Passover and Easter: Another chance to lift elders’ spirits and Help Parents Age Well

Grocery stores, drug stores, and Dollar-type stores have countless inexpensive items for Easter baskets.

IMG_2981A little cash and a little creativity, and ribbon and some cellophane if you like, can turn an ordinary basket into an unexpected surprise that lifts spirits and brings smiles.

   Passover  April 3-11
Easter April 5

The Last Supper was a Passover Seder, thus Easter and Passover are linked calendar-wise and as celebrations of miracles:
The Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt with the Red Sea’s parting.
The Resurrection of Christ after the Crucifixion.

IMG_2973Our elders fondly recall traditions that brought generations together: Passover with Seders and children looking for the hidden matzo; Easter with church services and children looking for Easter eggs. And always a special meal.

Holidays evoke warmth of family, feelings of togetherness. Yet we know holidays can be depressing for older people, especially those living alone, void of children and invitations to join family celebrations. On the other hand, opportunities for bringing pleasure to old and/or lonely people during Easter and Passover are many:


Click to enlarge photos

Attending Easter services together, then…
…make the outing special by driving to a place with beautiful surroundings
…going to a restaurant in town where aging parents who don’t get out much can take a short walk (walker? wheelchair?), enjoy seeing normal activity and the window displays.
…having a meal at home with family–togetherness, conversation, participation…

…When Easter or Passover meals are at home and elders want to help, accept the offer. We know how good it feels to contribute.

One of our former Senior Advisors who lived into her 90’s, proudly reported that she made: chopped liver, matzo balls, gefilte fish, and horseradish for the Passover seder. Not easy at 89.  She said she was able “to work it out so I could make everything ahead.” And best of all perhaps for her, “It was a good feeling because everyone wanted to take some home–there wasn’t anything left.”

Last but not least, thoughts about the frail, isolated elderly who can’t get out easily: A visit is a gift in an of itself. Additional options:

IMG_2977…Bring… a little lunch or snack (“nothing big,” I’m told) to share while you talk (consider dietary restrictions if known)
…a few holiday decorated cookies or cupcakes
..an easy-care living plant–possibilities: philodendron [sweetheart plant], fern [nephrolepis], spathiphyllum [peace lilly–wallisi variety] or kalanchoe.
…a flowering plant for a sunny indoor spot or patio
…a bouquet of flowers

….allergies a problem? What about a basket filled with bunnies or matzos, and candies and a leafy plant.

Easter and Passover celebrate miracles. While we can’t make miracles, showing thoughtfulness to our elders is precious. (Actually it can be a miracle if normally unthoughtful family members decide to “buy in.”) And adding interest to life helps parents and the elders we care about age well.

IMG_2985.Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.

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

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); 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, as a gift, why not make a terrarium? Older people, especially, are enchanted by these little creations. Nature is restorative. Watching these manageable little gardens grow and bloom adds interest to life…and that helps parents age well.

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 have the white stripe–not red– fittonia.)
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/ check pictures for ideas. 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: Lifting and Energizing Spirits With Gifts Appealing to the Eye


Enjoying the View in Central Park

Being able to see–and watch. What pleasure! Accompanied by hearing, touch, smell, and taste, vision completes the 5 senses.

Uplifting, energizing things to look at take many forms for different people. The woman above is 74, a visitor to the US I learned, and came early to sit in Central Park before meeting a friend for breakfast. In front of her was a passing parade: the “Race for the Cure,” energetic children, every breed of dog with masters attached, and sun streaming through the trees. She said she loved watching and was happy to have me take her picture.

The first step is to know what constitutes “visual delights” for aging parents, whether they are healthy and independent and able to come and go at will or are among the frail and isolated elderly, many of whom look mostly at TV and “the four walls.” Then think about–

Gift Ideas

Portland, OR Zoo: Old and Young

1. Nature (animal, views of……., birds, flowers, parks) From outings (zoos are great– handicap accessible, often equipped with wheelchairs [see San Diego Zoo post]) to a bird feeder strategically placed outside a window (and refilled by someone other than the older person when necessary)— to taking gifts of plants or seasonal flowers (daffodils in spring)–possibilities are available “right in your own backyard,” as they say.
2. Spectator activities (sports, people-watching, concerts, movies) Possibilities range from gifting activities and providing transportation (grandchildren’s concerts and athletic endeavors, grown-up venues–the latest play coming to town, county fair, and maybe even a drive-in movie) to providing the best technology for those confined to watching TV. The latter, for the legally blind like a friend’s mother, included a comfortable chair situated right next to the easily-operated TV set where she could listen and sort of watch her favorite programs.
3. Family Anything involving grandchildren gets a ***** rating from most older people…so even a photo is precious. That said, the reunion lunch planned by their daughters for two very elderly sisters who lived hours apart and hadn’t seen each other in years (one mobility-impaired, the other with dementia) was an ambitious gift that was 100% worth it. Read reunion post: A Special Summer Outing
4. Food has taken on a life of its own in the gift category. Taking a friend’s old mother (who died at 104) a beautifully decorated cupcake became a tradition that continued for at least a decade. She said it was too pretty to eat, though eat she did. And the young friend that brought Sr. Advisor R a bakery-decorated Halloween cookie (topping a batch of cookies she made) while R was in rehab for her broken hip two years ago, has never been forgotten.

A gift that requires vision to appreciate needn’t be expensive.

My father, who had independence until almost the very end surprised me after Mother died when he said one day “I want to live as long as I can watch the sun rise each day.” He died in a bedroom with a window facing east.

Nat’l Institutes of Health Resource: