Hope Keeps It Simple

xmas-mantel-2016Because this year has taught me so many valuable aspects of a simplified life, I have decided to merge the Great Purge of 2016 into my Christmas celebration.

What once was a month filled with activities and the traditional set-up to the holidays, I have now prefaced with the following questions:

  • How can I simplify Christmas?
  • What gives me the most joy about Christmas?
  • Why is a simpler Christmas important?

To simplify Christmas, I am making the following changes:

Christmas Cards

Although I love sending cards for various reasons throughout the year, the business of addressing and mailing almost 100 Christmas cards has become overkill. I am simplifying the process.

If you are one of my readers who regularly receives a Christmas card from me – be forewarned. Yes, I still think you are important and a valued person in my life. However, I’m setting a card boundary and you may be deleted from my list.

This year, I am saving time, money and energy. If you really need a greeting, here it is: Merry Christmas!

Christmas Treats

In the past, I have baked, stirred and frosted special treats for my neighbors, the postman, co-workers and anyone else in my life who did not receive a special store-bought gift.

I no longer need to make treats nor do I need to be tempted by the cookie dough in my large bowl or the smell of rising breads. My kitchen table will not be spread with powdered sugar treats we called People Puppy Chow.

I am relieved, because I usually eat at least half of them. This year I am protecting my heart, my brain and my arteries from excess powdered sugar.

Not even the traditional peppernut recipe will tempt me this year. I am setting a culinary boundary.

If you visit me and expect a Christmas treat, you may be served a rice cake with tuna fish salad on top. Try it! I promise it’s good.

Christmas Decorations

As a Martha Stuart wannabe, my house often sported decorations in every room. When I lived in an old fixer-upper filled with antiques, my house became the neighborhood gathering place for the holidays: the smell of cranberry cider, red and white gingham bows tied to the kitchen cabinet hardware, various trees throughout the house and a gift bag for every visitor.

I still love walking through Pier One, Hallmark stores or Kirkland during this time of the year, but I don’t buy the stuff anymore.

Since the stager opened my eyes to a more simplified décor, I have decided to change my habits.

Compared to other years, the mantel looks sparse. My theme is pine cones which remind me of the New Mexico mountains. Simple yet beautiful – a display of God’s creationxmas-mantel-2016 accented with little pearl lights.

Many of my decorations I sacked up to give away, and it felt good to share with others the beauty of my past.

My little tree still works with its tiny pre-lit globes. Once it begins to fail, I will throw it away and buy one of those tiny table Christmas trees. No need to vacuum fallen needles or wrestle with smashing the tree into the box on New Year’s Day.

A simpler Christmas helps me focus more on the meaning of the holiday rather than the trappings of it.

The joy of Christmas-giving still belongs with the young, so I will plan gifts for my son, my nephew and my nieces. The rest of us don’t need any more stuff.

The Christmas surprise of 2016 is the joy all this simplifying has brought me. More room in my storage shelves because there’s less stuff to store. More space in each room because each room contains less stuff. More things to give away and hopefully share joy with someone else.

The essential leftovers give me pleasure because I have made the choice to surround myself ONLY with the things that bring me joy. Everything else can be given away or thrown away.

And in the decision to simplify my Christmas, I believe joy will follow me into the new year.

A toast of eggnog to all my followers. Enjoy your version of Christmas and let me know in the comments how you’re celebrating.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

7 Holiday Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Alz awarenessHow should we deal with our Alzheimer’s loved one during the holidays?

The calendar reminds us that we are deep into the holiday season. Our waistlines are expanding and the stresses of family dynamics emotionally stretch us.

As much as we enjoy the family time, the abundance of good food and the reminders to be grateful for another year – we also have to remember how stressful this time can be – especially for someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

So here are seven tips to remember as we move into the holidays:

Don’t expect a dementia or Alzheimer’s loved one to make any food.

One year into her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Mom tried to figure out a recipe so she would feel like she was part of the festivities.

But as we watched her struggle to find pots and pans, worry about the cost of groceries and wonder if she had made her salad – hundreds of times over – we realized it was time to stop expecting Mom to cook.

Even if she has a favorite recipe and everyone still enjoys her marshmallow salad or her french silk pie, relieving her of the stress can be a gift.

If your loved one wants to shop for gifts, plan ahead for this adventure.

Be prepared with a list and know the easiest way to get in and out of the stores. Forget about Black Friday shopping – too many people, too much noise and parking places are limited.

Be patient, take plenty of time and be prepared to answer lots of questions. If possible, buy everything in one store. Then go home.

Better yet, sit down with a laptop and show your loved one the pictures. Then order everything online.

Include some of your loved ones’ favorite foods.

Even though her appetite is changing, Mom will want her annual piece of pecan pie. So one of my holiday duties is to buy a premade pecan pie and through the years, I have found the best ones in the frozen section at Target.

When we first walk into the farm kitchen, Mom’s eyes always go to the dessert table. She may not say anything, but I know what she’s looking for.

I brought your pecan pie, Mom, and the first piece goes to you.” Then I dress it with a generous dollop of Cool Whip.

Every year, Mom says, “I DO love pecan pie.” I dread the day when she forgets how to say this one, grateful sentence.

Do an activity together, such as looking through the Christmas cards.

Although sending Christmas cards is becoming one of those traditions celebrated in the past, my mother’s demographic still considers it a holiday courtesy. She loves receiving her cards.

Remind your loved one who the senders are or tell a favorite story about the person behind the return address.

Be prepared to look at the cards several times during the holidays and tell the same stories. That’s okay. It’s part of the Alzheimer’s process, and someday – you’ll be glad you took the time to do this.

If you check your loved one out of assisted living for the day, be sure to check back in before dark.

Driving through some beautifully-lit neighborhoods was once a favorite activity. But this idea depends on the level of Alzheimer’s where your loved one exists.

Mom feels uncomfortable outside of assisted living in the dark. Looking at the lights is no longer one of our seasonal pleasures.

As the sun sets, Alzheimer’s patients often experience Sundowner’s Syndrome. They may pace, say the same words over and over and exhibit anxiety.

They feel safer in their rooms before dark, so make sure you time your meals and your activities accordingly.

If you are traveling for the holidays, it is usually not a good idea to include your Alzheimer’s loved one.

Although we all want to be together during the holidays, that pleasure becomes less and less tangible. Traveling out of their comfort zone is difficult for Alzheimer’s patients: several hours cramped in a car or a plane, strangers, noise, unfamiliar surroundings, different types of foods and smells.

It makes more sense to hire a caregiver and let your loved one stay home while you join the rest of the family.

Fight against the false guilt that says you can’t leave for a day or two. Yes, you can. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to make it through the marathon of caregiving. So take a break and drive away to be with your family.

What should you buy for the Alzheimer’s patient?

None of us needs more junk, least of all an Alzheimer’s patient who is living in a studio apartment at assisted living. Keep it simple.

A stuffed animal, a baby doll (especially for the women), a pretty picture for the room, a picture of family members with their childhood photos inserted next to the adult photos, a favorite piece of candy, a comfortable sweater.

One Christmas, I gave Mom a wooden cross, made in New Mexico and a bag of her favorite Lifesaver™ mints. She seemed most excited about the mints although the cross was a nice adornment on her wall.

This year I’m giving Mom a hug and a kiss, knowing that next Christmas may be completely different. This year – she still knows who I am, and I am grateful.

Next year – maybe not.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

 

Hope Finds a Purpose for Christmas Cards

Throughout the years, I have received many beautiful Christmas cards. So…what to do with them after Christmas? Just pitch them while cleaning up all the decorations and torn wrappings? No way.christmas_cards_stilllife

Sometimes I frame cards. One framed card hangs in my office – a reminder to stay in JOY all through the year.

But my favorite way to use Christmas cards begins after December 25th. I set the basket of cards on my kitchen table, next to my Bible.

Every morning when I meet with God, I choose one of the cards and read again the message written inside. Then I pray for the person who sent the card.

I ask God to bless that person and his/her family during the coming new year – to fill them with hope and joy – to draw them closer to His loving heart.

If I know of some particular need, I pray for that. Keep them safe. Provide for them what they need – a warm home, food every day, enough love to keep them in abundant joy.

Praying through the cards helps Christmas last a little longer and reminds me of all the friends and loved ones that sent a holiday message.

It reminds me how we are connected – through the DNA of family members, through experiences we have shared or through the blood line of that baby in the manger who became the Savior on the cross.

Christmas is about more than decorations and presents. And the weeks after Christmas are about more than cleaning up, starting a diet, cashing in gift cards and going back to work.

Hope travels from one season to the next, especially when it is tethered by prayer.

©2014 RJ Thesman – author of the Reverend G books – http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

7 Holiday Tips for Dealing with Alzheimer’s

How should we best handle the holidays when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease?Alz awareness

The calendar reminds us that Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away and soon after comes Christmas. As much as we enjoy the family time, the abundance of good food and the reminders to be thankful – we also have to remember how stressful this time can be – especially for someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

So here are seven tips to remember as we move into the holidays:

Don’t expect a dementia or Alzheimer’s loved one to make any food.

Last year, Mom tried to figure out a recipe so she would feel like she was part of the festivities. But as we watched her struggle to find pots and pans, worry about the cost of groceries and wonder if she had made her salad – hundreds of times over – we realized it was time to stop expecting Mom to cook.

If your loved one wants to shop for gifts, plan ahead for this adventure.

Be prepared with a list and know the easiest way to get in and out of the stores. Forget about Black Friday shopping.

Be patient, take plenty of time and be prepared to answer lots of questions. If possible, buy everything in one store. Then go home.

Include some of your loved ones’ favorite foods.

My mom will want pecan pie. None of the cooks in our family makes a decent pecan pie. So we’re planning to buy one and cut the first piece for Mom.

Do an activity together, such as looking through the Christmas cards.

Remind your loved one who the people are or tell a favorite story about the person who sent the card.

Be prepared to look at the cards several times during the holidays and tell the same stories. That’s okay. It’s part of the Alzheimer’s process, and someday – you’ll be glad you took the time to do this.

If you check your loved one out of assisted living for the day, be sure to check back in before dark.

As the sun sets, Alzheimer’s patients often experience Sundowner’s Syndrome. They may pace, say the same words over and over and exhibit anxiety.

They feel safer in their rooms before dark, so make sure you time your meals and your activities accordingly.

If you are traveling for the holidays, it is usually not a good idea to include your Alzheimer’s loved one.

Traveling out of their comfort zone is difficult with several hours cramped in a car or a plane, strangers, noise, unfamiliar surroundings, different types of foods and smells.

It makes more sense to hire a caregiver and let your loved one stay home.

What should you buy for the Alzheimer’s patient?

A stuffed animal, a baby doll (especially for the women), a pretty picture for the room, a picture of family members with their childhood photos inserted next to the adult photos, a favorite piece of candy, a comfortable sweater.

This Christmas, I’m giving Mom a pretty cross, made in New Mexico and a bag of her favorite Lifesaver™ mints. Shh…don’t tell her!

I’m also giving her a hug and a kiss, knowing that next Christmas may be completely different. This year – she still knows who I am, and I am grateful.

Next year – maybe not.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

 

 

Ideas for Christmas Cards

christmas_cards_stilllifeThroughout the years, I have received many beautiful Christmas cards. So…what to do with them after Christmas? Just pitch them while cleaning up all the decorations and torn wrappings? No way.

Sometimes I frame cards. One framed card hangs in my office – a reminder to stay in JOY all through the year. Another one I plan to frame has the words of Philippians 4:8 written inside icicles.

Years ago, I received a card with a fold-out nativity scene. When my son was young, we looked at this card each year and reviewed the story. It stayed open throughout the season, next to our own nativity scene.

Another card is particularly bright with its “NOEL” message in sparkly glitter and a deep red fill. Every Christmas, I set this card on the mantel. My little pearl lights help the glitter sparkle even more – a focal point for the fireplace.

But my favorite way to use Christmas cards begins after December 25th. I set the basket of cards on my kitchen table, next to my Bible.

Every morning when I meet with God, I choose one of the cards and read again the message written inside. Then I pray for the person who sent the card. Sometimes I email that person and say, “I prayed for you today,” hoping to send encouragement through cyberspace.

For me, praying through the cards helps Christmas last a little longer and reminds me of all the friends and loved ones that sent a holiday message. I also hope that their Christmas season lasts a bit longer for the blessing of the prayers I whisper on their behalf.

Maybe this year, you’d like to try it, too. It’s a great reminder that Christmas is about more than just decorations and presents. It’s really about love.