Creating New Memories this Holiday Season

“What if Christmas, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Growing up, one of my favorite activities in school was around learning and exploring new cultures and how they celebrate holidays. Being so young and not yet having a chance to explore the world around me, I found it fascinating that people were different from what I assumed was the norm.

For example, in Germany, December 6th is St. Nicholas’ Day and “der Nikolaus” comes to the home of small children and brings gifts, such as sweets and chocolate, and puts them into the shoes of the children, who place them by their doors the night before. Then on the night of December 24th, Father Christmas brings presents to the children.

In Argentina, families celebrate starting Christmas Eve with a large family meal following with a fireworks display at midnight, toasting to Christmas. Many families stay up late into the night meeting with friends and family, then they will sleep all of Christmas Day.

To celebrate the New Year, people in Greece hang an onion on their door to symbolize rebirth and in the Philippines, women wear polka dot dresses and men carry coins in their pockets to symbolize prosperity and happiness for the new year.

The purpose of sharing these variations of holiday celebrations is to show that no matter how you choose to celebrate a holiday this year whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, remember that it is OK to be different. Value time spent with family, not the gifts that are given, or the decorations that are hung. Create new memories this season and don’t be afraid to veer from the holiday norm. As the Dr. Seuss quote illustrates, the holiday spirit cannot be bought from a store, the holiday is what you make of it.

If you are looking for some inspiration from other countries on how to add some new culture to your holiday, check out the Why Christmas webpage to learn more about Christmas Around the World or 123 New Year to learn about New Year’s Traditions and Customs.

How do you plan to make new memories this holiday season?

References:
http://www.whychristmas.com/cultures/
http://www.123newyear.com/newyear-traditions/philippines.html
http://www.businessinsider.com/new-years-rituals-around-the-world-2013-12#in-greece-people-hang-an-onion-on-their-doors-3

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Stress and the Holidays with MS

Can you believe it’s already that time of the year again for the holidays? With everything we have going on in our lives and tacking on multiple sclerosis with it, it can be very hectic.

The holidays are meant to be a time to be with family and enjoy ourselves, not stress over shopping, hosting parties, cooking, etc. Then you tack on the crazy weather we have been having on top of everything else, it’s just down right insane.

(Now maybe some of y’all are used to the cold weather, but it’s a bit of a shock to us down here in the South.)

So I thought I would share some of the things that I do, so that I’m not adding stress to my already stressful life. It’s hard to be completely stress free, so I’m not even going to attempt to say something like “stress free.”

Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything that we need to get done, completed.

For me, when the day is coming to a close, I feel like it’s family time and time to relax. Not to run around ‘till I’m exhausted getting Christmas shopping done, etc. I don’t have the energy and/or strength to stand in lines, to fight the crowds, and everything else that comes along with holiday shopping.

Many sales aren’t just limited to ‘in-store’ purchases, but are also online. One thing I’ve done in the past – and will do this year as well, is shopping online. I know it’s not the same thing as actually going to the store and buying things, but it’s better for me and my MS, so that’s what I’m taking in to account. I don’t want to run down my body or cause my MS to flare-up trying to shop for the holidays. Where is the fun in that?

You would be surprised on what all is offered online. I love shopping at Amazon, because they seem to have almost everything available because they have outside vendors. Plus, a lot of the time when you’re shopping online certain stores offer free shipping if your total price is over a certain limit. Even if you have to pay for shipping, I think that the same amount would go towards gas if you’re actually driving around and shopping.

Now, whether you are shopping online or in the store, see if they offer gift-wrapping. This is a very big problem for me. I have spasticity in my hands, so if I’m trying to wrap multiple gifts at a time, my hands start giving me issues, and then the wrapping isn’t so pretty.

If you enjoy doing your own gift-wrapping, try and make a schedule out of it, so that you aren’t wrapping everything at once. I’ve done that before, and it wasn’t nice at all.

I know that it can be annoying that we have to make certain changes in our ‘routine,’ but I feel that those changes are worth it personally. By doing some simple, small changes, I can make sure that I’m not going to ‘pay for it’ from my MS in the future.

If you’re hosting a holiday event at your house, kudos to you! I don’t think I could handle all that. But if you are one of those people, don’t feel like you have to do ALL of the cooking for the gathering. Ask family/friends to bring certain dishes. Have a little sign-up sheet online, Google Docs, or something.

Something I have come to absolutely love is my crock-pot. This way it prevents standing for a long period of time cooking certain things. I can throw things for a recipe in to my crock-pot and turn it on, and it’s one less thing to worry about.

I love getting recipes on Pinterest and similar websites. If you just Google search “Holiday Crockpot Recipes,” I’m sure there will be plenty of results to choose from.

One last note… If you are going to make a run to the store to get your ingredients for a recipe, or anything else for that matter, have a list put together. I like to organize my list by section; this way I don’t have to scan through the entire list every time I look at it.

Most importantly, have fun with your family and friends. This is a time to spend time together, and be thankful for what we have been blessed with. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s okay to allow someone to help you out. There is no shame in asking someone to help out with simple tasks.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Ashley Ringstaff

MSWorld Volunteer

www.msworld.org    

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December 2014 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

A special seasonal December Artist of the Month:
David Desjardins – Union, ME

 David Desjardins - Christmas Morning

About the Artist:

“I consider myself to be a very positive and optimistic person, but it was difficult maintaining that attitude when I first learned of my diagnosis, even for me! I’ve always loved to paint, but there constantly seemed to be a situation or reason that demanded my immediate attention first. Now, however, I choose to do something creative with my time rather than giving in entirely to my illness, sitting in a corner mourning my losses.

I am so honored to participate in my second Art Showcase, and I am humbled to be in the company of so many talented artists. I used to paint only for my own enjoyment, but now when I hear how others enjoy my work it really makes my day!”

Read more

Be inspired – please send an online card featuring artwork by MS artist David Desjardins and spread awareness of MS and MSAA.

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Air Travel Tips for the MS Community

By: Matt Cavallo

As the holidays approach, many of us living with a chronic illness are fretting holiday travel. Maybe you would like to travel to see friends or loved ones, but are hesitant because of your illness. You are not alone. Travel is stressful for everyone. Airports are big, busy and fast-paced. Security lines can be long and the thought of standing, unpacking, and repacking at TSA is enough to unravel even the most seasoned traveler. Compound traveling with the upcoming holiday lines and ticket prices and it may be enough for you to forego holiday travel and just stay home.

If you need to travel during the holidays and you are living with a chronic illness, there are several steps that you can take to ensure your airport experience doesn’t exacerbate your illness. The following steps will ensure that your holiday airport experience is as smooth as possible:

Five Steps to Stress-Free Air Travel for People Living with MS

1. Book your travel early. As a rule of thumb, booking your ticket fifty days in advance will get you favorable ticket prices, preferred seating (unless your airline has open seating like Southwest) and better flight time selections. Business travelers typically book fourteen days in advance, so if you wait to the last minute seating will be limited, as will flights, and the price will be higher.

2. Fly during off hours or off days. Much like morning traffic, the airport has rush hours too. My preference is to get the first flight of the day, even if it means being at the airport before the sun comes up. Airports are generally running once the sun goes up until the sun goes down. Whatever you do, avoid the last flight of the day, especially if you have a connection. If you are on the last flight, you have a greater likelihood of missing connections and then being rebooked on a flight the next morning. Mondays, Thursday nights and Friday mornings are business travel days. Sundays can be busy as well. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are light traffic days and typically have cheaper flights.

3. Notify the ticketing agent or gate agent of your condition. If the airport and airline staff are aware of your illness, you can get wheelchair or transportation service (if necessary), medical clearance to get to the front of the TSA screening line and pre-boarding status at the airline. If you have trouble standing or waiting in line, be sure to tell the agents or TSA that you are a fall risk and have weight-bearing precautions making you a risk to stand in line for long periods of time. The number one goal at the airport is the safety of passengers and if you are a fall risk they will make every effort to prevent you from falling.

4. Limit carry-on luggage. Checking a bag is an extra cost (on most airlines), but that cost is well worth it. Check the TSA website for the items that they allow to get through screening. Make sure that if you have to pack liquids in your carry-on, they are a size that meets the TSA standard. They will confiscate any items that are prohibited for travel. Also, if you have limited strength or range-of-motion, it can be difficult lifting your carry-ons to the overhead storage.

5. Relax. The stress and anxiety of flying has many components that are out of your control. Stressing over the things you cannot control during air travel can be enough to make you sick and ruin your trip. If you follow the four preceding steps, you will be able to minimize most stressful airport situations. Unforeseen stressors like weather delays, mechanical failure and gate changes are situations that you cannot predict. If you can relax and take these steps into mind, knowing that whatever unforeseen delays are out of control, you will feel much better both during and after travel.

I fly a lot. Four out of my last six flights have had some kind of issue. I was delayed three hours on a one hour flight to Palm Springs. They loaded the plane, only to unload it and switch us over to a new plane after the delay.

Another time, I arrived in Detroit with plenty of time to make my connection to Akron, but there was no gate available. They said they notified the gate agents, but when I finally arrived at my transfer gate after a half hour delay, the gate agent had just shut the door. And even though four of us were standing there, she refused to open it or hold the plane per policy.

In this case, I didn’t take my own advice. I was on the last flight of the day and they couldn’t get me to Akron until 3:00 PM the following day. I had a speech in the morning, so I had to drive overnight and got to Akron at 4:15 AM. I was tired and groggy, but luckily able to caffeinate myself enough to give a great speech. Even though it worked out for me, the stress and delay were not worth going through that again.

As always, my advice comes from my mistakes. As a seasoned travel, I understand the do’s and don’ts of air travel. I hope that these steps help to make all of your air travel stress free. Safe travels!

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Holidays Past

The holidays are a time where people come together to celebrate the joy of the season, to honor past holiday traditions or to create new ones for generations to come. Holidays of the past can foster different types of memories – fond ones, funny ones, and those, “I still can’t believe that happened!” moments. For me, the holidays were always a hectic time, where you never quite knew what was going to happen. I do hold some fond moments about old traditions in our family, and though they may seem odd to others, every family is different and has their own ways of celebrating.

In my family, Christmas Eve was the night our extended family would get together to celebrate the holiday and exchange gifts through a Pollyanna. But the gift exchange and celebrating couldn’t happen until midnight, when it was really the start of Christmas day. As a child this was agony, as half of us would fall asleep before the countdown to midnight even began, and the rest of us were so tired that when it did come time to open presents and rejoice, we didn’t really appreciate the tradition at that late hour. However, this still remains a heartwarming memory for me, because for some reason or other throughout the years, this tradition is no longer. As more children were born into the family and members didn’t want to travel home so late, gifts are now exchanged at leisure, with no countdown or anticipation as years past. It’s still a nice tradition, but it’s different, and now we take time to reminisce about those past holiday memories and look back with joy.

Each holiday season brings varied traditions, moments, and feelings that are unique to each person and family celebrating the occasion. And even though things may change through the years, making holidays different from ones that came before, there are still memories to be made and joy to experience.

What are some of your holiday memories?

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Happy Thanksgiving to the MS Community from MSAA!

The votes are in and we have a new MSAA Thanksgiving Card winner! The competition was a close one, but our big winner is…

Happy Thanksgiving

Pumpkin Floral Arrangement!

Coming in a close second place were cards showing a puppy and a kitten, a candle centerpiece, and a festive candy turkey with two small pumpkins. Sadly, our determined and colorful turkey was also defeated, but we’re sure he at least ruffled a few feathers in the process!

We would like to thank the more than 1,200 people who took part in this year’s fun election to select MSAA’s official Thanksgiving Card for 2014! MSAA’s winning online card “Pumpkin Floral Arrangement” is now available for you to select and send electronically to everyone you know. And since the other candidates received many votes as well, MSAA is offering all six cards for you to send!

Send a Thanksgiving eCard

This is a great way to send Thanksgiving greetings, while showing your support of MSAA, a leading resource for the entire MS community, improving lives today through vital services and support. At this time of giving thanks, we also want to express our sincere gratitude to the many individuals who have so generously contributed to support our vital mission.

Please note that MSAA’s offices are closed for the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, November 27th and Friday, November 28th. 

From all of us here at MSAA, please enjoy a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

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Having a Stress-Free Holiday Season When You Have MS

By: Jeri Burtchell

Each year, I judge how well prepared I am for the holidays by the way Halloween plays out. When I saw my son donning the same scary mask we bought several years ago, I realized I’m as ill-prepared as ever. We’re lucky it still fits, I think to myself as holiday dread settles squarely on my shoulders.

The problem with his costume is not that we aren’t creative, it’s just that life is busy and time slips through our fingers like greased marbles these days. We end up making last minute plans and this Halloween was no exception: get the plastic pumpkin off the top of the fridge and start searching the house for that mask (two hours before Trick-or-Treat officially kicks off). I’m not creating the perfect childhood memories for my son, I fret to myself as I look under the bed for the face from Scream.

The limitations that my MS fatigue and reduced walking ability have placed on me are showing. I’m not looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas with the same enthusiasm as I once did. I’m filled with angst as part of me wants the ultimate “joyful” experience, while the other part just wants it all to be over.

But the holiday season is stressful for everyone. The difference is some people thrive on the stress, which they call “anticipation.” But others like myself are filled with dread. Ever since I was diagnosed with MS in 1999 it seems like I stopped looking forward to the time between Halloween and New Year’s Day. I think it’s because I worry about stress triggering a relapse. And then part of me feels guilty because the children in the family aren’t getting the full “magical” experience.

While I do face physical challenges, my MS isn’t the only factor shaping our family holidays. Mom is 91, and though she’s still undeniably the sharpest knife in the drawer, she doesn’t get around as easily as she once did. Still other family members are living with everything from lactose intolerance to diabetes which influences the dinner menu.

But we are managing. Together our family is learning to adjust to our new collective “normal”. We’re redefining what our get-togethers look like. The emphasis is on comfort and ease while downplaying commercialism. So what if the tree isn’t up or we don’t have a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings? We can define the celebration on our own terms.

The holiday dinners will be potluck so that we can each focus on one dish and prepare it ahead of time. Nobody will be banished to the kitchen and make-ahead dishes can be prepared when the cook (or baker) is feeling up to it.

With dinner prepared in advance, we’ll be free to enjoy each other’s company. The conversations, the laughs, the squealing children, and the photo ops will fill our memories of the day.

If Mom has to take a nap or I have to go lay down for a while, that’s okay. Everyone knows we both have our limits.

At Thanksgiving we’ll draw names for Christmas gift giving. Everyone ends up with a present but only shops for one person instead of ten. With a $20 limit and the convenience of online shopping, we can eliminate the stress of holiday crowds. We’re trying to make it more about the get-together and less about “what-did-I-get?”

Over the past fifteen years, I’ve come to learn a lot about managing my MS. I need plenty of rest, I need to eat right, and I need to exercise. But it’s just as important to reduce the stress in my life. Not only is it bad for MS, but for everyone’s health in general. By reducing the amount of effort (and stress) it takes to pull off a family gathering, we’re really looking out for our health.

The holidays should be about family, love, togetherness, and appreciation for every positive thing in our lives.

So when next year rolls around and my son is reaching for the same old scary mask at Halloween, I’m going to go a little easier on myself. The mask can be a new tradition, a symbol of how we can let go of society’s expectations. It will signal the start of a stress-free holiday season and–with the help of my family–I know we can do this!

References:
http://www.healthline.com/video/managing-multiple-sclerosis

*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of Healthline.com. She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.

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Planning for a Stress-Free Holiday

With Thanksgiving a little over a week away, many families have already started planning for the holiday season. Who is hosting, who’s making the turkey, and who will be opening their home to holiday guests this season? As if the actual day wasn’t hectic enough, with the shuffling around of foods, the constant chatter, and all of the hugs and kisses; why stress this upcoming week in preparation?

The following tips may help keep this holiday season a little less stressful:

1. Make a plan: Start by listing out each of the tasks that need to be accomplished. Breaking them down into groups can help keep things organized (i.e. cleaning, shopping, cooking).

2. Ask for help: Be prepared to delegate tasks to others. Go through the list and identify tasks that can easily be accomplished by someone else. Family and friends are usually asking, “What can we do or what can we bring?” Use this opportunity to check something off that list.

3. Practice self-care: Take breaks throughout the day; do not push through to finish a check list. Find a good mix of tasks that you enjoy with ones that are less pleasurable; when it comes down to choosing one or the other, always choose the one that makes you happy.

In what ways do you plan for a stress-free holiday?

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Happy Halloween 2014

Boo! From all of us here at MSAA, we’d like to wish the multiple sclerosis community a safe, happy, and fun-filled Halloween!

By Johnny Martin ecdl (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Tips for Avoiding a Post-Holiday Multiple Sclerosis Flare

By: Matt Cavallo

The holiday season is behind us. Packed away in the garage are all the ornamental memories of the season. Driving around the neighborhood at night no longer is decorated by blinking bright lights. And while the majority of people are resuming their day-to-day routine, those of us living with Multiple Sclerosis are unknowingly entering the danger zone.

While the holidays are a magical time of year, they also impose emotional and financial stresses upon us. Many of us are looking at our December statements wondering how we spent so much or how we are going to pay off the bills. We are probably also feeling the after effects of all those great holiday dinners and desserts.

As the stress of paying the bills or trying to lose weight begins to build, we are at a greater risk for triggering a Multiple Sclerosis Exacerbation. According to the National MS Society, “an exacerbation of MS (also known as a relapse, attack, or flare-up) causes new symptoms or the worsening of old symptoms.” A 2003 research study concluded that, “stressful events were associated with increased exacerbations in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.” Furthermore, according to Healthline.com, “researchers considered the four weeks following a stressful event to be a high-risk time for exacerbations.”

Considering that the holidays are a stressful event, for those of us living with MS, this stress can lead to an exacerbation. Here are some tips to help minimize the stress from the holidays:

Tips for Minimizing Post-Holiday Stress

  1. Develop a financial plan – as the bills mount from the holidays, create a financial plan to help successfully budget your expenses. You may not be able to pay off the bills right away, but having a plan to pay off debt can help reduce stress associated with financial obligations.
  2. Change eating habits – the holidays include a lot of emotional eating. Not only do we eat larger portion sizes during the holiday, but we also eat more desserts. Use the time after the holiday to get back on track in terms of eating healthy.
  3. Exercise – the stress of holidays and the shorter days of winter make it easy to skip exercising. Exercising reduces stress and can help with symptom management.
  4. Get back on schedule – the holidays force you out of your routine. The stress of getting to these holiday events or finding the energy to participate in these events can be draining for people living with Multiple Sclerosis. Getting back on your established routine can help reduce stress.
  5. Set attainable goals – two weeks after the holidays and some of us have already broken our New Year’s resolutions. Revisit the goals that you had to start the year and make sure that the goals are attainable. Setting too high goal expectations can bring about unnecessary stress whereas goals that you can achieve could reduce stress.

As a person living with Multiple Sclerosis, understand that the stress of the holidays can leave you at a greater risk for an MS flare up. Managing that stress can help reduce the risk of an MS exacerbation. Exercising, eating right and developing a financial plan are some of the ways that you can manage stress. Following these tips and reducing stress in your life will help you avoid a post-holiday MS flare.

Resources

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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