Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday as far back as I can remember. There was something magical about Mom, Dad, my brother and me piling into the family car on Thanksgiving eve and driving from our NJ home to upstate NY.
We’d always spend “turkey day” and a few days thereafter with Dad’s side of the family. Inevitably, it would also snow while we were there — and I love snow!
Throughout the years, the Big Event was either hosted by Dad’s parents, his older brother and family or his younger brother and family.
My first cousins were fairly close in age to my brother and me, and we enjoyed spending time together. And we were loud! This made for some raucous times at the proverbial “kids’ table.”
Our celebrations were rich with traditions. Great Uncle Steve, sipping his Johnny Walker Black, would tell stories of his travels abroad with the military or with Great Aunt Kate, who would often chime in. If a piano were nearby, Grandpa would play and sing. And without fail, you’d hear Grandma exclaim, “Oh, George!” multiple times, admonishing her husband for yet another groan-worthy joke or story.
Recaps of times gone by and peals of laughter were de rigueur at these gatherings. And the food! I’m blessed to have relatives who were phenomenal cooks and bakers.
My fondest memories are from Thanksgivings of later years, spent in the small-but-cozy Utica, NY, home of Dad’s youngest brother and family: my Uncle Paul, Aunt Marie, their four children, and Aunt Marie’s Mom, “Gram.”
Turkey and Trimmings and Pie — Oh My!
Second cousins eventually joined the family and the kids’ table on their enclosed porch got even tighter! However, there always seemed to be enough room — and endless amounts of fantastic food.
I always marveled at how my Aunt Marie managed to have the gigantic turkey (there could be upwards of 30 people) plus all the fixings and other goodies ready at the same time. She had limited space to do this since family members around the “adults’ table” took up most of the room in her kitchen and counter space was at a premium!
Desserts were a bounty of heavenly homemade pies as well as Italian cookies and pastries from a favorite nearby bakery.
The morning after Thanksgiving, we carried on perhaps the greatest long-standing tradition of all: leftover pie for breakfast.
Sadly, we stopped heading upstate for “turkey day” decades ago as families scattered. Many of our elder relatives had also passed on.
As much as my heart aches for “the good old days” — spending the happiest Thanksgivings with Dad’s family and being with those who now are gone or a distance away — I am thankful that I have plenty of fond memories and photos to lift my spirits.
This Thanksgiving, may your heart be filled with gratitude and your stomachs, with delicious food.
And if you’re also unable to spend time with those you love, whether they’re near or far or no longer walking the earth, may your memories be as sweet as pie.
Speaking of pie…I do hope you’ll join me and my relatives in enjoying a slice or two for breakfast the morning after!
Sue Burghard Brooks (pictured above, far right) is entering her third year as NJAAW’s Communications Manager and is also Executive Producer of the nonprofit’s monthly “Aging Insights” TV program. She confesses that her favorite Thanksgiving pie is mincemeat — though growing up, she never ate it because her older cousin Ed (pictured front, holding his youngest sister, De) said that it was made of monkey meat!
We’re now in the middle of summer and it’s time to make sure you’re prepared for hot, long days and more time!
But, you may be thinking, what do I need to do to prepare? What do I even need to prepare for?
Although summer may be the season of sun and relaxation for many, it’s one of our “extreme” seasons alongside winter. As such, there are many preparations to make and precautions to take whether you’re an older adult, a caregiver or both. And, of course, it’s the perfect time to get other things done you may have been putting off during winter.
Be prepared for hot days: Make sure you have access to a cool place for the hottest of days. Keep in mind that heat susceptibility is a problem for our bodies as we age, and overheating can be deadly—especially for those with medical conditions, young children, and older adults. For those who have and can afford air conditioning, use air conditioning as needed. For those who do not have access to air conditioning, use a fan and keep ice on hand, if possible. You can also look for cooling centers near you, such as libraries or senior centers, or contact NJ 2-1-1 for help finding a cooling center near you.
In addition, make sure to check on anyone you are a caregiver for during the hottest times of the year, and neighbors and friends. Also practice basic heat stroke prevention: drink plenty of cool fluids, stay out of the sun during the peak hours of 10 AM-4PM, and find shade/cool indoors as soon as you begin to feel overheated. Caffeine, alcohol, and certain medications may increase your risk of dehydration (which will increase your risk of overheating), so be aware of any increased risk of dehydration and adjust your fluid intake and activity level accordingly.
Storm and hurricane preparation: Summer storms have already been severe this year and will continue to be, and hurricanes at the end of summer can be devastating. There are many steps that should go into emergency preparation for storms and hurricanes. Luckily, we’ve prepared a full list of steps to take in a previous blog post, which you can read here: (Disaster Preparedness and Safety)
Make preparations for vacations: If you are a caregiver, make sure the person you provide care for will be cared for while you are gone—even if all they need is a person they can call in case of emergency. If you plan to travel and receive care or assistance from someone make sure to speak to your doctor and/or formal or informal caregivers to let them know of your plans and determine any equipment/supplies you might need to take or any arrangements you might need to make for your care.
If you have concerns about paying for summer or winter cooling/heating costs, now is the perfect time to get in touch with NJ SHARES or your own utility company to see if you’re eligible for utility assistance programs. Several different continual assistance programs, one-time grant programs, and payment plans are available through different agencies and have different eligibility requirements. You can read more about these programs and the availability of energy assistance programs in the 2019 Summer issue of Renaissance here on page 6: Renaissance Summer 2019
If you need meal assistance during the summer (for any reason), see if you’re eligible for SNAP. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is currently underenrolled, with only 48% of eligible adults in New Jersey currently enrolled. Don’t assume that you don’t qualify for SNAP benefits, apply today! Learn more about the program and apply for NJ SNAP here: NJ SNAP
Because older adults are more susceptible to illnesses carried by biting insects (e.g., West Nile Virus). Plan on wearing long, protective clothing when outside or apply bug spray.
Read up on policy updates and changes to your communities at the local, state, and national level! Now is the perfect time to learn more about the 2020 Census and changes coming to your communities. We’ll be releasing a blog post later this summer with updates and news on several different public policies and acts—check our blog throughout the summer for more updates!
It‚Äôs a new year and that means a new start! After all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season (and the inevitable clutter for so many of us), now is the perfect time to do a bit of ‚Äúspring‚Äù cleaning. We have some excellent tips for a good cleaning and de-cluttering, and some excellent reasons why you should toss out that old box of knick-knacks and pull out your clothes from seasons past!
Easy things to get rid of:
Obsolete Technology: If you aren‚Äôt using your computer from 1994, you aren‚Äôt going to start using it now, and it‚Äôs unlikely you‚Äôll ever watch a VHS tape again. Some items may be of interest to specialized collectors or electronics tinkerers, but if you aren‚Äôt one (or if you are but still haven‚Äôt touched that ‚Äúproject piece‚Äù) now if the time to get rid of it. Do your research with each gadget: If you think it might be of value or interest to someone research local groups and stores who might want it; but most obsolete tech is best recycled‚Äîlook at electronics recycling in your area, which often has special restrictions.
Clothes You Haven‚Äôt Worn: Maybe it was a gift. Maybe you got it at a great price. Maybe it was your style a few years ago. For whatever reason, you never wore it and now it‚Äôs sitting at the back of your closet, looking a little sad and forlorn. Luckily there are lots of ways to get rid of excess clothing. If you‚Äôre looking to make a few dollars, try a yard/garage sale, consignment shop, or flea market. If you‚Äôd like to just get the clothing off your hands, try donating to shelters, dropping it off in clothing donation bins, donating to thrift stores or seeing what organizations in your area accept clothing donations.
Clothes That Need to Be Tossed: If you have old clothes/shoes that are too worn to be reused or can‚Äôt be (i.e. underwear and broken shoes) look for special drop boxes or organizations that take textiles as well as clothing donations. Planet Aid (recognizable by their bright yellow drop boxes) accepts socks and underwear, shoes and clothing in all conditions as long as it‚Äôs dry and clean.
Books: Books are a wonderful thing to have, but too many books can quickly be a heavy burden. Literally. Keep a few favorites you‚Äôll read again and again and donate or sell the rest. Borrow future books from the library.
Old Prescriptions and Medical Devices: If you aren‚Äôt using it, you don‚Äôt need it. Although it can be hard to give away medical devices we think we might, one day, need, if they‚Äôre creating clutter it‚Äôs time to get rid of them. Fortunately you can donate your medical devices to someone in need through local and national groups, such as specific Goodwill locations (http://www.goodwill.org/donate-and-shop/donate-stuff/) and other nonprofit organizations. Contact organizations first to make sure they can take your donation if you have any questions.
Prescription medicines should be responsibly disposed at approved locations. Many drug stores now have anonymous prescription disposal boxes as do many police stations. You can go to The American Medicine Chest Challenge website (http://americanmedicinechest.org/) to type in your zip code and find drop off locations in your area.
Food: Go through your pantry and look for expired food items and things you‚Äôre unlikely to eat. Throw away the expired food items (this is different than a ‚Äúbest by‚Äù date, which indicates staleness) and donate any unwanted (non-expired or non-perishable) items to a local food bank.
Old Cards and Photos: A lifetime of greeting cards and photographs can really add up when it comes to clutter. Just like with knick-knacks, sort through your greeting cards and choose the ones that mean most to you and recycle the rest‚Äîletting go of the cards doesn‚Äôt mean you‚Äôre letting go of the person who wrote them.
Photographs are often the trickiest and hardest thing to get rid of. Instead of trying to sort through which ones mean most to you, first go through your physical photos and get rid of the bad ones‚Äîblurry ones, ones with flash spots, over-exposed, ones you can‚Äôt remember why you took it etc. Display your favorites, the ones that give you joy. Depending on how many photos you have, store the rest or ask a friend or family member for help sorting through the rest and deciding which ones, if any, to let go. Consider digitizing your physical photos and keeping them on flash drives, rewritable CDs/DVDs, or an external hard drive. Several companies offer this service for a fee, but you can also do this at home if you or a friend have the right equipment. Then you can decide whether to discard your physical photos or keep your digital ones as a backup. You can even use a digital photo frame, which can rotate through several images so you can display more of your favorite moments.
Important Papers: This one is time consuming, but straight forward. Sort through your important papers and determine which ones you need to keep. Keep essential documents (current insurance policies, deeds, warranties, birth/marriage/death certificates, etc.) in a safe place and consider scanning a copy for backup‚Äîdon‚Äôt keep this copy your computer but rather on a flash or external hard drive. Shred documents you no longer need (old bank statements and bills, expired insurance policies or copies with old information, etc.). Sign up for electronic mailings where possible to avoid future clutter‚Äîas an added bonus, some companies offer small discounts for choosing e-mail notifications over paper, plus you‚Äôll be helping the planet.
There are lots of other things you may need to sort through depending on your individual situation. It may be things long acquired over the years, or things that have come into your life more recently. Whatever the reason, getting excess clutter out of your home is not only healthy, but necessary.
Getting rid of clutter:
Removes trip hazards and decreases your risk of falling in your home
Keeps your home cleaner and reduces the amount of health-hazardous dust
Makes organization of important information better and makes it easier to find favorite treasures
Creates a brighter, more attractive living space, which will uplift your mood
Helps pave the way for accumulating less clutter in the future
Improves stress, motivation, and happiness‚Äîdecluttering can be extremely therapeutic
We hope you have a Happy New Year and reap all the benefits of a good, long decluttering season!
Loneliness is not a new problem, but rather a changing one. Like
all social issues, loneliness is a problem bound to be affected by the other
changes in our environment. Historically, loneliness and social isolation have
been a great concern in the older adult population due to several factors:
friends may have passed away, our health may deteriorate and make socializing extremely
difficult, adult children or older parents may have moved away from one
another, and long-distance communication has been more difficult to maintain.
But there are changes on the horizon.
Several changes that have already come and will keep coming
over the next several decades are such to impact the problem of loneliness
among older adults. Some changes will be positive while others may have a
negative or mixed impact. A quick list of just some potential changes include:
The Digital Age will decrease social isolation‚Äîbeyond
email and chats, we‚Äôve already seen the positive impact of services like Skype,
which allows users to freely video chat with friends and family across the
globe. The prevalence of cell phone technology means more people will be
reachable and able to reach loved ones.
The ‚Äúgraying of America‚Äù means we‚Äôll have a much
larger older adult population‚Äîthis could have a mixed impact. The shifting
demographics could mean our population of older adults will be harder to ignore
and there could be greater calls (both intentionally and unintentionally) for
an older adult focused society. However, a disproportionate number of older to
younger adults could mean more older adults who become homebound and require
care (physically as well as socially) with fewer able persons to assist‚Äîthis
could result in increased isolation and loneliness for many.
Continuing advances in medicine may not only
increase our life span, but also our quality of life. We may find ourselves
perfectly healthy and mobile well into older adulthood and more able to
socialize with family and friends old and new.
Heightened desire and calls for the ability to
age in place may add challenges to the natural socialization found in more
communal living arrangements and may require extra attention be placed on socialization
of older adults.
Loneliness is ultimately a community health concern in every
sense of its meaning. It is a health problem not only affecting individuals of
the community but affecting the community at large. It is, however, also a
public health problem with solutions in communities around the state. Community programs with a focus on alleviating
loneliness can and should exist throughout our great state.
Many churches and local organizations do have community
wellness outreach programs with at least part of the service focus being on
wellness visits. These wellness visits usually focus on individuals who have a
hard time leaving their home either for an extended period of time or
permanently and provide social contact and possibly delivering food or other
Even though not all solutions may be available for all
people, there are different solutions and fixes for people struggling with
Getting involved in new activities is a great
loneliness solution at any age or stage in life. Consider joining groups that
interest you‚Äîwhether it‚Äôs a hobby, an issue you care about, or a group with a
similar ideology, being involved with a group will give you social connections now
and for later.
For those looking at assisted living or older
adult communities, the close proximity to your neighbors can be a huge social
boon. While the result can vary greatly between communities, living in a close,
communal environment significantly increases a person‚Äôs chances of social
contacts and new friendships (as opposed to living in a single-family home).
Living in a close-knit older adult oriented community can also increase the
likelihood that your peers will notice and reach out if someone in the
community stops socializing.
Although socializing on the internet can be
risky, it can also be a great place to stay in touch with friends and family
who are far away or rekindling old connections. If you use social media to
reconnect with people or to make new connections, be sure you‚Äôre as safe as
possible. Never give out any banking or personal information to a social
connection. If you choose to meet in person use an abundance of caution and
meet in a public place, preferably with an additional friend.
Get out and take a stroll through the
neighborhood, if able. You can see old neighbors and meet new ones and, as an
additional benefit, outdoor activity and sunshine have been proven to boost
Finally, as we get into the heart
of winter and the coming cold, gray days, know you‚Äôre not alone! Loneliness and
isolation is a problem faced by millions of Americans and many New Jerseyans. No
matter your stage in life there are lots of ways to meet new friends and
reconnect with old ones. Being aware of your loneliness is the first step‚Äîthe
second step is to reach out for help. Tap into your community if you‚Äôre lonely
and see what resources are available to you. And if you‚Äôre an ally, get
involved and reach out to others who may be isolated. Loneliness is a problem
that can affect us all, but we can all fight it together.