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What’s In Your Suitcase?

Imagine you’re headed for a year-long journey. How will you prepare? What will you take along? How lightly can you pack?

You’ll need clothing for all types of weather. You’ll set up a budget and take a credit card, bank card, identification, maybe a passport.

Of course, you’ll research weather patterns, the terrain, timetables and anticipated destinations. You’ll plan for possible delays, perhaps side trips, and for every contingency you can imagine, and still there will be surprises.

Well, get ready because we’re all about to embark on a long journey–through the year 2020. Have you begun preparing?

We have so many resources we can carry into this year-long journey with no sense of burden since they weigh nothing. And because they have no size or shape, we’ll have plenty of room to pack them.

Through many years of life-experience, we’ve learned that along the way we may meet lions, and tigers, and bears. (Oh, my!) We’ll need to pack faith and courage to meet those challenges, even when we’re not sure we can overcome them.

Might we encounter a few difficult and/or annoying people? Hmmm, better pack an abundant supply of patience, grace, charity, and forgiveness.

And let’s not forget about hope to get us through dark days and disappointments. We’ll encounter occasions that require our persistence and diligence. As much as possible, we’ll keep our joyful spirit close at hand.

We’ll certainly want to pack a healthy dose of humility. It’s been known to diffuse volatile situations, open doors to brotherhood and friendship, to social acceptance, inner peace, and even employment opportunities.

Oh, look! We still have room to pack resolve and tenacity for pursuing and achieving our dreams and for greater fulfillment. And a dose of curiosity to expand our viewpoint never hurts.

A brimming supply of compassion and generosity is a must for aiding our fellow travelers, many of whom are struggling with their baggage and trailing behind. Perhaps they didn’t know how to pack lightly.

A friend we’ll call Evelyn lived a very long life, but it was filled with chronic disappointment, self-pity, and bitterness. Like Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day, she continued living the same uninspired day over and over, shutting the door on any new prospects. She died still clutching her unhappiness.

We can look forward with hope, anticipation of better things, and enthusiasm, embracing the next year’s adventure, or we can just repeat last year.

We, having packed wisely and lightly for the new year’s journey, are equipped to handle each day, each challenge, each adventure. Our wings of gratitude will sustain us all the way.

Wishing you a joyous journey of faith, hope, and charity in 2020.

Constance Watkins

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Over The River & Through The Traffic

As the holidays greet us again, Reece and Janet and millions of others will take to the highways to meet with family and friends for Thanksgiving. Naturally, they all want to arrive safely.

Like you, Reece is a careful driver and knows he’ll be maneuvering through a sea of motorists, which may include aggressive drivers, distracted drivers, impaired drivers, even raging drivers. Not pleasant to contemplate.

While most of us aren’t on the receiving end of actual road rage, we do encounter aggressive drivers—tailgating, speeding, cutting someone off.

Road rage is a term coined by a Los Angeles news station after a spate of freeway shootings in the area. It’s defined as drivers “[committing] moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.”

Just to keep you alert and aware, here are a few statistics.

1. Aggressive driving accounts for 66% of traffic fatalities.
2. Half of those on the receiving end of aggressive driving admit to engaging instead of letting it go.
3. Firearms are involved in 37% of aggressive driving incidents.
4. During a seven-year period, road rage caused 218 murders and 12,610 injuries. *
5. And, your fellow highway drivers (86%) think it’s safe to drive at least ten miles per hour above the speed limit.**

However, by engaging in the following behaviors, we ourselves could be guilty of causing road rage in others:

1. Deliberately slowing down when someone is tailgating, or by being the tailgater.
2. Refusing to let a speeder pass or staying in the left lane.
3. Switching lanes without signaling or checking that you aren’t cutting someone off.
4. Using or checking your phone frequently or engaging in other distracted driving.
5. Failing to dim your lights for approaching traffic.
6. Honking, flashing your lights, or brake checking.

The most common aggressive responses toward annoying drivers include yelling inside the car (44.4%), honking horns in anger (34.1%), and making rude gestures (21.5%).**

While aggressive driving is considered a traffic offense, responding with road rage is a criminal charge.

If you are prone to road rage, make sure to get plenty of rest, leave earlier than necessary, avoid alcohol, and play soothing music.

If you are a target of road rage, it’s up to you to control the situation. Change lanes if you have a tailgater, pull off the road to let speeders pass, stay behind angry drivers, don’t return rude gestures or yelling. Breathe deeply and maintain self-discipline by remembering that you alone have control over your actions.

Humanize yourself by waving or mouthing, I’m sorry. Ragers don’t view their offender as a person, says Dr. Barry Markel, psychotherapist in Park Ridge, IL

And, lastly, what about your passengers? What effect does cursing, yelling, and honking have on them? To paraphrase author and TV personality Dr. Phil McGraw, “How much fun are you to ride with?”

Get there safely, have a very Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy a second piece of pie!

Constance Watkins
*SafeMotorist.com, American Safety Council
**thezebra.com/road rage. The Zebra is an insurance comparison site.

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Aging In Place

Have you ever seen your home as supportive of your health and well-being, as able to keep you out of a nursing facility longer?

Sarah Szanton, Ph.D., and associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, says, “We see housing as a part of health care. What one can do is a function of where one lives, so the home is a place worthy of health-care investment.” *

Some research claims that even small changes in the home can keep seniors out of nursing homes longer, saving families and even the country millions of dollars.

Mortgage lender Freddie Mac came out with a study showing that more seniors are aging in their own homes than in previous generations. Technology is credited as one reason through automated medication dispensers and activity-monitoring sensors.

You may want to consider making home modifications now instead of waiting until there is a real need. Improved lighting, installing grab bars and using a non-skid mat in the tub and shower, removing loose rugs, keeping pathways clear inside and out; installing non-skid flooring, a second banister on the stairs, and handrails at all entrances are just a few ideas for preventing falls.

Doorknobs and faucets with lever handles are easier for stiff fingers to grasp. A shower with no step up, a hand-held showerhead, and a seat makes for washing yourself and cleaning the shower easier. Raising the toilet a few inches is helpful when getting up becomes difficult. Dishes and glassware can be stored on easily reachable shelves. And physical therapy can improve agility and strength.

You might consider what type of help you may need in the future, before the need is upon you. Are you having difficulty with personal tasks—washing your hair or dressing yourself? How about meal preparation, household duties, yard work, running errands? Will you need help with financial management, legal affairs? What about healthcare, medication schedules, doctor visits?

Often, friends and family can pitch in. For more difficult tasks, it’s helpful to have a professional resource in place even if you never have to rely on them.

Another option sprang up in Boston, where 11 friends banded together to form Beacon Hill Village. It’s a concept designed for friends and neighbors to take an interest in and support each other’s welfare. It offers greater feelings of well-being and provides the sense that they’re not alone, something so crucial for seniors. These “villages” of older adults have sprung up in 47 states with community services joining in to help meet their needs. **

The internet holds a wealth of information on “aging in place” and keeping seniors at home longer. Make your home more user-friendly, prepare for future needs, and you too could age in place. Most of us can agree “there’s no place like home.”

Constance Watkins

*See Forbes article: How Can We Keep Seniors in Their Homes As Long As Possible?
**See The Christian Science Monitor Weekly, September 9, 2019.

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Love Me, Love My Mess

Who is happier—the neat freak or the slob? There are many theories and studies on the subject, and it’s quite likely that you are one type in a relationship with the other.

People with clean houses are healthier and more active than their messy counterparts. So concludes a study by Indiana University research scientist, NiCole R. Keith; while women living with clutter tend to feel depressed and fatigued, says the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Even the National Sleep Foundation weighs in, reporting that people who make their beds every day and who change their sheets frequently are more likely to have a good night’s sleep.

In general, people report feeling better about themselves and are more productive when they and their surroundings are clean and organized. Seems logical then that neat people are happier.

But–some psychologists have found chronically disorganized people to be more intelligent and creative than the fastidious. They score higher on verbal IQ tests and have a broader range of interests. They tend to be intuitive and extroverted. Then we must ask, aren’t intelligent and extroverted people also happy?

Neat people can’t understand how anyone can focus and be productive amid environmental chaos, and why it doesn’t frustrate them to have to spend so much time looking for things. Messy people don’t understand why in this interesting world someone would waste so much of their precious time cleaning, nor do they comprehend why their coat must be hung up right now.

Common sense tells us we can’t change other people, but we may be able to reach an agreement that can save everyone’s sanity.

How about communication and compromise? Neatniks may have to lower their standards a bit, while the disorganized take on more responsibility. Go for the middle ground.

Perhaps you can walk through the house together to designate certain areas as non-negotiable neat zones, and other spaces as, shall we say, self-expression zones? If one partner creates a mess in a neat zone, the other should transfer the pile to that one’s personal zone for them to deal with. It should go without saying that spills will be cleaned up by the spiller. Immediately.

Dividing and sharing chores can forestall resentment, but it’s also important to agree on their frequency. If you’re vacuuming twice a week, your partner shouldn’t get by with dusting once a month.

Neat people will have to exercise patience with messy partners since change won’t happen overnight. Be sure to give your non-neat one a reasonable amount of time to clear away their disorder.

If no compromise can be reached, hire a housekeeper and focus on why you decided you couldn’t live without this person. Shouldn’t neat freaks and slobs both be happy?

Constance Watkins

*(See online, 12 Reasons Why Disorganized People Are More Intelligent by Diane Labrien).

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The “Stuff” Of Stability

“Mom, don’t you have some better shoes?”

“These are fine for the grocery.”

Amy was visiting 90-year-old Sarah for a week. Sarah had come out of the bedroom wearing slacks, a neatly tucked blouse, handbag on her arm.

But those shoes! The soles were run down, their once-lovely fabric now faded, stained, and exhibiting worn spots. Sarah had to shuffle to keep them on.

First stop that morning: a shoe store.

At Amy’s next visit two months later, Sarah was still slogging around in the old, worn shoes.

“Where are your new shoes, Mom?”

“I’m saving them.”

“For what??”

Perhaps you’ve had this conversation with a senior family member and walked away shaking your head. Sarah died a few years later. The new shoes were still in the box. She had continued wearing the old ones.

Senior citizens often hold on to obsolete things. Sarah grew up during the Depression when it was instilled in her that nothing should be thrown away.

For other seniors, refusal to dispose of things may result from sentimental attachment, bringing back memories of a happy time, a loved person, a special event. Giving up gifts from loved ones can seem disloyal and unkind, even if they have no use for them or don’t even like them.

To toss them would be tantamount to deleting part of their existence. You might try persuading them to keep a few cherished things and let you take pictures of the rest for a scrapbook.

Many older people, especially having lived in the same house for decades, may see the task of sorting out too overwhelming. Here again, might you convince them to let you do the sorting, under their supervision of course.

A sense of stability can also factor in. These objects comprise their familiar world, often becoming a substitute for lost companionship or to stave off feelings of loneliness. Any disturbance to their comfort zone is frightening.

Helping older family or friends in these situations requires gentle patience. If they are content with the status quo and the clutter presents no danger to their safe mobility, let it go, no matter how much it may disturb you. If it becomes a safety or health issue, discuss and handle it tactfully.

(See http://blog.totalhomecaresupplies.com, Reasons Seniors Hang on to Stuff; and, http://www.caregiverstress.com)

Finally, avoid becoming “that” senior:

1. “I might need this someday.” If it’s not used in a year, let it go.

2. “I think I would like: some home gym equipment, the latest kitchen appliance/gadget, a keyboard.” Impulse buying is rarely a good idea. Think it over until the fever subsides. Then, if you’re sure you’ll use it long-term, buy it. Otherwise, it just becomes one more dust collector.

3. “I can’t bear to part with this.” Items with sentimental value are the hardest to let go. Again, keep a cherished few and take photos of the rest for a memory journal.

4. “But my sister gave it to me.” And now it’s yours to do with as you wish. After a respectful time, donate it, sell it, pass it along to another loved person.

Difficult as it may be, you don’t want “stuff” to own you, define you, or hold you hostage. Your kids don’t want it and The Pickers aren’t likely to show up at your door. Nor will you hear, “Saving it for what??”

Constance Watkins