients. Note list in photo at right. The pine cone with red bow counts as plant material. (Click once or twice to enlarge photo.)

Of course when gifts are for parents and friends, the only rules for gifts are those you set. Tins of hot chocolate and boxes of cookies and candy aren’t off limits. Additionally you know their wants and needs.

Cellophane makes baskets and open boxes look great! Putting it over a basket with a bow or ornament at the top converts a plain basket of gifts into a professional-looking showpiece.

Ditto for today’s colorful Christmas bags….just gently twist red or green tissue paper around the gift(s) and put it or them in the bag. Use tape and wrap gifts in the traditional way if you wish. But it’s not necessary with the decorative bag.

This year I learned lining a box–inside and out with holiday paper–is easy, requiring just a scissors and scotch tape plus the paper. And placing wrapped or unwrapped gifts inside makes a wonderful display–no top needed (below). Cellophane around the box and over the top, tied at the top, is an option (but not necessary).

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Sometimes it’s the little things that ignite the spark of joy. A few extra minutes to buy tissue, cellophane, bags and ribbon can bring added excitement to aging parents and elders we care about, whether living independently or in a nursing home. As the letter Garden Sections members received years ago reminds us:

Dear Ladies,
My nice little plant is doing very nicely and is happy.  The Christmas tray and notepaper plus pens are a wonderful gift. We are all very appreciative of all the goodies you sent to us. You make our holidays much more exciting. We are old and sick, not dead. I hope you all know that your thoughtfulness is appreciated.
 My Christmas basket from last year still decorates my room.
Thank you and God Bless.
VM

Aging Parents’ Advent Calendar of 24 small gifts

Doesn’t a small gift a day sound like a way to continually brighten up the holiday season for older people? Whether living at home or in a care center, don’t we all love a gift! Here’s my list of easily purchased, inexpensive Christmas or Chanukah gifts, keeping in mind:

Most older people
–don’t like clutter.
–don’t want what they don’t need.
–appreciate gifts they use up.

special bottled drink

Most gifts can be eaten or used up–but not all. Purchase them in any order as the inspiration hits! And definitely click links to anything on the list. Click photos to enlarge.   Think DECEMBER–

Battery-powered candle

$3.99 bouquet-Trader Joe’s

 1. Wide rubber band*
 2. Box of candy
 3. Music
 4. Snow globe
 5. Lottery ticket
 6. Miniature Christmas tree
 7. Personalized Coffee Mug
 8. Box of instant cocoa or special tea bags
 9. Box of cookies
10. Bouquet of flowers**
11. Postage stamps (for sending Chanukah or Christmas cards)
12. December magazine focused on their interests
13. Manageable-size holiday door wreath
21. Lightweight throw blanket
14. Framed photo of family
15. Small succulent needing little care (Red Kalanchoe)
16. Bottle: wine, beer, sparkling water, flavored water
17. New lipstick for woman/new socks for man
18. Battery-powered flickering candle
19. Small basket of favorite fruit
20. Hand or after-shave lotion
21. 2015 Calendar–(personalized from Shutterfly?)                                                                      

Red Kalanchoe-Green container

Red Kalanchoe-Green container

The last 3 days–repeat a previously winning idea: lottery ticket? cookies? something to drink (hot or cold)? flowers? fruit? candy? Your inspiration will raise the spirits of aging parents and elders we care about…and help them age well.

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Battery-powered flickering candle at night

Related:

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

*The rubber band is the best gift for unscrewing jar and bottle caps (older people’s hands are weaker) and it’s free! (See photo at right, showing 2 rubber bands–pink one at work!)

**Trader Joe’s $3.99 bouquet of flowers (without vase). Didn’t use all the flowers in the original bouquet to do this arrangement. A bargain for flower lovers.

Note: Definition–Oxford Dictionaries: ad·vent  noun: advent; plural noun: advents
1. the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
2. the coming or second coming of Christ

Today’s post takes the place of Tuesday’s. I’ll be flying cross country then.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Terrariums: Easy Care Live Plants in Little Landscapes–Easily Made, Great Gifts..

Terrarium–
1.
 “
a glass container, chiefly or wholly enclosed, for growing and displaying plants”

Once planted, if enclosed, there’s next-to-no upkeep.
Note: Click all terrarium pics to enlarge
I was given the airtight, octagon terrarium (above) decades ago after an illness. I loved it. It needed very little care. Its plastic octagonal bottom contained small plants and its octagonal top lifts off when they need water or cutting back. Ultimately one plant got too tall. I took it out and easily replaced it with a tiny fern purchased at a landscape nursery. It transplanted easily and stayed small, aided by the humid environment. What a perfect gift for young and old. I was hooked.
Fittonia and ficus pumila quercifolia. Click or double-click for up close with frog and bottles

Click or double-click for up-close view of fittonia, ficus pumila quercifolia, frog, and bottles.

30+ years later only one (tall) plant remains. It has grown well with fittonia (striped leaf) and ficus pumila quercifolia (miniature oak leaf fig) for many years. I just cut back some fittonia before taking this picture. Terrarium needs little care beyond receiving small amounts of water a few time a year and some cutting back with a small scissors. Fittonia  leaves are all less than an inch; ficus leaves even smaller.

Since then I’ve made countless terrariums in varied containers–including this little hinged-roof, leaded greenhouse (made by a retired NJ policeman I was told) and purchased at a local nursery. Not for beginners; it’s not airtight.
Greenhouse terrarium with hinged roof (click to enlarge)

Click to enlarge. Flowering plants–sinningias pusilla and white sprite. Clay pots suck moisture– need added water and watching so they don’t dry out.

Creating an environment with small plants–for relaxation, for friends, and for older people in care centers at holiday time is fun–becomes addictive. The greenhouse terrarium won many “BEST” awards at spring flower shows (with more flowering plants in little pots than shown above). Interestingly maintaining little plants in a terrarium requires less work than a non-terrarium single plant–and delights onlookers (and judges).
PURCHASING PLANTS for Enclosed Terrariums
Smallish, slow-growing plants that like high humidity are a must–when the goal is easy/minimum care for aging parents and older people. Once planted and watered, they have no other watering needs because they create their own environment if their lid/top/plastic wrap is on tight. Only when plants are grown in something big like a covered fish tank, can regular-size plants be used.
Once planted, a terrarium is good to go–no upkeep– except occasional water (plants will look droopy) and pruning. Covered terrariums can’t tolerate direct sunlight. Heat hitting the glass (or plastic) will immediately bake (and kill) the plants. ‘Nuf said.
You can purchase terrariums or….
                                                                       MAKE YOUR OWN
Any dish or glass-enclosed vessel is fair game as a planter. I found a great glass piece at TJ Maxx for $5 because its top was missing. I turned it into a terrarium by wrapping plastic wrap over the top opening to keep it airtight.

Supplies are simple. The soil is simple potting soil (no added fertilizer, the idea is to keep things small). If deciding to fertilize, 1/4-1/8 strength of recommended amount, once in spring, will do it. I often forget; the plants don’t seem to notice and the flowering ones still bloom.

While I don’t use moss, many people do as pictured in the carefully-selected links below and this Philadelphia Flower Show entry above left. I often add little rocks, wood, and glass or pottery objects. I also line the container’s bottom with charcoal (see links below ). Someone said “it keeps the soil sweet.” I don’t know precisely what that means but it works I guess. Container, charcoal, soil, plants, water, light (but no direct sun) and lid/top does it. How simple is that!

Before the holidays, before the time crunch, why not make or purchase a terrarium? Older people, especially, are enchanted by these little creations. Nature is restorative. Watching these manageable little gardens grow and bloom keeps everyone interested….. and that helps parents age well.
Related:
Fittonia (red stripe) link: http://www.logees.com/browse-by-botanical-name/fittonia/nerve-plant-super-red-fittonia-verschaffeltii.htmlLogees has a fine reputation and excellent (often hard-to-find) plants. They advise if plants do well in terrariums. (I don’t have this variety.)
http://www.stormthecastle.com/terrarium/terrarium-plants.htmlvery complete, good instructions
http://www.thenester.com/2012/04/using-plants-in-your-home-part-4-terrariums.html–an especially excellent site for everything.
https://www.sprouthome.com/terrariums/ terrarium ideas–expensive; but check pictures. You can make them for much less
Commercial presentation: terrarium designs, purchasing. Beter planting instructions above.  http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/diy-or-buy-terrarium-167979-
http://www.stormthecastle.com/terrarium/where-to-buy-micro-mini-sinningia.htm  Scroll way down for purchasing info and photos of sinningias (White Sprite and Pusilla seen in greenhouse terrarium above). 

Aging Parents: Little-Care Live Plant Gifts –flowering or not

 

Dish Garden with Succulents

Click to enlarge

DISH GARDENS
Dish gardens make great gifts–easy upkeep with the right plants.

I began making dish gardens in elementary school, which speaks to how easy creating these small landscapes is…. easy to make, easy to maintain with easy-care plants. And they add enjoyment…fun to watch grow and possibly flower. AND  they add a decorator’s touch, regardless of decorating style. Aren’t they a good gift for older people who appreciate nature, don’t get outdoors much–and even those who do? You can purchase a dish garden, or do-it-yourself.

WHETHER PURCHASING OR MAKING YOUR OWN– LOOK FOR
(and ask questions of sales person)

  • Plants that are smallish
  • Plants that are slow growing (if the goal is reducing work)
  • Plants with different textured leaves
  • Plants with leaves of different colors
  • At least one plant that could flower (it’s a bonus)
  • Plants the grow either indoor or outdoors…not both in same container
  • An attractive container (dish) with a drainage hold and saucer

CARE
(Light and Watering Requirements Should be on Plant’s Tag)

  • Watering nonuscculents: Proper watering leads to success or failure.Thus, each plant in the little garden should have the same water requirements. Overwatering causes root rot, that’s why the dish’s drainage hole is important–as is a plate or saucer underneath. Otherwise furniture gets damaged (and equally bad, you will have left an eyesore remainder of your well-intentioned gift.) My favorite “saucers” are free–lids on plastic take-home containers. They’re clear, unobtrusive, come in various shapes and sizes.
  • Watering succulents: Succulents (see top photo), needs very little water. A light spray on the top or a little water poured on the rocks doesn’t upset the sandy look and does the job. Succulents store water in their “leaves.” They begin to shrivel when too dry, but rebound when give a bit of water. The easiest dish garden– any adult can monitor a succulent dish garden and add water before a disaster could occur.
  • Light: Plants should also be grouped by their light requirement–full sun, partial sun etc. To flower, plants need light. For example, miniature violets and sinningias need indirect light at the least, but never full sun.

DO-IT-YOURSELF
See above for plant selection

The two dish gardens below were entered for competition at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The first container is a bonsai dish with indoor plants; the one below looks like it contains outdoor succulents and is, I believe, made from a composite.

IMG_1055

Pink/green leaf plant is fittonia, I believe. More common is green and white leaf color.

Dish Garden

Succulents and ???

  • Dish gardens can sprout up in unlikely dishes.
  • As long as there’s a drainage hole, you’re good to go.
  • Potting soil for cacti and succulents differs from soil used for leafy plants.
  • For Fertilizing:   follow instructions, using 1/2 or 1/4 strength or less.
  • Avoid potting soil with fertilizer or plants will quickly outgrow the dish.

Caring for plants, if not too taxing and fussy, gives elders a responsibility that offers the joy of watching them grow, keeping them healthy and being needed. It’s also fun and life-affirming. Doesn’t this help parents and older adults age well?
Related: Thanks to Lori for an additional way of growing plants–the Miracle-Gro Aero Garden.This hydroponic garden seems easy from start to finish–can add interest and fun to an elder’s life.

Check out Some of my favorite little plants: Sinningia pusilla (tiny tuber).Rob’s Scrumptious (miniature violet). Ficus pumila Quercifolia (tiny ivy). Nephrolepis exalta  Fluffy Ruffles (little fern). Kalanchoe (check out colors)

Helpful sites: http://www.thegardenhelper.com/dish~gardens.html –about dish gardens
https://www.violetbarn.com/shop/index.php?_a=category&cat_id=30. Site for small plants

Red Kalanchoe-Green container

Red Kalanchoe~Green Container

Note: Newsworthy (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and medical institutions–to help parents age well.

Great Halloween Gift Ideas Roundup for Aging, Elderly, and Hosptialized Adults–Part 1: Pumpkins–Decorated, not Carved

Favorite Farm Stand 2014

Favorite Farm Stand 2014

Decorating pumpkin patch pumpkins in an unorthodox way–
Unique and fun gift for aging parents and elders.

When I lived near this farm stand I’d take pumpkins home and decorate–not carve–them on the kitchen counter….gifts for elderly friends at Halloween. However when we moved to the City, transporting them became a logistical challenge because cars in the City are basically an expensive nuisance. Thus, our car is in a garage in the suburbs. Last week I took the commuter train to the suburbs, got our car, then purchased the pumpkin, flowers etc. without knowing where I would assemble everything.

Decorating in the car would be a last resort, as there’s no electrical outlet for the glue gun. Decision: this year’s pumpkin–only one–would not require a glue gun, only the skewers to poke the holes. I forgot it last year and ended up using a fondue fork. It works too.

Halloween 2013 Scarecrow Pumplin

2012 Halloween Pumpkin, Skewers, Glue Gun, Scarecrow.    Click to enlarge

2013 Scarecrows

2013 Finished Hallwoween Pumpkins              (with fairly short stems)

This 2014 non-messy project began at the farm stand, where I selected an easily-portable pumpkin with a curved stem that had strings dangling from it. At Trader Joe’s I bought the $3.99 bouquet special, then went in search of some ornaments.

I’ve used small scarecrows in the past, but couldn’t find any this year.  The best I could do was purchase a head band with black feathers and pumpkins quivering on a spring ($2.99). That was a bit of a splurge for me, but what the heck! A dollar store was too far away.

I’ve learned to phone to double-check that it’s still convenient for me to bring a pumpkin to an elderly person–things can easily change as we know. The 96-yearr-old man’s caregiver said to come on over and decorate the pumpkin in the kitchen, which I (we) did.

2014  Whimsey Pumpkin

We placed an orange daisy in mouth to appear that a tooth is missing and added purple cheeks or ears

The finished 2014 whimsey pumpkin:We inserted an orangish chrysanthemum to look like a tooth was missing in the smile and added the purple mums for cheeks or ears.

Alternative to a fresh pumpkin: purchase ceramic or paper mache pumpkins with open tops or cut the paper mache top off, place container of water (plastic deli kind works well) inside, fill with fall flowers. Chrysanthemums in water last as long as the ones that have their longish stems inserted through the skewered hole into a fresh pumpkin’s liquidy center. The pumpkin above should last about 2 weeks. (Unused flowers are left in a glass of water and can replace any flowers that wilt.)

Today I found–and bought– pumpkins at Trader Joe’s and scarecrows at Michael’s. The scarecrows are $1.25 on sale–I bought 3. Tomorrow I will phone my 101-year-old m-i-l and tell her I’d like to bring over a small decorated Halloween pumpkin, if she would like. Having control, at 101, has become even more important to her. She has become very  particular about not having anything unnecessary around–she will recycle it to a friend or throw it away. That’s why I’ll ask first.

Trader Joe's Scarecrows

Michael’s Scarecrows

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Trader Joe’s Pumpkins

Related: 2013: Decorating a Gift Pumpkin: Instructions and finished product
2010: A Halloween Surprise 

The first Decorated Pumpkins 2010

2010 My first Decorated Pumpkins                    Click to enlarge

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Click links to timely information and research from respected universities, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

R’s 101st BIRTHDAY TODAY

We had the small birthday dinner R requested at her favorite place. Early in the day we got the feeling R really didn’t want to go out, Her mood was clearly not upbeat. That said, she has always been a disciplined person and I guess decided she needed to be a good sport and take the time and go to all the trouble of getting dressed up and putting on her make-up–not easy at 101. 101 BIRTHDATShe said her phone rang all day–I can vouch for that having tried to telephone her. She knew she’d need a nap since she tires so easily, and said she stopped answering the phone in the afternoon so she could rest. We were concerned about how the evening would work out. This photo may give a hint. But details must wait until tomorrow….probably after we fly back to New York. Every day we learn more about helping parents age well. Until tomorrow….

Aging Parents: LETTING GO and the CIRCLE OF LIFE

Dad and My Childhood best friend

Dad and my childhood best friend after Mom died

Dad died almost 11 years ago. We held onto the family home we grew up in so there would be continuity for my, at-the-time, very young niece. I was certain the home represented needed security and stability for her. I was also  trying my best to soften the loss of “Grandpa,” with whom she spent a great deal of time– often sitting on his lap in his blue recliner.

She was at the house most of the week after he died. When she asked why Grandpa died, I said something to the effect that God wanted Grandpa. An age-appropriate response, right? That 3-year-old memory, I realized, was much better than that of older people who would no doubt have forgotten that conversation. Her request of me several months later: “Would you please call God and ask him to send Grandpa back?”
*              *             *

Memories came back in waves as Dad’s recliner, Mother’s china and various furnishings left our home thanks to the estate sale. Interestingly, they weren’t poignant nor did they engender sadness.

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

I have been asked often during the last week if I felt sad cleaning out the home. My answer: “No.”  Interestingly that was my brother’s answer also. Reminders of past moments and the people who were part of them take me back so many decades. Yet as a far-away-living child I knew my parents’ death was always a possibility and tried to make certain, as they aged, that there would be no unfinished business nor unspoken words as each visit ended.

I also think, as does my brother, that our home deserves a young family with kids–to slide down the banister and discover our hiding places in the big basement. And so I, a sentimental person, have done a pretty good job of letting go–I think.

Moving on happens. It’s difficult to control. Life in my parents’ home is coming full circle.

Family Photos

Family Photos

It will house a new family and children again. And my parents’ last gift to me is this mountain of stuff that–in the going through and reading–has helped make sense of much of my past…and our family’s past.

If your parents should leave you boxes and drawers to clean out, try to muster up the patience (most in my family can’t) to see this is an opportunity to fill in gaps and answer questions. You get to relive your parents as younger, healthy and strong. The illnesses and the caregiving recede. For me, it has provided closure; has made letting go easier; has been priceless.