The Simple Joy of Togetherness


By Ann Luongo

Content Writer, Marketing & Philanthropy

The last few years have been strange and frustrating, to say the least. For so long, we were advised to avoid gatherings, including (and even especially) those around the holiday season – the time of year when gathering had always been commonplace.

Families and friends had to be separated from each other due to the pandemic, only getting together virtually for an occasional Zoom call or spending time waving at their loved ones through windows. Even worse, so many had to spend the holidays alone.

While COVID continues to be a reality, one that we’ve grown to live with, families are spending time together once more, people are visiting friends, and the holidays are again spent in the company of those we had to avoid for so long. People are enjoying togetherness. They’re laughing more, hugging more, and spending time together while enjoying face-to-face conversation.

It’s been long studied and concluded that enjoying close social ties with friends, partners, or family members can make us happy and improve our overall life satisfaction in the long run. In-person meetings and gatherings allow people to share, laugh, comfort one another, and be present in ways they couldn’t with social distancing.

According to Medical News Today, “… direct person-to-person contact triggers parts of our nervous system that release a ‘cocktail’ of neurotransmitters tasked with regulating our response to stress and anxiety. “In other words,” the article said, “when we communicate with people face-to-face, it could help to make us more resilient to stress factors in the long run.”

The fact is, we NEED to be around other people. And now, for the most part, we can be.

Having the opportunity to be together with friends and family at a holiday gathering has brought us a new appreciation of the little things – like just being able to see our friends and family in person! It has made us appreciate that human contact we went without for too long.

Once again, we can bask in the simple joy of being together. Enjoy the holidays with those you love.

 

 

 

 

The Practice of Gratitude


By Ann Luongo

Content Writer, Marketing & Philanthropy

It’s that time of year again – the time when we begin to look back at all the things for which we should give thanks.  We’ll go down that mental checklist and tick off all the obvious things – good health, a roof over our heads, food on our tables, and having people in our lives who we care about. Those are the big things. What about the little things?

Practicing gratitude is something that we really should be doing every day. Being grateful has real benefits, both physically and mentally, that we don’t even think about. It makes us feel good. It puts us in a better state of mind. And that’s just the beginning.An article in Harvard Health Publishing states that, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

I’ve been trying to make a practice of practicing gratitude each day (yes, I said that) – even for the small, seemingly unimportant things that we all take for granted, such as enjoying a few quiet moments with a good cup of coffee, or finding a $10 bill crumpled up in my purse when I thought I had no cash on hand, or realizing that the person driving slowly in front of me actually prevented me from getting in an accident at an intersection, had they (and I) been going any faster.

In a world in which bad news sells and we are constantly bombarded by it every single day, making an effort to be grateful for something – even a small something – IS SOMETHING! But, like anything else in life that’s worthwhile, you have to work at it. You have to practice.

When I visit my 86-year-old father, he often talks about the news or politics and I can hear the change in his voice as he begins to sound bitter and disgusted by all of the negative things happening in the world. This train of thought, if you swim in it for too long, can lead to anxiety and depression. Therefore, when I see this happening, I make an effort to flip the script.

“But, Dad,” I say, “look at all the GOOD things happening. You’re so lucky to have thoughtful neighbors who check on you. You have three adult children who (let’s face it) turned out pretty good. You have five beautiful granddaughters. You have a home that’s paid off. You can still drive a car and you still have all (or at least most) of your mental faculties.” (I do try to make him laugh as much as possible.)

Often, it just takes this little reminder to change his thinking and, before you know it, he’s feeling more positive and he agrees that, yes, there really is a lot of good in the world – good people, good news, good experiences – plenty for which to be thankful.

You just have to look for it.

It’s The Little Things In Life


By Mary Stanley
Public Relations / Marketing Coordinator

So, here we are in the middle of summer—halfway through another year. While we could bemoan how quickly time is passing, it’s more exciting to think about how far we have come in a short amount of time. Less than a year ago, masks were mandated in all public places and gatherings were reduced to small intimate groups. Talk of a vaccine was just that—talk. But, by January, vaccinations were available and the first shots were being administered. The demand for these vaccines—the key to freedom, independence, and peace of mind for many people—was extremely high. Websites crashed as users flocked to get appointments. And now, just four months later, vaccines are as plentiful as strawberries in June. With so many people in the state now vaccinated, mask mandates have been relaxed to the point that vaccinated people no longer have to wear them in the grocery stores and other public places. Concerts have resumed; people are traveling again—life is beginning to return to normal—or pretty close to normal.

And people are ecstatic about this progress—which makes me ponder: was this pandemic some kind of divine intervention intended to remind us to slow down, to appreciate the small things in life—like going to eat at a restaurant or visiting with family and friends, or hugging the people we love?

While congregate care settings like New England Village must continue with mask requirements, we are happy to be able to lift other restrictions and return to life as it was prior to 2020. At the end of June, for the first time since 2019, we welcomed 150 people to our campus to celebrate the kick off of our two-year strategic plan. Not only did this event bring back memories of the days before the pandemic when these gatherings were the norm and not the exception, it gave us hope for the future. We now look eagerly toward September when we will once again hold our annual Family Day event. Yes, things will be a bit different this year—we may have to cancel if there is rain; and masks are still required, but that should not detract from the wonderful experience of gathering together with family and friends to celebrate. And after nearly two years of being apart, this year’s Family Day is sure to feel so much sweeter and be appreciated on a much higher level. I guess Joni Mitchell was right when she sang, “don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” May we never take for granted again the gathering of friends and family, and, of course, good health.

 

Fitness and Fashion Collide


By Kim Lowman

Wellness Program Manager

Life is ever changing. I’ve been on this earth for 6 decades and each decade looks entirely different. Take fashion for instance… the 60’s with the new “bell bottom” look and the hippie culture turned into the 70’s where corduroy pants in all colors with a crocheted vest was a “look.” From there, it just got more and more interesting, with Farrah Fawcett big hair and spandex-wearing rock bands to “spacesuits” during the David Bowie phase. T-shirts and jeans were standard at the turn of the century and then came the leggings! For young people, leggings are all they know! If you’re into health and wellness, you call them “yoga pants.” They go with boots, high heels, and flats. Pair them with sneakers and you must be an athlete. For men, it’s more of the sweat pant look that has taken over. Fancy sweatpants with loafers or boat shoes says you are doing well in life; wear them with sandals and you are laid back and chill. If you wear old sweatpants and sneakers, then you must be walking the dog. So since we are all dressing as if we are working out… let’s take a look at how fitness has changed through the decades too! Just for fun.

In the 1960’s, my father was one of the few people in my town who “worked out.” He would lace up his work boots and go for a jog. They didn’t really make sneakers back then. There was no real organized place to go to work out. It wasn’t a thing. In the 70’s, he started to go to the Y. It wasn’t called the YMCA – just the Y. There he would do martial arts and then go for the work-boot jog. Sports was the way people got exercise—so mostly kids or athletes. I am sure there was yoga back then, too, but all the people I babysat for who did yoga behind their beaded curtains were doing more of what I call meditation. So, unless you were an athlete or a kid, you likely were not working out until the 80’s. This is where it all started, in my eyes. Suddenly there were jazzercise classes at community centers or church halls. The gym was a new thing—for men mostly. Videos were made and Jane Fonda convinced us all to wear ballet style workout gear called leotards. Men wore short shorts. Do you remember Richard Simmons? The 80’s were a fashion disaster all around if you look back. By the 90’s women were starting to go to the “gyms” too, which were now being called health clubs. Women did aerobics and men lifted weights. Brave women lifted weights, too, but I can tell you as one of those “brave” women that the men did not like it at all. Enter the turn of the century –there are health clubs and fitness centers everywhere. Men and woman, are “getting in shape.” It’s a craze. The medical and health industry has decided that a healthy lifestyle is important and so people are hitting the treadmills and the indoor bikes. Spinning becomes popular. First time I did it, I felt my heart beating 3 feet out in front of me. It had left my body. There were all kinds of trends, like step classes and kick boxing. Pilates and a new athletic kind of yoga made an entrance and everyone was all sweaty under one big roof.

So what about now? Well, the fitness industry has morphed yet again, just like the fashion industry did about a decade ago and the word wellness has become the new buzz word. A gentler kind of attention to health is now the focus. Yoga, Meditation, Mindfulness. Here’s where the yoga pants took over. Today, we think more about caring for ourselves in a wholeness way. Getting active, finding joy, eating nutritionally, getting enough sleep, getting enough sleep, getting enough sleep. Did Covid get us there by shutting down the “fitness factories” or were we already headed there? I’m not sure. I feared Covid would make us all complacent and uninspired, but I think for many of us it actually inspired us. I am amazed when I see people I have not seen in a long while and how healthy and well they look in their yoga pants! So, let’s embrace this fashion while we can. If those spacesuits come back, I don’t think we are going to be moving around too much in them.

 

Prost!


By Kim Lowman

Wellness Program Manager

A few years ago I was visiting friends in Bavaria. There was no itinerary—no plan, just a day-to-day “whatever” laid back visit. My friends really enjoyed surprising me, so I never quite knew what the day would hold – well, except for beer and a tray of meats and lots of bread. One morning I woke up and was told we were going on a little drive, but to wear comfortable clothes. No other hints. We drove through the hills and valleys of Bavaria until we came to a little dirt parking lot across from a lake. Ammersee Lake the sign read. I couldn’t tell how big it was and I don’t remember it being a busy lake, but, then again, it was late September and a little cool. Again, with no explanation, we crossed the little street and went onto a dock where a handful of people were waiting, until along came a small boat. A mail boat it turned out to be. Apparently, I was going to be part of the mail route around this lake. Off we went. The first stop was a little village where a few people got off and a couple of people got on. The mail bags were given and then the boat puttered off. Much the same happened at each stop, until about an hour or so later, when my friends told me we were getting off at the next little village. “Great,” I am thinking—”lunch!” What a nice ride to get lunch! As we walked along a pretty street, lined with quintessential Bavarian houses with their peaked roof lines, wooden accents, window boxes, and picket fences, I felt like I had stepped into a fairytale. My friends opened a gate at one of the houses and led me into the side yard. “Oh, this is nice,” I am thinking… “we are visiting their friends for lunch.” Nope. On we went through this side yard to a small trail and into the woods! None of this made any sense. But now the comfortable clothes did. We proceeded to hike up a mountain trail, complete with tree roots and moss and all the other things you find in a dense forest. As we hiked up, others were hiking down, most with walking sticks and a common greeting, “Gruss Gott” (think – it will come to you what it may mean… sound it out…notice the G is capitalized). After what seemed a very long time, we finally reached a clearing—a meadow actually—with a towering ornamental, onion-shaped steeple rising above a line of trees. Magical. So, across the meadow we walked, like Dorothy and her friends to the Emerald City. Only Emerald City in this case was a monastery. Kloster Andechs is a monastery where they make beer! Of course. And there were meats and breads. Of course! We sat at long wooden tables and made toasts and made friends and had a jolly time. They sang German songs and I pretended to know the words. As the afternoon shadows grew longer and I knew dusk was coming, I started to get a little nervous about hiking back down through those dark woods and catching a boat and getting back to the car safely. I expressed my concern to my friends and they repeatedly told me not to worry. But I admit, I did. As it got darker, they finally said, “time to go,” to my relief, and led me through the monastery to… a big tourist bus! YUP… the little dirt parking lot was actually no more than a ¼ mile away!!

So, why do I tell this long story? My friends gifted me a wonderful lesson of life. They took a simple tourist attraction and made it into a full on adventure. What if I just took the bus to and from? I would have missed the surprise of it all—the tiny storybook villages, the people I met, the smells I smelled, the feelings and emotions of awe, and, later even a little fear. The magic of seeing that steeple in the distance. And then entering the monastery mid-party! So this is my message—take the long way, the adventurous way… Don’t rush an experience. Go for the surprise! Create memories. Look for the magic, see the wonder and feel the awe! Unless you’re tired… then take the bus. 🙂  Prost!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs and Memories

By Mary Stanley
Public Relations/Marketing Coordinator

There is an adage that says we should appreciate the present because some day we will look back and realize these were the “good old days.”  Well, for many people, especially parents who have been juggling home schooling, work, and family, if any part of 2020 and the pandemic is ever considered the good old days, it might be frightening to think about what the future holds!

That said, March 2021 is faring a bit better than March 2020. This month, as many of us received our first and second vaccines, things seemed to be looking a bit brighter.  Even the weather reflected this feeling. March came in with a roar but seemed to exit as a little lamb, with warm, spring-like days that had many of us venturing out for walks and enjoying the outdoors again.

Weather, it seems, has an enormous impact on our emotions. Yes, sunny days tend to have most of us whistling while rainy days can cause us to feel a bit down. But, what if we changed our attitude toward the weather. I would challenge you to find as much joy in a rainy day as a sunny one. Rainy days can provide the perfect excuse to stay inside and read a good book or watch a good movie. They can offer the perfect backdrop for completing indoor projects, like cleaning a closet or, on my list for 2021, going through all my old photographs and organizing them. Nothing screams good old days like looking at pictures from another era in our lifetime. And those images seem to serve as a time machine, transporting us back to the days when our children were babies…we can almost feel their breath on our neck again.

We look at those photos and smile at how young we were; some evoke such strong memories that we can recall exactly what was happening and what we were laughing about when the shutter was clicked. Other photos can tug at our heart—especially if the people in the picture are no longer with us. Still, it can put a smile on our face as we recall those people and how much they meant to us and what they brought to our lives.

As we close out the month of March and look to April and the showers that this month is noted for, I encourage you to find pleasure in those rainy days, whether with a good book, a movie, or a happy memory.

 

 

 

Bloom where you’re planted


By Kim Lowman

Wellness Program Manager

Many years ago, I reluctantly sold a house that I helped design and build and moved to another property. It wasn’t a choice and I was very lucky to find something that could work for myself and my sons. It was a transition property in my mind and that helped me to accept the situation. It was March. With spring around the corner, I could almost start to envision my new home, but I sorely missed what I had left behind. A good friend of the family dropped by with a housewarming gift. It was a small plaque. Four words. “Bloom Where You’re Planted.” She understood because she had gone through something similar. It was perfect timing. That plaque inspired me with those four simple words and the message it brought. I lived in that “transition house” for 13 years and made some great memories. I bloomed where I was planted, and I never looked back. In fact, I moved again two years ago and have planted and bloomed yet again.

Every March we start to look for signs of spring. Some years the buds on the trees appear early and some years, it’s a bit of a wait. A big part of the readiness for spring when you have a yard or garden area, is the clean-up. It so happens that my entire front yard is nothing but one big garden that goes totally dormant in the winter. It needs a lot of care to spring back to life. This is a chore for most, but not for me. I love it. I love uncovering the tiny sprouts of what is to be a flower or bush that will eventually fully bloom. I love to see how clean and happy it looks when all the dead leaves and leftover winter storm damage is removed. What intrigues me most though are the tiny little trees that seem to grow randomly in my garden every spring. I have no trees in my front yard, yet there are tiny trees that pop up each year. I assume the seeds of nearby trees have somehow made their way to my garden and that they have decided to bloom where they’re planted. For me, it’s just another reminder that the winds can blow the seeds wherever and once they find fertile soil… they can and will grow.

So here we are…nearly a year later, after months of uncertainty, change and challenge. It is March again and that means spring is right around the corner. Sunnier and warmer days are in our future. We may yearn for what was left behind as we muddled through 2020. That is okay. It’s how we learn to accept what has become our new here and now. We were tossed by the wind like the seeds of a tree and now we are ready to find that fertile soil where we can bloom. We need to clean out our winter gardens and tend to the new life that is right under the soil. Yes—that is all a metaphor! For those who do not relate to or care for metaphors, in plain speak… folks… it’s time to accept that we are where we are supposed to be so take a moment to look for the joys in life. We need to celebrate that we conquered the winter. We had no choice. We need to stop the negative talk and see that we are lucky to have found a new home that works despite leaving behind and missing our old one (oops, another metaphor). You know what I mean. Had we known a year ago what lay ahead, we could not have envisioned that we would come through it. But we did. So wherever you find yourself…may I suggest you “Bloom Where You’re Planted” and enjoy the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

What if


By Kim Lowman

Wellness Program Manager

On Monday, February 1, we were expecting a big Nor’easter with snow and winds and possible power outages. Monday morning, I put a snow shovel in my car, expecting I would need to shovel myself out later that afternoon to get back home. Schools and businesses were closed. Sunday January 31, I went to the grocery store with all the other storm procrastinators to buy food that I may or may not be able to cook, depending on power outages. Knowing that same food could also go to waste if we lost power, I shopped very carefully—I bought mostly chips. I also filled up my gas tank. Saturday, I did all my laundry and house chores. I had my phone charged with a back-up portable charger ready; flashlights with batteries at the ready, and wood for the fireplace. I made all the preparations for the big unknown… a storm in New England. And. It. Rained. That was it for me. No snow. Not windy. Power stayed on. I am not complaining… it was a nice surprise!

I grew up in a town that is often featured on the news during any storm predicted. The reporters go to the windiest part of town, which is a peninsula, so they can be blown around a bit while on camera. I was there in the Blizzard of ’78 and I walked along the seawalls, looking into the houses along the shore whose backs had been ripped off and left like big, huge dollhouses. I remember what a big storm looks, feels, and smells like, so I am not a fan of the pre-storm drama on the news; or on Facebook with all the “gloom and doomers.” I usually just roll my eyes when all the big meteorological words come out like bombogenesis which, by the way, is not yet in the dictionary. I scoff at the reporters standing in water up to their ankles as they talk about the storm surge, knowing that it floods there daily and has nothing to do with an incoming storm. I talk back to the meteorologists when they yell the weather at me, as if the louder they say it, the worse the storm will be. I am not a fan of the hype.

But “what if”? What if it had been a bad storm Monday and I was not prepared? If 2020 taught me nothing else, it taught me to be prepared for the “storm,” while being hopeful it would pass on by. Don’t listen to the hyped-up info, follow the facts. Have a plan. As we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel from the year 2020 and all its “storms,” I will continue to prepare. I will continue to wear my mask and wash my hands. I will not listen to the loud talkers who are yelling to scare me. I will not fall for the hype that is not backed up by facts. I will distance myself and follow guidance. And to avoid the big “what if,” I will get vaccinated. I will always remember February 6, 1978 as the day of the Blizzard of ’78, but this year I will also remember February 7, as the day I got my second Covid vaccination. Covid-19 is like a storm, it may or may not hit. It may or may not cause damage. But why take the risk of the “what if?” What if it is a Blizzard of ’78? For me, the vaccination is the shovel, the flashlight, the wood, the clean laundry, the full tank, the charged phone, the stocked kitchen and most importantly … the chips! I am very grateful! Just my opinion….

 

 

 

Popcorn and a Movie


By Kim Lowman

Wellness Program Manager

We did it! It is 2021! We should all congratulate ourselves. Honestly, I’d like to just stop right there…but that would be the easy way out and we all know I have lots to say! This morning, a colleague who shares my visions gave me a copy of a positive thinking quote. The first line grabbed me, and I knew it was how I needed to start off my 2021. The line was: “where your attention goes your energy flows.” That makes sense to me. Think happy thoughts and voila! – You’ll be happy. Think negative, and you’ll end up glum or in a rut. So, there you have it—my job is done. But wait… what about those days when you just cannot shift those less than positive thoughts into blissful, joyful, magical, Disneyworld reality? This, my friends, is where we need tools—tools to shift anything we do not desire towards things we do. I am not talking about material things (but you can); I am talking more about setting up for the best year ahead in our thoughts and expectations, and not dwelling on the year behind. I won’t even say the year. It’s gone. Like the song says, “Let it Go.”

So back to the tools. How do we shift our less than positive thoughts? I have written dozens of monthly blogs for a few years now and mentioned meditation numerous times. If you are not doing it now, perhaps you never will; or perhaps you will give it a go this new year. I’ve talked about exercise and moving. Either you are or you are not; either you will or you will not. I have written about eating healthy. Hopefully, now that the holidays are over, you can find a way back to the nutritionally sound way of feeding your body or you’ll set your mind to starting now. Sleep—it’s huge and without it, we are all cranky pants and we know it, so I won’t say anything more about that. So what is left in my tool box that I have not already shared? A couch, a TV, and a bowl of Popcorn. Movie Night!!

There is no better way to change your mindset from glum to cheered up than to watch a good old-fashioned, “feel good” movie with a bowl of popcorn. Usually, the main character is not in a great place but ends up in a happy place. We get to go through the journey with them seeing all the… wait for it …TOOLS they find along their way. Watching them changes the way we think and where our attention goes. We see that we can find joy, magic and Disneyland too. We have to believe that “where your attention goes your energy flows.” If you can take your mind off negative thoughts for even just a short while… you can lift your spirits and start heading toward the positives by re-wiring your brain to feel those happy thoughts. A “feel good” movie can do just that!

So, here are a few critically acclaimed “feel good” movies to put on your list when you need a boost.

Devil Wears Prada, The Bird Cage, The Help, Princess Diaries, Sister Act, The Pursuit of Happyness, Forrest Gump, LA LA Land, Mamma Mia, Wizard of Oz, The Parent Trap, Grease, Ground Hog Day, Love Actually, When Harry Met Sally, Jerry Maguire, Little Miss Sunshine, The Sound of Music, and it’s never the wrong season to watch It’s a Wonderful Life! If you’re reading this and know other movies – share them with me, your colleagues, and friends. Passing along positive tools also creates positive thoughts!

Cheers to 2021 and getting back to the theaters soon!