December Gratitude Challenge – a positive way to bid farewell to 2020

The year 2020 will probably go down in the history books as one of the worst ever! How can we possibly be grateful for a year like this? It reminds me of a story I heard when I was very young.

There once were twin boys. One was exceedingly pessimistic and the other exceedingly optimistic. Their parents, quite concerned, took them to a psychiatrist. The doctor put the pessimist in a room full of everything a child could ever desire. From a one-way mirror, they observed the boy sitting in the corner crying and wailing, “The candy is sticky! The toys are broken! The ice cream is melting! Everything is just terrible!”

Meanwhile, the optimist was placed in a room filled to the brim with horse manure. The boy was observed laughing and cheerfully digging through the manure. Astonished, the doctor went in the room and asked what he was doing. The young optimist replied, “With all this poop, there has to be a pony in here somewhere!”

I don’t know about you, but against a backdrop of serious global and national challenges, I had my share of personal struggles this year. More than once, I felt like that little boy in a room full of horse manure. What the story taught me long ago was to always look for the pony.

It’s when things seem bad that it’s most important to look for the good. It might sound overly simple and trite, but appreciating the little things really is what makes life worth living ~ an amazing sunrise, a funny joke, a bluebird at the feeder, a delicious meal, a beautiful song, a hot bath, a friendly wink.

Gratitude and optimism go hand-in-hand. Businessman Price Pritchett said, “There’s a lot more to be gained from being grateful than you might think. Managing your outlook towards appreciation and thankfulness feeds the soul. It brings calm and contentment. It lifts your levels of happiness and hope. Gratitude will amplify your positive recollections about times past, and in turn sets the stage for optimism about the future.”

To help say goodbye to 2020 with an attitude of gratitude, I’m suggesting a December Gratitude Challenge. The idea is to focus on all the joy that still surrounds us at the end of what was not the greatest year ever.

There are many ways you can join in the December Gratitude Challenge. Keep a journal, make a paper chain, stick Post-Its on the mirror, or just add it to your nightly prayers. I decided to make a Gratitude Jar.

Every evening in December, my husband and I will each write something specific for which we were grateful that day and drop the slip of paper into the jar. On New Year’s Eve, we will read them together. (That Mike is going along with this will likely be the first thing I add to the jar!)

Even, no, especially in a year like this, December is a month when miracles happen. Tiny miracles. Big miracles. Good things are all around us. Sometimes we just have to dig a little to find them. 🙂

Question of the Week: Will you take the December Gratitude Challenge with us? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. Wishing you a week filled with gratitude!

The Simple Swan is on Twitter at 1SimpleSwan.

3 Things the Pandemic Can Teach About Facing Our Troubles

“It’s still pitch black out,” my husband said. He knows I don’t like to drive in the dark, but I needed to get to southern Illinois by late morning. I climbed in the frosty car before sunrise and replied, “The good news is it’s only going to get lighter.”

My words hung in the air like a promise as I cautiously drove through the dark woods on the hilly, winding roads of Indiana. I heard a voice on the radio say this about the pandemic, “Things look dark right now, but there’s hope on the horizon.” Looking east, streaks of orange and pink glowed just below the bare tree line.

It occurred to me that our best reaction to the Coronavirus could provide a lesson in how to face any dark time in our lives by taking this three-step approach.

Face Facts. After a few months at my first job out of college, I reluctantly went to my dad in tears. I had racked up almost $300 on my American Express card and had no way to pay it. He looked at my budget and immediately saw it was unrealistic. He helped me make a more honest one and gave the same good advice I’d heard dozens of times growing up, “You always have to face the facts, kid.”

Similarly with the Coronavirus, we have to face the facts. As of this week, more than a quarter of a million people in the United States have now died from Covid-19, and the number of new infections is setting records every day. We also know there are scientifically proven things we can do to keep the virus from spreading so vigorously.

Do What You Can. When life gets dicey, I always turn to The Serenity Prayer. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This prayer, learned from my mother-in-law when I was a young mom, immediately centers me and helps me focus on what I can and can’t change when facing a problem.

As we continue to make tough decisions during this pandemic, we must separate wisdom from nonsense and have the courage to do what we can. The Center for Disease Control is still making these recommendations: Stay home when possible. Wear a mask in public settings. Wash hands often. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. If you must go somewhere, stay at least six feet away from others. We can’t control the virus, but we can do things to help protect ourselves and others.

Look on the Bright Side. A relative’s home in Georgia was recently destroyed by a 16,000 pound tree in the aftermath of a hurricane. She and her husband have since been living in a small hotel room with their dog and cat while dealing with insurance companies and all the stress of having their life suddenly turned upside down in the middle of a pandemic. This is not the first time the young couple has been dealt a crummy hand, but I’m struck by their gratitude no one was hurt and their faith things will eventually fall back into place.

No matter the situation, once we have faced the facts and done all we can, the only thing left to do is be hopeful. As I reached the interstate, the radio reported promising news of a Coronavirus vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci’s words sounded like fatherly advice, “Just hold on a little longer.”

In 1650, Thomas Fuller wrote what has become a well-known and encouraging proverb, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” Merging onto the highway, the sky was impossibly blue and the sun shone so brightly above the horizon, I reached for my sunglasses. 🙂

Question of the Week: How do you keep looking on the bright side during the pandemic or when facing personal troubles? Please leave your response in the comments. Wishing you a bright and healthy week!

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A television icon we will miss – Who is Alex Trebek?

Alex Trebek will be missed at our house. Since 1984, no matter what was going on in the news or our personal lives, we could count on him to lead us in a half hour of cerebral fun. For millions of people like us, who knew him only as a nightly game show host, Trebek was a reassuring and constant role-model of grace, wit, and wisdom.

Jeopardy was on the hospital room television when I was in labor with my first child. It was an easy delivery, and I had just enough pain meds to play along between pushes. I wish I could remember the final Jeopardy question on that July evening in 1990, but I do know my little girl arrived at 7:33 pm. The doctor, who was also a Jeopardy fan, remarked how considerate it was for her to wait until after the final question.

My daughter must have been blessed by Alex Trebek and sprinkled with some Jeopardy fairy dust as she was born, because she grew up with a real love of learning. Recently she and her husband, who are both attorneys, worked from our house for a couple of weeks during the pandemic. As we tuned-in to Jeopardy each evening, they consistently beat the pants off my husband and me.

Mike and I usually have great fun competing against each other for nightly Jeopardy bragging rights. I’d say we’re pretty evenly matched except when a sports or literary category gives one of us a clear advantage. My daughter and son-in-law left us silent, as they gave answer after answer before we could even process the question. For that reason alone, we were glad when they went back home.

Like most people, we knew of Trebek’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. We were glad to see him looking so well on the current taped shows and hoped he would get a miracle. In an interview last year, Trebek said, “I’m not afraid of dying. I’ve lived a good life, a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life.” His comment is reminiscent of my father’s positive attitude while facing cancer.

When people we admire die, we are reminded our time on earth is finite, and every era must come to an end. We will all leave behind a legacy, and we will all be remembered for what we did, how we behaved, and how we made people feel. Trebek had a long career as a celebrity who managed to avoid scandal and embarrassing public fall from grace. I will truly miss seeing his genial face and elegant demeanor on our television each night.

We can all learn a few things from Alex Trebek. “My life has been a quest for knowledge and understanding, and I am nowhere near having achieved that,” he said. “And that doesn’t bother me in the least. I will die without having come up with the answers to many things in life.” 🙂

Question of the Week: Are you a Jeopardy fan? Do you have any personal memories of the show or of the host, Alex Trebek? Please respond in the comment section. I wish you a week filled with all the right answers!

‘Merry Autumn’ – a seasonal poem and art project

I had so much fun making this wax paper, crayon, and leaf collage. Make your own to relax, flex your creativity, and celebrate fall!

While we were preoccupied with our collective concerns during this difficult year, spring and summer came and went and autumn faithfully arrived in all its golden glory. Immersing ourselves in a seasonal poem and simple art project can bring calm, creativity, and celebration of a new season.

For some reason, many classic poems about autumn are a bit depressing. Shakespeare referred to this time of year “As the deathbed when it must expire.” Robert Frost penned, “Then leaf subsides to leaf, so Eden sank to grief.” Emily Bronte wrote of fall, “I shall sing when night’s decay ushers in a drearier day.”

As beautiful as those poems may be, they don’t exactly inspire cheer. Thankfully, Paul Lawrence Dunbar favors a merry autumn over a solemn one. I especially love the lines, “The earth is just so full of fun, it really can’t contain it.”

Merry Autumn by Paul Lawrence Dunbar

It’s a farce, – these tales they tell
About the breezes sighing.
And moans astir o’er field and dell,
Because the year is dying.

Such principles are most absurd –
I care not who first taught ’em;
There’s nothing known to beast or bird
To make a solemn autumn.

In times, when grief holds sway
With countenance distressing,
You’ll note the more of black and gray
Will then be used in dressing.

Now purple tints are all around;
The sky is blue and mellow:
And e’ven the grasses turn the ground
From modest green to yellow.

The seed burrs all with laughter crack
On featherweed and jimson;
And leaves that should be dressed in black
Are all decked out in crimson.

A butterfly goes winging by
A singing bird comes after;
And Nature, all from earth to sky,
Is bubbling o’er with laughter.

The ripples wimple on the rills,
Like sparkling little lasses;
The sunlight runs along the hills
And laughs among the grasses.

The earth is just so full of fun
It really can’t contain it;
And streams of mirth so freely run
The heavens seem to rain it.

Don’t talk to me of solemn days
In autumn’s time of splendor,
Because the sun shows fewer rays,
And these grow slant and slender.

Why, it’s the climax of the year, –
The highest time of living! –
Till naturally its bursting cheer
Just melts into thanksgiving.

Paul Lawrence Dunbar, born in 1872, was one of the first African American poets to gain national recognition. His heartwarming short story ‘The Finish of Patsy Barnes’ is one of my favorites.

Reading and thinking about Dunbar’s Merry Autumn, may put you in the mood to do this art project. No matter how grown-up we get, throwing ourselves into something fun and creative can do wonders for our mental health.

Fall Art ProjectWax Paper Leaf Collage:

Supplies: wax paper, leaves, crayons, dull knife, piece of cloth, iron
Basic Instructions:
1. Go outside and collect a few colorful leaves.
2. Arrange leaves on a piece of wax paper.
3. Using a dull knife, cut a few crayons into small pieces. (I made mine about the size of peppercorns.)
4. Scatter crayon pieces around leaves on wax paper.
5. Lay another piece of wax paper on top of leaves and crayon pieces.
6. Place a piece of cloth over wax paper. (A cloth napkin works well.)
7. Press heated iron onto cloth until crayons melt and wax paper is fused together. Do not let iron directly touch wax paper. Lift and press iron to keep colors from running together too much.
7. Display your fall art project in a window or wherever makes you happy.

Question of the Week: What is your favorite thing about autumn? Leave your answer and any other reaction to today’s post in the comment section. I’d love to see a photo of your fall art project! Please email it to me at Alicia@thesimpleswan.com. Wishing you a week spent enjoying “autumn’s time of splendor.”

The Joy of Laughter – life’s too mysterious to be so serious

I have a tendency to be overly earnest. Knowing this, I once bought a cute Mary Englebreit poster for my classroom that said, “Life’s too mysterious to take too serious.” It was just the thing to help me take a lighthearted approach to my job as an English teacher.

Ironically, I had to take the poster down. I couldn’t get over the fact that it was grammatically incorrect. It should have read, “Life’s too mysterious to take too seriously.” To be clear, seriously is an adverb describing the verb take. For the same reason, one of my favorite songs, Take It Easy, should technically be Take It Easily.

I know. What a nerd. I was recently reminded of the need to temper my conscientious nature with some good belly laughs.

I was driving alone from Indiana to Illinois to care for my mom, who wasn’t feeling well. The windshield wipers thumped a gloomy beat that matched the news on the radio. I flipped to a couple of music stations, but no song brought relief from my worry. Like many of you, I’m heavy-hearted by the Coronavirus and its effect on our country and the people I love.

I scrolled through the channels on Sirius XM radio and settled on LaughUSA, a station I had never listened to before. Four hours later, I pulled into my mom’s place with a smile on my face, my sides aching from laughter, and a much lighter mood.

Once I became an adult, I pretty much gave up on comedy. Life demanded responsibility and diligence, and that’s what I gave it. The older I got, the more serious I got, though I secretly longed to laugh myself silly.

Unfortunately, I find most humor these days to be crude and crass. A few years ago I was excited to go to a comedy show at Chicago’s Second City. As the show went on, the dark humor made me feel increasingly nauseous, and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. As we walked outside, I let the cold, fresh air of the windy city sting my face and blow away the icky feeling.

I’m a cornball who loves a good, clean joke. When I was young, my little sisters and I stayed up late on Saturday nights to watch The Carol Burnett Show. We still crack up thinking about Tim Conway playing an inept dentist. We would laugh uproariously when our dad, an actual dentist and very goofy guy, entertained us by acting out Conway’s character.

Remember Hee Haw? When my kids were in elementary school, we often watched re-runs of the show after their evening baths. They even learned a few of the comedy sketches and would perform them to my delighted applause.

Lately I’ve been watching some of my favorite feel-good movies. I had all but forgotten the scene from Mary Poppins with Bert and Uncle Albert laughing so hard they float up to the ceiling singing, “I love to laugh, loud and long and clear. The more I laugh, the more I fill with glee. The more the glee, the more I’m a merrier me!”

At such a difficult time in our nation, talk of laughter may sound a little tone-deaf, but I think we all could use a hearty laugh. W.E.B. Du Bois (not well-known for his sense of humor) said, “I am especially glad of the divine gift of laughter. It has made the world human and lovable, despite all of its pain and wrong.”

No matter how serious life gets, we can’t forget to laugh, loud and long and clear.

Bert: I knew a man with a wooden leg named Smith.

Uncle Albert: What was the name of his other leg?

Come on, now. That’s funny stuff.


Question of the Week – What makes you laugh out loud? Share your favorite funny movie, book, show, or comedian in the comments. Wishing you a week filled with lots of laughs!

The Joy of Housekeeping – finding focus, meaning, and gratitude in routine chores

There was a time in my life when I got excited to take a personal day from work just to catch-up on housekeeping. Full-time jobs and kids’ busy schedules meant there were never enough hours in the day to keep up with cleaning, cooking, laundry, and yard work. Now that I’m a retired empty-nester, I have plenty of time for routine chores which have always offered a comforting, grounding rhythm to my life.

As a college student, I couldn’t settle in for a serious study session until my dorm room or apartment was spick-and-span. I wasn’t just procrastinating. Getting my environment in order was part of my study ritual. Doing basic household chores can help us practice the focus required for other areas of life.

In a wonderful little book called A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, a Shin-Buddhist monk shares how cleaning methods employed in Zen temples can be used “as a way to cultivate the mind.” It’s a similar lesson to the one we learned from the karate kid’s Mr. Miyagi when he instructed, “Wax on. Wax off.”

After years of unavoidable multi-tasking, I enjoy giving my full attention to a specific task such as cleaning a window, ironing a shirt, or filling the birdbath. It’s during that time when I often come up with my best ideas.

Especially as we get older, routine chores can give structure and meaning to our days. My husband and I both love creating a happy, welcoming home for each other, as well as for friends and family.

Since retiring, my husband has taken over the cooking. He plans the menus, shops for the best ingredients, and takes his time in the kitchen to lovingly prepare delicious and healthy meals. My domain is still cleaning and laundry. I have a daily schedule that helps me accomplish all of my housekeeping within the week.

We both have our own interests and hobbies, but cheerfully doing our daily chores is part of our love language, and they get us up and going when motivation is running a little low. During the pandemic, when nothing seems normal, routine chores add some consistency to our days.

Going about my housework, I can’t help but be filled with gratitude. There’s so much for which to be thankful. Floors to sweep. Clothes to launder. Dishes to wash. Pillows to fluff. Leaves to rake.

As we get older, we naturally have more time to take care of our homes and, I’ve found, more appreciation for each and every day of our life. I recall folding my children’s tiny clothes with only a vague understanding of how quickly they would outgrow them. I held the soft cotton onesies to my nose and inhaled their sweet smell, pausing for just a moment before rushing off to do something more pressing.

These days, there isn’t so much tugging for my attention. As I dust the piano, prune the geraniums, and hang up my husband’s shirts, I’m intensely aware of the simple pleasure it brings me.

Our lives go through dramatic transitions, but one thing that never changes is the necessity of household chores. There were times when I desperately needed a maid or a fairy godmother to keep it all together. At this stage in my life, I’m glad for the time and perspective to view housekeeping as something that brings me focus, meaning, gratitude and, yes, even joy.

An Optimist’s Guide to Politics

Politics and optimism seem to mix like oil and water, but formidable British statesman Winston Churchill once said, “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” Those of us with such dispositions can successfully navigate a contentious election year by clinging to some simple values most optimists hold dear to their hearts.

At the end of the day, optimists just want everyone to be happy. It’s an idea our founding fathers shared, at least in theory. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When optimists vote, they want nothing more than our country to keep moving towards fulfilling those promising words adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

Most optimists believe good character to be the most important quality in any person, particularly someone who wishes to hold a public office. Voters who don’t care about a politician’s character, just their policies and party, are probably not optimists. Abraham Lincoln reminded us, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Think about the personal qualities you admire and likely insist upon in the people you want in your inner circle. Before you vote, consider how well the candidates hold up against that basic measure.

Optimists have heaps of trust in their fellow citizens and in democracy itself. We have faith in the democratic process and take seriously our right and responsibility to vote. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote after decades of protest and civil disobedience. When we go to the polls we must keep in mind that democracy, the cornerstone of an optimistic nation, is always at stake.

At the risk of sounding like a Miss America contestant, optimists really do want world peace. George Washington said, “Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.” Here at home, we want to live in a country that’s peaceful and united in the belief that we all deserve to feel safe and respected, despite our differences. Support the candidate who wants that, too.

For those of us who like to keep things light, the next few weeks are going to be pretty heavy. Let’s stay true to our ideals of happiness, character, trust, and harmony. Don’t worry when the cynics call us dreamers, because they will. Finally, remember another thing Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Getting Dressed – a dozen surprising perks of getting ready for the day

Since the pandemic began, I’ve heard a lot of people are having trouble getting dressed. If they aren’t going anywhere, why bother? Believe me, I get it. Like many people my age, I had to learn this lesson for myself.

When I became a retired empty-nester, I found it difficult to get dressed and ready for the day. At first, staying in my pajamas well past noon felt like a just reward. After all, I’d been rushing to get out the door for school or work my entire life.

However, after a couple of weeks lazing through my days without putting on real clothes, I felt like Mrs. Roper from Three’s Company, famous for her muumuus and slippers. Since then, even if I’m not going anywhere, I have a morning routine that includes getting dressed and ready for the day.

For me, that means putting on a casual but cute outfit that can’t be mistaken for pajamas or exercise gear. Though I’ve never been a fashionista, my charming mother and her friends taught me at a young age the wisdom of being properly dressed.

In her best-selling book, Lessons from Madame Chic, Jennifer L. Scott shares secrets she learned from the matriarch of the family with whom she lived while studying in France. Among other lessons in living, Scott noticed both Madame Chic and her husband remained well-dressed from morning to night.

There is a fashionable trend towards messy chic which has only been exaggerated by the quarantine. I recently saw a young mom at the grocery store wearing pajama pants and a sweatshirt boasting, “Messy hair. Don’t care.”

This week, the impeccably dressed Alex Trebec told Jeopardy viewers they could take the test at home – without putting on pants! There is, thankfully, a disclaimer that contestants are required to wear “out-of-the-house-clothing.”

Cheeky, yes, but what have we come to?

Even if the rest of the world welcomes unapologetic sloppiness, I just can’t. When tempted to remain in my pajamas or early morning walking clothes, I hear my favorite Disney muse, Mary Poppins, firmly say, “Best foot forward. Spit spot!”

Thanks to experience, and the good example of others, mature men and women know there are some surprising perks to getting ready for the day. Whether you are retired, work from home, or are a full-time parent or care-giver, taking time to get dressed each morning can help us ~

  1. Have More Energy – Getting ready for the day gets us up and moving. By the time we’re dressed and looking sharp, the blood is pumping, morning kinks are worked out, and we’re ready to move mountains – or at least tackle our to-do list.
  2. Control Our Closet – With time, we learn what styles, colors, and fabrics feel good and function in our real, everyday lives. What a joy it is to have an organized closet filled with clothes we actually wear and love.
  3. Stay Well-Groomed – If we don’t routinely get ready for the day, it’s easy to ignore basic grooming tasks. Remember the make-over scene in Miss Congeniality? If I let things go, I’m afraid it would take more than an entire warehouse full of professionals to make me presentable again.
  4. Age Gracefully – As we get older, it’s especially important to have confidence in the person we see in the mirror. Getting ready for the day helps us look and feel our best so we can embrace our age and continue living our best life.
  5. Mind Our Manners – As a teacher, I was always amazed at how well-behaved my students were when dressed for a field trip or special event. I admit I’m more aware of using my best manners when neatly dressed than when schlepping around in my bathrobe.
  6. Brighten the Day – Taking time to pop on a cheery scarf or dashing jacket can bring a smile to others. People appreciate it when we dress up a little, especially during the current gloom of a pandemic.
  7. Eat Better – There’s something about lounging around in stretchy pants by any name that makes it easy to skip meals and spend the day snacking. A routine of getting dressed helps us enjoy the ritual of sitting down to healthy meals.
  8. Show Respect – Looking our best demonstrates a level of respect for ourselves and others, including the people in our own homes. Like it or not, we tend to be given more respect when we are nicely dressed.
  9. Accomplish More – We all have things we want and need to accomplish, but if we don’t get a good start, the day can slip away. Active folks know wonderfully productive and fulfilling days begin by getting dressed.
  10. Be a Good Role Model – Grumbling (too loudly) about how people dress these days isn’t a good look for anyone. We’ve learned actions speak louder than words. Dressing appropriately encourages others to do the same.
  11. Sleep Better – At the end of the day, changing out of our clothes and getting ready for bed is a pleasant routine that lets our body and mind know it’s time to wind down. A good night’s sleep is crucial for our well-being, particularly when life is feeling less-than-normal.
  12. Carpe Diem – Life is short. Getting dressed helps us make the most of each day, which means making the most of our lives. It’s impossible to seize the day while still wearing our pajamas.

The Joy of Proactive Healthcare – 12 tests I promised my dad I’d do

My dad, one of the greatest of all time, died when he was 78. He was loving life and shooting his age in golf when his body gave him an impossible-to-ignore sign it was in the advanced stages of prostate cancer.

A beloved dentist for more than 50 years, my dad did not routinely visit his doctor – a fact he mentioned every time we sat together during a year of chemotherapy treatments. It was during those precious conversations that I solemnly promised to be diligent regarding my own healthcare.

The following annual health screenings are recommended for women over the age of 50, according to the sources indicated. Please consult your doctors, as personal risk factors and other considerations must be made by medical professionals.

  1. Blood Pressure Test – According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women. A blood pressure test is the only way to know if a person has hypertension, the most common risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure should be checked by a professional at least annually. Normal blood pressure is 120/80, or less.
  2. Blood Tests – When a doctor orders blood tests as part of a routine check-up, the goal is to learn how your body is functioning overall. Harvard Medical School says four blood tests are particularly important for women over 50: blood sugar, lipid panel, thyroid, and Vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about recommended blood tests.
  3. Body Mass Index – The BMI score can raise attention to health problems such as diabetes or heart disease. According to Mayo’s Clinic, a score over 30 indicates obesity, which can lead to serious health issues. Obesity among women in the U.S. is 65% for those between the age of 45 and 65 and 75% among women over 65.
  4. Bone Density Test – The Cleveland Clinic says women are more likely to get osteoporosis than men, partially due to the loss of estrogen after menopause. Screening for osteoporosis typically begins at age 65 with a low-dose X-ray called a DEXA scan. Those with risk factors, such as fractures, smaller frames, or family history, may be screened earlier.
  5. Cholesterol – This blood test assesses the risk for developing heart disease or stroke. Mayo’s Clinic says total levels should be less than 200 (milligrams per deciliter). Women’s cholesterol levels can fluctuate and increase after menopause, putting them at greater risk of heart disease and stroke.
  6. Colon Cancer Screening – According to the American Cancer Society, about one in 24 U.S. women is at risk for developing colon cancer. Most people should get a colonoscopy at least once every ten years beginning at 50. After 75, your doctor may recommend against the procedure.
  7. Dental Check-Up – Changing hormone levels during menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause can raise the risk of oral health problems for women. The American Dental Association recommends everyone have biannual dental check-ups, including teeth cleaning and necessary X-rays.
  8. Immunizations – According to the Center for Disease Control, Covid-19 makes getting an annual flu shot even more important this fall. It also recommends those over 50 get an annual shingles vaccine and a Tetanus Booster every ten years (along with a one-time pertussis vaccine for whooping cough). People over 65, should also get an annual pneumococcal vaccine for the prevention of pneumonia.
  9. Mammogram – Mammograms are a series of low-energy X-rays that screen for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends women have annual mammograms beginning at age 45, with the option available at age 40. Women over 55 may have mammograms every two years, or choose to continue yearly screenings.
  10. Pap Test – A Pap smear looks for cancerous and pre-cancerous cells in the cervix and usually includes a screening for HPV (human papillomavirus), which can lead to cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends women have a Pap test every three years beginning at 21. At 65, some women may stop having the test, if their doctor determines they’ve had several years of consecutive negative Pap and HPV tests.
  11. Vision Exams – While eye problems and diseases become more prevalent with age, many can be prevented or corrected. The Cleveland Clinic says all adults should see an ophthalmologist at least every two years for a complete eye exam with pupil dilation. At age 65, eye doctor visits should be annual, or as recommended.
  12. Skin Exams – Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States according to the American Association of Dermatology. It’s recommended to do a monthly self-check for new moles or changes to existing moles. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist about any changes and about the frequency of in-office exams.

My dad passed on so much wisdom to my sisters and me, but his last lesson was the importance of being proactive in our own healthcare. The current pandemic reminds us the value of good health. Your community and loved ones need you to live a healthy life for as long as possible. Please make your health a priority and talk to your doctors about these screenings and other recommendations.

The Joy of a Hopeful Spirit

Like a tired child, America is having a melt-down. Overwhelmed by the pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes, injustice, unemployment, violence, and division, she sobs breathlessly, too distraught to make any sense at all. She needs an adult, someone like you, to pick her up and soothe her with a lullaby of hope.

Speaking of hope in times like these may seem excessively optimistic and naive, but Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try.” Where can we find hope enough to calm ourselves, let alone ease others?

First, we can find hope in our country’s history. America has pulled through many times of darkness. In his book The Soul of America, author Jon Meacham reminds us that periods of public dispiritedness are not new and offers reassurance that they are survivable. Through slavery, war, inequality, depression, and disaster, our nation has marched steadily forward to a hopeful chorus touched by what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

Secondly, we can find hope in our country’s citizens. Mr. Rogers often told the story about being a young boy who was frightened by things he saw in the news. Fred’s mom told him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” It’s as true today as it was then. Each and every day there are good people working for the well-being of others, and good people always bring out the good in people.

Finally, we can find hope in ourselves. Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” The famous poem honors the individual’s capacity for hope. Think of all the times you mustered hope to get through a difficult challenge. Facing our personal trials and tribulations with a spirit of sanguinity offers inspiration to those around us.

With everything that’s going on right now, we may want to throw ourselves on the floor in an all-out temper-tantrum fueled by fear, anxiety, or anger. But we are adults, and children are watching. We must choose to face our struggles head-on while humming a song of hope. As Helen Keller said, “Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”