Our Aging Parents


African Violets And My Mom

by Christine

My mom was not an outdoors person. She did not garden, camp or participate in water sports. Like many of the families in the 1950's and 1960's, Mom tossed the salad in the kitchen while Dad grilled the steaks in the backyard. She did not venture out into the wilds of the backyard. Mom firmly believed that her children were born for the sole purpose of mowing the lawn, weeding, sweeping the front porch and deck so that she would not be required to go outside.

She did have one love that put her in touch with nature, African violets. Mom was the Alexander the Great of African violets. She conquered and subjugated every African violet that came into our home. In her later years, African violets multiplied under her care to the point that every surface in her kitchen was covered with plants that bloomed in a range of colors from white to dark purple. Mom had a lot in common with the neighborhood cat lady.  If one African violet came into the house then 50 were sure to follow. She grew them in little tea cups and ceramic pots. The introduction of African violet pots allowed for more plants with less work. Mom propagated plants by leaf cuttings and as a kid watching a whole plant emerge from a single leaf reinforced the feeling that my mother had powers beyond normal people.

African violets were the perfect flower for my mother. They came to the United States from Tanzania and southeastern Kenya in 1894. I would love to visit Tanzania or Kenya one day to see these beautiful plants growing in the wild. The African violet develop a reputation for being difficult and finicky to grow in the States because they were and are temperature sensitive. They need a night time temperature of 68-70˚ and day time temperature of 75-80˚ and homes in early 19th Century were drafty and uncomfortably cold at times. The introduction of the florescent light and better built homes helped increase the popularity of African violets. An estimated 22 million African violets are sold a year in the United States.

My African violet took a real beating this winter in the kitchen window. The herb window was a cold and drafty place for a little hothouse flower. I divided the plant in two and gave it a good dose of African violet fertilizer. When it blooms I will post pictures on the Footsteps FACEBOOK page. Did your mom have a favorite flower? Does she now? What good memories come to mind with spring flowers?



Aging Parents, Stress And Your Memory

by Christine

I've spent the morning looking through filing cabinets, boxes in closets and plastic bins full of photographs. I am searching for my grandmother's letters and for the life of me I don't know where they are. Maw Maw saved all the personal letters mailed to her by her two sisters and sister-in-law. Currently, my emotions are in check but the thought of losing her letters could bring me to tears. 

My grandmother and the women in her life didn't write of grand events; they wrote of their everyday lives of baking, sewing and caring for others. I read of the making of dresses for church or the baking of a cake for a family meal. My grandmother and her sisters had to leave school after the fourth grade to help support the family by working in the local textile mill. The spelling and sentence structure is frozen in a time when family economics dictated how long a girl could remain in school. I love the memories of my grandmother that these letters resurrect and now, I can't find them.

I believe in a moment of organizational frenzy I put them someplace safe. The desire to control and organize was strongest during the last six months of my mother's life when I had no control and my life felt unorganized. As a result, my safe place is so safe even I can't remember where it is. Scientific American states this kind of memory loss occurs because the voluntary searching mechanism that I am relying on to retrieve the whereabouts of the letters is prone to interference and forgetfulness.  The interference may have been the stress of managing life while caring for my mother or forgetfulness because my focus was elsewhere. 

I continue to remind myself that my grandmother's letters will turn up and the logic of where I put them will make perfect sense once I find them. If you are going through a stressful time, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself. Or if you know someone who has lost a parent or loved one be kind and gentle with him or her. Their forgetfulness may not be an indication of their affection for you but a reflection of the stress in their life. Plato's quote says it best, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."







The Year Of Firsts

by Christine

It's been two weeks since the ball dropped and 2014 was officially ushered in. It didn't take long for me to get back into my routine; I love routines.  My New Year's routine includes exercise, a more wholesome diet and dedicated work hours. I traded in my flute of Champagne for a bottle of water. Even though I've stepped it up at work, I've taken some time to decompress in the evenings from the busyness of the end of the year holidays. I've had some quiet time and I've been thinking. (I can hear Marty groaning now. Next she's going to want to talk.)

Two years ago was the first Christmas after my mom died. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's were tough. I was sad. My family was sad and it felt like the holidays weren't ever going to be fun again. Fortunately, we came through the sadness of grief to once again joyously celebrate the holidays. But this got me to thinking about my friends who experienced the loss of a parent or a spouse this past year and how they are going through The Year of Firsts. The first snow fall without his or her loved one, the first St. Patrick's Day alone and many other firsts that sneak up on you and drape you in sadness.  

I am suggesting that if you know someone who is living The Year of Firsts that you reach out and connect with them. Invite them to lunch or dinner, plan an outing to a museum or go to an Oscar nominated movie. Any activity that helps you connect and be available to your friend or family member.  If they live out of town, send a card, give them a call or better yet, set-up Skype and look them in the eye. Being available may not take away all their sadness but they won't have to go it alone if you are with them. They may want to talk or just "be" with you. but as the tidal wave of grief comes upon them, you will be there to help them ride the wave. 

So start 2014 by intentionally reaching out to those going through The Year of Firsts. The world will be a better place for your thoughtfulness. 




Why Call Hospice?

by Christine

I've mentioned hospice in some of my previous post so you know I am a supporter of the program As more of my friends are helping a loved one during their end of life journey, I've been asked about my experiences with hospice as a volunteer and as a one who asked for their assistance during my mother's end of life journey. I am glad to share my observations about this organization. 

Hospice is a movement that came into the United States circa the 1970's as a response to what medical people, particularly nurses, saw as people dying "badly". The medical system was set-up to heal and help the living; medicine didn't know what to do for the dying. In many cases people were released from the hospital to go home, often in pain, to die alone. Hospice came into being to support the dying and their familes during the end of life journey. 

When hospice is called to take the lead on caring for a patient it means the patient, his or her family and their doctor has made the decision to stop actively seeking treatment for a medical condition. The decision to request hospice support is a difficult one because it's an acknowledgment that medicine can no longer do anything to stop a disease or in most cases reverse aging. Hospice comes in to act as a guide during the end of life journey by managing patient care through pain management and comfort, walking friends and family through the stages of death and offering grief support to the family.

The length of time a person spends in the program depends on when hospice is called in to the process. While I volunteered for hospice, I visited one man for a year before he passed away but many other people passed away after a week or two of being in the program. One time I spent an afternoon with a women and her dying sister until the rest of her family could assemble and offer each other support. The reality is that in most cases hospice could be called in sooner but families and doctors are reluctant to "give up" so they resist calling hospice. In my own family, I tried to get hospice involved with my mother sooner but the home health person we hired to help mom was resistant to the program and candidly, made the process a negative one. Key members of the family were out of town when my mother started to actively die and our home health person refused to call hospice; family had to return to town to get the process started. My mother died a week later. 

Today people talk a lot about what services hospices has to offer and how cost effective it is. That is all true. But I believe that the real "service" hospice brings to the table is experience. Few of us have "experience" in dying. We become lost, afraid and emotionally drained as we try to navigate the end of life journey with someone we love. The people of hospice have that experience; they can guide you though the medical, legal and emotional process. Can they take all the pain away? No. But they can be there to answer questions, broker medical needs and sometime just listen or offer a hug when it all seems overwhelming. 

Hospice started as a grassroots movement to take the end of life journey out of the cold, impersonal setting of a hospital or worse yet, a lonely, painful journey at home. When a friend or acquaintance calls in hospice, it is an acknowledgement that the dying process has started and that science has done all it can. That process may take months, weeks or days but the goal of the program is to limit the suffering of the patient and help family and friends navigate what can be a painful journey for them. When the time comes, I encourage you to seek the talents of a hospice group to help you and your family along this path.






Foodie Friday: Food As Art

by Christine

{Huckleberry Pancakes}

Some friends see food as nutrition while others are looking for comfort. We all have that friend who is indifferent to food and sometimes actually forgets to eat? Or the other friend who sees every social get together as an opportunity to eat. In my family we blame any weight gain on our "food issues". Who knew food had issues?

But have you ever-viewed food as art? These days I bounce back and forth between thinking of cooking and baking as a chemistry project and wanting to lovingly prepare a masterpiece of sight, texture, smell and taste for my family and friends. I will digress here and explain the chemistry project reference. It seems that as I age I am finding it important to learn those things I should have learned in school. Back in the day, I didn't see the relevance of science, math or geography. As an example of my ever increasing enlightenment, when I went into sales, I was paid based on a complicated formula of percentages...boy, did I learn percentages fast! So in addition to marveling at the chemical reactions of food such as what happens to fish when making Ceviche, I am thinking of food as art. 

I work to prepare food that encompasses vision, talent, effort and love. What makes food pleasing to the sight? I ask you; what is more pleasing, a large mound of food or a colorfully arranged serving on a plate. In the case of food, more is not necessarily the most inviting. When I was working with hospice patients, I saw that the sight of large portions of food on their plate actually made them ill. I learned that serving smaller portions of more attractive food was welcomed. If you find your aging parent is indifferent to food, try smaller portions with a little garnish. A sprig of mint, a yellow nasturtium or a few leaves of basil looks inviting and smells terrific...and is all editable.

As you continue to prepare food that nourish the body, try preparing and presenting food that nourishes the soul. It is easier than you think.  


While in Montana, I learned that a huckleberry is actually a fruit, not just the name of a cartoon character. These little berries are sought after by bears and human beings alike. The berries are purple with a sweet to tart taste. Huckleberries are my new favorite berries. You can do tons of things with them including making a huckleberry lemon drop martini but below is my recipe for huckleberry pancakes. Enjoy!

Huckleberry Pancakes


1 1/2 Cup of all-purpose flour
3 1/2 Teaspoons of baking powder
1 Teaspoon of salt
1 Tablespoon of white sugar
1 1/4 Milk
1 Egg
3 Tablespoons of melted butter
1 Cup of Huckleberries


1. In a large bowl, shift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
2. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, egg and melted butter.
3. Mix until smooth.
4. Add Huckleberries.
5. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat.
6. Pour or scoop 1/4 cup of the batter per pancake onto the griddle.
7. Brown on both sides and serve hot with fresh huckleberries and syrup. 




How Much Insight Should One Generation Share With Another?

by Christine

{24th Annual West Point Triathlon}

Yesterday Marty competed in the West Point Triathlon and I tagged along to take pictures and offer moral support. I go to his competitions because they are inspiring and fun to cheer on the athletes. As the groups began to line up for their starts, I saw a father and son saying their "goodbyes". The young man put out his hand to shake his father's hand and his father took his hand and pulled him for a hug. The young man and I made eye contact as his father was hugging him. The boy let his father hug him but his look said, "Daaaddd, not here. Not in front of the guys." I smiled my warmest grandmother smile trying to transmit telepathically the words, "It's okay. Everyone understands. You're cool." But by the very nature of being a grandmother, I can't bestow cool nor am I telepathic. 

There was more that I wanted to say to this young athlete. I wanted to say hug your dad, tell him how glad you are that he got up at 5:00 in the morning to come to the triathlon with you. You hug him and share you gratitude with him; tell him that you love him because one day this person who has been an anchor in your life won't be here. I wanted to implore him to remember and catalog each sight, sound and smell of the day. I was aware that these two men would have met this impassioned plea with stares and a slow backing away from the crazy women so I refrained. 

But it got me to thinking about how we pass on lessons learned in life to the next generation and how much can we responsibly share.  Isn't youth meant to be spent exploring and experiencing life not cataloging and reminiscing about past? I have written about the seasons of life before and how one generation may not be able to grasp the impact of the heart felt disclosures of the preceding generation's life lessons. One is in the spring of their life while the other is in the fall. You would miss the beauty of one season if you jumped to the next too quickly. In therapy, a psychologist is careful about revealing too much information before a client is ready to hear it. Do we do more harm when we remind others that life will be over quickly so pay attention and enjoy? Maybe we just need to say, enjoy. 



Foodie Friday: Creating Light Summertime Meals As We Age

by Christine

Growing up, my family lived in Jacksonville in a classic 1950's mid-century Florida style home. I am sure you can visualize the look complete with jalousie windows and terrazzo floors. As with most homes in Florida during that period, it was not air-conditioned and during late afternoons it was as hot inside the house as it was outside only cooling down after the sunset. I remember my mother frying chicken early in the morning before temperatures became unbearable. Today with air-conditioning we can cook anything anytime during the day without worrying about cooking in a kitchen that feels like a blast furnace. 

Even though our home is air-conditioned, I change up our menu during the summer, preparing lighter dishes that include seasonal salads and fruit. I don't like feeling "full" when it is 90° outside. If you are finding it challenging to get your mom or dad to eat, you might take a look at what they are eating. You may have been a "meat and potato" family growing up but as we age the body doesn't process food as easily particularly at night. Now I am not suggesting that you try to convince your 80-year-old parents that sushi dishes like Tako Nigiri (octopus) or Ankimo (monkfish liver) are the perfect summer meal but a chicken salad or a steak salad could hit the mark. It just requires everyone thinking a little differently. 

As my mom aged, she started eating her big meal in the middle of the day and had what we traditionally think of as lunch foods for dinner. A half of sandwich, a salad or a bowl of soup was plenty for her given her activity level. Plus she was able to sleep better since her body wasn't trying to digest a big meal. Below is my recipe for chicken salad. My mom and grandkids love this recipe and I think part of the appeal is that it is the perfect summer food. What is your perfect summer meal? Do you eat lighter during the summer? I would love to know. 


I think part of the resistance to chicken salad as a dinner meal is that it is closely associated with the "Ladies Luncheon" set. Fortunately it is high in protein and can be tricked out to customize the taste. If you like a little crunch but aren't a big fan of celery, you could substitute water chestnuts or carrots. I am not a big on fruit in my chicken salad but grapes, cranberry or blueberries adds a little sweetness. My recipe calls for the contrast of crunch vs. sweet. What is your favorite chicken salad recipe?

Dinner Chicken Salad


1 Whole chicken or 3 large chicken breast *
2 Stalks of celery, chopped ** 
1 Mild white onion, chopped
2 Cups of grapes, quartered
1/2 Cup of mayonnaise
1/2 Cup of Greek yogurt
2 Tablespoons of dill or If you have fresh dill uses 1/8 of a cup
1/2 Teaspoon for powered mustard
Salt and pepper for taste


1. Place chicken pieces in a pot and cover with water. Make sure that the water is about 1 inch above the chicken. 
2. Boil chicken for about 45 minutes
3. Remove chicken from the broth and cool on a plate; set aside.
4. Chop celery, onion and grapes and set aside
5. Pull chicken off the bone and cube.
6.. In a small bowl add mayonnaise and Greek yogurt; mix with whisk
7. Add powered mustard to mayonnaise and Greek yogurt mixture
8. Add dill and mix
9. Salt and pepper mixture to taste
10. In a large bowl combine chicken, celery, onion and grapes
11. Pour over mayonnaise mixture over the chicken and mix
12. Serve on a bed of lettuce with sweet pickles, green olives and whole grapes

*I prefer white meat so use only the chicken breast.
**You may substitute 1-8 ounce can of water chestnuts, diced if your prefer.
***If you want to make broth from the liquid from the chicken, first brown 3 cloves of garlic in two tablespoons of olive oil, carefully add about 2 quarts of water, add celery tops from two stalks of celery and 1/3 of an onion. Add 3 pepper corn and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Then add chicken to the liquid and boil for 45 minutes.




Foodie Friday: Cooking For One

by Christine

{Cheese Soufflé For One}

My mother was a great cook in "her day" but after my father died she lost interest in cooking and started substituting snacks for "real" food. I understand the impulse to just grab a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream and call it an evening but I also know that nutrition becomes even more important as we age and Cherry Garcia is not a nutritionally balanced meal. Running the human body on caffeine and processed foods can take a toll on anyone at any time in life but as we age it becomes critically important to maintain a balanced diet.

Meals have traditionally been communal affairs when families and friends gather to share food and time together. The big pay off for cooking a meal is having everyone gather together to enjoy it. Unfortunately there is no such payoff when living alone so cooking for one becomes difficult. Couple that with a decreased sense of taste and snacking on treats becomes the easy default. Judith Jones is a passionate foodie who wrote about The Pleasures of Cooking for One. The cheese soufflé I prepared for this post is one of her recipes. It was tasty and easy. Her book encourages you to think of cooking as a creative outlet with the added benefit of a good meal. 

If you have a mother or father who lives alone this book would be a good addition to their cookbook library. If you are cooking for your aging parent by stocking up on multiple meals, this cookbook also has some ideas on how to keep leftovers from becoming boring. But as I was writing about cooking for one, I did think about how important it is to build families and communities so that we don't have to eat alone daily as we age. But that discussion is for another post.


Cheese Soufflé For One


2 1/2 Teaspoons of softened unsalted butter*
1 Tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon of all-purpose flour
1/3 Cup of milk
Large pinch of coarse salt
Small pinch of paprika
1 Large egg yolk
2 Large egg whites
1/3 cup of tightly packed grated cheese. Cheddar, Swiss or an aged mountain cheese work best.**


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with a rack set in the center of the over.

1. Brush the inside of a 4-by-2 3/4-inch round baking dish with 1/2 teaspoon of butter.
2. Coat bottom and sides with Parmesan cheese and set aside. 
3. Melt remaining 2 teaspoons of better in a small saucepan over a low heat.
4. Add milk and whisk vigorously to combine.
5. Return to low heat and cook, stirring constantly until thickened.
6. Season with salt and paprika.
7. Remove from heat and whisk in egg yolk. 
8. Place egg whites in a medium bowl and whisk until they form soft peaks.***
9. Add a dollop of egg whites to saucepan along with half of the cheese; stir to combine.
10. Fold in Remaining egg whites and cheese. 
11. Pour into prepare baking dish.
12 Transfer baking dish to oven and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. 
13. Bake until top is lightly browned and soufflé has risen, about 18 minutes.
14. Serve immediately

Just a few additional notes:

*I don't keep unsalted butter in the house so I just use the salted butter. I don't add the additional salt called for in the recipe. 
** I used Jarisberg cheese and it worked well.
***I followed the recipe exactly, which meant using a hand whisk. I felt like I was at the gym working on my upper body strength. I believe you could use a mixer if you were so inclined. 



Foodie Friday: Cooking Together

by Christine

{Homemade Stir-Fry}

When Marty and I first moved in together, we spent one or two evenings a week cooking dinner as a couple. We enjoyed creating meals as a team and learned quite a bit about one another through the process of meal planning and cooking. Marty is the more adventurous cook while I rely on trusted recipes to guide me. Turning meal preparation into a couple's event kept the process fun and engaging particularly after a busy day at work. Cooking was not a solitary task for one but a time for us to talk and share our day with one another while preparing a healthy meal. 

If you find that you are avoiding meal preparation because there are "only" two of you at home, try engaging your spouse, roommate or kid(s) in preparing a meal together. After my father retired, he and my mother spent a good bit of time together planning meals, shopping for food and cooking. Of course my father's personality came through and he treated it like he did his job. I was amazed and truthfully amused to discover that my father was incensed over what he thought to be the high cost of bananas. He was a trucking executive during his carrier and he seemed to find the cost of bananas out of balance. 

Also, if you have a parent living alone and are concerned about their diet, plan one night a week where the two of you can prepare a meal together. It will give you an insight as to how they are doing on multiple levels. You will see first hand how their home is functioning and whether they can follow the steps necessary to create a dish. I found that cooking together makes conversation easier and more fun.

I am including a basic recipe for stir-fry that I developed. Stir-fry is a simple meal because it is easy to "assign" tasks. I encourage you to experiment with ingredients to personalize this dish to your tastes. Let me know how it goes.


This recipe is very easy to prepare. I choose vegetables based on what is in season, whether or not it is reasonably priced and color. You can also switch out the beef for chicken, pork or seafood. You can also use a variety of oils. I am a big olive oil fan but if you are a traditionalist when it comes to stir-fry, you can use peanut or sesame oil.



1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds of top sirloin steak
2 Cloves of sliced garlic
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1 Red, yellow or green sweet pepper 
1 Red onion
1 Large head of chopped Bok Choy


1. Pour 1 tablespoon of oil into a wok and heat over medium high heat.
2. Add garlic and brown.
3. Remove garlic.
4. Add beef and cook until done. Usually three or four minutes.
5. Remove beef and place in dish for later use.
6. Pour 1 tablespoon of oil into a wok and heat over medium high heat.
7. Add onions and heat for about 1 minute or until they start to become translucent.
8. Add pepper and heat for about 2 minutes or until they glisten. 
9. Return beef to the wok. 
10. Add Bok Choy and heat until leaves are wilted. 

**Serve over white or brown rice. You can season with salt and pepper or soy sauce. Serves 4 to 6.




Foodie Friday: Popsicles Bring Out The Kid In Everyone!

by Christine

Temperatures at 100° along with high humidity is a dangerous combination for anyone but especially the elderly. So what can help relieve the heat? Popsicles. I remember the excitement generated by the sound of the music coming from the ice cream truck as it rounded the corner. I would run home to plead and beg with mom for money to buy a popsicle; all the kids in the neighborhood were pleading and begging at the same time. My favorite was the banana popsicles and it was a delight to stop everything to enjoy these light summer time treats. The last couple of years of mom's life she became very child like and frozen treats were special to her. It was a way to get her to eat when she was avoiding food. 

A variety of frozen treats are in the stores but I believe there are several reason to go with the homemade variety. First, it is easy and fun; it feels special. Next, you can custom create a popsicle that targets the pallet of a persnickety eater. Third, if you are concerned about your parents nutrient intake, you can prepare a healthy and tasty frozen treat that camouflages how good it is for them. And finally, sometimes when you can't do anything else for an aging parent, preparing a homemade popsicle becomes a simple gift of affection. I know that it maybe difficult to transport popsicles to a nursing home or to hospice  but dry ice can help keep them cold while traveling. And the nursing home and hospice will be willing to put them in the freezer for you if they get soft. 

I have chosen to share with you some of my favorites. They are simple and suit my taste buds. I would encourage you to experiment. If your mom or dad can still enjoy a cocktail once in a while check out the 33 Super-Cool Popsicles To Make This Summer by BuzzFeed Food. The Strawberry Champagne and Cucumber Honeydew Margarita Popsicles look good to me and perfect for eating while floating on a noodle in the lake even if you can't share with your parents. If you get a chance let me know what your think and if you have a perfect summer time popsicle.


There are really easy popsicles to make like the ones in my photos. Pour juice right from the bottle or from your home juicer into a popsicle mold to create a cool summer treat but if are feeling a little more energetic give these a whirl. 

Strawberry Popsicles

2 Pints of fresh, sliced strawberries
3 Tablespoons of sugar
2 Tablespoons of lemon juice
Zest from half a lemon (Optional)

1. In a medium bowl, sprinkle sugar over strawberries and set aside for 10 to 15 minutes.
2. In a food processor or blender add the strawberry mixture, lemon juice and lemon zest. Process until smooth.
3. Pour strawberry puree into popsicle molds and place in freezer. 
4. Freeze overnight for best results. 

**You may also add pieces of strawberry or kiwi if you would like. Put the fruit pieces in the bottom of the mold and then pour in the strawberry puree. Makes 12 using standard molds. 

Watermelon Popsicles

One watermelon
2 Tablespoons of agave sweetener
2 Tablespoons of lemon juice.
Mint leaves

1. In a food processor or blender add the watermelon, agave, lime juice and add mint to taste. Process until smooth.
2. Pour watermelon mixture into popsicle molds and place in freezer. 
3. Freeze overnight for best results. 

**You may substitute honeydew or cantaloupe or musk melon when in season. Makes 12+ standard popsicles.

Peaches n' Cream

2 Ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
1 Cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1/4 Cup of milk

1. Put all the ingredients in a blender or food process. Mix until smooth. 
2. Pour peach mixture into popsicle molds and place in the freezer.
3. Freeze overnight for the best results.

**You may substitute nectarines when in season. If you would like a sweeter frozen treat, add a couple of tablespoons of agave sweetener. Makes 6 to 8 standard popsicles.