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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Living with Chronic Illness

Feeling invincible and having the world by the tail is a wonderful thing. That sense of vitality and control over one's life can be stripped away in an instant with one sentence from your physician, "You have a condition called ......... There is no known cure, but you can live a normal lifespan with proper management."

Chronic illness can make or break a person. It can change the entire dynamics of a family. No one knows how strong they are until they have to be. It is a fact that a sour attitude and disposition can not only be a drain on one's own immune system, but that of an entire household if that home is filled with the black cloud of negative energy.

There is no denying that illness is a pain in the touche. But by damned if you need to let it become you. Don't let yourself sink into the mentality that "life sucks".
Having a condition does suck, but life doesn't have to.
The wisdom behind these quotes are true for everyone, not just those with physical or mental challenges or illness.

1. It's the little things, the little everyday achievements. It can be a good day, Get up, get with it, do what has to be done and go with the flow. Do not obsess on the negative. The cup really is half full.

2. You may not be able to change a person or a situation, but you can change your attitude towards that person or situation. There are always people who will never understand. There is no way they can unless they walk in your shoes. Especially if you have to hear "but you don't look sick". Embrace the wisdom behind the Serenity Prayer.

 3. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Golden Rule exists in most all cultures. Treating others with respect and kindness is just the moral, ethical thing to do. If you get disgusted with people just remember, how people treat others is a reflection on how they feel about themselves, it is nothing personal towards he or she at the brunt of that negativity.

4. Don't lose your smile. Have a sense of humor. Not everyone is the laugh out loud bubbly type but having a wry sense of humor that only comes from someone with a chronic illness is not the same as having a sour attitude.

5. Don't become a bitter person. You may have a condition, but don't let the condition define you. It may limit you, it may shape your attitude being such a pain in the ass, but it is not who you are.

6. Don't focus on the past. To obsess over activities once enjoyable but of which you are no longer capable is a sure ticket for depression.

7. Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday. Live in the moment, since in reality what else is there. Prepare for the future in terms of having your finances in order, have a living will, a financial and medical power of attorney, and a will so your love ones know your final wishes. Then file away all that paperwork and start living.

8. Use it or lose it. It is a proven fact that those who exercise their mind and body live longer. It isn't just maintaining flexibility and strength in your limbs. You need good cardiovascular circulation and oxygen exchange to keep your organs functioning at their best. Believe in the whole mind/body connection attitude towards your health. Don't become a list of diagnosis codes as if each is a problem all by itself. Move, meditate, breathe.

9. Don't lose your vitality.  The opposite of depression isn't happiness, but vitality. Ask yourself, "Will someone else's life be brighter tomorrow because of what you have done today?" By William Arthur Ward
Having a sense of purpose is the key to fulfillment and a reason to get up in the morning. That sense of purpose is often at risk after retirement once we no longer can describe ourselves with a job title. That sense of purpose is often at risk once we experience limitations due to failing health.
Once away from the action of the workplace, it is easy to feel forgotten and alone. Don't let this happen to you. Get involved in another direction. Rediscover who you are and interests that got put on the back burner over the years.

10. "Today is life - the only life you are sure of. Make the most of today. Get interested in something. Shake yourself awake. Develop a hobby. Let the winds of enthusiasm sweep through you. Live today with gusto." by Dale Carnegie

Boredom should not exist. There is just too much to do in this life.
Think about each of the eight things listed below. As a child, our educations focused too much on literacy and not enough on our whole person. Happiness isn't something down the road that will come to us if we work harder, or when we have more free time, or more money. Develop these areas and you'll understand that the definition of happiness is contentment.

Diet and Nutrition
Time in Nature
Contribution and Service
Relaxation & Stress Management
Religious & Spiritual

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Add a Bit of Color to the Winter Landscape

Mockingbird perched in an American Cranberrybush
Unless there is freshly fallen snow on the ground, many people see the winter landscape as grey, stark and boring. But like many things, it is all how one looks at it. The skeletal formation of trees can be of interest and another means of tree identification. Evergreens not only remain green all year long,  but provide a source of cone seeds and protective shelter amidst the branches.The understory bushes and small trees can be of great help to wildlife survival during the winter months through the abundance of berries. Those berries add a wonderful splash of red color to a drab scenic view.
When planning your landscaping choices of plants, it is better to choose natives for your area. Of the selections listed below, the Winterberry Holly, the Viburnum American Cranberry bush, the Red Osier or Red Twig Dogwood and the American Barberry are native to the U.S. but the Maiden grass is originally from Asia. 
  American Cranberrybush Viburnum (Viburnum trilobum)
The American Cranberry Bush is a tree for all seasons. During the spring it is covered with lacy white flowers and by summers end those flowers develop into beautiful red berries which cling to the bush throughout the winter months. Come spring when the birds begin their migrations back to their nesting grounds, these bushes are finally stripped clean. 
Pictured below are a group of cedar waxwings who paid a short visit during the month of March. They arrived in large numbers, raided the berries, and then were gone. 
Cedar Waxwings on a weeping cherry willow tree
 A real beauty for the yard or garden setting is the Winterberry Holly, as it only reaches 10 - 15 feet tall. Its bright red berries make this bush very handy for holiday decorating.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
Red Twig Dogwood is popular for winter color. If it is cut back to the ground in early spring, the plant will send up new bright red shoots and won't get gangly and woody. 

American Barberry
The thorny, shrubby bush called Barberry is popular at garden centers. Try to find the American Barberry rather than the Japanese Barberry. As with many non-native species, the Asian varieties can threaten the habitat of the natives.
Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)

Maidengrass doesn't offer berries but if not cut back till spring, the grass seed heads offer a food source and the plant itself provides shelter. The 5 - 6 foot plant adds interest as it waves in the breeze and breaks up the grey of winter with its pretty shades of tan.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Help the Homebound become Bird Enthusiasts

Boredom is a very real problem with shut-ins and the homebound, especially during the winter months when cold weather and conditions may limit their social lives.

To set up a bird feeding station is a wonderful, stimulating idea to give people something to occupy their time. To sit by a window and watch the fluttering bird activity can be very interesting and entertaining for those who would ordinarily rely on the television to pass the time. Anxiety and depression over failing health issues are common among the chronically ill and the elderly. To connect with a part of nature again can be psychologically healing and a boost for the spirits. An interest in something outside of one's personal problems is a wonderful thing.

There are various types of feeders from which to choose.
If squirrels are a problem, a hopper style is a good idea. If anything heavier than the weight of a bird sits on the perch, it lowers and closes off the feed openings.

Tube feeders are very common and many have interchangeable ports so you can use the perch type for regular seed and the slit type for using  thistle seed.

Another option for thistle seed is the tube sock. These are cheaper but don't last as long since eventually the sock gets torn. Finches love niger or thistle seed which is best offered in thistle feeders which allow them to feed upside down.

Suet blocks are very appreciated, especially by woodpeckers and nuthatches, who are so pretty to watch skimming up and down the tree trunks.

The feed we use consistently is black oil sunflower seeds. These nutritious seeds are a powerhouse of needed fat and protein for a variety of birds. On snowy days, there is a constant flow of activity from cardinals, bluejays, mourning doves, titmice, black-cap chickadees, sparrows, juncos and finches. Nothing is wasted. Any spillage of seed from the feeders themselves is soon cleaned up by those birds who don't usually perch at a feeder, such as the mourning doves.

I add a bit of what is called Flyer's Choice which is a combination of sunflower seeds, safflower, and white millet. Don't bother with the inexpensive feeds with red millet. The birds often just bypass it and knock it out of the feeder. I used to mix cracked corn with the feed for the ground feeders, but stopped because I just attracted more starlings, who then cleaned me out of suet.

If you supply food, try to offer a water source as well. The heated bird bath pictured as well as any of your feeders can be purchased from The Garden Supply catalog, but most likely they are offered at any good farm supply store or nursery. You'll need a power outlet, but what is convenient is that this bird bath is made of heavy duty plastic yet isn't that heavy. Therefore, you can move it from wherever you put it in your gardens for the summer months to a place supplying power for the winter. The cord wraps neatly inside the stand when not being used. Birds don't like deep water so I keep a rock in the middle of the bowl for them to have a solid perch. Plus the weight helps keep the bowl from tipping on a windy day.

If you have cats and let them outside, try to keep your cats inside during the busiest feeding times, which are in the early mornings and at dusk. Once birds sense danger they are less apt to visit your stations.

Below are pictures of birds commonly seen around feeders here in the Northeast, United States: 

Black-Capped Chickadee

Female Cardinal
House Finch
House Sparrow
Dark-Eyed Junco
Mourning Dove
Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker