3 easy ways to give the perfect gift this season

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Do you ever struggle to find the perfect Holiday gift for loved ones, only to settle for something just so you can cross them off your shopping list?

We’ve all done it—given a gift that we know the receiver won’t love. This season, consider a gift they won’t want to return. If you know someone who values the meaningful work we do at Presbyterian Manors of Mid-America, consider making a donation in his or her honor. These tribute gifts are also a great way to remember loved ones who are no longer with us.


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What loneliness is doing to your heart

As social creatures, we suffer when cut off from one another

By Emily Gurnon for Next Avenue

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Credit: Getty Images

You may have heard that loneliness is hazardous to your health — and can even lead to an early death. Now, an analysis of 23 scientific studies gives us numbers that reveal just how sick it can really make you.

People with “poor social relationships” had a 29 percent higher risk of newly diagnosed heart disease and a 32 percent higher risk of stroke, according to the study, published July 1 in the British journal Heart.

That puts loneliness and social isolation on par with other known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as anxiety and job strain, the researchers said. And it exceeds the risk posed by physical inactivity and obesity, said lead researcher Nicole Valtorta, of the Department of Health Sciences, University of York, England.

Given the results of the study, Valtorta said, “interventions to prevent coronary heart disease and stroke should take loneliness and social isolation into consideration.”

Such interventions could be relatively inexpensive, she added, especially given the fact that cardiovascular disease remains the most costly disease in the United States. It accounted for direct medical costs totaling $193 billion, according to a 2015 study from GoBankingRates.com.

There’s a difference

Loneliness and social isolation do not necessarily go hand in hand. You can be lonely in a crowd, or you can be by yourself and feel perfectly content. But when your experience is negative — you are not happy with the quality of your social interactions, or you’re grieving a loss — that “can be really disastrous for well-being,” Valtorta said.

Unlike other studies, Valtorta’s (which was published online in April) was the first to focus on whether people experiencing loneliness and isolation were at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It excluded people who were lonely but already had the disease.

Studies involving 181,000 people living mainly in the U.S., Europe and Japan were examined as a part of the meta-analysis, and they were tracked for a range of time — between three and 21 years. Among those people, there were 4,628 heart attacks or related events and 3,002 strokes.

The age of the subjects varied, and it wasn’t possible given the data to conclude whether a 75-year-old lonely person was more likely to have a heart attack than a 50-year-old, Valtorta said. The researchers did not find evidence of a difference between men and women.

Other research on isolation and health

A separate 2015 meta-analysis by Brigham Young University researchers concluded that both actual and perceived isolation were associated with early death.

Social isolation corresponded with a 29 percent greater risk of premature death; loneliness corresponded with a 26 percent greater risk and living alone corresponded with a 32 percent greater likelihood, according to the study, published in Perspectives on Psychological Science. Social isolation and loneliness threatened longevity as much as obesity did, the study said.

Two of the Brigham Young researchers were also involved in a 2010 study that found loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The problem is only getting worse, the scientists said.

“Humans are naturally social. Yet, the modern way of life in industrialized countries is greatly reducing the quantity and quality of social relationships … over the past two decades there has been a three-fold increase in the number of Americans who say they have no close confidants,” the study said.

All of the studies reinforce the growing recognition of loneliness as a public health issue.

A nonprofit coalition in Britain has responded by initiating the Campaign to End Loneliness, which among other things aims to broaden the services and activities available to those who may be lonely.

What we should be doing

Brigham Young researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad told Time magazine that nurturing close relationships as well as a “diverse set of social connections” is key. She said that policies to alleviate loneliness may be difficult to imagine but could include encouraging doctors to identify at-risk patients and rethink the way neighborhoods are designed, the magazine said.

“People’s response is oftentimes to say, ‘What are you going to do, tell everybody to give someone a hug?’” Time quoted Holt-Lunstad as saying. “But there are many potential ways in which this could be implemented.”

© Twin Cities Public Television – 2016. All rights reserved.

Tony B’s dueling pianos raises fun and funds

img_1218-2 Tony B’s Dueling Pianos helped to raise more than $7,000 for Rolla Presbyterian Manor with a night of interactive entertainment. Singing, dancing, good food and a live auction added up to a fun time for all who attended the Oct. 29 event.

The live auction with auctioneer Wade Alcorn raised more than $2,000, and $330 was raised with the sale of lap quilts handstitched by Barbara Ford and residents at Rolla Presbyterian Manor.

img_1182-002-2“Our thanks to everyone who attended — the underwriters, sponsors, and our Advisory Board members, including Mary Bahr who made cookies for the event,” said Marketing Director Joelle Freeland. “This successful event was possible because of the Tony B’s Dueling Piano’s organization out of Ozark, Mo.”

Proceeds from the event will go to Rolla Presbyterian Manor’s Good Samaritan Program, which helps Presbyterian Manor residents who have outlived their financial resources. Contributions help make it possible for residents to continue to live at Presbyterian Manor regardless of their ability to pay.

Underwriters and sponsors: Phelps County Bank, Results Radio, Dave Weinbaum, Trips & More Travel-Kim Morgan, Phelps County Regional Medical Center, Wal-Mart Distribution, Ed & Marilyn Schmidt, John Wiggins, Stevens Feed Co., The Mitchell Clinic, Richard Elgin, Null & Sons Funeral Home, Grellner Sales, Diana Elliott, Joelle Freeland, Elissa’s-Benton Square, Leach Theater, Key Sports, Floyd & Caroleen Ferrell, Wade Alcorn-Auctioneer, Lowes Home Improvement, Beehive Florist, Thomas, Birdsong, Mills, McBride, Mid America Bank and Trust, Pear Tree Inn, Dr. & Mrs. Bill Cottingham, Maidrites, Emma Brent, Barbara Ford, Janet D. West, Schmidt Association, P.C., Gary and Barbara Paterson, Ditrapani’s, Garner Refrigeration Heating & AC, Ozark Actors Theater, Jack and Jean McFarland, Sybil’s, and Matts Steakhouse.

Christmas can say a lot about you

shutterstock_116901130-2 By Allen Teal, Rolla Presbyterian Manor Chaplain 

“Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” (Mark 7:15, NIV)

Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and others established the proverb: “Know thyself.” The idea was to find your identity from internal and not external things. Jesus presented a similar idea when he said that it was not the things that went into a person that defiled them, but the things that come out. The pressure that Christmas time exerts on people can expose what lurks beneath the exterior of their lives.

With Christmas roughly coinciding with the end of the calendar year, plenty of conflicting situations can easily arise.

A quick review of some of these can reveal why this presents problems for individuals and families. December is often a time with more month than money. Gift buying, year-end taxes, and possibly annual insurance premiums quickly drain away cash. Since most large Christmas bonuses are gone for many workers, no extra income is available to offset the spending. Being short on cash can be frustrating as you must buy lesser gifts or to be unable to buy gifts for some special people in your life.

People have experiences in December that are only faced once a year.

Families come together. This includes family members you like and those you don’t. You buy gifts for people that you know and love and some people that you only buy for out of obligation. On the other hand, you will likely receive gifts that you never wanted. People expect you to be jolly and happy. You may feel guilty or believe that something is wrong with you if you aren’t.

Consider carefully the emotions that float to the surface as Christmas approaches.

Walking through the uncomfortable time leading up to Christmas produces opportunities for positive change in your life. Enter the season prayerfully. Ask God to help you enjoy the good things, and give you grace to ignore the less pleasant experiences. Follow the words of the Bible, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21, NIV). Determine to confront the challenges of the season with your very best side on display. The key might be found in the lyrics of an old song, “Accentuate the positive; Eliminate the negative.” (Johnny Mercer, 1944).

Turkey With a Twist: Rethinking Thanksgiving

Our readers tell how they’ve adapted tradition to changing times

By Liza Kaufman Hogan for Next Avenue

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As Next Avenue readers gather together for Thanksgiving, many will be surrounded by family and friends they’ve celebrated with for years, sharing the same dishes they wouldn’t think of leaving off the menu.

And while they treasure tradition, some have adapted their customs to accommodate changes in their lives.

Last year, we asked our readers how they’ve reinvented the holiday to suit their needs and make the day more meaningful. Here’s what they said:

Popsicles and pinatas

Pamela Hastings from Port Angeles, Wash., says her family tired of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner years ago. Instead, she began hosting themed celebrations for her self-described family of foodies.

Three years ago, it was Thanksgiving-on-a-stick, with a menu that included stuffing muffins on sticks; a cherished family corn casserole made into balls and deep fried; pie folded over popsicle sticks and the turkey impaled by a large dowel. Another year it was all pies (potato pie, squash pie with pumpernickel bread crust, ricotta pie, artichoke pie, elk mincemeat pie and assorted dessert pies). Hastings once hosted a Mexican Thanksgiving, complete with a turkey piñata. This year the theme is Mediterranean, inspired by a friend’s baklava.

Goodbye, perfection — Hello, simplicity

Not everyone was as willing to be as creative with their meals as Hastings. Some readers said it was important to prepare a holiday meal that would make their grandmother proud with oven-baked, shiny brown turkeys and comfort food sides. Others traded in the Norman Rockwell-worthy turkey and trimmings for a simpler, low-stress meal.

“I don’t spend all day preparing food. We have a much simpler meal that includes some food prepared by our wonderful local grocery store and some made by myself or other family members,” says Elizabeth Y., of Virginia Beach, Va. ”In addition, I am working at job where I don’t get the Friday after Thanksgiving off — so, the holiday is no longer a four-day schmooze fest. It’s a simple gathering with those I love.”

Susan B. of Hudson, Wisc., says: “I always felt compelled to cook dinner like my mother, which was everything traditional.  Now my children just make their favorite dishes. It is always enough.”

Switching to healthier dishes

Let’s be honest, the average Thanksgiving meal packs a lot of calories. While some are happy to treat Thanksgiving like a $12.99 all-you-can-eat buffet, others prefer to stay on track with their healthful ways. Cooks, in turn, are finding ways to cut calories and fat from the sugary, butter-drenched dishes they grew up with.

“I don’t make the big feast my grandparents and parents used to, with all the calorie-laden dishes and three different pies!” writes Judy B. from Escondido, Calif. ”Mashed potatoes are now cauliflower mashed ‘potatoes.’ I don’t make stuffing because no one liked it except me, and I don’t need the extra calories. During the football games, we have changed from chips and dip to veggies and hummus.”

Katherine C. of Grand Rapids, Mich., says: “Pecan pie is no longer served. It should be called sugar pie with nut topping.”

Tofurkey roast and gluten-free foods

No matter how small the gathering, many hosts will have one or two guests who cannot eat certain foods or who follow a special diet. In the past few years, a lot of us have added gluten-free stuffing, vegan gravy and sugar-free fruit pies to the standard menu.

While her tofurkey roast may not make the cover of Martha Stewart Living, reader Linda Gonzalez, of Philadephia, Pa., says she’s thrilled to have it on her table, since she doesn’t eat meat.

Barbara Hoskins of Mesa, Ariz., says: “We have had to change the recipes to accommodate food allergies. Our turkey has to be gluten-free with no additives … We have stopped using dairy products because of dairy allergies. We have experimented with dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, garlic-free, and many other options.”

Family food wars

Of course, at times you do not want to mess with tradition. Families get used to certain dishes, and you change the menu at your peril.

“Every year we argue about the corn,”  says Janet S. of New Athens, Ill. ”We had scalloped corn for many years and then along came the corn casserole, the one made with cornbread mix. The first year I brought the ‘new recipe,’ they had a fit. I was told to go back to the old recipe and leave it that way. We are so locked in our traditions.”

At least two readers confessed to liking the canned, jellied cranberry over the various homemade versions that adorn Thanksgiving tables (and tablecloths) this time of year.

In an attempt to peacefully resolve the great cranberry sauce debate, we’ve put together a user poll (below) to settle once and for all whether ’tis better to serve homemade relish or just ease it out of the can (ridges and all), hoping it doesn’t slide off the other side of plate.

For those who want to add homemade cranberry sauce and a little kick to the meal, reader Dot Dickinson shared her friend Sherry’s recipe for Bourbon Cranberry Relish. We didn’t have time to run it through the Next Avenue test kitchen (a.k.a. the breakroom), but it looks lovely. Dot adds this helpful hint for the Thanksgiving cook in need of a break: “This is best if you taste the bourbon before adding it to the saucepan. It may take a couple of sips to make sure it is okay to add it to the cranberries.”

For something more traditional, try Pamela Hastings’ cranberry sauce, adapted from a Country Living recipe.

Shifting the calendar

Even if you are not hosting and cooking for a big family with different tastes for Thanksgiving, just getting there can be a stressful experience, as you try to not be trampled at the airport or tailgated on the highway.

Leah Antignas, of Oakland, Calif., figured out how to avoid the Wednesday evening turkey race a while ago. She says: “Instead of taking off work the day before to travel to family, we take off work the Monday after. My husband and I drive early Thanksgiving day from the Bay Area to L.A. so we can avoid the Wednesday traffic and arrive in time for the gathering. Long drive but little traffic — what a relief. We made this shift years ago and have never turned back.”

Meals with special guests

Some Next Avenue readers have decided to have their Thanksgiving meals with special people beyond their family members.

“Instead of inviting people to our home, we bring food to our church where we host a meal for those who have nowhere else to go. We serve and eat there, meeting many remarkable people,” Doroth Van Haaften of Idaho Falls, Idaho, wrote in to say.

Julie Tomlinson of Cary, N.C., says the traditional Thanksgiving family gathering is stressful and she winds up eating too much. Instead, she says, “I plan to create a family of my choosing, comprised of women in my age group, living with or near one another, helping and caring for each other. The Golden Girls dream of women across the country, and beyond. We will create new traditions. My contribution will be healthier meals.”

“It used to be all about the immediate family,” writes Susan H. of Mahopac, N.Y.  “However, with older parents (and) relatives passing away and some other family members who grow up and start their own family traditions, it’s more difficult to try to organize the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The last few years, we’ve spent Thanksgiving with our friends instead of family.”

New families, new traditions

As families grow and add new members, the menu has inevitably changed. “We try to incorporate a special dish that each guest remembers from her family’s tradition: e.g. kimchi for a Korean-American; Brussels sprouts for our New England friends; mince pie for our English guests, along with our own family recipes,”  says Lynnett Evans of San Francisco, Calif.

“Our son married a New England girl, so squash on our table is a must (though the marriage is over)! One daughter married a fellow from the South, so we added sweet potato casserole to the menu … he’s still with us!” says HelenMarie M. of Fort Washington, Penn.

Moving more, sitting less

Even with crustless pumpkin pies and cauliflower mashed potatoes on the menu, our tendency is to eat beyond our recommended daily calorie intake. Many readers say they have added nature walks and hikes to their Thanksgiving Day traditions, for exercise and to enjoy the outdoors together.

We always walk after the meal. Well, most of us!” writes Leanna from Lewes, Del.

What they’re watching

Some traditions die hard: Many people wrote in to defend spending time on the couch watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, football and holiday movies. But Deborah R. of Churchville, Md., wrote poignantly of the change her family has made to make the day enjoyable for her mother-in-law who has dementia. “Instead of a more adult movie we might prefer, we watch ‘Peanuts’ cartoons she can understand and that we enjoy as well.”

Being thankful

And lest the meaning of the day get lost under all that food, many readers said they take time to focus on giving thanks.

Claudia Skelton, of Seattle, Wash., says her family uses the holiday to recall happy memories thinking “about previous family Thanksgiving events and (writing) a few words about those memories. Those memories are what I am thankful for.”

“The one tradition we will never change is having each person at the table tell something he or she is especially thankful for,” says HelenMarie of Fort Washington, Penn. ”This will probably be my dad’s last Thanksgiving. He is 97 and is having more difficulty negotiating the travel from his personal care community. So it will be special in that way.  Future family celebrations will evolve.

© Twin Cities Public Television – 2016. All rights reserved.