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.

A Dozen Reasons I’m Happier Without Facebook

Imagine a small get-together with a few close friends or family. You share your joys and challenges and offer each other meaningful support and encouragement. Later that evening, you feel grateful for your tribe and drift to sleep with them in your prayers.

Now imagine going to a large cocktail party. You bounce from person to person internalizing snippets of conversation –  a friend’s co-worker is sick, someone’s son is getting married, a neighbor’s dog got hit by a car, an acquaintance’s father has dementia, another got her dream job. There is an uncomfortable debate about politics. Later that evening, you feel completely drained and have trouble sleeping.

Facebook is like a crowded, never-ending cocktail party filled with casual acquaintances and friends of friends of friends. The average number of Facebook friends is an intimate 338. I left Facebook because it didn’t bring me joy to try and process the emotions of so many people on a regular basis.

I don’t know if I’m technically an empath, but Judith Orloff, MD, says empaths are “emotional sponges” who absorb other people’s energies, whether they are good or bad. When overwhelmed by the emotions of others, empaths can experience panic attacks, depression, chronic fatigue and insomnia.

I deactivated my Facebook account eight months ago and haven’t looked back. Here a dozen very honest reasons I’m happier without it. ~

1. More Positive Vibes – Facebook can be fertile ground for fear, judgment, anger, sadness, insecurity and narcissism. Those funky vibes seep right through the internet and zap me. Not only do I want to protect myself from negative energy, I also want to avoid the very real temptation of adding to it.

2. More Time – This is an obvious one, but not being on Facebook has freed up more time in my day to do things that add more quality to my life.

3. More Presence – It’s amazing how much more present I am in my experiences when not thinking about taking a photo, posting it with a clever caption and constantly checking the reactions to it.

4. Better Focus – My mind is much clearer without Facebook. All of that input took up too much valuable real estate in my head. Without it, I’m better able to concentrate on my own priorities.

5. Less Irritation – Let’s face it, people post aggravating stuff on Facebook. Some of it really pushed my buttons and elicited negative emotions that weren’t good for me.

6. Less Worry – As a people pleaser, I was always worried how people interpreted my posts. Without Facebook, I’ve completely eliminated that concern.

7. Better Relationships – Instead of posting something for hundreds of people to see on Facebook, I now take time to communicate more personally with individual people.

8. Less Guilt – I often felt guilty I wasn’t closer to Facebook friends with whom I’d once crossed paths. I care about them, but I found it impossible to offer my sincere support to so many people.

9. More Discretion – Facebook can encourage us to over-share and reveal too much about our personal lives (and that of our loved ones). Personally, I’m attracted to people who maintain a bit of privacy and an air of mystery.

10. More Self-Confidence – Have you ever felt sure about something, but after hearing from others began to doubt your own mind? Getting rid of the noise on Facebook helps me trust my own voice.

11. Improved Self-Care – It’s up to each of us to take care of ourselves in the ways that are most nurturing. The same way I know I need lots of time alone and in nature, I also know I’m better without Facebook.

12. More Joy – We are each responsible for creating our own happiness. The bottom line is, for me, Facebook has more negatives than positives, and I’m happier without it in my life. §

Time to Fill the Well

I’ve felt a little drained lately. It seems I’m in good company, so maybe you can relate. When my well is empty, I always trust it will be refilled. And drop by drop, it always is.

A loon singing in the early morning mist. Drip Drop.

A fuzzy green fern unfurling from the ground. Drip Drop.

A red fox sneaking down the porch steps. Drip Drop.

A kind gesture from a loved one or a stranger. Drop. Drop. Drop.

I’m going to take a little break from writing The Simple Swan, but I will return. I leave you for now with the gifts of some other creative souls. I hope it fills your well, as it fills my own.

A haiku and watercolor by my sister, Melinda ~

melinda

A haiku by a reader, Cindy ~

Bulbs

They rise from the ground
After a long winter sleep
Like us in springtime

And one by my husband, Mike ~

Orchid

You’re like an orchid
Simple, delicate, stunning
And quite beautiful

And finally, this week my talented friend Nikki included a poem I wrote in her video about living a beautiful life at home. I’m sure you’ll want to watch the whole video and follow Nikki on YouTube and Patreon at Inspired by Nikki. My poem Forever in a Day is featured at the 10:00 mark. Her lovely voice, painting, music and videography truly lift my simple poem off the page, encouraging me to heed my own words and focus on living a beautiful life day by day by day.  §

Winter’s Sound of Silence

The lake is frozen in suspended stillness. Birds and snowflakes flutter to the ground without a sound. A red fox tip-toes down the frosty hill. Fir trees sway to the silent tune of a gentle wind.

I wish I could encase the hushed winter scene in the round glass of a snow globe to gaze upon when the lake transforms into a carnival of summer activity.

American author Florence Page Jaques must have understood when she wrote, “I love the deep silence of the midwinter woods. It is a stillness you can rest your whole weight against. This stillness is so profound you are sure it will hold and last.”

I’ve always craved the sound of silence.

Growing up, I was blessed with two spirited younger sisters. On inescapable car rides, I longed to stare out the window and daydream while they laughed uproariously, sang off-key and told grueling jokes. I’d wail, “Mom, make them stop!” (Happily, the situation is no different now, though my tolerance has improved.)

In exchange for reading stories and poetry all day, I spent most of my adult life in a small square room with a daily charge of more than 100 boisterous adolescents. Months after I retired from teaching, I still caught myself habitually “shushing” absolutely no one.

My own children were not particularly loud or rambunctious, but my daughter was born belting show tunes. Our home sounded like a never-ending rehearsal for the Tony Awards. Her more reserved younger brother often echoed a familiar refrain, “Mom, make her stop!”

I cherish those seasons past, but they do help me appreciate and enjoy the deep silence of the midwinter woods. Each season has something to teach us; winter’s lesson is in the beauty of its stillness.

Here are ten ways we can follow winter’s lead to bring more peace and quiet to our days ~

  1. Speak with a softer volume and tone of voice.
  2. Avoid complaining, gossiping, criticizing, babbling, arguing and opining.
  3. Turn off the television and other noise in your home.
  4. Ride in the car without music or news.
  5. Take a break from social media.
  6. Pray or meditate in silence.
  7. Engage in a quiet activity like a puzzle or game.
  8. Stop being so busy.
  9. Encourage children to enjoy quiet time.
  10. Observe and learn from winter’s sound of silence. §

The Sweet Smell of Christmas

When my sisters and I were young, we loved a book called The Sweet Smell of Christmas. It told the story of a little bear who used his nose to experience the simple pleasures of the holidays.

The book was a scratch-and-sniff ~ a real novelty at the time. We nearly scratched holes in the pages to release the fragrance of Little Bear’s Christmas, including an orange, hot cocoa, a pine branch and other comforting holiday scents.

On my daughter’s first Christmas, my sister gave her a new copy of our beloved book. Over the years, I read it to her and her little brother hundreds of times, watching their tiny fingers scratch the pictures and hold the book to their button noses. Closing their eyes, they’d take a deep breath and say dreamily, “Mmm! It smells just like Christmas!”

As a mother, I admired the wisdom of Little Bear’s parents. Sensing their cub’s excitement, they went about holiday preparations in a calm, rhythmic manner keeping Little Bear focused on the sweet simplicity of Christmas.

With all of the anticipation and build-up, Christmas day can bring a sense of overwhelm, disappointment and anxiety in children and adults. Despite good intentions, we often turn a silent holy night into a month-long frenzy that can end in a holly jolly melt-down.

To keep the big day feeling merry, experts recommend we occasionally stop to take a few deep breaths and become fully aware of our natural senses.

What do you see…a twinkling star, a nativity scene, a candle’s glow?

What do you hear…cheerful music, a child’s laughter, a prayer?

What do you taste…a pinch of salt, a dash of cinnamon, a spoonful of sugar?

What do you feel…a sincere hug, a warm fire, a kiss under the mistletoe?

What do you smell…pine from the tree, paperwhite narcissus blossoms, a juicy orange?

Like childhood itself, the holiday season comes and goes in a blink of an eye. This week, let’s get real about our expectations, stay mindful, and cherish the little things. Let’s use the gift of our senses to fully embrace the simple joys of the holidays, like the sweet smell of Christmas.§

Resting Like a Fallow Field

The cornfields lining the country roads to our home lie fallow now. Barren squares stretch out like a patchwork quilt gently covering the land while it settles in for a well-deserved nap. The scene makes me want to snuggle under a cozy blanket and enjoy this time of year when nature’s wisdom encourages us to rest like the fallow fields.

Fallow periods are traditionally used by farmers to maintain the natural productivity of the land. Leaving a field inactive for a time allows the soil to recover, restore and rebalance itself.

You see, the land becomes depleted and unproductive if it isn’t given a chance to rest. Can you relate? Could you use a fallow period? Maybe this stretch of time before the holidays arrive is a good time to recover, restore and rebalance yourself.

You might be in a season of life when rest seems impossible. Stressful jobs, child-rearing, caregiving and other challenges can be exhausting. Just keeping up with the daily news is taxing. Even fun-filled celebrations can leave us feeling a little worn out. The dormant fields are encouraging all of us to use these quieter, darker days as a time to replenish ourselves.

Here are ten ways we can follow the fallow fields  ~

  1. Be still. Being busy isn’t necessarily being productive. Sit in complete stillness a few minutes each day to let your body and mind recharge.
  2. Stay home. Sometimes we stay on-the-go out of habit or fear of being bored. Be it ever so humble, home should be the most comforting place in the world.
  3. Renew your spirit. Read, pray, sing, create. Do more of whatever renews your soul.
  4. Turn down the noise. Do what you can to quiet your surroundings. Unplug at least once a day and experience total silence.
  5. Say no. We aren’t obliged to say yes to every invitation or request. Graciously decline an avoidable situation that’s likely to be more draining than fulfilling.
  6. Eat well. When a field lies fallow, the soil regains its nutrients. Be sure to consume healthy foods to replenish your own nutrition.
  7. Take a walk outdoors. Not only is walking good exercise, the crisp air is a great way to clear your head.
  8. Practice self-care. Get a massage, a haircut, a manicure, or try some at-home spa treatments. Take time to take care of yourself.
  9. Go to bed early. Sleep research shows human beings have a natural circadian rhythm that mimics the sun’s rising and falling. Shorter days are a good excuse to get more sleep.
  10. Observe nature. Take a closer look at nature. Appreciate its beauty. Be inspired by its simplicity. Learn from its wisdom. §

5 Ways Nature Inspires Healthy Eating

As a nature-lover, I lean towards a more natural lifestyle. I prefer to wear natural colors, decorate with natural objects, and use natural beauty products. In theory, I like to nourish my body with natural foods. So I feel like a real poser when writing about nature while artfully eating a small stack of Oreos.

Do you have an unhealthy food or beverage habit you’d like to break?

Do you want to make healthier eating a priority?

We have three more months to make good on those long-forgotten new year resolutions. It’s time to rally! Let’s hear it for more fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed sugar, fat and impossible-to-pronounce ingredients.

So how can nature inspire healthy eating?

The first step is to spend more time outdoors. Shake off the artificial sights, sounds and smells of indoor environments. Use your senses to get in touch with nature. Take a quiet, meditative walk and consider these five ways nature encourages us to make more nutritious choices.

  1. Nature’s Abundance ~ Most of us get our food from grocery stores, cafeterias, restaurants, vending machines and drive-through windows. Think about the original source of our most nutritious foods. Contemplate the miracle of food growing up from the ground and hanging from branches. Gratefully enjoy the healthy foods nature generously and abundantly provides for our sustenance.
  2. Nature’s Simplicity ~ Mankind has invented some pretty awesome things, which may or may not include double-stuffed Oreos. But when it comes to healthy eating, can anything top the simplicity of an apple? Leonardo Da Vinci wrote, “Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple, or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.”
  3. Nature’s Wisdom ~ In 2018, the U.S. weight loss industry was a 70 billion dollar market. Like so many things, we’ve made eating unnecessarily complicated. In Genesis 1:29, it is written, “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.'” There is such wisdom in nature, and I trust it far more than any celebrity peddling the latest fad diet.
  4. Nature’s Beauty. When I take a walk, I’m shocked by the amount of litter that spoils nature’s beauty. My trash bag quickly fills up with beer cans, chip and candy wrappers, fast food containers, plastic cups, lids and straws. Imagine how much less trash there would be on our planet if we didn’t purchase the unhealthy food and beverages that come wrapped in all that packaging.
  5. Nature’s Purity. The more time we spend in nature, the more attuned we are to what we eat. We connect with the seasons and cycles of our ecosystem. We notice the artificial colors, fragrances and flavors that are a normal part of the modern diet. We find the junk and gunk in processed foods distasteful. We long for pure, clean food as much as we long for pure, clean air.

Nature has always provided valuable answers and inspiration for our nutritional health. In 400 BC, Hippocrates said nature was the best physician and encouraged a natural diet to prevent disease. The father of medicine is attributed to this piece of advice, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Easy for him to say. Hippocrates was never tempted by an Oreo. §

Being Like Children and Wildflowers

On hot summer days, children play in the lake from dawn until dusk. They do cannonballs off the neighbor’s high wooden deck shouting, “Woo Hoo!” They splash around on paddle boards and rafts without a care in the world. They endlessly climb in and out of the water, running, jumping and swimming with wild abandon.

They remind me of wildflowers that grace winding country roads ~ so natural and charming. Yellow black-eyed Susan, Queen Anne’s lace, blue bachelor’s button and purple coneflowers dance and sway in the summer breeze like happy children.

It was Thoreau who told us, “All good things are wild and free.” While I appreciate formal gardens with highly-cultivated flowers, clean lines and perfect symmetry, they are more like rigid adults. Adults who tug at their swimsuits, hold in their tummies and smooth down windblown hair. Adults who are so self-conscience they miss all the fun.

I want to be more like children and wildflowers. They remind me to loosen up a little, to be more carefree, to accept myself just the way nature intended. They encourage me to stop metaphorically pruning, weeding and digging in quite so hard and just be me. After all, I don’t want to be a bonsai tree. I want to be a wildflower.

I want to swing high into the air with my feet kicked out and my head tilted back. I want to make a chain of clover and wear it in my hair. I want to lay in the grass and watch my thoughts roll by like clouds.

Wherever summer leads you, take time to notice children playing at the park, on neighborhood streets, amusement parks and swimming pools. Be inspired by their curiosity, imagination and lightheartedness. Let their unguarded laughter and movement take you back to your own childlike nature.

Like flowers, children deserve to freely grow in safe and nurturing environments where they can preserve their bright beauty and fresh innocence for as long as possible. I think adults would better serve each other and our world if we could regain some of our guileless naivety and authenticity.

This morning I picked a wild daisy from the woods and put it in a little vase in the kitchen. I slipped on my swimsuit without any self-criticism. Then I ran down to the lake and leapt off the dock with an enthusiastic, “Woo Hoo!” §

Turtle Logic

An enormous sea turtle appeared on the dusky beach with a helpful push from high tide. Word spread quickly among beachcombers taking an evening stroll. A crowd gathered to get a glimpse of the gentle giant who batted her large, sleepy eyes as if seeing alien beings for the first time.

The loggerhead laboriously planted her fore flippers and pushed her beak-like mouth in the thick sand to slowly pull herself forward with one purpose in mind. No telling what she had gone through to reach this particular spot on Hilton Head Island to lay her eggs.

Most of the onlookers remained a respectful distance and watched the beautiful creature in awe, but others moved closer and closer. They clamored over one another to take selfies. A dog’s owner allowed it to jump and yap furiously a foot from the turtle’s thick, calloused face.  A young couple actually attempted to perch their baby on the turtle’s three-foot long carapace. Their plan for the perfect Instagram post was thwarted by a tiny but mighty woman with brown leathered skin wearing a Volunteer Sea Turtle Patrol T-shirt.

The turtle’s sad expression was one of exhaustion, stress, and recognition that she is an endangered species. She stopped moving and seemed to stoically wait for the will to push past the noise and narcissism. Sea turtles can’t retract into their shells, though she looked like she wanted to. At last, she stopped struggling, gave in, and allowed several big waves take her back out to sea.

Sea turtles undergo epic oceanic journeys and return to the exact spot they were born to mate and lay their own eggs. With this kind of wisdom, it’s likely she chose to return to the ocean out of sagacity, not defeat.

I’ve felt a lot like that turtle lately.

I squeeze my eyes open and shut, not quite believing what I see.

I shake my head slowly from side to side, not quite believing what I hear.

And sometimes, I go into my proverbial shell and just let it all crash over me.

It’s been nearly a month, but I still think of that loggerhead sea turtle. I hope she’s happily swimming through tranquil deep blue water fully recovered from the world’s madness. I wish I could send out a bottle carrying her a message of sympathy and solidarity ~ I’ve been there, my friend. We’ve all been there. Sometimes the wisest, most logical thing to do is quietly retreat to regroup and regain our strength and sense of self. Be well, beautiful turtle, be well.  §

 

 

10 Things to Do While Waiting for Spring

My mom gave me a paperwhite bulb kit as a holiday hostess gift. I put the soil in the white ceramic container and planted the bulb with the pointy tip just barely peeking out of the soil. I sat the pot near a window that gets plenty of direct sunlight and watered it as directed. The green stem grew quickly and produced a promising bud, but it never bloomed. The flower needed direct sunlight. Unfortunately, our forecast the past two months could be titled Fifty Shades of Grey, a book I’m sure I’d find as distasteful as our weather of late.

Are you feeling a little like my pitiful paperwhite ~ droopy, unproductive, and bit yellow around the edges? I’ve given up hope of my paperwhite blooming, but not on spring’s arrival. Here are ten ways to get us through the final stretch while we wait.

  1. Spread some sunshine. I’ve done my share of grumbling about the weather, but I’m challenging myself to go the whole week without complaining about it. Put a smile on your face, a spring in your step, and hum that Temptations’ classic, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day. When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May.”
  2. Buy some fresh flowers. It’s amazing how a bunch of inexpensive, grocery store flowers boosts my mood. Separate them into several containers, or plop the whole bunch in a single vase. Flowers help us possess what Albert Camus called an invincible summer, even in the midst of winter.
  3. Do spring cleaning now. Start in the kitchen by removing everything from the cabinets and pantry. Give all the shelves a good wipe down and put everything back neatly, discarding expired items and donating things you don’t use. Go through the same process in your bathrooms and closets. When warmer weather arrives, you’ll be free to go out and enjoy it.
  4. Shake up your routine. Especially in the winter, we can fall into a dull and monotonous routine. For a change of pace, take a different route to work, stop someplace for breakfast or coffee, browse a bookstore, shop at a different grocery store. Give yourself a little something to look forward to each day.
  5. Wash the car. As a child, I would often surprise my dad by cleaning his car, and it’s something I like do for my husband now. Crank the heat, climb in, and clean all the interior surfaces and windows. Pick up trash and wayward objects and vacuum the seats and floors. Go through the car wash, knowing full well you’ll hit several large muddy potholes on your way home.
  6. Escape from reality. A tropical vacation would be wonderful, but we can leave the world behind on a budget. Duck into a movie theater, stroll through a museum, go to the library, or binge watch a Netflix series. I recommend Monty Don’s French Gardens and Big Dreams Small Spaces, two delightful British gardening shows.
  7. Plan your spring garden. Decide what plants and flowers you want to grow in your vegetable garden, flower beds, and pots this year. Look at gardening books and magazines for inspiration. The photos are so beautiful you’ll bring them to your nose hoping to smell their delicious fragrance.
  8. Savor the sun. When the sun does make an appearance, however briefly, welcome it with open arms. Sit in a sunny window and bask in its warmth. Close your eyes and imagine you’re at the beach. One of my favorite quirky things to do on a cold sunny day is sit in my car and read.
  9. Finish indoor projects. You probably made a mental list of things you planned to do while cooped up indoors this winter. Paint bathroom. File paperwork. Organize photographs. There’s still time to check off a few things before spring arrives.
  10. Enjoy the season. By this time of year, even those of us who like winter need to be reminded of its beauty. How lovely that on a dreary February day, it’s perfectly acceptable to stay in our comfy pants, curl up by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate, and dreamily wait for spring. §