Local Author Spins Christmas Yarn

November 8, 2012  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

By Luke Baynes

Santa Claus knows if you’ve been bad or good. He even knows your sleep patterns. But what he can’t figure out is where he left his big red hat.

That’s the conundrum at the core of Williston resident Larry Dubin’s “Santa’s Big Red Hat,” a children’s book about a Christmas that is almost cancelled when Mrs. Claus forbids Santa from delivering presents on a cold Christmas Eve without the cover of his misplaced crimson cap.

“This story basically came to me in a dream in 2007, around the holidays,” Dubin said. “The next day I sat down and wrote the story out, and every year I’ve been reading it to my daughter.”

Dubin, who works full-time in the credit card industry and part-time as a singer-songwriter, said he initially had no intention of publishing the story in book form.

“I am not an author by trade,” he said.

But about a year and a half ago, he decided that his story, which is written in rhyme, would have greater resonance with his target audience of 3- to 10-year-olds if it were illustrated. He enlisted the help of Williston native Taryn Cozzy, a senior at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, whose 35 pages of illustrations were done in acrylic paints and then edited digitally.

“She just did an amazing job with the illustrations,” Dubin said. “She really brought my text to life. This is a college student’s artwork that just jumps off these pages.”

Although Dubin has read the text of his story to children for years at family gatherings, it will make its official debut in illustrated form during a Dec. 5 book reading at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston.

“The first time I’m physically going to be reading my actual book is on Dec. 5, with the kids that come to the reading and the signing at the library,” he said.

Copies of “Santa’s Big Red Hat” are on sale for $20 at Adams Farm Market in Williston. It can also be purchased by contacting Dubin directly at ldubin@together.net.

Guilt-Free Holiday Eating

November 8, 2012  
Filed under Food

By Dr. Stuart Offer

When it comes to food and weight management, there is not a tougher time of year than the holiday season. I am going to share with you some of the ideas and strategies that have worked for me and the people I coach. These ideas are about guilt-free eating — understanding your choices and feeling good about them.

Often behavior change is about changing the way we think. If we can change the way we think, we can change the way we act. The holidays really boil down to three or four days of awesome holiday celebrations. Here lies one of the big holiday traps — you may think that just because you let loose one day, say on Thanksgiving, and Christmas is around the corner, why bother holding back in between? But, t is the in-between times that are truly the most dangerous.

Let’s talk about the holiday meals themselves. Do you think it is worth indulging? The simple fact is, it’s your choice. If your answer is yes, are there things that can take the “bite” out of the damage? If your answer is no, are there ways to enjoy yourself and feel satisfied without feeling deprived?

The good news is the answer to both of these questions is a big resounding “yes!” In order to get a better grip on the way I feel about these things, I often let my “left-brain” take control and do a little cost/benefit analysis. I list the pros and cons of eating this way, then the pros and cons of not eating this way. This can often steer me in one direction or the other. An example of an internal dialogue: “If I eat this, I will have such a great time, but also I will gain an entire pound and feel lousy physically and emotionally. If I don’t eat this, I will feel so much in control and reach my goals. However, if I don’t eat, I will have a lousy time and may disappoint the people who cooked and invited me here.”

In spite of being a health professional and an expert on nutrition and weight management, I find myself at times taking one path and at other times taking the other. In order to be satisfied, feel good about myself and maintain my goals, I find balance is the key.

Whether you go one way or the other, you can make it work and feel totally guilt-free. We often give little thought about diving into a high calorie meal. Then afterwards, we feel totally lousy and guilty for doing it. Think about if this guilt-riddled self talk sounds familiar. “I don’t know why I did that. It wasn’t my fault. I don’t know why I ate like that again. I just had no control. It looked so great and who knows when the next opportunity for me to eat an entire fruit cake with an eggnog chaser will be?”

In this instance, you’re likely feeling like a victim. It’s like some alien being was pointing a ray gun at your head and forcing you to eat. You have put yourself on a total guilt trip.

Now instead, if you do the analysis of pros and cons and decide it is worth it, you are going to throw caution to the wind and have the 3,500 calorie meal. You go into it with complete power over your emotions and acknowledge the negative effects and plan to enjoy the positive – you’re okay with the outcome. By thinking this way, you put yourself in control and you’re not a victim but instead a powerful, thoughtful person making a decision that is right for you at this moment. No guilt trip whatsoever!

Even if you choose this path, there are many things you can do to lessen the negative outcome. I am hoping when you do the analysis, you can find the middle ground where you can have a great time and not go totally over the top. Here are my top strategies to make that happen: Use smaller plates, glasses and utensils. These will deceive your brain and actually make you think you are eating more; Slooow down your eating and chew thoroughly, 20 chews per mouthful. The more slowly you eat, the less you will eat; Drink lots of water, or zero or low calorie liquids. Don’t drink your calories, those 800 calorie Margaritas are killers; Eat lots of calorie-free foods such as non-starchy vegetables. Don’t avoid, but have a small serving of, the high calorie, fatty or sugary foods. Offer to bring a low calorie “safe” dish; When milling around, mill away from the food tables; Most importantly, budget your calories and physical activity. If you are going to eat more one day, plan to eat a little less and add more physical activity on the days before and/or after to compensate.

Remember, parties are more about the people and the social connections. You can have a great time and also stay in control while feeling totally guilt-free. Happy holidays to all of you!

Stuart Offer, DC, CSCS, CLC, is a Wellness Coach & Educator with Hickok & Boardman Group Benefits. Email soffer@hbbenefits.com

Money and Memory: Beyond Retirement Planning

November 8, 2012  
Filed under Money

By Christine D. Moriarty

Quality Control Check,” I would announce after dinner. During my visits to my parents’ house, part of our routine was a financial review of their checkbook. I confirmed the balance was correct and monitored the checks being written.

Our time together included answering any questions they had on their bills. Then, I would go over the mail with my mom. If she was unsure about how to respond or if to respond, I would offer to take it off her plate and handle the correspondence. This was all very ironic when you consider that my mom was a fabulous bookkeeper and recordkeeper who always had her checkbook balanced to the penny. I can still clearly see the night she asked me to help her with her checkbook after dinner – she was off by a penny after spending 45 minutes adding, subtracting and pondering the options – I finally offered to give her the penny. I told her not to worry about it. Two days later, she called me and had found the error. But that was all in the past. Recent medical issues had changed her financial and organizational skills.

Why were my parents now willing to bare their financial life? My mom had been diagnosed with the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and while my Dad was sharp as a tack, he was going blind. They managed together on most things and both handled the finances together. However, knowing someone was overseeing what my Dad could no longer see gave him great comfort. And for my mom, the graceful way she accepted the added help mirrored the way she handled her whole disease. She was pleasant and appreciative. This ranged from our quality checks to the medical and professional care she received. Initially, she was totally aware her cognitive skills were not as sharp. By working with her instead of taking all financial and household management away from her, she could feel useful and maintain her routine of the mail and bill paying as she always did with my father. The extra assistance gave her the feeling of confidence that the household financial management was handled properly.

Memory loss leaves clues. One of those clues is money. Picking up those clues are essential to health and well being. Early detection creates an opportunity to intervene before those memory problems get worse. Awareness may mean medication changes that improve memory, identification of vitamin deficiencies or early detection may prevent a bigger stroke or more damage physically or financially.

Executive functions are the abilities to activate and integrate the consequences of decision making, including planning and how we manage money. In some injuries, such as a stroke or head trauma, executive function declines immediately, but also those lost capabilities can return with time and healing. A progressive disease can cause a gradual decline of these skills that never return. Increasing age can be a factor for memory loss, but this can hit any age.

Alzheimer’s and any type of dementia diagnosis can be scary to the family. Over time, the responsibilities of bill paying and handling the mail need to be decreased and eventually phased out. However, taking away normal routines after the shock of diagnosis may not serve the individual best.

Do not pull all financial responsibility at once and don’t treat your parent like a child. Instead, if you have a legal power of attorney, ease into what can be done by working as a team with the patient. Legally you can restrict what damage can be done by having low limits on credit cards, monitoring bank accounts online and freezing credit options.

Each situation is unique and should be based on the person involved and their injury or illness. They may not want to deal with the checkbook since it has always been a stressor in their life. Or they may want one because this has been the normal routine in their life and they feel more in control when they have some money and decision making power.

The willingness of a family member or partner to pick up clues of the needs of someone with memory loss is personal. For some trusted advisors and friends, they feel it is entering on family turf. Money is a domain that is personal and often an elder is territorial. Why take the risk to initiate a plan? According to research by Leilani Doty, PhD, Director, University of Florida Cognitive and Memory Disorder Clinic:

“People with a decline in executive function may be vulnerable to scams, spending large amounts of money on worthless products such as cures for aging or unnecessary home repairs.”

Often, a crisis brings attention to the needs of a parent or spouse. A financial team can lessen the chance that a crisis will hit your family and jeopardize your retirement.

Here are the pieces you can acquire to protect yourself and your loved ones:

Create solid legal documents calling for power of attorney over financial affairs when needed.

Have a good medical team and consult a doctor who understands these issues.

Build a trusted team of financial professionals: Certified Financial Planner, accountant, lawyer

Be sure a family member is aware of your financial routine.

Today there is a wealth of resources for support and information onr coping with money, memory, aging and caregiving.

Christine D. Moriarty is a Certified Financial Planner and the owner of MONEYPEACE in Bristol, Vermont.

Caregiving Crisis: Don’t Be Afraid To Seek Help

November 8, 2012  
Filed under Aging Parents

Being the caregiver for someone can be a very rewarding experience. It can also be stressful, overwhelming and a financial burden.

By Phyl Newbeck

Caring for an aging relative isn’t easy. Doing so can be an emotional burden, as well as a financial one. Will you feel an overwhelming sense of guilt if you move your mother into assisted living…and is that worse than the resentment you might feel if you move her into your home? Thankfully, Vermont has a number of resources to help caregivers deal with the emotional rollercoaster, but the key, according to experts, is to start planning early.

Liz Vogel is President and CEO of DOTS, an organization developed to provide information for those caring for aging parents or loved ones. “One of my soap boxes,” she said “is Americans don’t talk about aging so we are unprepared. At a certain point in the continuum, you find yourself in a role reversal with your parents and nobody teaches us how to deal with that.”

Vogel notes that there are seven common emotions felt by caregivers: guilt, resentment, anger, worry, loneliness, grief and defensiveness. She believes that with guidance, one can overcome these feelings and learn to deal with the reversed caretaking role.

Vogel said guidance can come from a variety of sources — from family and friends to houses of worship and local groups like the Vermont AARP affiliate. Vogel’s organization, DOTS, has a resource library divided into seven topics ranging from health and wellness to safety and legal issues. “Unless you’re involved in a caretaker situation, you have no idea what is involved,” she said. “People need a road map and they need emotional support.”

Sharing the Care

In 2003, Patrice Thabault opened the South Burlington office of Home Instead Senior Care (HISC) which provides in-home care for seniors. The program’s 180 caregivers offer non-medical services for roughly 150 clients in five counties. HISC sponsors a program called 50-50, for siblings who are caring for aging parents. Studies have shown that the burden is rarely borne equitably between siblings. Usually a daughter, often the youngest in the family, is the one who bears the heaviest load.

The name 50-50 refers to an equitable distribution of labor, but 50 is also the average age at which the parent/child role undergoes a transformation with the child becoming the caregiver to the parent. The family conversation should start earlier than that, ideally when the child turns 40 or when the parent turns 70. HISC offers one-on-one consultations with families and provides written information to help siblings divide the labor as equally as possible. Obviously, finances, employment issues, family situations and geography can conspire to make some siblings more involved than others, but the goal is to share the work and prevent resentment among brothers and sisters.

Some families share the work via formal arrangements with spreadsheets or dry erase boards in the parental home, while others work out more informal agreements. Often siblings will find an area of expertise such as cooking, cleaning, or driving and make that their niche in parental care. Ideally, decisions are made via consensus so no sibling feels they are pulling more than their fair share of the weight. “One of the things we really encourage,” said Thabault “is for seniors and their children to start the conversation early regarding where they would like to live. That’s far better than waiting until there is a crisis or the parent’s health has declined to the point where they can’t take part so the caregiver has to make a decision without knowing the parent’s wishes.”

HISC has created a checklist for caregivers to assess what they call “caregiver burnout.” Signs of burnout include anxiety, depression, mood swings, irritability, lack of concentration, substance abuse, phobias, argumentative behavior and feelings of isolation. Repressing these feelings can have detrimental effects on the caregiver’s physical and mental health and Thabault stressed that it is important to have discussions about all aspects of caregiving, both within the family and with outside professionals to prevent burnout.

Cathy Michaels of Armistead Caregiver Services agrees. From its office in South Burlington, Armistead serves more than 100 clients with a staff of 140 caregivers. “You struggle with when to step in,” said Michaels. “No matter what action you’ve taken, you’re never sure it’s the right one. A lot of people come to us in crisis so we try to educate people to start thinking about these types of things earlier.”

Michaels said people who call Armistead are going through a full range of emotions. Sometimes those caring for an aging relative on their own begin to feel resentment, but when they bring in an outside person it can result in feelings of guilt. This is especially true when children move an aging parent into their own home. “They do it with great intentions,” Michaels said “but sometimes they haven’t had the time to think it through.” She suggests bringing in an outside caregiver slowly so they will eventually build a relationship with the parent.

“It’s human nature to feel guilt and worry that you’re making the right decision,” said Michaels, noting that this is another reason to have the discussion before it becomes an emergent issue. The goal is to insure that the parent is aware of your caregiving plans and is prepared for the changes in his/her life. “Parents don’t want to be a burden,” said Michaels. “They raised us and then we raised our children, but we also have to take care of our elders. It’s okay to ask for help with that.”

Respite House Allows Family ‘To Be Just Family’

November 8, 2012  
Filed under Aging Parents

By Luke Baynes

The Vermont Respite House may be staffed by a team of highly qualified nurses, but the ambience inside its Williston walls is about as far from the sterile atmosphere and antiseptic smell of a hospital environment as possible.

The first thing a first-time visitor to the Respite House might notice is how bright it is inside. Large uncurtained windows allow abundant natural light to fill a central dining area, where the baking aromas from the adjacent kitchen pass through to the building’s wings, which contain 13 private rooms.

“It was founded by a beautiful community effort to create an as close to being at home environment for individuals who can no longer, for one reason or another, be at home,” said Vermont Respite House Administrator Sharon Keegan.

Founded in 1991, the Respite House is a hospice facility for terminally ill people with a prognosis of six months or less to live. It came under the umbrella of the Visiting Nurse Association of Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties in 1997.

Keegan explained that the Respite House’s mission aligns with the traditional principles of hospice care.

“The original hospice philosophy is to live fully, until you die, with dignity and respect,” Keegan said. “A lot of people fear, culturally, the idea of death, and this normalizes it. It gives it a sense that you can have confidence and be well-cared for and that your symptoms can be relieved and you can be supported psychologically and spiritually to move through that.”

She added that by having hospice caregivers attend to the physical needs of a patient, it allows family members to be fully engaged on an emotional level with their loved one.

“Family can just be family,” she said.

Keegan also pointed out that the hospice concept is a way for a surviving spouse to get acquainted with the imminent reality of living alone.

“It’s a way of testing out the waters of being alone, because they can go home and know their person is completely safe, but then come back, and it starts the process of feeling out the truth of loss before it’s actually there,” she said.

Keegan has served as the administrator of the Vermont Respite House for the past 10 years. Despite the constant presence of death and grieving in her life over that decade, she remains indefatigably positive toward a line of work she considers to be life-affirming.

“I’d say people who are drawn to this work have a particular perspective of feeling that this is such a deep privilege and honor to attend to people at the end of their life,” Keegan said. “Being able to provide the best possible end of life scenario is a gift. It’s intense, but it’s deeply meaningful.”


To volunteer: Call Susan Abell at (802) 879-0943.

To make a donation: Visit http://www.vnacares.org/donate

For general questions: Call Sharon Keegan at (802) 879-0943.

Noyana Singer bring comfort

November 8, 2012  
Filed under Aging Parents

Each Saturday from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. a group of local volunteers visits the Vermont Respite House and sings at the bedsides of patients who wish to hear comforting four-part harmonies.
The 45-member group, which calls itself the Noyana Singers, typically sends an eight-person choir, which tailors its musical selections to a patient’s personal preferences.
With a repertoire that features both spiritual and secular music, the group’s goal, according to its tab on the Visiting Nurse Association of Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties website is to create music that “sets a restful meditative mood that can help ease the passage between life and death.”
Williston resident Marcy Kass, a five-year veteran of the Noyana Singers, explained why she finds the volunteer work rewarding.
“When we sing to people, they get to turn off the front part of their brains and just float emotionally. Sometimes people start crying when we start singing,” Kass said. “I believe that our mortality is the ‘elephant in the room’ in our daily lives, especially as we mature. To go forth into that territory and not run from it is soothing, somehow.”
—Luke Baynes