How to Grow Pussy Willows from Branch Cuttings

One of the first signs of Spring is when the fuzzy white buds, or catkins, of a pussy willow shrub make their appearance. Growing up, my mom used to cut a few branches every Spring and bring them inside for decorations around the house. This year, around Palm Sunday, she gave me some pussy willow branch cuttings and told me to try to root them and plant them for my own pussy willow shrub. I never thought about trying to root the branches, but Why not give it a try? This is what I did:

Growing the Roots

1. Take the branches from new growth on the pussy willow shrub. Cut the branches between 8” and 12”. Place the branches in a vase filled with water. Make sure the vase is tall enough so that some of the catkins are in the water. Keep the water clean, changing it every week. After about four weeks, you should see roots forming at the bottom and sides of the branches and new greenery forming on the branches above the water.

2. Select a place where you want the pussy willow shrub to grow. In my research, I found pussy willow shrubs are very hardy and can be planted in just about any soil. Like a weeping willow, pussy willows like moist marshy areas, but they also do just as well in drier areas. They like full sun, but my mother’s are planted in morning sun and they thrive. Keep in mind that once the shrubs start growing, they need to be trimmed annually because they can become intrusive and unruly.

Planting the Branches

Dig a hole about 3-4” in width and depth. Place a branch or branches in the hole and fill with soil or peat moss. Water each day until the shrub becomes firmly rooted in the soil.

This was such an easy way to grow a new shrub. I can’t wait until I have my own catkins to bring in the house each year for decorations. Just like my mom!

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Family Caregivers – When Is It Time For Assisted Living?

We live in an age where we, as baby boomers are put in the role of caring for our elderly parents. Technology and medical advances have, in many instances, extended the lives of human beings. However, the extension of life does not necessarily equate to the extension of health. As our parents age, they are increasingly vulnerable, unable to make decisions easily, require assistance in caring for themselves and have difficulty keeping up their home. Parents used to be our caregivers, but now the roles are reversing and many of us are now caring for our elderly parents. At the outset of their declining health, we want to keep them at their homes where they are comfortable. And, typically, they want to stay in their familiar surroundings. So, we make arrangements to give them the care that they want. But, when is it time to make the decision that home caregiving by the family can no longer be sustained and it is time for assisted living? This, of course, depends on the family and the health of the parents. Eventually, though, it won’t be a single incident or a long discussion with other family members. Something inside of caregivers will say “it’s time.”

Family caregivers go through a range of emotions and stress when taking care of parents in need. The family usually makes the decision to keep the loved ones at home and work together to take care of them. But, this type of caregiving takes a lot of coordination and can be very time-consuming, particularly if there is only one caregiver. Your everyday life is turned upside down and caregiving can put a strain on your marriage, your relationship with your own children and your finances. In addition, if you have siblings that are not helping (or think they are but really aren’t), this puts a strain on your relationship with them. You become resentful because your siblings continue to lead their normal lives and you, either by choice or by process of elimination, are shouldering the “burden.”

Then there’s the guilt. The guilt of being angry at your parents because you have to tell your spouse and children you can’t do something with them because you have to tend to your parents. The guilt of wanting to move to another state, but you can’t leave your parents and you resent them for not being able to move. The guilt of being impatient around your parents and lashing out at them with frustration. And the guilt of feeling like you are a failure at taking care of them and that the care you give them is not adequate.

We all have our limits. You will know deep down when you have hit your limit because you can no longer physically or emotionally care for your parents. Whether you are caring for them in their home or if they have moved into your home, you will know. You will get to the point where their physical or mental needs are not being met by you. They might be falling frequently, or their dementia has gotten to the point where they need constant medical attention. You always told yourself that it is in their best interests to keep them at their home or your home, but now you are realizing that their best interests are with full time assistance from professionals. You may have promised them over and over again that you will take care of them and you will never put them in a “home.” But their age and health has come to the point where they either need assisted living or need full time professional care at home. Depending on their finances, full time home care may not be an option. Guilt, stress, strain, finances, promises, other alternatives – these are all considerations that must be dealt with when making the decision that your parents will be better off in assisted living. And once you have made peace with the fact that you can no longer do it and that they will be best served by professionals, a small voice will come from within and tell you “it’s time.”

Elder Scam #8: Your Computer May Be Infected

Scamming the elderly out of their money is becoming more and more prevalent in our society. In an effort to make people – parents, children, grandchildren, siblings – more aware of the devious attempts by strangers, friends and relatives to prey on the elderly, I plan to post all of the scams I become aware of.

Caller Says There is a Computer Security Risk

People posing as computer engineers are making cold walls warning people that their computers are at risk for a security threat. The person on the other end offers a free security check over the telephone, but the “engineer” needs remote access to your computer for a diagnosis and a fix.  Once you give these “engineers” remote access, software is downloaded on your computer that allows them to steal your identity, take money from your bank account and look at any other information you may have on your computer.  To boot, once the software is downloaded and your information has been taken, your computer gets hit with a virus.  A similar scam comes in the form of a fake virus protection pop-up while you are on the internet or a virus protection offer in the form of an email.

Don’t Give Out Computer Information

The best practice is to warn your loved one about giving out computer access information over the telephone and on-line and about the dangers of clicking on unknown links and pop-ups. Have your loved one contact you if there is ever a question about giving out personal information.

Does Anyone Miss Old Fashion Telephones? Party Lines? Busy Signals? 411?

We live in an age of cell phones and smart phones. Far before the age of computers, big thick telephone directories along with various shapes, sizes and colors of telephones adorned our walls and countertops. Coiled phone cords could be as short as seven or eight inches or long enough to go from the kitchen to the living room. Now, all of your phone numbers are stored and carried in a device as large as your hand. Some of the younger generation have never experienced an actual telephone affixed to an area of their house or a telephone book so thick that it was sometimes used as a booster seat for dinner. So, here is some nostalgia about old school telephones that the elders can reminisce about and the youngers can be baffled about.

Party Lines

Party lines were local telephone circuits that were shared by more than one user. You could be in your house and on your telephone talking to a friend and someone else on your party line from another location could pick up his phone and listen to everything you are saying. Party lines didn’t allow for privacy. Also, if you needed to make a phone call and you picked up your phone and another person on your party line was talking, you couldn’t use the phone. You had to wait until they were done. There were laws on the books that required a party line to get off the phone in case of an emergency, but it wasn’t enforced very well. You could pay extra to get a private line, but back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, you just learned to deal with a party line.

Busy Signals

Back then, if you were on the telephone and someone tried to call you, he would get a busy signal. A bunch of short beeps.  No automatic voice mail, just a busy signal. If you were the person trying to call in, you would have to hang up and call back later. Until “call waiting” was invented, if you were the one on the telephone, you had no idea that someone was trying to call you, your sibling or your parent. One good thing about the busy signal was that if you didn’t want to talk to anyone, you would just take the phone off the hook. No messages. No incoming. No nothing. Peace and quiet. Well, peace and quiet until the dial tone timed out, then there would be a screeching alarm notifying you that your phone was off the hook. That’s when you would put the phone under your pillow or between your mattress. Now, for those who accidentally left the phone off the hook, once the screeching sound started, you would literally have to go to every phone that was in the house to figure out which one was off the hook. When you have a houseful of children and four or five telephones, this could be annoying to say the least.

Telephone Exchanges

Yes, telephone numbers used to have exchange names at the beginning. The first two letters of the exchange name matched the first two numbers of the telephone number. For instance, we had WARWICK, and the “W” matched the 9 on the telephone dial and the “A” matched the 2 on the dial. To this day, my mother recites the telephone number as “Warwick 8 . . . .” as our old telephone number.

Calling for the Time

The telephone companies always had a phone number you could call any time of the day or night to get the time. “At the tone, the time will be . . . .” said the recording. We used to call the time on New Year’s Eve every year.

Calling Information

If you were looking for a telephone number, dialing 411 would get you someone who worked at the local telephone company. You would give the operator the name and/or the address and the city, and the operator would give you his phone number.

Renting Telephones

Until the mid-1970’s, you could not own a phone. You could only rent, which was a couple dollars a month and added to your phone bill. When you were done with the phone, you had to turn it in to the phone company for credit. The phone company owned the phone so if you didn’t turn it in, the phone company would find you one way or the other. In addition to renting the phone, the telephone company back then had to come to your house to install special telephone jacks in order for your phone to work. If you wanted more than one phone in the house, the telephone company would have to install a jack in each room that you had a phone. What a racket!

Telephone Directories

White Pages and Yellow Pages. The White Pages had names, addresses and telephone numbers of residences and the Yellow Pages advertised businesses. They were both really thick books in our city, so thick that they were eventually chopped up into regional books. This was a poor decision by the telephone company because if I needed a number to a person or a business that was outside my region, I had to call 411. In addition, if I didn’t know the name of the business, but I was looking for, let’s say, a plumber, outside my region, there was no way to get a name or phone number unless I had the regional book. I think businesses lost a lot of money when the telephone company chopped up the Yellow Pages into regions.

Pay Telephone Booths

They used to be at just about every gas station and on every street corner. Not so much anymore.

We have come a long way in telecommunications, but thinking about the old technology takes me back to when the old technology was a fixture in the house, when I fought with my sisters over who was going to use the phone, when I agonized over the decision about whether I wanted a rotary dial or a touch tone phone for my birthday, and when I got excited each New Year’s Eve to call the time so we knew exactly when the New Year struck. Now, that’s nostalgia!

Old World Kiefle Recipe

These little nut rolls are a lot of work, but are absolutely delicious. I found this recipe a few years ago and they exactly duplicated my husband’s Hungarian mother’s kiefles. Unfortunately, the old world kiefles recipe went with her when she passed, so I hunted for one that seemed to include the same ingredients. I hit the jackpot with this recipe. It does take two days to make these delightful treasures, and I usually only make them at Christmas. But on a snowy, icy, cold day in the middle of April, this will keep me busy.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)
1 package (1/4 ounce) dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sour cream

Filling:

4 egg whites
½ to ¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups finely ground walnuts

Proof the yeast by placing the water in a small bowl and sprinkle with the yeast and sugar. Set aside until the mixture swells and becomes bubbly, about 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile in a large bowl, blend together the flour and butter with a pastry blender.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks. Add the sour cream and blend thoroughly. To the flour mixture, add the egg mixture alternately with the yeast mixture. Handle gently and shape into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill overnight.

To prepare the filling, in a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add the sugar a little bit at a time until all the sugar is incorporated. Add the vanilla and fold in the nuts. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 24 balls (the size of large golf balls). Roll each ball into a circle about 8 inches in diameter (you can use an 8-inch pie pan as a guide). Cut each circle into 8 pie-shaped pieces. Place about 1 ½ teaspoons of the filling at the wide end of each piece. Roll toward the center to encase the filling and form a crescent shape that is about two inches long.

Place the kiefles on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Makes approximately 8 dozen. I have found over the years that it is easier to divide the dough into 20-21 balls that are a little larger and with a little more of the nut mixture. Although they make less than 8 dozen, they are still wonderful. In addition, if I run out of the nut mixture, I use the Solo brand apricot filling to make the last batches of the kiefles and dust the top with powdered sugar. My mom loves the apricot kiefles better than the nut kiefles.  My husband loves the nut kiefles better than the apricot.  So, I make both.

Kiefle - small nut rolls

Old World Kiefle recipe

A New Career After 50? Not So Bad!

Do what you like and follow your dreams. This is exactly what is happening to my husband. An early retiree from a Fortune 500 company, his passion is music. Not pop music, rap, country, or any of those “putrid” (as he describes it) sounds, but Rock and Roll. And when I say rock and roll, I’m talking from the 1960’s and 1970’s, particularly the British Invasion. He knows concert dates, band members, love interests and just about everything else you need to know about music from the 1960’s and 1970’s. He is a virtual encyclopedia of Rock and Roll.  He is the “go to” person when someone has a question about Rock and Roll.

Opportunities for the Retirees are What you Make of Them

So, an opportunity came to him last year. If he would sell advertising for a local radio station, and in return, he would get his own radio show. He would become a disc jockey. Something he always wanted to do but never had the chance. He could have very easily said “No thank you, I’m retired” or “I do not have the experience to be a disc jockey,” but he didn’t. He followed his passion and in a couple of weeks he will be starting a new career promoting what he loves – music.  A new career after 50?  Not so bad!

New Careers are an Adventure for Baby Boomers

It’s never too late to try something different, to start a new life or to take on a new endeavor, as long as it is something you get excited about and look forward to every day. Although when you are younger it is scarier and riskier to take a hard right turn in your career, being over 50 gives you the life experience, patience, financial means and guts to begin a new chapter. So, I say – Sally forth Baby Boomers!

Medicare Versus Medicaid – A Big Difference for the Elderly

Despite the similarity in the words, Medicare and Medicaid are two very different health care programs.  Medicare and Medicaid affect the elderly in different ways.

Medicare vs. Medicaid

Medicare is a federal health care program for people over the age of 65 and those people with disabilities who qualify for Medicare insurance. There is no other qualification. Income level does not matter with Medicare. Medicaid, however, is run by each state (with assistance from the federal government) and is a health care program for lower income people. Each state creates its own Medicaid program based on federal guidelines. Unlike Medicare, where benefits are automatic at a certain age, you have to qualify for Medicaid benefits.

This difference becomes very obvious when you are moving a loved one into assisted living. Medicare, the federal health insurance program, does not cover assisted living. Medicaid does. However, Medicaid requires a person to have a certain income and asset level in order to qualify for Medicaid payments to assisted living centers. Each state is different. For example, in Michigan, the asset level is $2,000.00. Again, Medicaid is for people with little financial means.

Assisted Living and Medicaid

If assisted living is required with your loved one and they do not qualify for Medicaid, then payments to the assisted living center come from personal income and assets. Medicaid requires you to “spend down” these assets until they reach a certain level before Medicaid begins paying. There are certain exempt assets, such as a home, a car, etc., but if your loved one has an IRA, savings account, stocks or any other assets, payments to the assisted living center come from your loved one’s income and assets first. This can financially devastate a family. So, the more time you have to plan for a loved one’s move to assisted living, the better. There are ways that you can decrease the amount of assets, but Medicaid typically has a 60 month look-back period, meaning they will look at all of the asset movement for the past 60 months to determine whether it was a legitimate transfer or whether the asset should be included as part of your loved one’s assets. The Medicaid rules get very tricky, so if you think that the government is going to help pay for your loved one’s stay at a facility, you need to become familiar with Medicaid rules in your state and perhaps seek an attorney for some estate planning for your loved one.

Some individuals are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid and they are called “dual eligible.” For those that receive both coverages, most of their health care costs are covered. Medicare pays first, then Medicaid will pick up most, if not all, of the balance.

Melting Potatoes Recipe

Here is a simple recipe for a twist on baked potatoes. In Europe they are known as fondant potatoes. Crusty on the outside and soft mashed potatoes on the inside. This is a basic Melting Potatoes recipe and gets a five star rating from my husband. You can experiment and add spices or other ingredients to this recipe for added flavor.

Ingredients:

3 lbs. Yukon Gold Potatoes
6 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
2 cups chicken broth
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed

Instructions:

(Note: DO NOT USE a glass baking dish because of the temperature of the oven. Results are best with a metal pan or baking dish.)

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Use the middle position rack. Square off ends of potatoes and cut crosswise into 1-inch-thick disks. (The slices are thick, so best to use a tape measure or ruler for the first couple of slices). Mix the butter, salt and pepper and pour over the potatoes and toss until the butter mixture evenly coats the potatoes. Arrange potatoes in single layer in 13 by 9-inch baking pan.

2. Roast the potatoes until bottoms are beginning to brown around edges, about 15 minutes. Remove pan from oven. Using a flat spatula, loosen potatoes from the bottom of pan and flip. Continue to roast until browned on second side, about 15 minutes longer.

3. Remove pan from oven, flip potatoes once more, and add chicken broth and garlic cloves to the baking pan. Roast until potatoes are tender and sauce has reduced slightly, about 5-10 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the pan into a serving dish and pour the sauce in the bottom of the baking pan over the potatoes.

4. Makes approximately 6-8 servings.

Melting Potatoes Recipe

Melting Potatoes are also known as Fondant Potatoes

Recipes Aplenty For Those Uneaten Girl Scout Cookies

I was a Girl Scout. I loved it, but the one thing I always hated was selling those darn Girl Scout cookies. Back then, we would have to go door-to-door asking for an order. Then, on the weekends during cookie season, we had to stand in front of grocery stores and ask complete strangers if they wanted to buy something from us. I’m not a sales person. Never have been. Never will be. To me, selling Girl Scout cookies was a humiliating experience because of my shyness. That’s why, every year for the past 40 years, I buy two boxes of each kind of cookie from the same little Girl Scout. If she is like I was, nothing can be more mortifying than asking a stranger for money.

In order to avoid eating two boxes of everything at once – and it is tempting – we freeze them and eat the cookies throughout the year. But, more often than not, we have leftovers from the prior year, most often the shortbreads – the Trefoils. This year I had six boxes of Trefoils in the freezer, but I still ordered two boxes of everything from the restaurant owner’s little daughter.  I had to.  It was my promise to myself to make a difference with just one little girl who may be shy and timid and didn’t want to sell to strangers.

What to do? What to do? What to do with all these extra Trefoils.  Well, I finally decided that I should crush them up and make something with them, but I didn’t know what would taste good or what to add to these buttery shortbread wonders. I thought and thought but couldn’t come up with anything. So, I turned to the Internet, and to my total surprise, there were tons of web sites that have recipes using Girl Scout cookies. From Delish, which conducted a contest on the best recipe using Girl Scout cookies, to the Girl Scout website itself which categorizes the recipes by the type of cookie, I had all the recipes I needed for a lifetime, plus some thought-starters to create my own recipes. As I read through the abundance of ingredients and instructions, I thought to myself, “I’ll never have leftover Samoas or Thin Mints so why am I reading this one.” But I guess that’s not the point. The point is that there are many people like me who buy Girl Scout cookies for whatever their reasons, then don’t eat them. Well, I’m here to tell you that based on my research there are plenty of ways to use the cookies if you don’t eat them straight up.

Girl Scout Cookie Recipes

What to do with unused Girl Scout Cookies