Monday, December 27, 2010

Give Yourself a Gift

December is the big gift-giving season, and for many of you, buying or making or re-gifting was part of your routine. You continued to give care to a loved one, but in addition, you made sure that there were presents for your family members, friends, your child's teacher, the mailman. Didn't have to be something large or expensive, just something to express how you feel.

Did you remember to get yourself a gift? Did you select something that you really wanted, wrap it up and tag it "From Santa"?

Probably not. We usually don't. We think about how others will feel if they don't have a present. We spend a lot of energy choosing the right gift for a friend or relative. We expect those around us to give us presents, sometimes expecting that they'll get us just the right thing, even if we haven't given them any clues or hints what that right thing may be. Many times those close to us come through, and we're delighted.

But there's nothing written in any rule book that says we can't give ourselves a gift.

Maybe it's a new basketball or electronic gadget or a sweater we've had our eye on. Maybe it's the commitment to ask our neighbor to come and stay with our elder while we go to a movie. Maybe it's a long bubble bath. Maybe it's just time to sit and watch life unfold out our window.

This is the gift-giving season and as a caregiver, you do a lot of giving all year. How about acknowledging the effort, the love, and the care?

How about giving yourself a gift?

Happy Holidays, and blessings on your caregiving!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Here We Come A-Caroling..."

Last Sunday, I joined friends at church for a Carol Sing and Pot Luck. Just a group of us around a piano with an acoustic guitar for interest, singing for all we were worth. I'm writing this while one of my favorite Christmas CDs plays in the background, and I find myself humming along. This evening while making dinner, I made a point of putting on Christmas music and singing along the whole time I was cooking.

And guess what? A very busy, stressful day turned brighter as I let myself get carried away with the music and added my own "special" rendition. Now I have the Chipmunks stuck in my head. And other beautiful, crazy, touching and funny music. Much better than anxiety over the snowy, icy weather; over what to get my father-in-law who has dementia for his community Christmas party; over too much work.

So I suggest that when your caregiving and holidays collide into near chaos, put on your favorite music and sing along. Right out loud. Go ahead, belt out the words. If you're singing Christmas carols, the rest of the family can join in. Doesn't matter if you're off key. Doesn't matter if you forget the words. You're just letting out some energy and embracing the lift singing out loud can give you.

So sing. Sing for joy. Sing for the holiday. Sing for life.

Blessings on your caregiving today.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Smile at the Cashier

We are in the midst of the holiday shopping, celebrating, expecting and remembering season. With caregiving adding another dimension to an already stressful (even fun can be stressful) time, practicing small acts of kindness help relieve some of the simmering energy that seems to follow us around. One of those acts is simple.

Every time you arrive at a check-out counter during the month of December, say a cheery hello and smile at the cashier.

Grin, even.

That's all. You don't have to make conversation (although connecting at the check-out can be very pleasant). You don't have to overdo it.

Even if you're having a crummy day, make those lips curve up, smile and say hello to the cashier. Hey, the guy or gal behind the counter is just trying to make a living, right? And odds are the cashier has nothing to do with your crummy day (if they do, that's for another post).

For just a moment, while you're at the check-out, lighten up. If you smile every time you greet a cashier, you will feel better. People around you will feel better, too. Guaranteed.

The holiday season is for feeling joy and cheer as well as stress and pressure. One way to feel joy and cheer is to ACT joyful and cheery.

Try it. You'll like it!

Blessings on your caregiving today.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Go Dancing!

Over the Thanksgiving holiday while visiting relatives, I learned that two couples in my family have taken up dancing as a way to make lemonade from life's more tangy lemons. One couple decided to spark up life with Salsa dancing, the other with general ballroom dancing. And since they are sharing this as a couple, the caregiver gets a break while taking time to keep the marriage connection strong. Another great example of a twofer. Square dancing is another type of dancing that some of my friends enjoy, and many maintain the activity well into their senior years. These couples say that it keeps them young and healthy.

Don't have a partner? Go for Country Line Dancing or Contra Dancing. There are no partners in Line dancing, it's low impact exercise and the country music is lively. Contra dancing is a form of dance that is done in two long lines. You hook up with a partner (or several during a dance session) while you're there. If you're not familiar with Contra dancing, watch one of the dance scenes from a movie based on Jane Austen's novels, like "Pride and Prejudice". Most Contra dancing groups give lessons right before the dance so that you'll learn the basic moves before the main event.

There are also aerobic dance exercise videos and/or DVDs, and plain old shakin' your booty to favorite tunes on the radio, your mobile player or an old vinyl record. Hip hop, ballet, tap, folk dancing--there are as many styles as there are music and emotions to express.

Let's be clear. Dancing is not about having the "right" moves. It's all about moving to a beat, relaxing and sweating a little--or a lot. Dancing makes your mind concentrate on your body and the music, not on your daily challenges. It's refreshing in so many ways. And it's adaptable. You can make your dance break a Mini-vacation (get up and dance to one song on the radio), a Pause-of-the-Day (take a dance lesson or move to a 45-min. dance video) or a Gift-of-the-Month (an evening of square dancing).

Pick your music, pick your style. Don't just sit there...Dance!

Blessings on your caregiving today!

Sunday, November 7, 2010


In Texting-land, LOL stands for "lots of laughs" or "laughed out loud". Today, I'm talking about the second translation. On Friday, I was getting my hair cut and my stylist and another stylist, along with all the clients in the salon were sharing stories about life--mostly funny, unexpected situations that people have found themselves in. There was a good deal of acting, voice impressions, pantomime, affirmation and Laughing Out Loud. Belly laughing, guffawing, hootin' and hollerin'. By the time I left, I had a fabulous new "do" and I felt light and easy.

My stylist shared that before this other stylist joined her in the shop, she didn't laugh much, didn't have much fun in her job. But now, because she works with another person who has a healthy funny bone, the styling is still great, but tension and the pressure in her gut are gone. Laughing out loud is good for the soul, good for your health.

In an earlier post, I suggested keeping a Need a Smile folder of humorous e-mails to help you laugh. But there is nothing so contagious as hearing a laugh from another person. When I'm working in my office, I sometimes hear my husband break out into uproarious laughter at a comedy he's watching downstairs, and it makes me grin. If I were in the room with him, I know I'd be laughing with him.

I'm sure you've had the experience, too. A smile on a friend's face grows into a smile on yours and then it just seems to escalate into a chuckle and then into a big laugh. And tension melts away in the physical release. Laughing together brings out the added dimension of face-to-face connecting and loving.

So LOL with someone soon. It's good for you!

Blessings on your caregiving.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Count to 100

Does your mind race around trying to keep track of the things you have to do? Mine does. Even with my compulsion for list-making, my monkey mind just hops around and bounces back and forth, reviewing what I've done, setting up what needs to be done, flicking through my mental file just who's on my "To Delegate" list, on and on.

Monkey Mind does pretty well (with the help of those lists!) and often, as my little internal file keeper is reorganizing and categorizing what Monkey Mind is tossing around, she brings to the surface some important item that got buried or a new idea for solving a current situation. So I don't like to put the lid on Monkey Mind or Ms. Inner Filer all that often. However. When I'm ready to go to sleep, I really do need the dynamic duo of Mind and Filer to take a break. Whew! Tough one.

There are a lot of suggestions I've read--no computer, no e-mail, no phone, no TV; visualization of a pleasant landscape, reading a few pages of a soothing book, listening to soothing music or sounds. All good suggestions. I do these from time to time. But I find that what helps me most is to count to one hundred.

Get comfy in bed; relax against the pillows; turn off the lights, TV, radio; settle into the dark and the relative quiet.

Tell yourself that you will focus on this counting until you reach 100. If you reach 100 and you're still wide awake, then you may need to try that visualization method, but you're going to allow yourself to stick with this to 100.

Then direct your attention to your breath.
Breathe in, as you breathe out, count 1.
Breathe in, as you breathe out, count 2.
Breathe in, as you breathe out, count 3. And so on.

Don't try to breathe deep or change your breathing rate. Just, every time you breathe in and out, count.

If a thought comes wafting in (and it will), gently redirect your attention to your breath and continue counting. If you hear sounds from the other room, or feel movement on the bed for whatever reason, acknowledge it and go back to attending to your breath and counting. If you lose count, start where you left off and keep going. Don't angst about missing numbers, just resume your attention and your counting.

I usually count from one to ten, then start over because counting from one to ten is so completely a part of me that I can do it, well, in my sleep. And that is the point.

With this method, even though I give myself permission to count to 100, I get to the 5th or 6th round of counting to 10 (or to 50 or 60 if I count in sequence), and I'm out. For the night. I even feel skeptical some nights when I'm really wound and I'm certain that Monkey Mind and Ms. Filer will never let me sleep. Attending to my breath and counting works every time.

Now I know you're going to say, "But that's kind of like counting sheep, and that's silly." Counting sheep does work for some people. If it works for you, by all means, continue. My problem is that when I'm counting sheep, I start to make up stories about each one, why is this one underfed, why is that one so fluffy, and did that one have anything to do with the fire at the farm earlier that day. So you see, sheep do not help me in the least. They could be labelled "Enablers" to sleepnessness. Let's not go there.

Try the breath counting. It works for me. It could work for you.

Pleasant dreams and blessings on your caregiving.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Look Around You; REALLY Look

I've just gotten back from the UU Christian Fellowship Revival in Texas which counts toward my need to "Get Outta Dodge." Working from home, caregiving in your home, not ever leaving home--not good for your mental health. That would be a post in the Blog "Take a Vacation!", but we are in the business here of sharing ideas for Mini-vacations.

My break did remind me that no matter how big the Texas sky or vast the land there, I love the scenery of North Carolina. It speaks to me deep down. Not just the landscapes, but the view right out my windows. So today, for your mini-vacation, I invite you to look outside. Not a glance or a quick scan, but a 5- or 10-minute-study. Look out any window (or step out on the balcony, porch or deck to get smells and sound effects) and really look.

What do you see? A busy street with cars and trucks and motorcycles and SUV's? Is it tree-lined or paved? What colors do you see? Are the buildings brick or wood or siding? What color? What shape or texture? Or do you see a green lawn or stones in every shade of brown and beige? Any wildlife? Birds, bees, bears? Any pets masquerading as wildlife? Is it windy or calm? Is there sunlight bouncing around or is it overcast? What shape are the clouds...or is it clear? Are there people outside? How are they dressed? I have a friend that loves picking out people on the street and making up stories about where they're going and where they've been. Be a little creative if you want.

You can stop me any time now.

Your turn. Get up from your computer and look out the window. Really look.

Blessings on your caregiving today!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dancing the Twofer

All experts agree that everyone (even you, Caregiver) needs to "exercise" 30 minutes a day to help maintain physical health. I put "exercise" in quotes because the more I read, the more I've come to understand that it's about Movement. You need to get out of the car, off the couch, out of the office chair in front of a computer and Move.

Now for some reason (excuses, laziness, stubborness, bad weather, whatever), I have not yet become disciplined enough to always get in a nice aerobic bike ride or my session at Curves or even a brisk walk.

So at the very least I try to go for a Movement Twofer, as in Two-for-One Effort.

I've chosen some household tasks that I'd like to do on a regular basis. Things that take physical effort. And I plan time to spend 30 minutes on that activity.

Vacuuming is a great Twofer. Especially if you move some furniture, vacuum sofa pillows and vacuum the stairs. Add picking up throw rugs and going up and down stairs to dump them in the washer, and you're working up a nice, warm glow--as elegant ladies (who do not sweat!) say.

Scrubbing the shower is also a great Twofer. Wiping down the walls, scrubbing the floor, rinsing everything off. Oh, yeah.

Mopping the floors. I have a fairly large kitchen, so moving furniture, getting the bucket ready and mopping, all done at a steady pace...definitely glowing after 30 minutes of that.

And hey, while you're doing that, turn on your favorite music. Something with a good beat for dancing and boogy your way through the activity you've chosen.

Dancing the Twofer. Now there's a reality show just waiting to happen.


Blessings on your caregiving today!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Buy Yourself Some Flowers

It would be really great if those who loved us could read our minds. Then, they would know when we needed a pick-me-up and they'd come through with a hug, or a card or flowers. But our closest friends and relatives do not have superpowers and can't read our minds (darn!). Sometimes we need to give ourselves that pick-me-up. That's the whole point of mini-vacations.

That's the whole point of flowers.

Flowers don't cost much. They're free if you raid your own yard or the neighbor's (with permission, of course). I can get a small bouquet of mixed flowers in an array of colors for $5 at my local grocery and I get about a week's worth of colorful pleasure. If you go to your local florist, you may be able to purchase just one rose or daisy or carnation and bring that bit of nature and color into your home.

Then you can take a little time arranging them in a vase, slipping them into a tall glass or just sticking them in a coffee can. Then you can decide where you'd like them displayed.

And all this time you're thinking about how pretty they are and how they brighten the place up. Nice break from other things that are usually on your mind.

Even guys like flowers. I know this because my husband is always pleasantly surprised whenever I bring home a small bunch just for him.

So don't wait for a telepath with mind-reading abilities to come your way. If you need a mini-vacation, pick up some flowers, take a little time with them. Then savor them while they last. Wow! The mini-vacation that keeps on giving. What's not to like?

Blessings on your caregiving day!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Too Much Information

When I was in active caregiver mode, I found a book titled Breathing Space by Jeff Davidson (2007 edition is still available), and found a powerful way to decrease the level of stress in my daily life. I state it as:
Cut Down On the Amount of Information Coming at You.
Before I began caregiving for my Mom, I watched local and national news on TV, I read a local newspaper, two national newspapers and several magazines, and I listened to radio talk shows and spent lots of time on the phone and with e-mail and the Web.

I was Connected!

Then I became a caregiver, and I allowed the pattern of information flow to continue.

I was Connected...and completely overwhelmed.

Breathing Space really helped me look at all the sources of information literally flying at me. I started to detach. I chose one evening TV news program. I stopped listening to the radio shows. I stopped all the magazine subscriptions except one that I truly enjoyed (mini-vacations here). I stopped reading all the newspapers. I got myself off every marketing e-mail list that did not have to do with my caring and limited my e-mail and online time to one-half hour every day. During certain hours of the day, I let all my personal calls go directly to voice mail and only checked messages twice a day.

I finally began to feel that breathing space Jeff Davidson talked about. And saved some money, too.

In our society, there is an unspoken rule that we NEED to be connected to information and people 24/7/365. That's just not true.

Why do you NEED to listen to three news programs, all of which are reporting the dire straits of the world? You're caring for a parent. That can be pretty dire all by itself. At the very least, it's plenty stressful. You don't need to know every detail about the world's stress, too.

Why do you NEED to answer every phone call the moment it arrives? Truth, most calls can go directly to voicemail and you can screen them later.

Become aware of every bit of information around you. Think about how each source of information affects you emotionally, how much time each takes, and whether it's adding any value to your crowded life. If the information stresses you, takes too much time telling you things you already know, and rarely brings you pleasure (only another "have to"), get it out of your life.

Create Information Breathing Space. Ah-h-h.

Blessings on your caregiving day!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mini-Vacation by Pet

For my mini-vacation today, I pet the cat--and I don't even own a cat.

For you pet owners (even if your children are the "owners"), you already have a good handle on the "Mini-vacation by Pet". When you're feeling down or overwhelmed, you call to your pet and the roaming, four-legged kind comes to share a hug or a brief tussle. Or you meander over to the rabbit, bird or guinea pig cage and watch the little creature do its rabbit, bird or guinea pig thing. Mini-vacation by Pet is a marvelous event.

At this moment in my life, I don't have a pet, so I borrow my neighbor's. In our neighborhood, a quiet circle of townhomes, we have the official neighborhood cat. There are plenty of dogs who appear regularly at the end of their owners' leashes, but only one outdoor cat who has made the townhome circle and the surrounding land and woods his personal territory. His name is Fritz. He's slate grey with snow white markings and a quiet confidence that has most of the bird population shaking in their feathers. He transforms into Fritz, the Hunter, hunched and stealthy, when he's on the quest of a squirrel to tree.

He knows when I open my front door. He stops what he's doing and trots over to curl through my legs. I make sure that his head, neck and ears get a lot of attention because that's what he likes. I take time to talk with him and feel the soft fur under my fingers. I appreciate his lean, athletic form and his long grey tail. He purrs and meows and we share a few moments of simple companionship. Then as if by mutual consent, we both move away, he to another neighborhood adventure, me back into the house.

And I feel better. Simple as that.

Have you taken your mini-vacation today?

Blessings on your caregiving!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beware the SHOULD

There is one word in the English language that I'd swear is responsible for 75% of caregiver stress--SHOULD. As in, "I should visit Mom more often." Or "I should be doing more for my father." And you don't even say it aloud, but over and over in your mind. No wonder you're stressed.

And then there are the siblings of SHOULD adding another load of stress:
  • I ought to...
  • I need to...
  • I have to...
  • I've got to...
  • I must...

In my conversations with caregivers, I sometimes will ask "Why?" when someone shares a caregiving activity that seems overwhelming. "Why do you drive to your Mom's house every Saturday (a total of 6 hours of driving)? Your brother lives two blocks away." Answer: "Because I just HAVE to!" said with a slight whine and a plea for understanding.

Caregivers, this is not a good enough answer. This answer has a ring of martyrdom to it. If this is your answer for your caregiving, a good question to ask is, "Why am I doing this? For my parent or for me? Why does even thinking about this caring activity get me so stressed? Why do I think I HAVE to?"

Don't become a martyr. Be a caregiver. For yourself first, then your spouse, your kids, your parent. In that order.

As soon as you hear yourself (aloud or in your mind) use SHOULD or its siblings, stop. Right there. And remember SLICK:

  • S = Is your parent's or someone else's Safety at risk if you don't do your SHOULD?
  • L = Is you parent's or someone else's Life at risk if you don't do your SHOULD?
  • I = Is your SHOULD Important to your parent's basic needs--meals, clothing, shelter, healthcare?
  • C = What are the Consequences (to your parent, to your state of mind, to your family) if you don't do your SHOULD right now? (You might be surprised at how small the consequences usually are!)
  • K = Can someone else--someone you Know or your parent Knows--do your SHOULD?

If you've answered Yes to any of the first three questions, then your SHOULD needs some priority and you can use C and K to decide how to fill that SHOULD. Putting some emotional energy and effort behind this SHOULD is probably a proper thing.

If you've answered No to all three SLI questions, then it's all right to take this concern out of the SHOULD bag and change your language to "I'd like to..." "I'd like to spend more time with Dad." "I'd like to get that grass cut over at Mom's house sometime in the next week." Just changing the language takes off the pressure. Again, use C and K to decide how this activity you'd like to do will fit into your schedule--or into someone else's.

Beware the SHOULD and its siblings. Ask, "Why do I feel I should...?" Remember SLICK. Change the language to "I'd like to...".

Don't let a minor SHOULD stress you out. Kick that bad guy to the curb. Save your energy for the SLI stuff in caregiving.

Did you get your mini-vacation today?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Should I Be Anxious?

There are a LOT of statistics making the rounds of the Internet, some with no references to back-up the data, some reported by the American Institute of Stress and re-reported in ezine articles. One I've just read states that 75 - 90% of all doctor's visits are caused by stress-related illness. Headaches, high blood pressure, back pain, heartburn, ulcers--there can be a stress component to these and many more physical complaints. Even if only half the statistics are true, they are enough to tell us that stress, and the accompanying anxiety or anger, can affect our health, our mood, our lives.

We know that everyone has stress in their lives--caregivers have their own unique versions of stress--but the important factor is how we handle that stress, the anxiety, the anger.

In June 2010, ABC News did a report on anger management and Dr. Redford Williams from Duke University shared a 4-question check that you can take when you're feeling angry. I think it works just as well for anxiety. When you feel irritated or get that stomach-churning nervous feeling, ask yourself:
  1. What situation is triggering this feeling? Is this an important situation? Is someone in danger? Is there some injustice happening? Is it important to my well-being?
  2. Is it appropriate to be angry/anxious in this situation? Would my friends get angry in this situation? Would anyone feel anxious?
  3. Is the situation modifiable? Can I change anything about what's happening?
  4. Given the circumstances and possible consequences, is it worth it to do anything in this situation? Should I act on my anger/anxiety?

Pay close attention to Question 3. For caregivers, especially those of us who like to be in control, this is usually the most important question. In caregiving, we must often accept that we can not do anything in the current circumstance.

A "No" to any one of these questions, Dr. Williams says, means that the situation does not warrant intense emotion or action. Take a couple of deep breaths, remind yourself this is life with some frustration thrown in, use any mini-vacation techniques that work for you.

Four "Yes" answers, however, mean that this is probably a situation where your anger or anxiety is justified, and you should consider acting to change the situation.

I don't have many anger flare-ups, but I am a master of anxiety. I can get tied in knots about the smallest things. But when I use the 4-question check, I can objectively judge whether I need to be anxious about the situation or just LIB (Let it Be). Nine times out of ten, it's an LIB. For Number 10, I try to decide if I need to change or whether I need to influence the situation.

In caregiving, there are many opportunities for stirring the anxiety pot, but the 4-question check can help you calm that pot and realize that you can save your anxiety for another day.

Ah-h-h. That feels good!

Blessings on your caregiving.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blow Some Bubbles

For my mini-vacation today, I blew bubbles. Lots of shiny, floaty, pretty bubbles.

Last weekend, my husband and I celebrated a friend's wedding. I remember when the bride and groom were showered with rice as they left the church. Rice symbolizes fertility, wishing the couple prosperity in their marriage, and feeding the Evil Spirits so they'll stay away. Sometime in the 1990's American wedding parties began using alternatives, like confetti, popcorn, flower petals, or birdseed. Our friends arranged for each of us to get a tiny plastic bottle of bubble soap. As they walked from the church to the trolley car (another story), we showered them with bubbles.

Of course, we didn't use all our bubble soap at the wedding, so the bottles came home with us. And now, I'm putting them to good use for mini-vacations.

There is something very relaxing about creating bubbles with your own breath. It's a bit magical. There's this shiny film of liquid poised in the oval of plastic, dripping just a little, and then you gently blow. And a bounty of bubbles appear, floating in shiny abandon until they pop. Amazing.

You don't need to attend a wedding. You could buy some bubble solution at a store. But you can also make your own solution at home. You can become a bubble-blowing expert. Goodness, the possibilities are endless!

But as caregivers, we know that we probably don't have time to become a bona fide bubble-blowing expert. At least not right now. But we can dunk our little ring in bubble solution and blow. Imagine some of your troubles popping into oblivion. Imagine your wishes, hopes and prayers rising into the universe. Just watch the play of light over the bubbles.

Bubbles make great mini-vacations. All you have to do is...blow.

Blessings on your caregiving day!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


"Staycation" A noun. Created in the early 2000's. Similar to a vacation, except the activities are done close to home. Or in the backyard. Or on the couch. ~LaVerne's Kinda Informal Dictionary

I like this new word that the media created not long after the financial crisis hit. It says that we can take time off, and we don't have to hassle with packing or airline security or finding a place for the pet. Don't misunderstand. I cherish my time out of town. I work from home, so if I don't get out of town regularly, I have a bit of an emotional meltdown. Just ask my husband!

But there are times when getting the heck out of town doesn't work. Like last summer, when my husband was in school and keeping up with his Dad's care, and I was knee deep in a major project for a client. We weren't going anywhere. But we could plan regular staycations.

Make a list of all the things you usually do on vacation. Go out to eat. Play miniature golf. Or 18-holes of golf. Swim. Read a popular fiction novel. Watch a marathon of a favorite TV show. Go to the movies. Whatever.

Now plan to do all these things. Maybe in one week (now there's some serious down time!), or a long weekend. Maybe one activity a week for a couple of months.

It is summertime, and staycations may include the family, but not necessarily. Fall is coming. The kids are going back to school. While you're planning for the family's Fall schedule, don't forget you. Plan regular staycations for yourself. You'll have something to look forward to all the time. And that can really lift your spirits when the caregiving gets rough.

Staycation! It's a word whose time has come.

Blessings on your caregiving--and your staycations!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Be a Tourist

I was off last week, taking my own gift-of-the-month. We drove to Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina for a few days, not too far from our home, and the trip reminded me of an easy way to plan for a brief break close to home.

Play tourist, right where you live.

Go to the library, bookstore or AAA office (if you're a member) and get a tourbook for your state or local area. Check out your state's tourism bureau on the web and look for tourist maps in grocery stores. I found a map of North Carolina Civil War sites that makes a good resource for small trips around the area. I picked up a great book in the bookstore called "Day Trips from Raleigh-Durham" and I requested a copy of the AAA tourbook that covers North Carolina. When I'm planning a couple of hours for a local holiday, I look through these books for the tourist attractions--museums, parks, shopping centers, historic sites, craft studios, buildings of local significance, and factory tours. In many tourbooks, the entry for an attraction will note how long a typical visit lasts. I pick what strikes my fancy and fits my schedule. Then I act like a tourist and visit.

In tourist mode, I've learned a lot about North Carolina and seen beautiful local scenery which I would never have known existed--all while giving myself time away from the normal stresses of life.

These local mini-trips are low-cost, save gas, and help the local economy. It's all good.

Take care of yourself today. Be a tourist.

Blessings on your caregiving!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dying To Care

My usual intent here at 20 Mini-Vacations is to be up-beat and encouraging. Today I'm going to get serious and give you a sobering fact.

You may be dying to care.

Right now.

Shelly Webb at The Intentional Caregiver says in her June Newsletter "It's been said that almost 50% of caregivers die BEFORE the person for whom they are caring." Fifty percent. Count 'em, that's HALF! In his keynote presentation at the Raleigh Triangle Caregivers Conference Dr. Jamie Huysen confirmed this statistical fact with research to back it up.

Half of the 80 million family caregivers out there (Dr. Jamie's number) will die before their elder.

  • Because we caregivers do not take care of ourselves as well as we should.
  • Because we come up with every excuse we can think of to avoid taking a break.
  • Because we let guilt instead of common sense be our guide.
  • Because we don't think we're important enough to give ourselves even mini-vacations.
  • Because we don't trust anyone else to help, to care our way, to care the correct way.
Any of this resonate?

Dr. Jamie told his audience that caregivers who do not take care of themselves, who do not find time to laugh and play, who are in the caregiving role 24/7, who do not use every supporting resource available--these caregivers can become victims of post-traumatic stress disorder. Yes, PTSD, the disorder by soldiers in war. Or these caregivers develop PTSD's milder, yet still disabling, cousin: Compassion Fatigue.

The good news? Early Death, PTSD, Compassion Fatigue. These are all PREVENTABLE.

All you need to do is to give yourself the same consideration that you give your ailing parent, your spouse, your children, your volunteer group, your pet. Put yourself at the top of your Care List.

Every day, among all the things you do for someone else, do at least one thing for yourself.

Every day. Without fail.

Then, you'll be Living to Care.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

POD: Take A Class

I exhibited at the Triangle Caregivers Conference yesterday in Raleigh, NC, and in addition to the sessions on the business of caregiving and dementia care, there was a whole track of sessions on Self-care--exactly what we talk about here at 20 Mini-Vacations. My table neighbor in the exhibit hall was a gentleman from a wellness center that offers yoga classes, and that led me to this post.

A one-hour session of yoga with an experienced instructor is a great Pause-of-the-Day, and attending twice a week provides even more physical and psychological benefits. If yoga is not for you (I'm a Tai Chi person myself), then choose another physical activity where there is movement, interaction with people other than your elder or care team, and the chance to work off tension.

If you already have an exercise routine in place that works for you, consider one class in some area you'd like to explore--learn a language, woodworking, try out a new computer program, explore history, take up pottery creation. The important part is to remove yourself from the "caring environment"--in which, by the way, you are not personally receiving much care--and place yourself in a stimulating, distracting, and pleasurable environment where you get real relief and satisfaction.

Where do you find classes, even free or low cost? Check out the local university or community college; the city or county recreation and education departments; the newspaper; public bulletin boards at the library, shopping center, or market; ask your friends. Once you are tuned to this low-key search, you'll begin noticing POD class opportunities.

Have you taken your mini-vacation today? If not, right now is a great time.

Blessings on your caring--for YOU!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Power Tools Course

I have been impressed by the number of conferences and classes that exist to help caregivers find resources for their aging elders and care tools for ailing seniors to live more independently. There are fewer opportunities for caregivers to learn to care for themselves.

One of the classes that does focus on the caregiver's needs is "Powerful Tools for Caregivers". This class is a six-week educational program developed by Legacy Health System's Caregiver Services and provides family caregivers with the skills and confidence to better care for themselves while caring for someone with a chronic illness. Class members receive The Caregiver Helpbook as a take-home reference. Legacy Health reports that many class participants have fewer feelings of anger, guilt and depression and increased confidence in coping with the demands of caregiving. After attending you're also more likely to use community services that can help ease your burden. It's all good.

The topics covered during the program are:
  • Taking Care of You;
  • Identifying and Reducing Personal Stress;
  • Communicating Feelings, Needs, and Concerns;
  • Communicating in Challenging Situations;
  • Learning From Our Emotions; and
  • Mastering Caregiving Decisions.
The wonderful news is that many local councils, support groups and organizations are now arranging for this course to be offered around the country. Check with your local AARP chapter, Area Agency on Aging, caregiver support group or on the Internet to find out if there will be a class offered in your area. The course fee is small--usually between $10 and $25 for six weeks--but no one is turned away because of cost.

This is a great opportunity to learn some techniques for coping with stress, become more confident and find better balance in your life. If you learn of a session near you, I encourage you to attend.

Blessings on your caregiving day!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

GOTM: Go Train a Dragon

For my birthday at the end of April, I saw one of the best movies to consider for a Gift-of-the-Month--"How To Train Your Dragon". Now, I do realize that this movie has moved to second tier movie theaters by now, but if it is still in the theaters, go now! What a wonderful getaway to a far away place with a heartwarming, sophisticated tale of a young man's discovery of his full potential. It's in 3-D, but we saw it without the 3-D effect and it was still a visual delight and fun to experience. And we didn't even need to borrow children to take with us; there were plenty of unaccompanied grown-ups in the audience.

That's what a GOTM is all about. Floating in another world outside reality for a few hours. Movies are a great way to immerse yourself in an enjoyable experience and let the everyday cares go for just a while.

Don't forget the movie alternatives: renting a DVD, movies on demand on cable, movies by mail, movies on computer. If you can't make it to the theater, use an in-home alternative. But remember, your choice of film and no interruptions (turn down the lights and turn off the cell phone, just like you were in the theater!).

Have you planned your GOTM yet for May? What did you do? Was it relaxing enough to encourage you to plan for another? If you've let the month slip by, don't worry. Plan for June. It's the begnning of the summer movie season, so lots of good films arriving weekly. Check them out.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Need a Smile Folder

I had a wonderful time at the Golden Jubilee exhibition yesterday and encourage all of you again to explore the conferences and exhibits in your local area. Often your local Office on Aging or the Area Agency on Aging will have information about local meetings where eldercare providers show off their services and where you can gather information.

While I was away, I received an e-mail from my sister which contained a half-dozen cartoons featuring Maxine, the crusty senior citizen who tells it like it is and makes me laugh out loud. It was one of my mini-vacations for the day--and a delightful one. I immediately saved that e-mail in a folder called "Need a Smile?". There are about 20 e-mails stored there, some funny, some inspirational, all sent by friends near and far who were thinking of me and sent me their good wishes. I do receive humor that doesn't make me laugh and some inspirational pieces that are too sappy for my taste, so I save only the "best" (my personal judgment) in the Need a Smile folder.

I know of other people who do the same thing in paper by cutting out articles and cartoons from magazines or newspapers and keeping them handy when life feels particularly rough. It only takes one or two of these to make the day a little brighter.

If you don't have a Need a Smile folder, start one today. Electronic, paper or both. Then when you need that mini-vacation, you have a good laugh or inspiration right there.

Blessings on your caregiving!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

GOTM: Local Conferences

Last year around this time, I encouraged you to check out the caregivers conferences and workshops in your area (Caregivers Conferences). Although these conferences do focus on eldercare, they let you "get away" for a few hours to plan, think and absorb new information in a new environment. So I class these as a Gift-of-the-Month.

In the Triangle area of North Carolina, we're blessed to have several conferences throughout the year. I've been extra busy this week preparing to meet some of you at the:
Golden Jubilee
Date: Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Time: 9AM - 1PM
Where: Jim Graham Building, NC Fairgrounds, Raleigh, NC
Sponsored by : Resources for Seniors

AARP has a powerful workshop called Prepare To Care (contact your local AARP chapter for times and locations); and the Triangle Caregivers Conference will be held on Tuesday June 22, 2010. And check out the Alzheimer's Association for their workshops and booklets.

Join me at the Jubilee.

Blessings on your caregiving!

Thursday, April 22, 2010


As a caregiver, you've got your Mini-vacations and your Pauses-of-the-Day. Now let's talk about GOTM, the Gift-of-the-Month. This is a break of at least 3 hours, half a day or more, to do something fun, something for yourself. I call this the Gift-of-the-Month, but if you can arrange a morning or an afternoon off during each week, take the opportunity.

A GOTM is an extended breather, time completely away from caregiving.

I do realize that as a caregiver, when you can arrange several hours away, your first thought is to "catch up". There are errands to run, maybe a seminar to attend that will increase your knowledge of your parent's condition and the resources available to you, household tasks you've let fall behind. And if finishing a list of errands relieves your spirit, there's nothing wrong with that.

Just remember the fortifying power of a GOTM that is a complete gift. A gift to you. For you. For no one else.

Remember this the next time someone asks, "Can I help?" or "Can I do anything for you?" or "What would you like for your birthday?"

Be prepared to say, "I'd like you to help me take an afternoon (or a day) off."

Right now, brainstorm a little about what you could do if you had several hours or a full day free. Then you can ask for help in arranging that time off. In the next few posts, we'll talk more about what might be part of those gifted hours.

Blessings on your caregiving!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Long Distance Comfort

I've been out of town on a business trip, and the week away reminded me of the trips I made back to my hometown while caring for my Mom. Long-distance caregiving is defined as living over 30 minutes away from the elder who needs care. This definition is a practical one. If you spend 30 minutes driving to and from your parent's place and spend an hour or two handling the current situation or visiting, you have spent the morning or afternoon in caregiving. You will have to arrange to be away from your job or find childcare during that time.

Today I'd like to talk to those of you whose parents live a day's drive away or more. In your case, a daytrip is not possible. Your visits may mean at least a weekend or more.

There are many aspects of longer-distance eldercare that are worrisome and difficult, but one of the most unsettling things is that, for bursts of time, you will be traveling and living in a place that is unfamiliar—your parent’s home (which is no longer yours), a relative's apartment, a hotel room. You will be without the surroundings that give you comfort. Your spouse, life partner or children may or may not be able to go with you, so another part of your support is missing.

These times away from home will be stressful. Don’t add to the stress by cutting yourself off from everything that makes you smile and feel comfortable. You are doing your best for your parent. Plan for Mini-vacations and Pauses-of-the-Day. Pack a bit of home to take with you. Think about where you'll be staying and what will give you most pleasure. Consider...

  • Tapes, downloads or CD’s of your favorite music. Don’t forget to bring along a player if your parent doesn't have one.
  • Keep your cell phone with you, even if you turn it off. Make sure you have the phone numbers of your best friends on speed dial in case you need some long-distance hugs.
  • Plan on watching that favorite ball game or sports event on TV.
  • Bring your favorite pajamas, robe or quilt, something to relax in after a stressful day.
  • Bring a stuffed animal (this is no time to be shy about Fluffy!).
  • To move your whole body, pack walking or exercise clothes and shoes.
  • If cooking or baking relaxes you, bring your favorite recipes to cook or bake your favorite foods.
  • Pack your personal journal to let out those pent up emotions.
  • Bring your favorite books--in paper, electronic reader, or tape.
  • If this is a visit of longer than a weekend, plan to do one favorite thing while you’re there—take in a movie, golf, visit a museum.
  • DVD's of movies or TV shows slip easily into luggage. Bring something that will make you laugh or escape into a fictional world. Don't forget a player.
  • Bring bubble bath, favorite cologne, scented candles, a picture of your significant other.
  • For longer stays, consider bringing your pet if the situation will not be unsuitable or tax you further.
  • Bring your favorite coffee, tea, soda pop, foods. Your own brand of coffee in the morning can brighten the day.
You have the idea. Pack up your comfort and take it with you.

Blessings on your caregiving!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Move Your Whole Body

There's a Curves gym a short walk from my house, and I just got back from a good, relaxing workout. I have to admit that words like "exercise", "workout" and "gym" bring to mind images of a roomful of sweaty people who look determined but not very happy. I've tried to change my mind set to "move your whole body" every day.

For a Mini-vacation that may mean walking up and down the stairs 3 times or doing knee lifts for 1 minute; for a Pause of the Day, that may mean a walk around the block (twice if you have little blocks) or mopping the kitchen floor.

Yesterday, "move your whole body" meant transferring winter clothes from the master bedroom into another bedroom closet and moving the spring/summer clothes in. It took 30 minutes of hauling clothes from one room to another and folding things into drawers. Talk about your weight training, cardio, and stretching!

Other days, it means Tai Chi or an exercise video or calisthenics chosen from a FitDeck. Some days I take two breaks--one to vacuum the downstairs, another to vacuum the upstairs.

My aunt doesn't run through the commercials on her recorded TV shows. During the commercials, she gets up and walks around room. For an hour show, there's 15 minutes of movement without even trying hard. Chasing your dog, chasing your children, chasing your spouse (Ooh La La!). All these count.

If your parent is wheelchair-bound and taking her out for a roll would give you both pleasure, then go ahead.

You don't have to think "sport" or "workout". Just think "Get up off my backside and move my whole body." And make sure that PLEASURE is a key component of the experience.

Take some time right now. What activities can you identify that are not sports or traditional exercise, but that allow you to move? What do you already have available to you (videos, a gym close by, a jump rope, catchy music with a beat) that you can have on hand for a Mini-vacation or POD? What types of movement do you enjoy or that complete a chore you'd like to finish?

Blessings on your movement...and your caregiving!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Express Your Thoughts and Feelings in Writing

Friends and family can be great listeners, and we take full advantage of their gift to share our troubles and our joys, to work out a particular issue, to discuss options, or to get a hug or a smile of encouragement.

For some hurts, for some emotions, at some times in our lives, sharing verbally does not make the grade. Talking is speedy, impermanent. Spoken words lift into the air like feathers or bullets; most go unattended; some drop like rocks on the people we love. Texting has even more quickness about it, and no time for real depth and introspection.

Writing, on the other hand, is an activity that engages your mind, all your senses, and is physical. Writing is the safest way I know to pour out everything. I've written things, confessed things in my journal that I could not reveal to anyone, even to my psychological counselors.

And that is the first requirement of a writing space...privacy and safety. I know that many people like to journal on their computer or PDA, and that is certainly the way to go if it allows you the privacy to express your deepest emotions.

I truly prefer writing by hand. It's slower, gives you ample time for thought without the blinking cursor pulsing with the message to "Get on with it, why don't you!". And my computer actually hums at a low pitch while it blinks at me. Handwriting is blessedly silent, quiet, unassuming.

Handwriting has a sensual component (sensual meaning that it engages many of your senses). You can choose a pen, or several; choose an ink color; choose a pencil; choose which type or size of paper or journal or notebook you'd like to use. A composition book or writing journal, lined paper or unlined, decorated or not, thick cotton paper or thin onion skin--all add to the experience, the intimacy, the comfort. If you're using a notebook, you can add in articles you've read or pictures that speak to you.

A paper book is very portable and does not rely on a battery or plug. PDA's are portable, too, so it's all about what feels right for you.

Handwriting lends itself to a flow of consciousness style. With handwriting, you're less likely to edit as you go. You just write. Doesn't matter that it's not grammatically correct. It doesn't matter if you curse or rail away at the Fates. The journal is for you. The writing is for you. No one else will read it (unless you want them to).

And my very favorite reason for a paper can write 24/7. No one else clamoring for the computer. No need to boot up equipment and get sucked into social networking or e-mail. Open the journal or slip out a piece of paper, grab a pen...and write.

My journaling time is usually 3AM. There's something about that hour that wakes me when I'm under stress. The only way to calm my racing thoughts and express my emotions and deepest longings is to journal by hand. The soft light of a candle or one table lamp by my side. Me, curled on the couch or the window seat. Writing everything that flows through my mind until I feel the words slow down and finally stop. When the writing flow finishes, I can sleep.

I return to my late-night writings every so often. They tell me how much I've grown, how far I've come. They remind me that I have survived other crises, revelled in other joys...and so I shall again.

A post from the Productivity 501 blog, Using Different Parts of Your Brain, says that research discovered that different parts of your brain are activated depending on whether you write by hand or on computer. And the difference is more than what can be accounted for by the different motor activities. This finding argues for using both methods to tap into your healing and expressive potential. Thinking of that and my own preferences, I do use computer journaling tools for some sharing and handwriting for others.

But it has been with pen and paper that my most intense inner work and emotional release have occurred.

Privacy, comfort, portability, engaging the senses, reviewing your progress--all of these enhance your journaling experience. But no matter how you choose to express yourself in writing, take time daily. It's a perfect Pause of the Day.

Blessings on your caregiving!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Work With Your Hands

Many of the activities that you do as a caregiver are mentally exhausting. Doing your parent's taxes, trying to figure out a new way to encourage your mom to eat, reading up on treatment for your father's condition, arranging for care--all of these tax your brain. And the emotional stress adds another level of tiredness that seems to seep down to your bones.

One way to dispel that mental fatigue is a Pause of the Day (POD)--15 to 30 minutes--doing something with your hands, focusing on their movement, not on the present problem you're resolving. Choosing that "something" does take a little planning (yes, I know, more thought...but big payoff!).

The something should be:
  • An activity that you can do for a short time, put down and pick up tomorrow or next week without missing a beat.
  • An activity that is active. Your hands--better yet your whole body--are involved.
  • An activity that requires you to pay attention to what you're doing, either to avoid injury or to produce good results.

Let's just brainstorm for a moment. Knitting, crocheting, needlework, sewing, staining furniture, trimming bushes, weeding the garden, building models, creating stained glass light catchers, weaving, pottery, washing dishes by hand, checking the smoke detectors, dusting, sweeping, mending a sail, filling the birdfeeders...

What we're listing here is a mixture of hobbies and light household tasks. We've always labeled hobbies as "enjoyable", but we can also reframe household "chores" into household "pauses". I actually enjoy making the beds. I like the way each bed looks after I've smoothed the bedspread down and plumped the pillows. So I leave that pause until later in the day, take my time with it, and enjoy the result. I hate gardening, so pulling weeds for 15 minutes does absolutely nothing positive for my attitude, but you may find it's just the thing to put a pesky problem into perspective (lovely alliteration, LaVerne!).

As I noted, you may need to plan just a bit. If you want to work on refinishing furniture or on a sewing project that will span many "pauses", you'll need workspace that will be undisturbed until the next time you're ready for a pause. Because the lure of the activity may pull you into spending more time than you want to devote, set a timer. No need to add the frustration of overshooting your time limits to your day.

Pick an activity you like, set aside 15-30 minutes every day for enjoying that activity, set aside workspace if necessary and ... pause.

Blessings on your caregiving day!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Read an Enjoyable Book

We've started to explore the Pause of the Day (POD), a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes during which you can redirect your attention from the cares of caregiving to something enjoyable, something for you.

You'll notice my suggestion is not a "good" book, because people often equate "good book" with high school reading lists and literature we should read. I'm advocating reading for enjoyment, not for instruction or learning. Of course, if reading a heavy tale of survival or a history text uplifts you, makes you feel good and generally lightens your spirit, then have at it. I'm a romance kind of a gal, usually mixed with science fiction, Jane Austen's world, mystery or fantasy. I read plenty of things that stimulate my mind, make me ponder, push me to think critically. For a POD, I need pleasure, emotion, the sigh of a happy ending, a reaffirmation of Goodness. What you're striving for in choosing a book is a lightening of your spirit, a release of emotion, a way to escape the real drama you face each day.

Once you've chosen a book, for your POD, read one chapter. Or set a timer and read for 30 minutes. Make a pact with yourself. No interruptions. Turn off the cell phone, go to a room where you can close the door, sit out on the porch with no company except nature. And enjoy!

Blessings on your caregiving today!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Yoga Care for Hands

Here's a mini-vacation you give to your hands as well as to your spirit. You have, no doubt, heard of the different forms of Yoga that provide a full-body and mind stretching and strengthening. This month I was introduced to a form of Hand Yoga, and I share it with you as a way to take a break and soothe those tired muscles and tendons in your fingers, palms and wrists.

Warm-up. Begin by "washing" your hands (no water, no soap, just skin-to-skin), rubbing them together, making sure you gently rub each finger along its length. Count 20 seconds to make sure you've spent long enough. Get everything nice and warm. Then begin the exercise.

Step 1. Place your hands in a classic prayer or honor position--palms together, fingers together, all fingertips pointed to the sky. Make sure that your elbows stick out and press your palms lightly together.

Step 2. Keeping the heels of your hands together, slowly open your hands, starting at the top of your fingertips, slowly down your fingers, finally opening the palm. The heels of your hand are still pressed together and your hands form a "V", your fingers curved slighty backward so you feel a pleasant stretch. After a slow 3 count, bring your hands together again slowly, palms first, then fingers, then fingertips. You are now back to the beginning prayer position.

Step 3. Still keeping the insides of your hands together skin-to-skin, simply spread your fingers so that they resemble a lady's fan, held at a right angle to your body. Give yourself a nice, gentle stretch in this position. Elbows remain sticking out.

Step 4. With your fingers spread, open your hands again slowly, this time starting at the heel of the hand, separating palms next, then fingers, until only your fingertips are touching. Now your hands form an open-air, curved roof.

Step 5. Keep your fingertips touching while you pull all your fingertips together. With your fingertips all touching in the center, your hands form the infinity sign, a figure 8 on its side. Other images are two bird beaks touching, a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, or a mask.

Step 6. Keep your fingertips touching and move your hand back into the open-air, curved roof position of Step 4.

Step 7. Close the space between your hands so that they again form the Lady's Fan of Step 3. Bring your fingers together to return to the beginning prayer position.

Repeat Steps 2 through 7 three times slowly and deliberately. Keep those elbows sticking out. After the final repetition, gently flick your hands several times as if you were flicking water off them. You're done!

Hand Yoga positions, called Mudras, are varied, and a quick search of the Internet retrieved many hand positions that you can hold for relaxing and healing.

Here's to Happy Hands!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pause of the Day (POD)

Recently I've been focusing on mini-vacations and self-care, Caregivers, but don't forget to explore the other articles in this Blog. Look on the right-hand side under "Labels" to find articles on other topics of interest to caregivers. If there is something you've thought about but don't see it here, check the Parentcare 101 website, and if that doesn't work, contact me directly.

Now on to other ideas for talking a break. Mini-vacations are those short breathers (under 5 minutes) you take throughout the day. Mini-vacations are stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of breaks. A Pause of the Day (POD) is longer, perhaps 15-30 minutes in length, and you should try to schedule one of these once a day.

One of the easiest POD's is to choose a favorite half hour comedy show on television and make a point to watch it regularly. It has to be something that makes you grin widely, laugh out loud, giggle or hoot every time. "I Love Lucy" reruns, the Three Stooges, "The Daily Show", "Everybody Loves Raymond"--doesn't matter how goofy or if other people think it's "stupid". This is YOUR POD and if a show makes you laugh, it qualifies for POD status. Think video taping or DVR recording if the show is on at an inconvenient time. Think TV on DVD if the show now longer airs.

Pick your show, pick your time, sit down and have a good belly laugh. You'll feel much better. I promise.

Blessings on your caregiving!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Mini-Vacation List

So far, in our discovery of mini-vacations, we've talked about 8 different ways that you can take a short break throughout the day, whenever you need it. Eight ways means that you can try a different one each day for a week and see which one (or more) works best for you.

It's time to start a list.

Right now is a good time to jot down those mini-vacations that do work for you and keep that list handy. You may want to post it on your computer, in your PDA, on the refrigerator, in your parent's Care Log--all of the above and anywhere else that's easy to get to. Add to the list as you discover new ways to pause. Then when you need that break, you can whip out the list, look it over and choose a mini-vacation. Ah-h-h.

So far, here's the list:
  • Light a Candle
  • Take 3 Deep Breaths
  • Watch the Birdies Go Tweet!
  • Get a Hug
  • Is It Important?
  • Daily Calendar
  • Count Your Blessings
  • Consider the Empty Bowl

Have you found anything else that gives you a lift and helps you center yourself for the next task? Add it to the list.

And share it with us.

Blessings on your caregivng day!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Take 3 Deep Breaths

You've heard people encourage one another, "Take a breath", meaning "stop a moment" or "don't run on so frantically." I say it frequently here as a reminder that we don't need to run headlong into activity. We're allowed to pause. That's what mini-vacations are all about.

Today's suggestion for a mini-vacation is a simple one. When life starts to pile up on you, take three deep breaths.

And I mean, "deep", from the belly, not from the throat, not from the chest. Breathe in through your nose and let your belly (that's right, where your belly button is) relax and expand. You women out there, don't worry about looking fat. You're doing this for your sanity. It doesn't take much time. You can suck in your tummy later. For now, let it expand and fill with air as you breathe in, slowly and steadily.

Then breathe out slowly and completely, through either your mouth or nose. The idea is to blow out all your tension with the air. Allow your shoulders and neck to relax as the breath pours out. Close your eyes if it will help you to expel the tension.

Concentrate on what you're doing, how you feel, how much tension is released, the point at which there's no more air to blow out.

Complete the breath.

Then repeat. Twice.

Now move on with your day. Doesn't that feel better?

Blessings on your caregiving!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pause for a Reality Check

As caregivers--and in our other life roles--we sometimes create drama around how important our activities are. We load up on anxiety believing that if we don't accomplish something immediately or don't act right now, the whole world will fall apart. At least our little corner of it. I find myself falling into that stress-anxiety cycle, and I'm not a primary caregiver at the moment.

How do we control that anxious reaction to our situation?

I saw a recent report of research that discovered that people can control their irritated and angry reactions by asking one simple question: How important is this?

I've used this question to explore the source of my own nervousness and anxiety, but I frame it more specifically: On my personal Importance Scale of 1 to 10, 10 being imminent injury or death, how close to 10 is this situation?

We throw out the phrase "a matter of life and death" without really thinking. "A matter of life and death" is when a surgeon calls a librarian (me) and says that he is operating on a child, and he has encountered an unexpected complication in surgery. He expected and is familiar with two things he sees in the operative field, but the third is not usual. He'd like to know (right now, please) if this third condition has ever been reported in the literature. Any information would be helpful. This qualifies for a 9 or 10 on the Importance Scale.

Today's reality is that I have overbooked my schedule, want to visit a friend recovering from surgery, plan to exhibit at a local conference tomorrow and realize I may not have a car. Yes, this is all stressful, but certainly down near 1 to 3 on the Importance Scale. My anxiety often comes from pride. I like to be in control, like to be on top of things. I feel that I'm really good at time management. But life has a way of grinning and going its own way. Time for that reality check.

When your own anxiety meter starts to ratchet up (Yes, you know what it feels like. Either the tense stomach, aching shoulders, squeezing headache, or some other physical sign that is your personal symptom), your mini-vacation should be a pause to ask
"How Important Is This?"
and then use the Importance Scale to get some perspective.

Most of the time, you'll recognize that what you're trying to accomplish or solve is not so critical. A little time, a bit of adjustment on your part, a shift of your perspective will resolve the issue or show you a different way to approach it.

One small question. One small caregiver victory.

Try it. Let us know if it works for you.

Happy mini-vacation!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Consider the Empty Bowl

There is a story Sue Bender relates in her book “Everyday Sacred” of a monk who, each morning, takes his empty begging bowl in his hands and stands in the flow of crowds in the city. Whatever is put in the bowl that day—money, rice a bit of fruit—he uses for his nourishment. Each morning he begins again with an empty bowl, and each day he finds that he receives enough to live.

Each morning we are blessed with a new day. A new beginning. Whatever we did the day before, whatever decisions we made, are done. Finished. Can not be taken back.

But the new day provides the opportunity to do something new. To change the direction that we might have chosen yesterday. To begin again.

Move on. Move forward. Look back only to seek clues for how to move forward today.

Nothing is set in stone.

For each morning, you have an empty bowl.

For your mini-vacation, find a bowl in your house—any bowl. Something that reflects you. If you love to bake, perhaps a mixing bowl; if you cherish fine china, a piece from your favorite pattern; a cereal bowl that you use for breakfast. Place the bowl where you can see it and remind yourself that yesterday is past. You have an empty bowl into which to gather new gifts, new decisions, new challenges, new woes, new joys.

Maybe things are not going very well today. Mini-vacation!

Consider your empty bowl.

Remind yourself to do something different, to look at the problem from a new perspective, to seek out new advice.

Are you berating yourself for past decisions? Do you miss the present because you’re focused on the past? Can you not look at today with fresh eyes because of the past? Do you sit in judgment on yourself? Mini-vacation!

Consider your empty bowl.

Life gives you endless chances to make a new decision, change directions, take a breath. Life gives you an empty bowl.

Blessings on your caregiving day!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Calendar a Day

One of the best items ever created for lightening the day is the Page-a-Day calendar. And I will shamelessly co-opt these handy little helpers for our Mini-vacations.

You've seen them in gift shops, book displays, and of course in those shops in the mall devoted to calendars. They're usually a standard size, about 5" X 6", just enough to display nicely on your desk, workbench or kitchen counter. And they come in a variety of topics--jokes, games, languages, quotes, inspiration, tips, pets, puzzles, comics. I'm partial to the Scrabble(TM) calendar and Dilbert comics. But I've used ones for women who do too much and scripture verses. You really can't miss with these babies.

Now I know that there are many websites and electronic versions of these page-a-day calendars. I'll even share some good websites in the future. But there's something about having a calendar in paper (you can recycle!).

A daily paper calendar reminds you that yesterday has passed, you can't see tomorrow, so your best plan is to focus on today. Rip off a page. That's right, give it some attitude. Yesterday's gone. A new day!

It would be nice if our concerns and troubles could be solved just that easily, but at least with a page-a-day calendar, you take action to separate one day from another and give yourself a pat on the pack for getting through the day just past.

If you want to browse the possibilities, go to your favorite search engine and type in "daily calendars". Skip all the entries for the government calendars of daily activities. You have enough things in your life that will raise your blood pressure. Watching state or local government move ponderously forward will not help you lower it. There are several websites that specialize in paper calendars and there you can browse and get an idea of what might suit you.

Pictures and facts about dogs. Or cats. Or fish. Music. Inspiration. Favorite TV show. Dream Cars. Fact or Crap (this is real!). Golf. Sudoku.

This is something you choose totally for you.

It's not too late to start for 2010. Find a calendar. Rip a page every day. And take time out from your caregiving to take care of you.

Blessings to you!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Get a Hug...And Then Another

A hug is an excellent mini-vacation. You connect with another living, breathing human being. A hug is warm and wonderfully supportive. A hug lets someone else care for you.

Mind you, hugs come in various varieties. So I am not advocating those wimpy embraces where a four-inch space separates you from your hug partner and everybody's elbows are poking out. Those kinds of hugs are hardly worth it. And avoid the vise-huggers. They believe that a good hug should squeeze the air out of you so you're gasping for breath and wondering how your nose got smashed against their chest.

No, my fellow caregivers, find people who will let you wrap yourself around them, move in close and hug you like they care deeply for you. You need an embrace long enough to allow time to sink into the comfort of warmth and strength. You need to feel supported, not smothered or afraid that the other person will break. Think about the child who jumps into your arms with no inhibitions, and wraps herself around you. Truly, that's the kind of hug that gives you the connection you need.

If you're short on people, a pet can offer good hug potential. Same principles apply. Goldfish? Not a good hug. Too slippery. Gerbils? Too small. Cow? Now there is some possibility if you like cows. I'm partial to dogs, but a good llama can work, too.

But really, folks, there is nothing like the hug of a spouse, a child, a friend, a family member who wraps you in love and care. Just walk right up to one of these special people and say, "I need a hug."

Nothing wrong with asking for what you really need.

Get a hug (or two or twelve) today!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Light a Candle

It's winter right now in the Northern Hemisphere and that means short days, skies of slate gray, piles of snow at times, and the tension of cabin fever crawling up your spine.

It's a time for candles.

There's a reason why February 2--in addition to being Groundhog Day, a Quarter day in the solstice calendar and a Roman festival to Pan--was called CANDLEMAS in the Christian calendar. Well, all right. The Christians took over Pan's festival and transformed the torch-lit street festivities into a more sedate candle-lit procession. They both had the right idea. In the darker days of winter, Let There Be Light! And lots of it.

You can celebrate, too, with a Candle Mini-Vacation. Any candle will do. Tiny little tea light; big, fat 3-wick; slender taper. You pick the size, the color, the scent. Put it in a safe place (out of reach of children, pets, ailing elders and wayward spouses) where you can see it. Take a deep breath...and light it.

And watch.

Notice the color of the flame. Does the flame flicker as the furnace kicks up a gentle current? Is the flame unmoving in stillness? Catch a whiff of the candle's scent or the lingering burnt tang in the air. Clear your mind of all that is pressing in at the moment and just enjoy the soothing simplicity of the candle.

Leave it burning for a while, or blow it out. Light it again later.

Until the candle has melted down to a puddle or burned away to nothing, you have instant mini-vacation. I'm heading to my matches and my cafe-au-lait pillar candle right now.

Blessings on your caregiving day!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Watch the Little Birdies Go Tweet!

I'm not talking about the tweeting on Twitter or the cartoon Tweety Bird (even though she's a favorite!). I'm talking about watching our feathered friends who hop around on our lawns, across our decks and perhaps in our indoor cages. Taking a few minutes to observe the birds flit about, scrounge for food and just sit there can be very relaxing and can remind you of the whole of nature that exists and continues to thrive right beside your current situation.

There are lots of ways to watch birds. And just as Your Situation is Unique in caregiving (Care Tip #3 in Caring for a Distant Parent), your bird watching opportunities right where you live will also be unique.

1) The easiest way to watch is to take a little time to observe the surroundings right around your home or apartment. Where do birds congregate within sight? What time of the day do they appear (birds do have rhythm!). Then when you need a mini-vacation, be at the window or on the porch at that time and watch for a few minutes.

2) Draw the birds in closer. Go to the local hardware store and buy a small bag of "all purpose" birdseed, usually the store brand. It's inexpensive and several bird families like that seed. Scatter the seed where you'd like the birds to appear. If you scatter, they will come.

3) Get formal and buy a window-mounted bird feeder. These come in small sizes or in the large economy sizes, but the point is that you will hang your feeder on any window--somewhere you can easily and safely refill the feeder--fill it with that all purpose seed and see who shows up for lunch.

4) Get crazy and buy a whole set of feeders with pole systems and hanging hooks and suet feeders and nut feeders and ones that look like lighthouses and others made from copper that shine in the sun and...

Sorry, I've got a small deck system that holds 4 feeders and I participate in the winter Feederwatch for Cornell University, so I'm just a little crazy.

5) Or go indoor crazy, do some research on birds that do well in cages and buy a pair to live in your home with you and provide endless mini-vacation possibilities.

Birds reside everywhere that we do. (In big cities, the birds are called "urban birds". So sheek.) So go to your window. Walk out on your balcony. Hang a feeder. Scatter some seed. See what kind of feathery beauty appears. Smile at the antics. Scold the birds for arguing over a sunflower seed. Share your troubles.

Just lovin' these mini-vacations.

Blessings on your caregiving day!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Count Your Blessings!

Have you taken a mini-vacation today? If not, this is the time. Right now.

Close your eyes and let your mind wander over the last 24 hours. Pick out something positive that happened, something a little surprising, something a bit wonderful.

Was a co-worker especially effective? How about that smile from a friend? Did someone at the grocery let you in front of them? A good show on TV, a hug from your child, the warm sun on your face, sparkling snowfall.

Can you remember at least one good thing that happened during the day? Picture it in your mind. Savor it. Remember it with a smile. If you had more than one good thing happen, take some time with each event to remind yourself that all is not stress and tasks and caregiving.

Take a deep breath and let it slowly out.

Open your eyes.


Put this in your basket of mini-vacations to take out and enjoy anytime.

Remember, life gives us blessings every day if we only take time to look.

Blessings on your caregiving day!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What's a Mini-Vacation?

A Mini-Vacation is a brief count of moments to stop and smell the roses--literally or figuratively.

In the midst of caring, while facing the challenges of parenting, employment, eldercare, and living, we often become so enveloped in the “have to’s” and the “musts” that we forget to breathe. We don’t look up and notice that the sky is clear blue or that our children have just made a marvelous discovery or that the snow sparkles like glitter or that our spouse is looking particularly good that day.

Caring for elderly parents is not a sprint, but a marathon, and as a caregiver, you need to find the right caring pace that will allow you to thrive during the journey over weeks, months and perhaps years.

The most powerful technique I learned and used during my caregiving experience was one I learned from one of my spiritual teachers, the late Sister José Hobday, an American Indian nun who lived in New Mexico. She taught that the quality of experience we foster in our lives will ultimately give us more joy and peace than the quantity of tasks or things we do. She recommended a simple daily practice:
Take 20 mini-vacations a day.
Throughout the day, take regular micro-breaks in your routine to focus on something pleasant. All you need is a few seconds or a few minutes and your focused attention. When you shift your attention from your current concerns to something you truly enjoy, you briefly release your mind, body and spirit from stress and clear them to continue with renewed energy.

In her teachings, Sister Hobday encourages 20 of these breaks a day. That averages out to about two every waking hour. What does this mean? It means that as we look toward the future in our caregiving role, we don't have to see endless stress and tasks before us. We learn to divide our tasks for others into short bursts of activity interwoven with time for ourselves.

Mini-vacations may take a small amount of planning, especially if you wish to have pictures or music readily available. But for the most part, just look up, notice the world around you, move around in it a little. There are endless opportunities for a break in your routine.

Twice a week in this blog, we'll be sharing ideas for mini-vacations and reminding each other to take a break, take a breath, and care for ourselves.

Blessings on your caregiving day!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Returning to the "New" Blog

It's been a busy four months since I last posted, and I've missed my time out here in the Blog-o-sphere with you. I'm happy to announce that an updated version of my current work CARING FOR A DISTANT PARENT will be available during the next month. I'll let you know when that arrives.

I've also been working with my website provider to re-invent my website Parentcare 101, and that will launch in the next month, also.

I've spent a lot of time out and about, talking to caregivers like you at conferences and presentations, answering questions you've asked through the website, and considering how this blog can best help you.

The Parentcare 101 website provides the resources and links you need to help your parents. Time and time again, however, caregivers have shared that they feel overwhelmed and routinely forget to care for themselves. I'd like to let this blog be a reminder that if you don't take care of yourself, you cannot care for your parent.

So first and foremost, this blog will be a place to find ideas for daily mini-vacations and ways to take a break and take a breath. I'll occasionally revisit some topics on helping your parent, but I'll focus on those little ways that help caregivers thrive in this marathon we call caregiving.

Join me here every Tuesday and Thursday!

Blessings on your caring!