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]

Oh the weather outside is frightful …

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Was it really news to any of us when the International Business Times reported, over the weekend, that this is one of the worst winters in recorded history for the northern U.S. states? This bitter, snowy season ranks up there with some truly dreadful winters in the 1870s, 1920s, 1940s and is close to that awful winter of 1995-96, according to the Times.

Headlines like that are popping up nationwide. A state official in Minnesota who is charged with tracking weather trends issues something called “The Misery Index” and, based on that Index, Minnesota is experiencing the most miserable winter in 30 years.

Snowy Winter DoldrumsBut we knew that, didn’t we? That is, the millions of us living north of the ever-shifting freeze lines in the U.S. knew it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love humming lines like: “Oh the weather outside is frightful …” But, only around Christmas.

By March, the appeal is gone. Here in Michigan we are setting records for cold and snowfall. It’s a struggle. I went grocery shopping yesterday and had to pull rather than push my cart to the car as it wouldn’t roll through the snow. By the time I got everything loaded my fingers were frozen.

I could have headlined this column: UGGGGH!

I try to stay positive, but it is easy to feel a little down in the dumps. Are you feeling that way too? What do you do to make yourself feel a little better?

There are a few things that I do to feel a little happier.

SUNLIGHT (real or artificial): Most mornings, I get up, sit in my chair, read my devotional, and turn on my sun light. I soak it up for 20 minutes. Ahhhh….

DARK SKY APP on my phone: Why? Because it gives the sunrise and sunset time for each day. And I can see that the days are getting longer.

I GET THE MAIL (once a week): I’m no fan of the mail. Our mailbox has been unreachable for months now so I pick it up at the post office. I’m considering it a gift that I only have to deal with it once a week instead of daily.

BUY FRUIT: Fresh fruit makes us all happier. It’s worth the cost.

WARM SOCKS: I hate cold feet. I want warmth. Good socks help.

For me, happiness really does spring from the little things. What are your little things? Will you share something that helps you get through? Add a comment here, or jump over to my Facebook page and drop me a note. I’d really like to hear about your favorite way to beat the winter doldrums.

Pour a warm cup … and focus on Contentment

Photo today is by 'Cyclone Bill' shared for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Pour a cuP.

I’ve told you, in earlier columns, that one of the simple pleasures in my daily life is drinking coffee from a real mug. You may be a tea drinker, or even a cocoa sipper in mid-winter. Whatever your comfort-beverage of choice—pour a cup.

My point today involves a simple, yet powerful, truth. I am usually someone who loves the New Year, setting new goals and resolving to make changes. But this year I am changing it up.

That’s partly because I’ve learned some hard lessons about this season. January has been rough. The last two years have started off with a loss in our family—my husband and I each have lost a parent. Though not entirely unexpected, these deaths still were hard. We certainly didn’t have a feeling of a new start to the new year.

Rather than make a list of goals with the bar set high, in the opening days of 2014, I am focusing on: Contentment.

This is the thing—I have a good life filled with big and small joys as well as challenges. I don’t want to change everything and strive for perfection. I want to live the life I have; I want to appreciate all that is in it. I want to take advantage of the moments that might be overlooked otherwise, spend a little more time without a device in front of me, and give myself a little leeway to just … be.

I want to work hard on my passions, be efficient in the daily tasks of life, and let go of the time suckers that do nothing more than take my time.

With this focus on contentment I expect great things will happen. As I clear my life and brain, fresh ideas come my way. I can finally hear, and respond to, the conversations that really matter. I stumble upon things that make me laugh out loud and moments that I will cherish forever. They happen in everyday life—if we see them.

As caregivers we are often very much involved in day-to-day moments. But as James Taylor sings, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” Not all of the moments will be enjoyable, but certainly there are glimpses each day to hold on to.

So this year, my resolution is this. To enjoy the passage of time.

I’ve poured my cup, so please excuse me. I’m going to go sit for a while and look at the snow.

I’m content.

How about you?

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(Photo today is by ‘Cyclone Bill,’ shared for public use via Wikimedia Commons.)

Stuck in traffic? Have you thought about it like this …?

Photo of a traffic jam by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz. For public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo of a traffic jam by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz. For public use via Wikimedia Commons.


WHEN YOU become a caregiver you learn to let go. It’s not necessarily something you want to do—you have to do it. You realize, pretty quickly, that you don’t have any control. That’s a difficult pill to swallow because we all want control. But, when your mother falls and breaks her hip the day before Thanksgiving, or you get a phone call from your brother telling you he has cancer, or your husband suffers a stroke, it hits you:

You have no control. You’re just along for the ride. And sometimes you get stuck in traffic.

This has been a year of change for my wife and me: new jobs, new cities, new friends. It also has been a year of renewed health for my wife, who started a new treatment with success. But there was a period of time after our move where we hadn’t found a new doctor for her, and she had missed a treatment, and we needed to take action quickly. As it would happen, our best option was to drive to Chicago, a six-hour trip, for a two-hour appointment.

I am telling you all of this because nothing ever goes according to plan, and caregivers know this better than anyone. Forty-five minutes into our trip and we were stuck in traffic. This wasn’t stop-and-go traffic, only a minute’s inconvenience. This was three hours of nothing. No movement. No go, just stop.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that when I am driving on the highway and I pass major traffic in the opposing lanes, I think: Thank God that isn’t me. That’d be terrible! We’ve all done this, at least privately: We see someone going through a difficult time, suffering the loss of a spouse or child, or grieving a diagnosis of cancer in the family, and we think: Thank God that isn’t me. That’d be terrible! Of course we don’t celebrate in their agony, but we’re relieved that, this time, we weren’t the ones being held up.

But the truth is: Life doesn’t come equipped with Cruise Control. Sometimes the traffic jams aren’t in someone else’s lane. And, sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes the person you love is diagnosed with something dire, and there’s nothing you can do. We wait. And we try to help. We look for any opportunity to turn around or take an alternative route. As a caregiver and husband, I keep looking for that perfect thing that will cure my wife: a new diet, a new treatment, a new thing that will solve all of her problems. I keep thinking: If only I had checked the directions before the trip, we could have avoided this!

Have you whispered something like that to yourself? It’s so frustrating: If only …

But here’s the real question: Can we grab hold of all that anxiety, frustration and anger—and refocus on …

Well, let me tell you more about our recent traffic jam. We were on our way to Chiago—with my wife’s health in question—sitting in our little Volkswagen Jetta that my wife has dubbed “Alejandro,” parked in miles and miles of traffic. Only 50 minutes from our home! Not moving!

So, I turned to my wife and grabbed her hand. “Sometimes you’re just stuck in traffic,” I said.

She nodded her head and I knew she understood what I meant.

“But I’ll tell you this,” I continued.

“What’s that?”

“I wouldn’t want to be stuck in traffic with anyone else but you.”


First, if you like this column by Paul Hile, please share it with friends via Facebook or Email. You’ll find icons with this column to help you with your sharing. Or use the “Print” button to print and share this with someone who needs to read it. If you’d like to read an earlier column by Paul, he also wrote “What We Talk about When We Talk about Entitlement.”

A death in the family? ‘Be tender and gentle with yourself.’

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

As we founded WeAreCaregivers earlier this year, we promised to cover a wide range of issues facing the millions of caregivers working every day across this country. But one subject we haven’t addressed is death—a fear that looms large for many of us. At least at times, doesn’t it?

Now, as we count our blessings and give our thanks this November, it seems appropriate to touch on this subject that affects so many families in so many ways. Today, caregiving expert and author Benjamin Pratt writes about how deeply a death in the family can unsettle our lives. As you approach the year-end holidays, if your family is still coming to terms with a death—well, consider Ben’s story …

A Death Observed

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.
C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed

By the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt

American tombstone by Steve Evans via Wikimedia CommonsWhen my father died, I gave myself the straight-forward advice that I had shared with others who had lost someone close throughout my long career in pastoral counseling: “Every emotion, idea and action in your life over the next six months pivots on your father’s dying. Don’t make any major decisions, plans or changes for the next year. Pay careful and cautious attention. Be tender and gentle with yourself.”

It was not long until I forgot my own advice.

Life, following the funeral, became filled with the janitorial functions that follow any death. I had to clean out Dad’s house and sell it and his car, the total of his life’s possessions. I handled the tedious probate of his will and paid his debts. This was, of course, on top of my already busy life as a father, husband and professional counselor. I did spend some time, especially in the first two months, with family and friends talking about the impact of losing my father.

I thought I was doing well. But, what did I know?

After settling my father’s estate, my brother and I each inherited about $7,000.00. Not a significant sum, but more than I had anticipated. After the tedious work was finished, the emotional tension began. It pressed me in night dreams and day dreams. The images were intense, exciting and constant. Each was different but with the same focus—I would give away large sums of money to support causes I value deeply. In one dream, I imagined plopping $50,000.00 on the desk of Morris Dees at the Southern Poverty Law Center. I unleashed $75,000.00 to the United Methodist Committee on Relief to help victims of famine and violent storms. The list grew; the funds didn’t. The images of giving away money I didn’t have obsessed me. One day, in a bit of panic, I called a broker, gave him my inheritance and told him I needed him to make a lot of money—so that I could give it all away one day.

The plan was in place.

Then, the stock market crashed and most of the money was lost. Wake up time! It was then that I remembered the admonition to myself at the time of Dad’s death. “Everything in the first six months is about your father’s dying. Don’t make any major decisions or plans in the first year”.

Time to step back and get a new perspective on what is happening. I began to search for the answer to what was really driving my urges to give away money I didn’t have. I began to face and feel emotions that I had worked hard to ignore, feelings that accompany vulnerability. Underneath all of my busy-holding-it-together exterior I was feeling like an orphan without parents, and I was especially aware of feeling very empty, lonely and powerless.

What I came to realize was that my intense images of giving huge sums of money away gave me a feeling of power. In truth, my power felt very limited. The benevolent images helped me cover my feelings of frailty, sadness and loss. They were definitely not the basis for a plan. They were mirrors reflecting the struggle of my soul. When I was feeling least potent because of the loss of my last parent, I turned to a fanciful image to mask my vulnerability and to make me feel vital and powerful.

As I reflect on this chapter in my life now, I also realize that it revealed a very positive trait of my character and soul: that I feel most valued and potent when I am giving to someone in need. That is when my soul sings. The images of giving money away were fantasies, not plans. They reminded me of who I am when I am responding as one crafted by God. There was both frailty and grace in my journey through those months.

As you enter the “family holidays” time of the year, think about all of the men, women and children you will encounter who are still within a year of a deeply felt death. And remember my advice, even if I forgot it for a while: Be tender and gentle with one another.

PLEASE, share a comment on Ben’s column. We also give you permission to share and even republish Ben’s column, as long as you retain his byline and include a link back to, a part of the online magazine. Want more from Ben? Check out his book, A Guide for Caregivers. (Psst! It’s a great holiday gift for someone you love.)

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]

Changing seasons; looming holidays: So much to do! Help?

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

WE need your help!

Please, read this column and contribute a tip—even a few words. Then, next week, I will compile our brightest ideas and provide a printable check list we all can use to get ready for this “new year” we are entering.

What new year?

Holidays comingHere’s how it unfolds in our household: My daughter runs cross country on her high school team. Last week started with a meet on Tuesday. The weather in Mid-Michigan? 92 degrees, sunny, and humid. Friday she ran again at the Michigan State Invitational in Lansing. As I was preparing to watch her meet—I was finding my winter coat and gloves to stand in 50 degrees, heavy clouds and wind.

Children are back in school; the weather is yo-yoing; the leaves are starting to change and the construction barrels are vanishing. Even if you don’t have students in your household, most employers have a big post-Labor-Day push. Before we know it the year-end holidays will be upon us.

Change is good—sometimes—but it can also be a challenge.

Here at WeAreCaregivers we are bringing together a community of readers who can help each through challenges that caregivers face. In that spirit, we are asking you to help us by offering some insight from your experience with caregiving.

Do you have a tip you could share for dealing with the coming changes in daily routines? Have you got tips for helping caregivers with the piles of leaves—and piles of snow—soon to come in many regions? How about an idea for making the holidays more enjoyable? Do you find that doing—or not doing—certain activities make life a lot easier?


One thing that helps me is to take a few minutes to plan dinners for the week. It isn’t earth shattering, but it makes life better for all of us, especially at times when everyone’s schedule is in overdrive.

Are you part of a congregation starting a new fall-and-winter season? Looking for good ideas for your youth group? Are you part of a community-service group? Men’s group? Hospitality group? What ideas can you share for reaching out to caregivers in the coming seasons?

Here’s another example of a great tip: Organize volunteers to provide respite care for the caregivers in your community—so they each can have a holiday-shopping day free of their normal caregiving duties. Another example: Organize men and women who are handy with repairs to check out the wooden ramps at homes around your community. Any of your neighbors need help fixing a ramp so it’s sturdy for wet, icy and snowy weather?

I’m sure your mind already is whirring away …


We are going to pull together the tips you share with us. You don’t need to write a long note. A sentence or less is fine. We will take all of your fabulous advice and compile it for you to share next week. Together we will be better.

Add a comment below or email us at [email protected]