Festive, Not Always Joyful, Holidays Wednesday, Dec 1 2021 

The merriest time of the year offers opportunities to celebrate the season with family and friends. Submerged in lights, décor, food, and drink, we toast to the bonds between one another and the hope of a bright approaching future.

But along with the festivities, we are painfully reminded of loss and hardship. Loved ones who no longer share a seat at the table, struggles with emotional or physical pain, differences and disagreements, and the trials and tribulations of a very complex and diverse world prompt raw, open wounds that can ooze more than usual in the midst of merriment. Few of us escape this life without such pain to some degree. I’ve been there myself on multiple levels and through many, many, many of my years.

Experiencing the painful emotions is natural and necessary, however, there are some ways in which we can ease the pain. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Focus on our blessings. Even in the darkest of nights, bright stars shine. Contemplate upon the good things we have, and give thanks for them.
  • Help those less fortunate. There are always people who have greater problems and fewer gifts. We can volunteer at a shelter and donate to organizations that assist those in need.
  • Reach out to a lonely neighbor. Be present to those who are alone and lonely.
  • Pray for those in physical or emotional pain. Prayer works. Shower others with the positive thoughts, words, and energy we can send.
  • Smile. Our mood changes when we smile. It’s such a simple little way to lift our spirit.
  • Remember and give thanks for the good times in the past. We focus so much on what was lost, but rarely do we look back with appreciation and gratitude.
  • Pamper ourselves. A luxurious bath with fragrant candles, a special treat of a chocolate, or a few minutes to savor the soothing warmth of a cup of soup or beverage can heal and rejuvenate.
  • Exercise. Exercising releases happy endorphins, loosens up the muscles, and gets that oxygen flowing.
  • Meditate. Concentrate on slow, even breaths while allowing your mind and body to relax and release the tensions of the day.
  • Remember that you aren’t alone. There are people all around you who will be there for you. You only need to call on them.
  • Read. Read books that offer hope and inspiration or an escape into a fictional world of fun.

*Grieving with Mary is my all-time best-selling book since it was first published in 2009. Perhaps you know someone who can identify with the suffering and yet trust of Jesus’ mother discussed in this book.

*We all care for someone at some point. Inspired Caregiving was written for the caregivers in your life.

Bison or Buffalo? Tuesday, Oct 19 2021 

Biscuit or cookies? Bison or Buffalo? The meaning of words can change over time in ways that hardly resemble what they originally signified.

What the British call “biscuits,” we call cookies or crackers, depending on whether the pastry is sweet or savory. And then we apply that word, biscuit, to a fluffy little bread instead of a twice baked or dried flat item, as it originally meant.

We created a similar misnomer with our buffalo. We’ve called bison buffalo for so many centuries it’s now acceptable to use either bison or (American) buffalo, even though they are entirely different animals. The difference would be as if we called a goat a lamb.

Both bison and buffalo belong to the family Bovidae but are not closely related. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in North America, buffalo only referred to Cape buffalo and water buffalo, which are native to Africa and Asia. Bison are found in North America and Europe.

Bison, or American buffalo, have humps at their shoulders and bigger heads than true buffalo, beards, and thick coats which are shed in the spring and early summer. Bison and buffalo can also be identified by their horns. Bison horns are sharp and short. Buffalo horns are much larger. Cape buffalo have horns that resemble handlebar mustaches, and water buffalo’s horns are large, long, and curved in a crescent.

According to the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation biology institute, European explorers are likely to be responsible for the name confusion. It may have evolved from the French word boeuf, which means beef, or because bison hides resembled the buff coats worn by the military at that time.

There are variances between the different types of bison, as well. The European wood bison are larger. American bison are slightly hairier, heavier, and shorter. Their horns also are different. European bison horns point forward allowing them to interlock horns while American bison’s structure promotes charging. In addition, American bison are easier to tame and breed.

Bison are grazers that primarily eat grasses in addition to some flowering plants, lichen, and plant leaves. Snow can sit on their shaggy coats without melting. Bison weigh up to 2,400 pounds and stand about six feet tall at the shoulder. They grunt, snort, and bellow and may act aggressively when threatened. Bison charge and butt heads with other bulls but do not fight to the death. They have excellent senses of hearing and smell but poor vision. Bison typically live up to 15 years in the wild and as long as 25 years in captivity, if not subject to wolf predation.

At around three years of age, males leave their maternal herd and either live alone or with other males until mating season, which occurs from July through September. At that time, dominant bulls may maintain a small group of females to mate. They bellow and roar when they want to get a female’s attention. They also will chase any rival bulls away. Cleverly, bulls shield the cows’ vision with their body so they can’t see other males and be tempted to stray.

After the first few weeks of the season, subordinate bulls may be allowed to mate with the remaining cows that haven’t yet mated. More males than females have been observed to display homosexual behaviors.

Gestation period lasts 285 days. Bison calves are lighter in color than their parents for their first two months. Calves are nursed for at least 7 to 8 months or until the cow is pregnant again. By the age of three, bison cows are mature enough to produce a calf of their own. Males do not assist in raising the young.

The Sioux consider the rare birth of a white buffalo to be spiritually significant. It indicates the return of White Buffalo Calf Woman, a cultural prophet and the bringer of their Seven Sacred Rites.

When indigenous people arrived 27,000 years ago, they relied on bison for food, clothing, shelter, and even their spiritual practices. Every part of the animal was utilized and meaningful for the survival of the people.

By 9000 BC, bison roamed rich grassland from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico and on the east coast from New York to Georgia. The area is described as the great bison belt. It’s estimated that the bison population exceeded 60 million in the late 18th century.

But by the 1800s, herds were nearly eliminated. Bison were hunted for sport. Passengers were known to shoot at the animals from trains. Bovine diseases from domestic cattle also played a part in their deaths. However, most of the lost bison were slaughtered by the U.S. government in an organized effort to destroy the livelihood of the Plains Indians. Only 541 bison remained in 1889.

Recovery efforts began in the mid-20th century. However, a major problem facing herds today is their lack of genetic diversity because that diversity was destroyed with the elimination of earlier bison.

Wild herds now roam in a handful of national parks and reserves in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Russia. They also are raised on ranches for commercial purposes such as meat, dairy, hides, and skulls. Bison meat tastes similar to beef but is lower in fat and cholesterol. It’s also higher in protein.

Recovery by private groups include the Inter-Tribal Bison Council which was formed in 1990. This group is composed of 56 tribes in 19 states that have established herds on tribal land.

Caution when photographing or viewing bison should be observed, as with all wild animals. Bison will attack if provoked. They may appear slow because of their weight and nonchalant grazing and lounging but they’re actually much quicker than humans and quite agile. They can jump high fences, swim, run as fast as 40 mph, and can stampede if in a herd. In North American national parks, more people were injured by bison than bears during the period between 1980 to 1999.

*Photos of bison were taken on the Oneida Nation reservation, Oneida, Wisconsin

*Do you know that October is the noted as the month of the Rosary?

Caves! What Lies Beneath Thursday, Sep 23 2021 

From the mountains to the forests and sky to the seas, nature’s masterpieces are on display for anyone who takes the time to notice. Plant life from moss to oak trees, clouds, sand, waterways, prairies, soil, hills, insects, birds, and land animals show off their hues, shapes, music, and fragrances.

Go deeper, and we also can find nature’s magnificence below ground level. My boyfriend and I recently took a trip to Blue Mound, Wisconsin to experience the treasure of Cave of the Mounds. The natural structures, textures, and colors left me in awe.

The area’s history dates back more than 400 million years ago when warm waterways covered it and the discarded calcium carbonate seashells compacted into limestone. Over the next few million years, carbon dioxide created in rain and melting snow, and then becoming diluted carbonic acid, seeped through the surface soils, dissolved the limestone, and created cavities. Simultaneously, the water table lowered causing streams to deeply erode the stone and allow air to fill in the developing cave.

Water droplets and dissolved calcium carbonate and minerals continued, and still continue, to drip though the cave and build on each other forming structures called speleothems.

Stalactites are speleothems growing down from the ceiling.

Stalagmites are structures forming from the ground up.

Helictites grow sideways and downward. And round oolites are considered cave pearls.

The rate of growth of these speleothems is tremendously slow taking 50 to 150 years to build one cubic centimeter of cave onyx, depending on the speed of the dripping water and the amount of calcium carbonate it contains.

The colors of the trails of crystals formed by these droplets varies with the minerals they carry. For example, reddish brown crystals contain rust—oxides of iron; black, purple, blue, and grey contain manganese compounds; and those with calcite appear as translucent or white crystals.

Nearly all of the more than 400 known caves in Wisconsin are privately owned. Cave of the Mounds is noted as a National Natural Landmark in a public-private partnership with the National Park service. It is located on a family owned property that was used for dairy farming. In 1939, the family also contracted out a portion of the land for quarry blasting. The cave was discovered when one of those contractors blasted an opening to the hidden world below.

Cave of the Mounds is open year-round and maintains temperatures in the 50s. Located outside of Madison, Wisconsin, Midwesterners have easy access to this natural gem. Guests can meander through the cave on their own, spending as much or as little time as desired. Typically, it takes about an hour to view as it is only about 1/5 of a mile long and from 40 to 57 feet below ground. Guides are on hand at the beginning of and about half-way through the tour to answer questions. At this time, tickets for adults are under $20. Trails surround the cave and also are open to the public.

I expected the cave to be dark, dank, dirty, and buggy. Instead, it was quite clean without visible creatures, well-lit, and had a smooth, concrete pathway on which to walk. The air quality varies with the barometric pressure but also was comfortable. I understand that water drips in the cave on rainy days and those with melting snow.

If you aren’t able to visit Cave of the Mounds, check out their virtual tour. You lose the close up experience of being surrounded by nature’s sculptures but will get a sample of what to find there.

*Pilgrimages offer countless benefits, and you don’t have to travel far. Find out how in this post, “Stillgrimage-Taking a Pilgrimage Near Home“.

*Looking for gifts for caregiving friend? Check out these books: Inspired Caregiving, The Alzheimer’s Spouse, and Navigating Alzheimer’s.

My Wee Bird Friends Monday, Aug 23 2021 

Sadly, I believe my resident hummingbirds have left for the season. I haven’t seen any of them for a few days. Last week, a wee one flew around in front of me on the other side of my patio door for several minutes. Perhaps, she was saying good-bye.

One of the greatest joys for me this summer were my hummingbird visits. When the weather was perfect for working outside on my patio, I had a vantage point of view of the hummingbird feeder and butterfly bushes in my little garden that drew the tiny creatures near me. The birds’ fluttering and feeding captivated my attention so much so I felt they’d hypnotized me. I had difficulty looking away to return to my work.

The United States sees only about two dozen of the 325 species of hummingbirds in the world. Most are found in Central and South America and do not regularly migrate.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are common in the United States and the ones who migrate to my area. They fly 500 miles nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico during both their spring and fall migrations. The longest migration of any of these birds is by the rufous hummingbird which flies more than 3,000 miles from Alaska and Canada to Mexico.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds weigh only 3 grams but are mighty with an ability to dart quickly and even fly upside down. Interestingly, hummingbirds rotate their wings in a figure eight beating them approximately 80 times per second.

Hummingbirds are dressed in 1,000 to 1,500 feathers, which is fewer than any other type of bird. They cannot walk or hop. Their feet are tools for scooting sideways while perched, scratching, and preening. They have no sense of smell but extraordinary eyesight.

My winged friends consume approximately one half of their weight in sugar daily. They can feed five to eight times per hour. In addition to nectar, they also feed on insects, spiders, tree sap, and juice from fruits.

Hummingbirds do not suck but rather lick nectar with their fringed, forked tongue and draw the nectar up into their throats. They may lick 10-15 times per second.

The bee hummingbird is the smallest measuring 2.25 inches long. And in spite of their minute size, hummingbirds can be very aggressive attacking jays, crows, and hawks if they enter their territory.

Their average lifespan is three to 12 years.

*See some of my writing tips in my post, Begin With a List.

*Check out my website, Mary K Doyle.com.

*Photos: Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

The Happy Flower Monday, Aug 2 2021 

Sunflowers are blooming everywhere around here, in fact, The National Garden Bureau designated 2021 the Year of the Sunflower. They are symbolic in the Chinese culture of good luck, lasting happiness, love, loyalty, and longevity.

Sunflowers come in a variety of colors, sizes, and fullness. The 70 cultivars of sunflowers belong to three groups—giant sunflowers, dwarf sunflowers, and colored sunflowers. The largest sunflower varieties grow to more than 16 feet in height and some have flower heads as large as more than 12 inches in diameter. Fast growing, most varieties mature in only 80 to 95 days. The happy flower blooms in shades of yellow, orange, and red attracting birds, bees, and butterflies.

Sunflowers are heliotropes, moving with the sun as they begin the day facing east and progress to the west along with the sun and then back east again. They are one of the few plants that are heat-tolerant and resistant to pests.

The tall plants with coarse, furry stems are native to North America. They’re predominantly cultivated as a food source. Each flower produces around 1,000 seeds to be used as an ingredient in salads, smoothies, and breads, and toasted as a snack as well as used as bird feed. Ground into an oil, sunflower oil is a less expensive than olive oil. 

Sunflower seeds are helpful in reducing cholesterol, rich in protein and healthy fats, and a source of antioxidants. The oil is a source of vitamin E and can promote hair growth and soothe sensitive or irritated skin.

Sunflowers are popular in bouquets because we can’t help but smile when seeing their sunny faces. And after providing happiness, when the petals have dropped, the heads can be placed outside for birds to enjoy the seeds or dried out and used as scrubbers.

*Check out, “Our Planet’s Health and Well-Being” on my other blog.

*I’ve written three books for you, my caregiver friends: Inspired Caregiving, The Alzheimer’s Spouse, and Navigating Alzheimer’s.

*Photos taken at Tom’s Farm Market, Huntley, IL.

Sleep is Medicine Friday, Jul 23 2021 

Perhaps Americans should start putting sleep on their calendars and to-do lists. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one in three Americans are sleep-deprived. More than 35% of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep per night. Shockingly, one in 20 has fallen asleep while driving in the past month!

Sleep needs vary from one person to another. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. However, some are fine at 6 hours while others require up to 10.

One of the interesting factors regarding sleep is that deprivation can result in illness and illness can contribute to sleep deprivation. For example, due to at least two illnesses, I’m one of those people who experiences a cycle of pain and fatigue. The more tired I am, the more pain I feel and visa versa. I’m at a point where I can do anything as long as I allow rest times after physical activity.

Dozens of factors contribute to sleep deprivation including a too-busy schedule, too much caffeine or alcohol consumption, anemia, hypothyroidism, jet lag, unhealthy diet, anxiety, cancer, chronic infection, inflammation, and pain, kidney disease, concussion, COPD, depression, diabetes, fibromyalgia, physical or emotional trauma, hormone imbalance, grief, thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, obesity, and sleep apnea.

On the other hand, lack of sleep may result in other health problems. Researchers find that lack of sleep makes it more difficult to lose weight and poses an increased risk of diabetes, heart problems, depression, substance abuse and a decreased ability to focus, remember new information, and perform at optimum levels.

There’s also a connection between sleep loss and memory loss. Chronic sleep deprivation causes injury to parts of the brain that are essential in maintaining attention and forming and storing memories. In addition, it’s believed that our brains clean out substances while sleeping that otherwise interfere with its ability to transmit messages.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME and ME/CFS), is a particular problem with fatigue that is predominately diagnosed by ruling out other illnesses. Symptoms include fatigue that worsens with physical or mental activity, doesn’t improve with rest, and may also include difficulty with memory, focus, concentration, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes, unexplained muscle or joint pain, and headaches.

The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown, although there are many theories ranging from viral infections to psychological stress. Some experts believe chronic fatigue syndrome might be triggered by a combination of factors.

If you feel that fatigue is a daily concern for you, it may be best to consult your physician.

*Have you seen my post, “Eat Well. Live Well?

*For information on caregiving to loved ones with dementia, you may find these books helpful: Navigating Alzheimer’s, The Alzheimer’s Spouse, and Inspired Caregiving.

*Photo: Lily Pad, Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, IL, 6/12/21

Fungi in Every Breath You Take Tuesday, Jul 13 2021 

The topic of fungus may not be the most entertaining one you read about today, but it is fascinating. And if you read this post through to the end, you’ll find fungi can also be scary.

Fungi include microorganisms such as yeasts, molds, mushrooms, rusts, smuts, and mildews. They are not plants or animals. They belong to their own kingdom. However, they are more like animals than plants because they gather their food. Most fungi are so small they are invisible to the human eye, yet they play a significant role in our health as well as the environment’s.

Although often thought to be interchangeable with the word mushrooms, mushrooms are actually a small percentage of fungi. Fungi live everywhere including soil, sand, air, on rocks, and on plants. It’s estimated that there are more than 5 million species of fungi. They are adaptable little things, sitting dormant for decades and growing when exposed to prime conditions.

Fungi play an important role in medications such as antibiotics, anticancer drugs, and cholesterol inhibitors. They are significant in cleaning up the environment, decomposing carbon-based materials that have died. In addition, they can absorb and digest environmental contaminants such as petroleum and pesticides. Fungi also are used to make yeasts for alcohol, bread, and cheeses and can be consumed as a meat substitute and protein source.

Depending on our location, we may breathe in up to four spores with every breath and as many as 92,000 each day. This can be a problem for people like me who are allergic to several forms of fungi.

One type of fungi is the stuff of horror movies. The zombie fungi, fungal genus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, can infect ants and take over their behavior. It directs the ants to move to a location that is best for the fungus and then consumes the ant from the inside out while spreading spores to infect more ants so that the cycle continues.

For more information see this page on the University of Oklahoma’s website where much of this information comes from.

*Help your caregiver friends with loved ones with dementia with the books that will answer their daily questions: Navigating Alzheimer’s, The Alzheimer’s Spouse, and Inspired Caregiving.

*Have you read my last post on Mary K Doyle Books, “Eat Well. Live Well“?

*Photos: 1. Giant Puffball, 2. ?

Lily of the Water Thursday, Jun 24 2021 

Impressionist painter Claude Monet loved water lilies so much he painted more than 250 works of art featuring this aquatic plant. The delicate blossoms transform a pond, shallow and still freshwater, and slow-moving streams into fragrant, colorful gardens.

Water lilies are important symbolically for several reasons. In the Hindu and Buddhist traditions they represent resurrection because many of the lilies close their flowers at night and reopen at sunlight. The bright aquatic flowers rising from the dirty mud symbolize enlightenment. Their association with water is also symbolic of birth.  

There are more than 50 types of water lilies found in a wide range of colors including white, pink, red, orange, yellow, purple, and blue. Tropical varieties typically have brighter shades. They also have variations of leaves including star-shaped, cup-shaped, smooth, and jagged.

Although water lilies are in the same family (Nymphaeceae) as lotus, they are somewhat different. Mainly, the leaves and flowers of water lilies (Nymphaea species) float on the water’s surface. The leaves and flowers of the lotus (Nelumbo species) rise above the water’s surface.

These aquatic plants are an important player in the ecosystem. The flowers and leaves provide shade which keeps the water cooler and prevents algae from growing. They also offer fish beneath the lily pads refuge from the hot sun and covered shelter from predatory birds.

*See “Visiting Memory Care Homes” on my other blog.

Do you know that I’ve written books on caregiving for loved ones with dementia, how our faith changes as we age, the rosary, praying with Mary in times of grief, and Saint Theodora/Saint Mother Theodore Guerin? You can see all of my books on my website or Amazon.

Summer-Fresh Herbs Thursday, Jun 3 2021 

One of the prime factors in cooking the tastiest dishes is to use fresh, quality ingredients–fresh herbs being particularly important in most recipes.

Purchasing herbs in your local grocery store offers a convenient but expensive option. However, these herbs are only as fresh as the harvesting and transporting allows and are handled by multiple people. Also, we typically only use a portion of the packet and toss the rest.

The best alternative is for us to grow our own herbs. We then know the quality of the soil and seed, especially when choosing organic products, and likely are the only ones to touch these herbs. Most significantly, we can pick the exact quantity we need for a dish.

In the Midwest, cilantro grows best in spring conditions. However, most others grow well throughout the summer. Rosemary is said to be the easiest herb of all to grow.

A sunny window can offer space for a mini-indoor garden, if your herbs can get at least four to six hours of direct sunlight. Use pots with drainage holes to avoid over-watering.

I have limited garden space, so my herbs are planted in pots on outdoor shelves. I prefer purchasing small plants rather than starting my herbs from seed. This allows me to beginning harvesting within a couple of weeks. This year my herb garden consists of the end of the cilantro and lavender, mint, parsley, basil, rosemary, and sage. These are ones I know that I will use and work within my allotted space, but there are so many more from which to choose.

In addition to cooking with herbs, I also toss a few leaves in my iced and hot tea, lemon and limeade, and water. The hint of flavor and fragrance of the herbs transforms a normal beverage into a special treat. They also offer numerous health benefits. For example, sage and rosemary can improve brain function and memory. Peppermint relieves IBS pain and reduces nausea.

*

Inspired Caregiving was written for the caregivers in your life. It’s a gift book with lovely photos and manageable bits of information and inspiration.

You can see all my books on my website.

Have you seen my other blog, Mary K Doyle Books? Posts relate to my published books.

Minnie, Mighty Chipmunks Friday, May 21 2021 

They’re back! Some find them a nuisance, even destructive. Chipmunks dig holes throughout our gardens and take bites out of our plants.

The busy small, striped rodents can also be quite entertaining. Last summer, my resident chipmunk enjoyed dining on my back step. She’d select one of the nearby cherry tomatoes, find a comfy spot, and nibble away.

Chipmunks are the smallest members of the squirrel family. They diet primarily on seeds, nuts, buds, and fruits, but they’ll also munch on small frogs, worms, and bird eggs. They carry their food in cheek pouches into their burrows where they dine–unless they find a safe location, like my patio. Those burrows can be more than 11 feet in length and are kept quite neat. Shells and feces are stored in separate refuse tunnels.

Western chipmunks breed only once a year. However, Eastern chipmunks mate in early spring and again in early summer producing litters of four or five and hibernate through the winter. Newborn chipmunks are 2 1/2 inches long and weigh only .1 ounce! They are toothless, blind, and furless. The wee creatures typically live about three years.

Chipmunks are integral to forest ecosystems as their activities help establish seedlings. These small mammals also consume fungi and disperse spores of truffles which cannot do this on their own. In addition, they are a food source for other mammals and larger birds.

*Do you have a loved one with dementia symptoms? You may enjoy playing Memory Games with them.

*Check out my website and author Facebook page.

Next Page »

%d bloggers like this: