Never Departed Monday, May 23 2022 

A beloved uncle of mine passed away this month. Uncle Walt was 81 years-old and suffered from a couple of health problems for decades. We would love to have had him longer, but his death was not completely unexpected. Therefore, his memorial was celebratory and honored him with some tears and lots of stories and laughter.

When someone suffers from illness, it’s not unusual to look at their death as a relief. We find a bit of comfort in knowing our loved one is no longer in pain, and for those who believe in heaven, that they are in a better, happier, and easier place from that point through eternity.

Yet even these expected deaths prompt deep pondering about our relationship with the deceased. We reminisce the good times. We also take note of our own passing in the unforeseen near or far future. It’s a wakeup call, a reminder, that no one lives forever. At some point, we too will cross to the other side. And no one knows when that time will come.

When I dream, I encounter friends and family who are both living and dead. These people typically are moving around in the same dream. I see some of them so often, I don’t miss them in this life as much. I’m comforted by their presence in my dreams and also my own death. It helps me to believe in the continuity of life, in one form or another.

Following is a free verse poem I wrote about my experience with such dreams.

*

Never Departed

Moving back and forth

between the living and the dead

friends and family,

past and present.

They’re all with me at the table

communicating when awake

and in my dreams,

sharing signs, words, and visions.

The ability to be together,

simultaneously

in this life and the next,

is comforting.

*

Photo: Hibiscus, Colon, MI, 8/2/21

*Take a look at my books: Grieving with Mary and Inspired Caregiving.

Help Our Wee Friends. Temporarily Remove Birdseed Feeders Wednesday, Apr 27 2022 

Are we required to wear a mask or not? Should we remove our seed/grain bird feeders or continue filling them? Current guidance on birdfeeders is almost as confusing as mask wearing. However, I have some helpful information for you.

Although no official ruling has been made, wildlife agencies recommend that we do, in fact, take our feeders down until May 31, 2022, or until infections subside. Risk is relatively low for songbirds to contract or spread the avian influenza (EA H5N1 strain of avian influenza HPAI), but if that should happen, the spread could be devastating, especially for domestic poultry. A mass outbreak could cost billions of dollars and millions of lives in poultry.

The United States declares that it has the strongest avian influenza surveillance program in the world. This program, APHIS, collects and tests large numbers of samples from wild birds in North America and says that the outbreak started on the East Coast and swiftly spread through the Midwest and beyond. The virus has been detected in several states including, Pennsylvania, Utah, Texas, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, and North Dakota.

HPAI is a highly pathogenic avian influenza. However, the effect of the virus varies with the type of bird. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), HPAI was detected in the state of Illinois in wild Canadian geese on March 10, 2022. Since then, wild bird mortality from this virus has been confirmed in Champaign, Fulton, Sangamon, and Will counties with a more recent mortality event of more than 200 birds in Cook County. Impacted birds include waterfowl and waterbird species and raptors, including eagles and owls, as well as domestic poultry. Recently, the U.S.D.A. reported 41 dead bald eagles infected with the virus across the country.

The organization also that any occurrences of deceased or sick bald eagles be reported. Caution should be taken when disposing of any deceased wild birds. The recommendation is that gloves and a mask be worn, the carcass sealed in double-plastic bags, and then hands and clothing should be washed with soap and water.

Other recommendations include the omission of feeding wild birds in close proximity to domestic flocks. It’s important that pet birds and backyard poultry remain housed in a building until the risk decreases. Also, feeding geese, ducks, gulls and other shorebird species should be avoided as not only does the gathering of birds while feeding increase the risk of them contracting the virus, so does our human presence since we can carry pathogens on our hands, clothing, and shoes, as well.

According to IDNR, it is unlikely that hummingbird and oriole feeders will contribute to the spread of HPAI because these birds are more species specific. Therefore, hummingbird feeders may remain up.

When we may again feed our songbirds, IDNR recommends that bird feeders and baths be completely emptied and cleaned weekly with a solution of nine parts water to one part bleach and then thoroughly rinsed.

For more information, see articles on the CDC website, U.S. Geological Survey, Wildlife Illinois, and the IDNR.

***Parenting is rewarding yet exhausting. Get a daily boost with Inspired Caregiving.

Careful with the Crazy Talk Wednesday, Apr 20 2022 

We can be our worst enemy. Through our self-talk, we sabotage our confidence, stifle our ability to excel, and repeat negative thoughts that lead us into the dark.

When we dwell on our shortcomings and failures, we tend to exaggerate making things much worse than what they really are. Negative statements about ourselves and what we believe others think of us, only pull us down emotionally and prevent us from succeeding. We lead our own path to depression and anxiety and become sad and irritable.

Nor does such self-talk do anything to motivate us to work harder or strive higher. It’s healthy to honestly acknowledge where we can improve, but we should do it in ways that empower. For example, rather than dwelling on how we failed to deliver a clear message in a presentation, we can review the presentation, think about what we can change, and know that we will do better next time.

We also can repeat affirmations, words that affirm positivity. Such positive thinking is empowering. I prefer those that are peaceful, compassionate, and appreciative of the good around us.

Following are a few affirmations you might want to try. You can find more information on Healthline.

My voice matters, and I do make a difference.

My heart is open. I radiate love.

My life is a gift. I appreciate everything that I have.

***Jesus’ mother understands our pain. Learn how to pray with her in our times of need. Read, Grieving with Mary. Finding Comfort and Healing in Devotion to the Mother of God.

The Battle of the Bath Thursday, Apr 7 2022 

Getting a loved one with later stages of dementia into the shower is like setting them up for torture. They can put up quite a fight over things we commonly do. We need a hefty dose of patience and compassion to move our loved one through the process.

Bathing is a necessary, albeit challenging, component of Alzheimer’s care. Not only do the people around us appreciate cleanliness, bathing aides in the prevention of rashes, skin disease, and urinary tract infections. We can reduce frequency to three times a week because skin tends to thin with age and illness. However, hands, face, and private parts should be kept clean throughout each day.

The reasons people with Alzheimer’s detest bathing are many. 

  • They no longer understand why they need to bathe.
  • The concept of time is lost, so it can feel as if they just took a bath.
  • The cleansing process is confusing and forgotten.
  • People with dementia cannot regulate body temperate very well, which makes them feel cold.
  • The sensation of the water on their body is uncomfortable.
  • And they may be embarrassed about being naked and needing assistance.

Reasoning with someone with Alzheimer’s is not possible. An argument is sure to develop if we try to explain why a bath is necessary. But there are a few things that can be done to make it a little easier and safer for both the caregiver and bather.

  • If your loved one is emphatically resisting stepping into the shower, let it go for an hour or so. Our loved one may be more agreeable if we try again at a later time.
  • Engage them in a story, perhaps with a topic they still like to talk about or sing a song while you undress them and escort them into the shower.
  • Offer a treat, such as potato chips, a cookie, or ice cream as a reward once the shower is over.
  • Provide a safe shower with a hand-held shower head, safety bars, non-slip flooring, and a seat or bench.
  • Ensure that the room and the water temperature is comfortable.
  • Offer a washcloth, toy, or fidget item for them to hold.
  • Speak softly, respectfully, and directly to help move things along.

My recommendation for everything we do while caring for our loved one is to consider health and safety for both our loved one and ourselves. When that health or safety is compromised for either of us, it’s time to think about additional or different support. I know the challenges and 24/7 responsibilities you’re experiencing. I’ve been through it myself, and I hold you close in prayer.

**You’ll find many helpful hints in books written with you in mind: Navigating Alzheimer’s, The Alzheimer’s Spouse and Inspired Caregiving.

Step on It. Wood or Laminate? Tuesday, Mar 22 2022 

Hardwood, engineered wood, laminate, or carpeting. Choosing the right flooring for our homes comes with compromises. We make the best choice based on factors such as cost, required maintenance, and environmental impact. But we can’t have everything with one product.

I’ve gradually replaced most of the flooring in my townhome over the last five years. Except for the top floor landing and the stairways, carpeting has been removed. The remaining floors are either laminate or porcelain.

I chose these types of flooring because they are easy to maintain, don’t hold dust like carpeting, which is better for my asthma, and are more affordable. I had hardwood in my last home and appreciated its beauty and that it was organic. But at this point, I couldn’t afford the hardwood and wasn’t keen on the periodic expense and inconvenience of refinishing it every 7-10 years.

Here are some things to consider when choosing your next flooring:

Composition

  • Laminate is a synthetic flooring manufactured from melamine resin and fiber board. The top layer is imprinted with a textured image to replicate wood. Laminate is a floating floor. Planks lock into one another without glue or nails.
  • Engineered hardwood is a type of flooring consisting of several layers of wood or plywood. This flooring is stained and prefinished in the factory.
  • Solid hardwood flooring planks are produced from single pieces of wood and is available prefinished and unfinished. Wood is organic, breathing material that fluctuates with temperature and humidity.

Cost – Engineered wood flooring is 3-5 times more expensive than laminate, and hardwood is considerably more than that. The engineered wood and hardwood flooring also are more expensive to install.

Durability-Laminate is very forgivable. I (carefully) slide furniture across mine without scratching. It’s easy to mop, sweep, and vacuum. It’s also highly resistant to damage from moisture, staining, and fading. Planks can be swapped out if damaged. Good quality laminate can have a lifetime warranty.

Comfort and Sound-The floating aspect of laminate flooring, in addition to its composition, results in a soft, warm product to step on. It’s also quieter than hardwood.

Environmental and Health Concerns-Hardwood is thought to be the best for the environment, but I question as to how that truly compares with laminate. All materials used in manufacturing, finishing, and installing needs to be considered.

According to the site, Coswick.Inspire, it’s important to research the product’s level of safety before buying. The glue used to bond composite material in the manufacturing of laminate can contain formaldehyde resulting in toxic substances emitting into the air. However, there are eco-friendly products available. Laminate is thought to be 84% recyclable.

Hardwood is biodegradable, organic. Most European and North American hardwood flooring manufacturers produce flooring that contains zero harmful VOC emissions and use glues that are free from formaldehyde.

Appearance-Quality laminate can be quite attractive, but there’s no denying the beauty of hardwood. It also offers the best resale value.

*

We can’t care for our loved ones if we don’t care for ourselves. Check out easy ways to do just that along with information to ponder, stretches to keep us healthy, and even a few laughs in my book, Inspired Caregiving.

Nurture Yourself Tuesday, Feb 8 2022 

Midwest winters can be not only cold and snowy but gloomy, especially when we don’t have sunshine. The frigid temperatures and icy/snowy road conditions restrict our ability to get out. We end up tired and depressed.

When feeling down, take note, and take care of yourself so, you can better care for the other people in your life. We have lots of little ways to do this that don’t cost much in time or money. Take a walk in nature. Even gloomy days in a forest or park offer natural beauties and wildlife to brighten our spirits. Meet a friend for coffee or lunch. An hour or two offers us a distraction and warms our hearts as well as our bodies. Or watch a humorous program. Laughter reduces stress hormones and depression, reduces pain, and increases creativity.

You can find more ways to care for yourself in my book, Inspired Caregiving. I wrote it with you in mind!

*They all laughed when I said I wanted to be a professional comedian. Well, no one is laughing now.

Virtual or Reality? Monday, Jan 24 2022 

Did you receive your invitation to the wedding reception of the year? After a ceremony in front of a small group of family and friends in their village in India, Dinesh Sivakumar Padmavathi and Janaganandhini Ramaswamy will hold a virtual reception. Approximately 2,000 guests will personally be greeted and then allowed to explore a castle in a Harry Potter style metaverse.

The couple chose this option because of the COVID limitations they would have to follow with a traditional wedding in India. Interestingly, the digital reception also allows for a 3D avatar of Ramaswamy’s deceased father to bless their union.

The metaverse currently is a hot spot to create dream homes and vacations. It’s a space where digital representations of people and their surroundings can interact without actual physical contact.

If you’ve experienced a 3D, or a 3D Imax movie, you know what it feels like to be immersed in the scene. The movie appears dimensional, and it is as if you can reach out and touch the items in the movie.

Virtual Reality is 3D on steroids. VR uses computer technology to create a simulated environment. The scene is above and below you as well as all around. You can make contact with items coming in your direction. For example, you may hit a “ball” with your paddle or bat, move furniture, or navigate through dimensional spaces.

A simulated experience may appear true-to-life or animated. Applications now are used for entertainment, education, and business while wearing a head-mounted display (HMD).

I received an Oculus HMD from my boyfriend, Paul, this past Christmas. I’m a newbie with minimal experience at this point but am finding some interesting places to travel, museums to visit, ways to exercise, and beautiful settings for meditation. There are tons of games on the systems, however, I doubt I will play any of them. I’m on the computer most of the day and need time in the real world.

One of my first VR experiences was to travel underwater to a coral reef. The feeling was realistic. Unlike viewing on a television, I felt as if I was in the water and could look all around and below me. There was an exciting sense of presence in the environment.

The advantages of VR seem to be the ability to experience opportunities otherwise limited by time, expense, or physical ability. Fun workouts, interaction with friends in a playful way, learning from a more realistic vantage point, and traveling to places, and hopefully, time periods are some of the possibilities.

The drawback is that, like everything, it costs to play. HMDs are several hundreds of dollars, and additional equipment is needed for some experiences. In addition, most of the activities require a one-time or ongoing fee.

The few studies on this rather new technology show that virtual reality is safe for most adults when used appropriately. Typical warnings include not to engage in VR when ill, with a headache or nauseous, or inebriated. Anyone who has experienced seizures or heart trouble should also avoid VR.

Time in VR should be minimal to avoid fatigue, eye strain, and elevated heart rate. As with all the video games, they are addictive. And there can be difficulty managing surroundings, being able to distinguish what is virtual versus real resulting in tripping, falling, or hurting yourself or others, so some precautions are necessary.

If children are participating in VR, they must be closely monitored. We can’t differentiate virtual reality from real life until at least ten years of age. Children can become confused as to what actually happened to them or what they experienced virtually.

Most importantly, to avoid losing touch with the people and places in our lives, VR should be restricted to no more than a few hours a week. Like all technology, balance is key. We can quickly forget where we live, the people in our real world, our responsibilities, and the meaning of what it is to live authentically if we choose to remain in images artificially projected into our heads.

**Please remember the caregivers in your life. They may find these books helpful, Inspired Caregiving, The Alzheimer’s Spouse, and Navigating Alzheimer’s.

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. ?

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.

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