I have always thought the Christmas season was a  time for giving.   I know many of us tend to feel overwhelmed during the holidays, strapped for cash, and unable to get into the spirit.  I've always felt that doing something good for someone else is one of the best ways to feel better and improve your own mood.  It really is better to give than receive.

Please join me in sharing some kindness 
this Christmas season.

To help inspire you, here are some different acts of kindness you might be able to commit. 

2. Send a card to a terminally ill child.
3.  Bake some cookies and drop them off at places where people have to work on Christmas - hospitals, firehouses, police stations, subway stops, etc.
4. Give a homeless person a gift certificate to a sandwich chain.
5. Help a neighbor carry groceries or packages to her door or car.
6. Share your umbrella if it's raining. 
7. Offer to take someone's shopping cart back inside.
8. Tell your co-workers you appreciate them.
9. If you know someone with small kids, offer to babysit (for free) for an hour or two, so she can do last-minute Christmas shopping or wrap gifts, or just take a nap. 
10. Pay for someone's coffee.
11. Overtip the waitress.
12. Compliment a stranger.
13. When dining offer to pay for someone's meal.
14. Offer to buy groceries for someone standing in line. 
15. Visit an elderly neighbor  with a small gift or home baked goods. (just a visit could really lift someone's spirits)
16. Drop something off for the pets at the local animal shelter, or Humane Society.  (food, blankets, toys etc)
17. Leave a letter of appreciation or a gift for your local mail person.
18. Drop by the nursing home with old magazines, baked goods, or a flower, and just visit.
19. Call a friend or relative you haven't talked to in years.  It might mean the world to them.
20. When in the drive thru line offer to pay for the car behind you.

I would love to hear your stories. If you would like to share, please send me an email of what acts of kindness you do this Christmas.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas!

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5 Health Questions to Ask Before You're 65

John Moye, 64, has been a healthy man for most of his life. "I didn't really think about health care until two years ago," he admits. When he realized he needed to prepare for the future, he turned to friends and family for advice. But on some issues, from long-term care to advance directives, his advisers were as bewildered as he was.

As you approach retirement age, you may need help making the right decisions regarding your health care. But it's hard to get answers when you don't know the right questions to ask. These five will get you started.

1. How much should I budget for future health care costs?

Short answer: more than you think. Research sponsored by the Mayo Clinic finds that 9 out of 10 people underestimate health care costs in retirement. Most Americans expect to spend 10 percent of their retirement budget on health care. But real costs are closer to 30 percent. The silver lining: You're better off discovering this now than when you're 80.

Online calculators can give you a ballpark figure of your future health care costs.  They take into account factors such as your age, height, weight and medical conditions.

For example, one tool provides an estimate for a 58-year-old woman. She has a body mass index (BMI) of 26 and a history of arthritis, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The tool estimates she'll spend $135,000 in out-of-pocket costs throughout her retirement. That figure drops to $94,000 for the same woman without a history of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Online tools like Fidelity's are a useful first step. But they can't account for everything, especially chronic health conditions.

A financial planner can create a more accurate and personalized budget, as well as a realistic strategy to cover your future costs. (For instance, you may have to rethink your vacation plans or kitchen remodel.) You'll get the most unbiased advice from a paid Certified Financial Planner (CFP).

Free or low-cost financial advice for older adults is also widely available through banks, libraries and senior centers. Just be aware that some "free" advisers earn a commission on any investments they sell you. So take their recommendations with a grain of salt.

The longer you have till retirement, of course, the more savings you can sock away. If you have the means, max out your 401(k), IRA or HSA contribution. You'll save on taxes in the short term, and could avoid having to dip into your savings later on.

2. What's the difference between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage?

Original Medicare is health insurance managed through the federal government. Part A covers hospital care, and Part B covers other medical care like doctor appointments and preventive screenings. You can go to any provider that accepts Medicare. Coverage for prescription drugs (Part D) is not included. 

Medicare Advantage, managed by private insurance companies, includes both hospital and medical coverage. Many Medicare Advantage plans also cover prescription drugs. The most common types of Medicare Advantage plans are HMO and PPO plans. With an HMO plan, you generally must use network doctors. A PPO may cover out-of-network doctors at a higher cost.

To determine which plan may be right for you, visit the government Medicare site or Aetna Medicare site.

3. Do I need long-term care coverage?

When an older adult breaks a hip, loved ones are often alarmed. Healthy and motivated patients may return to their routine in a month or two. But others may be in recovery for up to a year or more. Long-term care insurance kicks in when you need help caring for yourself for more than 90 days. It helps cover the cost of your care in a nursing home, assisted-living facility or at home.

With assisted-living facilities charging more than $42,000 a year, long-term care insurance seems like a must. But these policies don't come cheap: A healthy 55-year-old man will pay upwards of $2,000 a year for a policy. If you're in your late 60s, that figure could double.

According to Money magazine, long-term care insurance is useful only if you have significant savings to protect. Most people rely on family care or Medicare/Medicaid. Ask a financial advisor if long-term care insurance makes sense for you.

4. What are advance directives?

"Advance directives" explain your wishes about medical care to your loved ones and health team in case you're unable to speak for yourself. Creating clear instructions ahead of time ensures your values are respected during a medical crisis or end-of-life care. A written document also lifts the burden of responsibility from loved ones, who may disagree with your wishes or each other.

You can download a form specific to your state at CaringInfo.org, a program offered by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. And the popular Five Wishes living will ($5), from the nonprofit organization Aging with Dignity, is available in 28 languages and legally recognized in 42 states. Your advance directive will include at least one of the following:

Living will. This document describes your preferences regarding pain management, invasive surgery, artificial life support, organ or tissue donation, long-term care due to Alzheimer's disease, and more. Make sure to keep your living will somewhere your loved ones can easily find it.

Health care proxy. Also called power of attorney. Nominate someone you trust, your "proxy," to make decisions about your health care when you can't and the situation isn't covered by your living will. Talk to this person about your wishes in advance.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR).  This instructs your health care team not to perform CPR and other life-saving measures if your heart stops beating. The document can be added to your medical record.

5. I want to get healthier - but it is too late to change?

If you're over 60, you might assume it's too late to quit smoking, eat right and exercise. But research overwhelmingly shows that making lifestyle changes in your 60s or 70s can significantly improve your short-term wellbeing and long-term health. Even if you pride yourself on a healthy lifestyle, you may have a blind spot or two. 

Consider these 9 lifestyle recommendations your friendly reminders:

Know your numbers. Get regular checkups, and find out what your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers say about your overall health. Ask your doctor if your body mass index (BMI) and blood-sugar levels are healthy.
Quit smoking. Giving up smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Quitters also lower their risk of cancer.

Get moving. Never exercised before? No worries. Start with walking or any activity you enjoy: bowling, gardening, dancing, biking. Even 10 minutes a day can make a difference. Learn more about how to get started.
Watch your diet. Eat more vegetables, less meat and junk food. It's that simple.
Be careful about vitamin supplements. Some supplements do more harm than good, especially when combined with prescription medication. Your doctor can run blood tests to see which ones you really need.

Drink water. Dehydration is common among older adults. Try to drink several large glasses of plain water a day.

Wear sunscreen. As we age, our skin is less able to protect itself from UV rays. And tanning beds are no safer than the sun.

Reduce alcohol. Our bodies are less able to process alcohol as we get older. Even if you drink in moderation, consider cutting back.

Stay socially connected. Being social lowers stress levels and keeps your brain young. And spending time with people with healthy habits tends to rub off. Find out more about staying social as you age.

It all boils down to being proactive. Seek out help for your financial, legal and health care questions. Then pass it forward: Share what you've found with friends and family. When it comes to getting older, we're all in this together.

Source: AetnaMedicare.com

AFTER 60... 

When you think of healthy ageing, what comes to mind? Author and psychiatrist  John Ratey  explores the components of healthy ageing that we all must incorporate in our lives. 

Calling All Cavewomen
As time moves forward and technology advances, the human race has made great progress in developing products and skills that make life easier. But does this mean that all these enhancements are healthier? Not necessarily.

Dr. Ratey explains in his book, "Go Wild" that there are advantages to examining the nature of our genes, that of hunter gatherers, and looking at ways to re-center our lives around some of those main components of a caveman or cavewoman lifestyle.

Diet and Exercise
It's no secret that society today has become more sedentary than any time in history. We stay indoors, under fluorescent lighting, and we rarely get the amount of fresh air and sunlight that our bodies need. Nature offers us everything we need, we just need to embrace it by getting outside and enjoying it.

Cavewomen were always on the move. They walked miles every day, ran, climbed, swam, lifted, and worked hard to survive. Survival is much easier for the modern woman, making it easier to also forget the importance of movement. Dr. Ratey stresses that exercise is vital to healthy ageing and that the more we move, the less likely our brains are to erode in our later years.

Diet has also evolved over the years and inadvertently, harmed humanity. Cavewomen would have eaten berries, leaves, fruits, vegetables, fish, and other meat. They worked for their food and filled themselves when they found ample supplies, knowing that it might not be available to them later. Dr. Ratey says that it is in our genes to want to eat extra food to store energy, even though we no longer need to do so.

Meditation and Mindful Living
In a time when wild animals and weather incidents often claimed human life, cavepeople had to practice mindfulness or perish. Nature was both a giver and taker of life and being aware of one's environment was imperative to survival.

Connection and Community
Cavepeople lived in tribes and there's an overwhelming amount of evidence leading researchers to believe that our sense of connection and community are crucial to our sense of wellbeing. As we age, this feeling of belonging is one of the most important factors in keeping our bodies healthy.

Tribes can be formed in many ways, both in a physical meeting or in an online setting. The type, size, and make up of a tribe is not nearly as important as the way it makes members feel about themselves and each other.

The invention of candles, lanterns, and eventually lightbulbs has shaped humanity over the years. No longer do we schedule our sleep and our work around the position of the sun. While this has made society stronger in terms of output and productivity, it has made the human race greatly sleep deprived and lacking the rest we need to keep our minds sharp.

Getting Back to Basics
It might be a bit excessive to suggest that women in our community trade their favorite dresses in for animal skins or sell their houses to move into caves, but we can greatly improve the quality of our lives by thinking of our ancestors and making a few simple changes that will yield big returns in our health.

Go outside. Walk. Push yourself occasionally. Take a nap. Go to bed early or sleep in a little late. Cut out the carbs and sugars or at least cut back. Be present. Be mindful. Make conscious decisions to live healthier.  Surround yourself with friends and family. Meet new people. Spend time with people who share your interests. Work hard and play hard but love harder.

Do you live a natural lifestyle in terms of nutrition and exercise? What do you think about the idea of releasing your inner cavewoman? Which part of this lifestyle do you need to address more than the others? 

Source: sixtyandme.com

'Twas The Month After Christmas' (Dieting)

Twas the month after Christmas,
and all through the house,
Nothing would fit me,
not even a blouse.
The cookies I'd nibbled,
the eggnog I'd taste,
At the holiday parties,
had gone to my waist.

When I got on the scales,
there arose such a number!
When I walked to the store,
(less a walk than a lumber).

I'd remember the marvelous,
meals I'd prepared;
The gravies and sauces,
and beef nicely rared,

The wine and the rum balls,
the bread and the cheese,
And the way I'd never said,
"No, thank you, please."

As I dressed myself,
in my husband's old shirt,
And prepared once again,
to do battle with dirt,

I said to myself,
as I only can
"You can spend a winter
disguised as a man!"

So-away with the last,
of the sour cream dip,
Get rid of the fruit cake,
every cracker and chip.

Every last bit of food,
that I like must be banished
Till all the additional,
ounces have vanished.

I won't have a cookie,
not even a lick.
I'll want only to chew,
on a long celery stick.

I won't have hot biscuits,,
or corn bread, or pie,
I'll munch on a carrot,
and quietly cry.

I'm hungry, I'm lonesome,
and life is a bore-
But isn't that what,
January is for?

Unable to giggle,
no longer a riot.
Happy New Year to all,
and to all a good diet!

Source : dezert-rose.com

Christmas Morning Casserole

Chef Bryan Voltaggio loves this make-ahead dish: a classic baked bread-and-egg casserole with bites of pepperoni, mushrooms and gooey cheese. It's as good for dinner as it is for breakfast. 


  • Butter, for greasing
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely diced pepperoni (2 ounces)
  • 1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 8 large eggs
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 pound day-old challah, sliced 1 inch thick and cut into 1-inch dice (10 cups)
  • 6 ounces Black Forest ham, finely diced (1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese (1/4 pound )
  • 1 cup shredded aged white cheddar cheese (1/4 pound )
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped scallions, plus thinly sliced scallions for garnish
  • Hot sauce, for serving

How to Make It:

Step 1    
Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the pepperoni and cook over moderate heat until the fat is rendered, about 3 minutes. Add the shiitake and cook until lightly browned and tender, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned, about 7 minutes; let cool completely.

Step 2    
In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, mustard, soy sauce, pepper and 2 teaspoons of salt. Add the cooled vegetable mixture, challah, ham, both cheeses and the chopped scallions and mix well. Scrape the mixture into the prepared baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Step 3    
Preheat the oven to 350°. Uncover the casserole and bake for about 50 minutes, until it's just set and the top is browned. Let stand for 10 minutes, then top with thinly sliced scallions and serve with hot sauce.

Source: foodandwine.com

Though essential oils do have a dark side if used incorrectly, they have been safely used by many people to:
  • Improve immunity and speed illness recovery
  • Deal with infection (under the care of a professional)
  • Balance hormones
  • Make homemade cleaning or beauty products
  • For diffusing and natural air cleansing
  • Topically (when diluted)
  • In recipes like homemade bug spray to avoid outdoor pests naturally
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are highly concentrated non-water soluble phytochemicals that are distilled from different parts of plants. They can be distilled from leaves, roots, flowers and other parts of plants   and are very potent because of their concentration of phytochemicals.

Herbs and plants have been used for thousands of years and modern society has lost some of the wisdom of past generations and the ability to address illness with these natural solutions.

Essential oils have gained incredible popularity in recent years, but they are really an age-old remedy that have become popular again (t hough it is important to note that many modern essential oils are more concentrated than the oils used historically because of better distillation techniques).

More is not always better...
E ssential oils are extremely potent and it is important to use as little as needed, not as much as possible. When a few drops of an oil used topically or aromatically will work, using more or consuming it internally is not only unnecessary, but may actually be harmful.

Another concern with modern essential oil use (especially the over-consumption that often accompanies regular internal use) is the long term sustainability of essential oils. Since a tremendous amount of plant material is needed to extract the oils, their long-term and widespread use could potentially create a negative, world-wide environmental effect.

Differences in Quality
The quality of essential oils on the market varies greatly. Essential oils can be quite expensive, but a high quality essential oil takes a large amount of plant material to produce and is highly concentrated. Many inexpensive essential oils are available commercially, but are altered with other oils or do not pass third party testing because of their inferior quality.  High quality oils should be produced without chemicals and come from organic plants that grow in their natural environment and growing region.

Safe Use of Essential Oils
Essential oils are very powerful plant compounds and should be used carefully and in the correct  way. I've seen a lot of information promoting the regular internal use of essential oils and while there can absolutely be a place for this, I think it is important to be careful and check with a qualified professional when consuming them internally since they are so strong.

My two favorite ways to use essential oils are diffusing and topical use. The body can still utilize the beneficial parts of the oil and this is a much gentler (yet still effective) approach.

Topical Use
Essential oils contain tiny molecules that are much more easily absorbed into the body than other types of oils, so when an oil is used on the skin, the body rapidly obtains the benefit of the oil. This is why it is also important to follow safe usage guidelines, even for topical use.

I highly recommend diluting any oils that are used on skin with a safe carrier oil and consulting with a qualified aromatherapist or functional medicine doctor before using topically, especially on children.

Aromatic Use
Essential oils can also be diffused into the air. This process is known as aromatherapy and provides the benefits of the oils as they are inhaled. There is evidence that the oils are absorbed into the blood stream when inhaled.
Some research has shown that aromatic use is actually more effective that internal use, and it is certainly much safer.

My Favorite Essential Oils
I've written before about  my favorite oils, but in summary, these are excellent ones to use for daily activities:
  • Peppermint- We use it on feet for nausea or fever, in homemade cleaners and soaps, and in the diffuser. For congestion, I add a few drops of Peppermint and other oils to a pot of steaming water and breathe in the steam to help open the sinuses.
  • Lavender- I use it in skin care recipes and as a calming oil when needed. It is naturally antibacterial and I often add it to homemade cleaners. I also add Lavender to bath water to help me relax at night.
  • Lemon, Lime and Orange- These citrus essential oils are astringent and antiseptic and are thought to stimulate the immune system. They are uplifting and considered cleansing. We avoid these in the sun since they do make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. In some studies they are shown to have antimicrobial properties.
  • Frankincense- I use topically on my thyroid and it seems to have helped shrink the nodules that were forming (along with dietary changes).
  • Rosemary- I add a drop to my shampoo to increase hair growth and improve scalp health.
  • Tea Tree/Melaleuca - I add this to natural cleaning products as it is naturally antibacterial and smells great when mixed with a citrus oil or lavender.
Saving Money Using Essential Oils?
One benefit of essential oil usage is that you can save money in other areas of the budget, such as using them in  DIY beauty products and  homemade cleaning products that no longer have to be purchased at retail from the store.

For instance:
  • We make our own natural cleaning products with essential oils and inexpensive ingredients like baking soda and white vinegar to save money on cleaning products.
  • We use essential oils in place of candles and air fresheners.
  • We use essential oils to make homemade laundry detergent instead of store bought laundry products.
  • We use essential oils and other natural ingredients to make our own toothpaste, lotion, shampoo, and deodorant which frees up the budget for those items.
Where I Get Essential Oils
I purchase essential oils from multiple companies and sources, depending on the blend and usage. There can be a substantial difference in quality between brands, so I always make sure the source is certified organic and available in various sizes (including bulk sizes at a discount) whenever possible. However, the vast majority of oils I use are  purchased here.

A Note of Caution
Wherever you buy essential oils, you should always ensure they are:
  • Organic- as pesticides can be more concentrated in essential oils.
  • Sourced from the native region for each plant.
  • Not altered or adulterated in any way.


Precautions and contraindications should also be listed (pregnancy, medications, etc) for each of their oils.


Source: wellnessmama.com

'Tis Better to Give'

I knew I was not supposed to be quite so excited. I was too old for that. At age eleven, the oldest and my mom's "grown up" girl, I had to keep my cool. I was in middle school after all. But every chance I got, when I was alone, I checked each present under the tree. I read every tag and felt every package, guessing at the contents within. I had examined each gift so often that I could tell which present went to which person without even looking at the tags.

It had been a tough year for my family. Whenever my mom looked over at the tree and scattered presents, she would sigh and warn us, "There won't be as much for Christmas this year. Try not to be disappointed." Christmas had traditionally been a time for my parents to spoil us. In years past, the presents would pile up and spill out from under the tree, taking over the living room. I had heard the phrase "giving is better than receiving," but thought that whoever had said that must have been out of their mind. Getting presents was the whole point! It was the reason I couldn't get to sleep on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas morning, we eagerly waited in the hallway until Dad told us everything was ready. We rushed into the living room and let the wrapping paper fly. We made weak attempts to wait and watch while other family members opened their presents, but as the time passed we lost our self-control.

"Here's another one for you," said Mom as she handed me a package. I looked at it, confused. Having spent so much time examining the presents before Christmas, I recognized this one. But it had not been mine. It was my mom's. A new label had been put on it, with my name written in my mother's handwriting.

"Mom, I can't..."
I was stopped by my mother's eager, joyful look-a look I could not really understand. "Let's see what it is, honey. Hurry and open it."
It was a blow dryer. Though this may seem but a simple gift, to me it was so much more. Being an eleven-year-old girl, I was stunned. In my world, where receiving outweighed giving by light years, my mom's act of selflessness was incomprehensible. It was a huge act. Tears filled my eyes and I thought in disbelief about how much my mom must love me to give up her Christmas so I could have a few more presents.

I have always remembered that Christmas fondly. It had such an impact on me. As an adult with children in my life whom I adore, I can now understand my mom's actions. I see how she was not "giving up her Christmas" as I had thought, but was finding an even greater joy in her Christmas because giving truly is better than receiving. My mom's simple act meant the world to me.
-Jennifer Yardley Barney


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