Gardening brings joy, if we are smart about adapting

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Gardening makes me happy.

I love watching things grow, digging in the dirt, moving things around. I don’t even mind pulling weeds. I have mentioned in past columns that I am not the only gardener in my family. In fact my grandma and my husband’s grandfather have bonafide green thumbs.

Through this column, we put the word out a couple of weeks ago that we were looking for caregiving tips we all can use in spring and summer. A number of ideas focused on gardening. Today, I’m going to share my tips and a couple from our readers.

Thanks to Edy Brown for this tip: "We can learn a lot from traditional gardening around the world. Smart housekeepers plant herb gardens in containers they can maintain without stooping over. This example is from Laos. Lots of herbs, onions and other useful crops can be planted in containers you've already got in the garage or basement."

Thanks to Edy Brown for this tip: “We can learn a lot from traditional gardening around the world. Smart housekeepers plant herb gardens in containers they can maintain without stooping over. This example is from Laos. Lots of herbs, onions and other useful crops can be planted in containers you’ve already got in the garage or basement. You can re-purpose many plastic, metal and other containers. I’ve even seen several container tomatoes grown together in a children’s wading pool.”

People who don’t share the love of gardening don’t always understand the draw to be out in the fresh air making sure everything is the way you like it. But it isn’t as easy with age. As our grandparents have aged I have observed a few things.

1. Telling a gardener not to worry about their garden is not going to work. They care about their plants and want them to look good and flourish. That means risking a fall or a sore body in order to keep up with the maintainence required. Try to see these plantings through the gardener’s eyes: An unruly flower bed may make no difference to you, but it can be deeply troubling to the gardener whose loving labor originally planted it.

2. If you are assisting a gardener with the tasks that need to be done, please make sure you are doing what is important to them and to their standards if at all possible. When my grandma had to stop mowing and weeding it drove her crazy when others blew the lawn clippings into the flower beds and flowers were pulled instead of weeds due to lack of knowledge.

3. Less can be more as we grow older. My grandfather is the ‘Tomato Man’ at his large assisted living residence. Having once had a huge garden, he now sticks to a small space and grows only tomatoes that everyone wants to be the recipient of. It satisfies him and his need to garden.

4. Raised beds are a good thing. They can be built at all levels, allowing accessibility to those in wheelchairs or people with walkers that have seats built in to sit and garden. Take a look at the photo from Laos that a reader recommended, today.

5. Even a small container that grows herbs can be satisfying to a gardener. And growing things is good for the soul.


Gardening for Seniors by Patty CassidyA couple of readers recommended books by Patty Cassidy. She is one of the nation’s best-known horticultural therapists as both a master gardener and counselor with years of experience with seniors. She occasionally shows up in the New York Times as an expert on these issues.

We recommend her very practical and beautifully illustrated book with a long title: The Illustrated Practical Guide to Gardening for Seniors: How to maintain your outside space with ease into retirement and beyond (although you’ll only find it for sale by re-sellers at this point) and her newer book The Age-Proof Garden: 101 practical ideas and projects for stress-free, low-maintenance senior gardening, shown step by step in more than 500 photographs.

In Patty’s view from her website: “Tending our gardens is a lifelong pleasure. As we age, our energy and physical abilities become more limited, but gardens are magical, evolving places, with the potential to keep us young at heart and physically fit.” So she—and other experts in adapted gardening—focus on choosing lower-maintenance plantings, adjusting the location and height of beds, choosing gardening tools designed for people with a range of disabilities.”


Are you a gardener or do you take care of someone who is? Tell us your favorite thing to grow or leave us a tip that has helped you through the years. We’d even welcome a photo from a corner of your garden that you especially enjoy. Contact us at [email protected]

Simple Gifts: Seeing opportunities to humbly help

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

WELCOME BACK the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt, author of the Guide for Caregivers. Today, Ben brings us another thought-provoking column about the challenges we all face in helping others. Recently, ReadTheSpirit published an in-depth interview with the famous teacher on compassion and peacemaking, Johann Christoph Arnold. In that Q&A, Arnold said that the key to happiness as we age is finding daily opportunities to help others. Today, in a free-verse poem, Ben simply captures a trio of such moments in a typical day. He starts by recalling the 1848 Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts, by Joseph Brackett:

When true simplicity is gain’d
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d
To turn, turn ‘twill be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Simple Gratitude for Simple Gifts


A Praying Mantis in the wildHe is old
uses a cane
bent over and slow
takes all he has to climb into the city bus
Takes the only seat left
Others fill the aisle—hanging from the loops
The bus jerks forward
He searches each pocket, jacket, pants, and shirt
His nose is running, now dripping—
but nothing to wipe it
Across the crowded aisle, I reach into my pocket
where I always carry napkins
I slide some toward him
across the aisle
between the legs of standers
He takes the napkins
wipes his nose—never looks my way
I know he’s grateful
if a bit ashamed
I know because I’ve been there.

How she managed two shopping carts
we do not know
She loads the rear of her SUV
with food and drinks
Stuffs her small child in his car seat
Ready to go?
Two carts to return with:
Child waiting. Car unlocked. Groceries piled.
My wife sees her predicament
“I’ll take your carts back.”
“Oh, thank you. Thank you!”
As she drives away,
she rolls down her window:
“Oh, thank you. Thank you!”

She is hanging upside down
inside the window screen
She looks puzzled, trapped, chagrined—
her ET-like eyes
overwhelming her small head
bobbing on her long, slender, mint-green body
I’m certain she is a she—
her regal head contentedly nodding,
despite her obvious predicament
I slip a cupped white paper under her
The queen slowly steps forward
entering her carriage
“Welcome Madame.”
She is deferential to her new footman
I escort her outside
where she slowly exits her carriage
onto an hydrangea leaf
She pauses as she turns
and with the slightest nod of her head
she acknowledges her new footman.


(FEEL FREE to share this column with friends. You can do so by using the blue-“f” Facebook icons or the small envelope-shaped email icons. You also are free to reproduce or repost this poem, as long as you credit Benjamin Pratt and


The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a noted expert on compassionate care and is the author of Guide for Caregivers.

From the Earth to the Moon: Look up! What do YOU see?

Big Moon photo by Jose Cabajar via Wikimedia Commons


We just passed through the full moon this weekend—and it’s still pretty big right now.

What do you see?

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

I always dread a full moon. Not dread in the same way I dread taxes or being sick, but a general dislike all the same. I don’t sleep as well during a full moon, I’m sure of it. Having worked in schools and nursing homes I have heard many people swear that full moons affect behavior. I have said it myself.

So just for my own entertainment, with that great big full moon shining down on us, I decided to see what I could find out about full moons affecting behavior. When I looked it up on Google I found many articles but nothing that really substantiated my thought. Wikipedia itself serves up a very mixed bag of reports on lunar effects.

Then, I ran across Dr. Eric Chudler, who teaches at the University of Washington in Seattle and is the executive director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering. His expertise is in psychology and he has collected a lot of data in a website he calls “Moonstruck!

We’re certainly going to be hearing a whole lot about the Moon over the coming year. In January, National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm hosted a program about space exploration, including a plan for developing property rights on the Moon by Bigelow Aerospace (a manufacturer of modules for survival in outer space). This summer is the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Next year is the 150th anniversary of the novel that touched off the modern era of space exploration: Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon.

TODAY, I’m inviting you—our readers, especially the caregivers among us—to comment below or to share your thoughts with me on my Facebook page.

Caregivers are on the front lines of human behavior. What have you seen?

Do you think there’s something to lunar effects? To the influence of the Full Moon?

Come on! LOOK UP! What do you see?

Earth and Sun from the Moon perspective

IMAGES TODAY: At top is a beautiful photo of the moon by photographer Jose B. Cabajar, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons. The second photo comes from the imagery created for the 1968 movie by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Seasons changing! Dive into life! (but at your own pace)

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

“It’s the last nice day we may have,” the weather man warned, “take advantage of it!”

I’ve lived in Michigan my whole life; I know that, although it is almost 80 today, it could snow tomorrow. So I did. After I finished all my work I changed in to my running clothes and grabbed the leashes. The dogs could barely contain themselves as I tied my shoes. Jumping all over me as I sat on the front step. And then we were off, down the gravel driveway. Me trying to reign them in so I don’t go flying myself. We jogged the half mile to our dock so Elly could take one last swim before the ice comes and locks away her favorite sport of—dock jumping.

Diving into the LakeA regular air dog is she! Tuck, he’s more of a wader. He looks back at me proudly if he gets in up to his elbows. After a bit of frolicking it is time to head home. It is on the way back that it hits me. Jogging with these two is similar to being a caregiver.

What? Really? Hear me out…

Tuck is an aging Boxer now, and we don’t get 100 yards before he is lagging behind. “Come on, Old Man,” I tell him, encouraging him along. Meanwhile, Elly surges forward. She is still young, a lab-boxer mix with boundless energy and an inability to control her enthusiasm. As I negotiate the way home I try to meet both of their needs. When we pick up speed Tucker begins a gallop of sorts, with his tongue hanging out and his breath heavy. And so I slow down, pulling hard on Elly’s collar as she doesn’t want to quit running. Though I try, we cannot find a pace that suits us all.

This is the caregiver correlation: Sometimes we are stuck in the middle. I have to decide whose needs get met and who will have to give in. I can’t do it all. I must also relinquish the thought of this being a workout for me as we together cannot find a pace that will suffice for that either. I knew that before we left, that I wouldn’t be able to workout, but I couldn’t leave them behind on such a gorgeous day. I see that as yet another line drawn to caregivers. Knowing that we often choose not what is best for us, but rather what our charges will enjoy the most.


Last week we asked you to share a caregiving tip with us.

How do you balance it all? What is something that makes life easier? Our list is growing, but we still want to hear from you. Would you take a minute and share with us? You can send us your thoughts either in a Comment, below, or by emailing [email protected]

Summer is perfect for spotting unforgettable Sunset Moments

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Sunset Moments.
Each one unique.
You either stop and immerse yourself in the moment—or you miss it forever.

Regular readers of this column know that this is one of my personal passions: Whatever else you think matters in your stressed-out life, you must take time for Sunset Moments. Today, I’m so pleased to see that my colleague—columnist and author Rodney Curtis—is celebrating the same spiritual lesson with his family. And his camera! (Rodney’s a terrific photographer, so please check out his gallery of Sunset Moments.)

The truth is: If we’ve got eyes and we are willing to free up the time—anyone can experience these dazzling Technicolor scenes. Let me tell you the story behind my own photo of a Sunset Moment (accompanying this column, below).


Heather Jose sunset moment in northern MichiganOne of my favorite things about living in Michigan is the length of warm summer days, when we are able to enjoy this state’s countless rivers and lakes.

The sun seems to take forever to set. It feels as though the extended light adds extra time to my life. More often than not, I use that extra time to enjoy the things that often get pushed aside throughout the rest of the year.

What do you like to do in these extra hours?
What’s on your list of summer favorites?

My list starts like this:
Fishing with my husband
Getting ice cream with my family
Walking with a friend
Sipping a drink on the deck

Some nights, these pleasures only take minutes, but I love it when these experiences stretch from minutes into hours. It is during this time that we wander away from the regular conversation of life and find ourselves dreaming and opening up.

When I was sick for so long, it was these moments in life that I longed to experience far into the future. While I hoped to be a part of life’s momentous occasions in the years ahead—it was these little things that I realized mattered even more.

It was a life lesson that I am glad I learned early in life.

Time is fleeting, as we all know, and as much as we may want things to stay the same, they never do. But Sunset Moments keep coming, if we stop and look for them. I hope you enjoy an amazing sunset this week and that it reminds you of the opportunity to make the most of each day.

Happy Fourth of July!

If you have a moment, please, share this column with a friend by clicking the blue-“f” Facebook icon or the little envelope-shaped email icon. Or, add a comment below with a few words about a Sunset Moment that lifted your spirits in a special way.