Thanksgiving and the Circle of Life: Transitions–2016

Traditions and Transitions Impact Aging Parents
and the Elders We Care About

Last year my annual Thanksgiving post focused on turning over a tradition, hosting Thanksgiving dinner, to the next generation. For me it signaled a major transition. We had hosted Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends since the first year of our marriage–whether we were in the East, West, or Southwest. Little did I know that now, a year later, my husband wouldn’t be alive. But since I’d relinquished the Thanksgiving tradition last year, being a guest for Thanksgiving this year was easy and welcomed at a time of many transitions that aren’t always easy….or welcomed.

Last November and again this November I think of Eloise, often written about in this blog’s early years.. My mother’s age, she was incredibly creative and energetic. She was also philosophical about human behavior and generously offered me advice. Although valuing and perpetuating traditions, including her Christmas-tree tradition (featured in House Beautiful in the 1940’s or 50’s and continued another 40-50 years), Eloise emphasized that it’s good to break with tradition. Reason: we shouldn’t be saddled with–or bound by–it. That perhaps paves the way for gentler transitions as people age. Eloise, who died at 95, would have known that.

As the holiday season begins (granted Christmas displays seemed to spring up the moment Halloween ended, so perhaps it already began), I’m in a better position to understand how meaningful it is to be–and feel– included. Clearly major holidays that celebrate family and togetherness call for more sensitivity to older people’s emotional needs. For many–if not most at some point in time– social networks dwindle and families with whom to celebrate may no longer exist.

Early this October a letter from City Meals on Wheels arrived, soliciting funds for special Thanksgiving dinners for those New Yorkers who are alone and needy. My empathy and heightened sensitivity prompted an immediate response.

Tender times. Things change. I’ve chosen to forego air travel to the Southwest for Thanksgiving this year. My goal is to reduce stress and, when possible, avoid situations that make me feel sad. I plan to have a happy Thanksgiving and wish the same for you.

The twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn*
*       *      *

Related:  *From The Lion King: “Can’t You Feel the Love Tonight” Tim Rice (lyrics), Elton John (music). Click to watch and listen on YouTube.

Check out new article on loneliness from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine in Newsworthy–right sidebar

90th–or Younger– Birthday Party: Another Creative and Clever Idea

 Image result for red chinese take out boxes

Was there ever a milestone celebration that didn’t involve a lot of planning, some surprises (problems), energy and fatigue? And so it was for Laura’s 90th, written about October 18th.

A phone call to Laura to tell her how much I enjoyed being part of her birthday celebration, led to some revelations. Among them, there were “goody bags” for guests to take home as they left the party.  However, in the excitement of the evening, Laura’s adult children forgot about them so guests never got them.  I think they’re another good idea for elders’ birthday parties.

A Chinese Take-out Box Containing 2 Fortune Cookies……is what the guests were supposed to take home, but the fortune cookie messages were not the usual. Examples:
1.  32,872 days old…but who’s counting?
2.  Consider yourself fortunate that your life has been touched by a special woman
3.  The party always begins when Laura arrives

For creative people who are do-it-yourselfers, this link and this link demonstrate two ways to of putting the personalized message in the professionally-made fortune cookie.

Milestone events are clearly special occasions, especially as people age. Birthday celebrations give opportunities for elderly honorees as well as elderly guests to have fun and take away wonderful memories (and possibly a fortune cookie). And shouldn’t these occasions create that extra dose of excitement and connections with others that help parents age well?

          *                  *               *

PS. A helpful tactic for the scavenger hunt written about on Oct. 18th: Laura’s adult children used a ploy to enable a thorough search for expired food in Laura’s pantry. By asking Laura questions about the past and the “old days,” Laura’s children were able to keep her far away from the pantry, thus allowing them the needed time to look for food containers with long-ago expiration dates.


Help Aging Parents: Halloween–a Treat for All Ages (updated 2016)

Taking aging parents and elders we care about
to see the Halloween displays

Who doesn’t enjoy Halloween decorations! They’re becoming increasingly widespread. Indoors and out-of-doors these decorations are so much more elaborate than the orange, carved, candle-lit pumpkins–and perhaps a black cat or witch– sitting on the front porches of our childhood homes. However…..aging parents and older people we care about may not have the pleasure of seeing them.

Here’s how to remedy this–

Country Farm Stand in Oct.

Country Farm Stand in Oct. Can you see the tractor in back?  Click to enlarge.

Whether in the country or the city, various-shaped, and even white-creamy-colored-pumpkins, along with Halloween themed inflatables–plus ghosts skeletons, and witches–are common sights. Every year it seems more suburban and urban homes and commercial

Halloween Pumpkins


establishments dress up for Halloween. Even New York City townhouses get fancied-up for the occasion–a friendly ghost, a sedate townhouse’s front stoop. And sidewalks yield surprises.  Isn’t this a perfect time to make plans to talk older people out for a great change of scenery?

In addition to daytime outings, consider an evening drive when lighted Halloween displays create a theatrical atmosphere.

Whether it’s day or night, how many old and/or somewhat infirmed people rarely go out, spending their days indoors–at home or in assisted living or more structured care facilities?  Still others don’t drive–or don’t drive unfamiliar roads or at night. 

img_5418For older people who are able to get into a car–with or without our help–going for a ride provides countless opportunities for stimulation and lifted spirits. Anticipating the event is an added bonus if we make the date ahead of time.

It turned out to be a dreary day for an outing we had a few years ago–yet we had smiles on our faces as each Halloween display came into view. There was anticipation as we turned a corner to a new block. img_5451We never knew what to expect, although I did a “dry run” ahead of time several years ago to scope out decorated neighborhoods. They haven’t disappointed.

While a drive to the country or suburbs is a change of pace for city dwellers, cities and small towns yield their own attractions if we know where to find them. And let’s not forget the store windows and–for those who like to walk or use a wheel chair–why not explore the malls.

Any outing is always a win-win: stimulation, companionship and something to think about long after the event itself. Indeed we know major studies confirm that connections with others and stimulation are important factors in aging well.

We may have limited free time and our elders may have limited staying power, in which case a “dry run” could be in order. Whether carefully planned or spontaneous, the benefits of a ride–long or short–are clearly worth the time and effort.

Aging plays so many unexpected tricks on older people. Isn’t is great when we can give them a treat!


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

Two Great 90th–or younger–Birthday Party Ideas


Saturday night three creative adult children honored their 90-year-old mother with a warm, upbeat, lovely dinner party. There were 78 guests ages 4-94, the latter being Laura’s husband of 69 years. What made it such fun? And also interesting?

  • It was well planned, with just the right mix of short speeches, video, recorded messages, nonprofessional music, thoughtful seating of guests and family members.
  • The venue was a hotel. Drinks and hors d’oeuvre in one private room; another room set up with table for dining (8 persons per table), a screen for the video of family members going back to Laura’s grandmother.
  • 2 original very personalized games:

The first, confessed by one grandchild, was a scavenger hunt the grandchildren played (without the grandparents knowing about it) the day before in Laura’s refrigerator and pantry. Goal: find the packages, jars, or containers with the oldest expiration date. They held up each item, announced its contents (e.g. can of sweet peas expired 1996; package of Jello expired 2000) bringing gales of laughter. Don’t we all know older people who have expired food on their shelves?

The second game–consisted of repeating sayings they’d heard over and over from their grandmother. If Laura could remember which kid she said it to and under what circumstance, she’d get a whatever (kiss?). Laura protested that she hadn’t been prepped for this game, whereupon the kids ignored her protests and continued. A fun way to hear information about the honoree and Laura’s not being prepared made it spontaneous, which was half the fun.

  • Proclamations sent by various officials (Laura was active in local politics). Seems her son got busy, many months before, writing state and local officials. Laura thinks there must be people in government offices who specialize in sending congratulatory letters.
  • The video was short, with music and voice over and old family photos. Videos are no doubt a part of many celebrations for older/old people. But something made this video even more special. After watching a lifetime of carefully selected photos and getting a feeling for the family there was an interesting addition. Laura’s brother told the story. In going back and tracing the family roots, a lost part of the family was found, contacted, and six members of that family were in attendance.

When birthday parties for the elderly involve research, one never knows what will be unearthed!

On a personal note–Interestingly that same day–because the party was in a town that had a railroad station but no taxis, I got off the train and phoned (as instructed) the hotel to ask for their car service. The latter was very slow to arrive. Nearby was a van with a father and two youngsters and I decided I’d perhaps walk to the hotel if it wasn’t too far so I tapped on the window and asked the distance-to-the-hotel question.  (For those interested, New Yorkers are accustomed to walking everywhere so I’d planned to change into good  shoes at the hotel.)

We had a short conversation and to our surprise, we learned my former next-door neighbor was his cousin….a cousin he hadn’t seen in 30 years, but was reunited with at the family wedding down south last summer. (Yes, he took me to the hotel.)

Bottom line: Whether birthday parties for the elderly, or weddings for those younger, milestone events clearly provide occasions that add enjoyment and surprises. And doesn’t that contribute to helping parents–and all the elderly we care about–age well.


Related: From Laura’s Birthday party–a clever, creative party gift the adult children forgot to put out for the guests.

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



Old Parents, Breast Cancer Surgery and Dental Work: Options–Do All, Less, or Nothing

Is it Better to do Nothing or–at least–Less?
A Woman Rejects Mammograms at a Certain Age

A friend just drove to upstate New York to be with her 70-some-year-old mother who was having a lumpectomy. While her mother didn’t want her to make the trip, she was glad to do it so she could help out a bit. That’s what daughters do, right?

I thought about Sr. Advisor, R, who in her early 90’s, decided against any more mammograms–period. Her rationale: if they found something suspicious she wasn’t going to do anything about it anyway, so why impact her life with knowledge that would only cause stress and concern–for herself and for those around her. When R died in her sleep at 101, it was assumed old age was the reason.

What about Dental Work?

While keeping our own teeth as long as possible and having regular dental check-ups are important, one of my brother’s better decisions was to forgo taking Dad, age 92, to the dentist who wanted to pull a tooth. The tooth was not bothering Dad, but X’rays showed there was potential for problems according to Dad’s dentist. In fact, I had taken Dad to the appointment when that dentist first suggested the extraction.

Dad was very conscientious about taking care of his teeth.. To me–and my brother–it made sense to wait until Dad felt some problem, rather than expose him to anesthesia and all that was necessary for the extraction. Dad had no other teeth problems, and still had that potentially problematic tooth when he died at 94.

The point is (and this is not medical advice, simply our experience): Sometimes there’s a delicate balance between doing and not doing where the elderly are concerned. When we’re young we recover faster, heal faster, and adjust to whatever insults our body sustains–faster.

Doctors and others in the health professions, especially those whose patients are mostly middle-age and younger, may not think about the increased fragility of old people. It then falls to us to weigh all the factors, discuss them with elderly loved ones and–of course–their doctors and dentists.

We may not save lives, but we can raise awareness with doctors and dentists and hopefully choose the best timely options for aging parents when it comes to certain health issues. When procedures are elective and appropriate for the elderly and professionals understand the old age factor, it should help parents age well until the end.
Related: “Mastectomy vs Lumpectomy: Is Bigger Better? “–UCLA doctors’ Webinar October 2016

Lifting Aging Parents’ Spirits in the Fall–6 Ideas


Fall foliage and Walkers in Central Park 2015

Combatting Senior Sadness in Fall
Do we notice mood changes in elders when less daylight makes days feel shorter?

September 22nd.  The beginning of Fall– the Fall Equinox. Hours of daylight lessen. Days feel shorter. Darker days darken some people’s mood. Clearly the elderly aren’t immune and may be even more at risk if they live alone or are inclined to “see the glass half empty.”

The idea of cozy, apple cider, pumpkin pie and beautiful fall foliage may be off their radar–replaced by gloom, doom, and loneliness as they contemplate the literally-darker days ahead.

Adding some spirit-lifting ideas for this group has become tradition for Help! Aging Parents. But we’re a bit earlier this year and why is that?  While the unusually warm weather in many parts of the US is delaying signs of fall in terms of leaveimg_5311s on trees and other vegetation dying down, it seems holiday decorations appear earlier and earlier every year and 2016 is no exception. Indeed, pumpkins are in evidence in NYC now–seen this week outside of Lowe’s, some restaurants, and in some window displays

This actually gives us more time to provide activities that add interest to the lives of those elders we care about.

  1. For the homebound, try this simple entertainment: On a level surface, Vernal Equinoxbalance an egg on its end during the vernal or autumnal equinox.  We’re told this is tricky, but can be done any day of the year–especially if eggs have little bumps on the ends. (click 1-minute video). I forgot to do it the other day, but here’s proof–a picture taken years ago during the vernal equinox in March with a non-bumpy egg. Using a non-bumpy egg, takes practice; but I could teach neighborhood children to do it—so give it a try next March, or look for bumpy eggs and give it a try now. Guaranteed to spark conversation about something other than aches and pains.


2.  A drive to view the fall foliage speaks for itself. Although outings with older people may require bringing along a lot of extra stuff, the chance to get out and see different scenery, and spend time chatting in the car is priceless, memorable, and gives elders something to talk about and think about well past the event itself. Including a meal along the way adds to the enjoyment. Can anything equal Autumn in Vermont?

3. Since we know mobility–and maintaining balance–require more effort as people get older, taking a walk addresses several issues in the “If-You-Don’t-Use-It, You-Lose-It category.” Leg muscles strengthen with walks (whether using a cane or not);  socialization likely occurs; and clearly children, dogs, cyclists and scenery are in great supply (note Central Park photo at top). This expands horizons, especially for those who, through choice or preference, remain housebound.  apple-picking-long-island

4.  Apple-picking is synonymous with fall and includes exercise–if only a short walk. Many orchards open their property to apple-pickers. Could a drive to an orchard with elderly parents and their grandchildren provide a fun outing?

5.  Ditto for the pumpkin patch or farm stand. Plan a trip with children and elders to visit a pumpkin patch or select this year’s pumpkin from those at the farm’s stand.
Favorite Farm Stand 2014


6.  And what’s more fun than generations cooking together. There’s something about working together in the warmth of a kitchen that provides special moments. Making apple cider isn’t difficult; encourages conversation; and the resulting aroma that fills the air is an added bonus- (2 recipes below)

7. More togetherness in the kitchen includes making applesauce together or what about this recipe for applesauce pancakes? …Is it too early to make a pumpkin pie?

There’s an added 3-fold benefit when these ideas are planned ahead of time.  As Sr. Advisor said:  they’re something to look forward to; they’re something to do; and they’re something to look back on and think about. That’s almost a home-run isn’t it! And if the cooking is added, could it be called a bases-loaded home run ?

Related: easily-made cider using bottled apple juice
 made-from-scratch apple cider

Surprising Depression Symptoms from Prevention Magazine

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




Aging Parents: Caregiving With A Little Help From My Friends

Image result for "I get by with a little help from my friends sheet music image

Caregiving. Caregiver support. One size never fits all. We have our own ways of approaching and handling things.That said, a reference to this Kiplinger’s magazine article, Pitching In When Caregivers Need Help, was glaring at me as I began moving older Newsworthy articles from the column at right, to “Newsworthy Archives” (above). Having just gone through months of what qualifies as “caregiving,” I’m thinking the idea for finding additional help as offered by Kiplinger’s  three listed sites below may appeal to many.

The first site: Lotsahelpinghands–how-it-works reminds me of those community blackboards I’ve seen in neighborhoods in Portland, Oregon offering services: people helping people –a ride, someone to make meals etc. (the site has added other aspects now). It has a practical emphasis. This no doubt works well in suburbia and smaller communities and in cities where neighborhoods are important.

The second site, concentrates on supportive relationships and meaningful communication and support through shared and private interactions on the internet. With a goal to “foster healing among loved ones,” it has no geographical restrictions. It seems to emphasize the “touchy-feely” and offers planned activity ideas.

The third site, caringbridge–how it works: provides a private site for family, friends and others you select–saves calling many people with the same information and allows easy updates and messages for all users invited to use the site. For those with large families and large groups that care and want to regularly share, this could be the answer. 

However, none of the above would have worked for me, I guess confirming the fact that “one size doesn’t fit all,” “different strokes for different folks” or whatever. Some of us will find our own routine and support system–out of creativity or necessity.

I live in New York City. I was “it”–the caregiver–for my husband. Whether in the hospital or at home, there was little time for private calls to family–all living in the west–or friends, spread out across the country.  And there was no time for extended conversations or daily emailing.

My solution: Once or twice a month I emailed blasts, trying to craft the nicest email I could with timely information, always adding at the end something like: “Please understand, my day is over-full, and much as I’d like to talk with–or email– each one of you, I can’t; so please don’t call me.” I created a contact group on my Mac and sent updates as appropriate.

As for support, I got by, and continue to get by, with a little help from my friends–three  friends, each helpful in different ways, to whom I will forever feel grateful and indebted.

With hopes that one of the preceding ideas will resonate with many…..


Related: (For nostalgia’s sake–watch the performance–YouTube in color: the Beatles with Ringo singing  I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends