Italian Soft Biscuits

This month’s recipe comes from MSAA Staffer, Kaitlyn G.

My grandmother’s recipe for Italian Soft Biscuits always reminds me of the holiday season. They are the perfect treat for those who want to make something simple, but still get in the holiday spirit! Jazz them up with red, green, or blue sprinkles and you’ll have the perfect dessert for any holiday party. Enjoy!

Ingredients for biscuits:

  • ¼ lb. of butter
  • 1 ½ cups of sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon of anise
  • 3 cups of flour

Ingredients for icing:

  • 1 ¼ cups of powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of milk
  • ½ teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice

Instructions for biscuits:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time into the batter. Add vanilla, lemon juice, and anise. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add this to the batter. Grease and flour three cookie sheets – the batter will create about 9 rows of dough. Put three rows onto each cookie sheet. Put in the oven for 15-20 mins. Allow the biscuits to cool.

Instructions for icing:

Combine powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and lemon juice into a bowl, and mix with spatula until icing consistency is similar to milk. Once the biscuits are cool, drizzle icing over top of the rows and then cut the rows to the size you would like. Throw some colorful sprinkles on the top to complete the dessert!

Share

Balance and Moderation

By Lauren Kovacs

This is a Grinch every MS person faces this time of year. Even those who chose not to celebrate will be affected in some way. Even if you don’t bring that creepy “Elf of the Shelf” into your home, the season seeps into your life. Like glitter, it sticks to everything.

I have had to hand the holiday reins over to my family for most things Christmas. I did what I could. Each year, I find something else I cannot do. I am thankful my husband was always the cook and party planner guy.

I gave up helping decorate the tree or the house. I direct most of that now and point. Taking it down last year was very hard, especially telling the boys to wrap up certain ornaments for proper storage. (PS even fake candles melt in the attic no matter how well you store them.)

I do all my shopping online. I order online and if it arrives early and unwrapped, so be it. I let people know something is coming and to bag or wrap it. I can only do so much. The old saying, “it’s the thought.”

I keep a list of people and record what I bought and how much I spent. I can’t remember everything. I can budget and keep track of gifts all together on one list. I have a very big family. I can’t hang an ornament, but I can do the shopping part. That is huge.

Gift buying, angel trees, charity and such require a lot of planning. It can be a lot of work.  Most MS folks are great at planning. Embrace what you are good at.

Not being able to stand up might make you able to decorate the tree on the bottom half. Just be sure there are no glass items down there. Maybe you can still make fabulous wreaths. Maybe give those as gifts. Take a talent and latch on. Even small tasks can bring you joy during the holidays. Embrace whatever you can. Cookie taste tester is important.

Rest/nap and keep your schedule, too. It can be tempting to skip that nap or stay late at a party. Spiced eggnog is delicious, but is it worth it? Trying to walk like The Nutcracker might not be fun. Pick your battles.

We all have to live and be merry, however. Moderation is key here! Those of us that don’t eat gluten have to weigh the consequences of eating that one cookie. Is it really gonna kill you to have one cookie in celebration? One, not three or ten. I have been known as a cookie monster. I get it.

If I have been good about not eating gluten all week and I attend a party with cookies, yes, I will skip the seaweed smoothie and eat the cookie instead. Come on, live a little. I want to enjoy the holidays and if eating one piece of fudge is more fun than liver and onions, bring on the fudge, but self-control is also key.

MS folks have to balance a great deal at the holidays. Don’t deny yourself a small treat. Think of it as a “to me from me.” Our battle is long and small prizes now and then are ok.  Don’t be a glutton, but one small candy cane is not going to break the MS bank.

Share

Finding Holiday Spirit

I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that 2017 has been a pretty difficult year, to say the least. National tragedies, devastating natural disasters, political and social mayhem, and endless controversy have plagued the year and we’re not yet at its end. So it’s completely understandable if you ask yourself the question, how do I get into the holiday spirit surrounded by this mayhem? Where does one find the incentive “to be jolly” in a season that’s bookended by discord on one side, and potential hope and mystery on the other that comes with the arrival of the New Year? The answer to this can actually be found in those who surround you and the spirit that others project this time of year, you only need look for the light that cuts through the darkness.

If you want to find holiday spirit, look to children this time of year, as they carry so much light and happiness and excitement for what the holiday will bring, that it’s hard not to share in this joy with them. If religion is something of interest or that you already practice, hope can oftentimes be found through faith, especially during this season. Sometimes people just want to believe in something that’s greater than them and elicits peace. Seeing how people volunteer and donate to various causes year round but especially at the holidays also spurs feelings of joy and creates that sought after holiday spirit. It’s not always easy – life can be messy and chaotic and awful at times, but it’s looking and searching for those small signs of hope and peace that keep people moving forward and keeps holiday spirit alive. Without darkness we wouldn’t know light and how powerful it can be, so be sure to embrace it when it shines through, and let your spirit be bright.

Share

Imagine Your Happy Place

The holiday season is in full swing, and as the year comes to a close, the hectic pace can be stressful.  Running any kind of errand during the last few weeks of the year becomes an adventure as you see more people out and about trying to purchase gifts, visit family and friends, host family and friends, and purchase supplies for all of the holiday meals and get-togethers.  Everyone has their own method for dealing with the holiday season pressures and stressors, and one strategy that might be helpful at this time of year is guided imagery.

Guided imagery is a deep state of relaxation achieved by specific breathing techniques and mental images that reduce stress and feelings of anxiety – think of it as a structured day dream.  This process can help with different types of physical and emotional stress by helping the body relax as you are guided along by a recording. Some benefits of guided imagery can include:

  • Improved mood by calming, relaxing, inspiring, and motivating
  • Reduced feelings of anxiety and depression
  • Lower blood pressure

Most guided imagery is practiced using a recording of someone coaching you on your breathing and a mental image designed to reduce your stress levels. By envisioning an ideal place of relaxation (like a cabin in the woods, or a beach) in this almost meditative state, your body starts to physically relax and react as if you are actually in that place.

The more you practice guided imagery, the easier it can become to find your happy place and relax in a stressful environment, giving you a sense of control over your stress and your body’s reaction to it!

Interested in learning more about guided imagery?  Check out our cover story from the Winter/Spring 2008 edition of The Motivator, Imagine the Possibilities: An Introduction to Guided Imagery and Its Potential Benefits for Individuals with MS.

Share

Important 2018 Insurance Deadlines

As the 2017 calendar year starts coming to a close, we would like to remind everyone about two important enrollment deadlines that are approaching for 2018 health insurance coverage:

Medicare
Medicare Open Enrollment ends on December 7th for coverage that begins on January 1, 2018.

Health Insurance Marketplace
Private insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace has a December 15th deadline in order to receive coverage that begins on January 1, 2018. If you do not enroll in a marketplace plan by December 15th, you cannot enroll in a plan for the rest of 2018 unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

Ensuring that you have health insurance coverage to manage the many medical expenses that can accompany MS is crucial. You can visit these sites in order to enroll or re-enroll in a health insurance plan that meets your needs.

To help you better understand the complexities of health insurance coverage, you can also visit our website section My Health Insurance Guide or call the MSAA Helpline at (800) 532-7667, ext. 154. This is an important time, so please be sure to enroll in a health insurance plan that is right for you!

Share

Enjoying the Holiday Season When Health is an Issue

By Stacie Prada

There are reasons to stress all year long, but the added social events and holiday tasks in November and December consistently encourage us to overdo it. People expect things from us, and we put expectations on ourselves.

Sometimes – or a lot of times – “just” getting to work, paying bills, keeping house, caring for others, and maintaining some modicum of basic health is an overwhelming goal.  Add the holiday season expectations, and those of us with MS can be vulnerable to increased symptoms.

I firmly believe that these suggestions are good for anyone, those in perfect health and those with chronic illnesses.  It’s just that what may be optional for them is critical for us.

Establish the minimum: Decide what the absolute minimum is that you need to do to maintain your health and be happy this season.  Not being able to do everything we want to do is a daily harsh reality with MS, but being strategic about how we spend our time and energy can help alleviate the discouragement.

For holiday tasks, be very clear on what is needed and what is preferred.  Anything beyond what is necessary is a choice, not an obligation.  Sometimes just a shift in thinking can change how I feel from resentment to joy.  If I’m doing something expected and I’m coming from a place of resentment, I will suffer. When I’m gifting, I’ve decided this is something I’ve chosen to do and I’ll feel good doing it.  When it’s appreciated, it’s only an added bonus.

Reduce the demands: Ask yourself the following:

  • How can I do this so that it lessens my burden?
  • Can someone help?
  • Does it need to be done at all?
  • Can it be done at a different level of effort?
  • Can I purchase it without compromising my finances?

When someone asks me to do something, I’ll ask them the questions above. I’ll ask myself: Would I enjoy it, and can I do it without overloading myself? If I’ll resent it, I better adjust my attitude or not do it.

Organize and plan ahead: Don’t expect to remember everything without any extra effort.  I keep a list of holiday season tasks that I want to make sure I do each year. It includes things I’ve done in the past, mailing due dates for cards and packages, gifts given, gifts received, thank you notes sent, and events attended.

If possible, I’ll proactively schedule time off from work to do holiday tasks.  Trying to accomplish them all during evenings and weekends often doesn’t allow enough rest for maintaining health.

Make room for joy: Connect with loved ones in person, or by phone, text or letter. For many years I’ve alternated between Christmas cards sent in December and New Year’s cards sent in January depending on how much I had to do that season. Some years I didn’t send cards at all.

Include time to recharge in ways you love that feed your soul.  I love getting outside and moving my body. It’s important to not just set sights on getting through the holiday season.  Experiencing joy along the way is crucial for my sanity, and I will not do without just because I have a chronic illness.

Adjust to changing plans: I’d forecasted the things I would do this holiday season to match a level that I thought could accommodate my MS fatigue.  Then my career placed demands on me I hadn’t anticipated.  Sure, I whined about the surprise demands before verbalizing that it’s my choice to participate.  The truth is I want to do these events; it’s only the scheduling that frustrated me given it challenges me with fatigue.  To adjust, I found time on the work schedule where I could come in late or take some time off to offset the longer days.  I also talked to a couple people who scheduled the events and asked them to consider spacing them out if done again in the future.

Receive judgement with compassion: People will judge the choices you make.  Understanding that we can no longer do everything we’ve always done is hard to take for those that know and love us.  Sometimes it’s not about the task, it’s about them wishing our health will be okay.  It’s hard for us, but it’s also hard for them to accept that we have a serious illness that affects every aspect of our lives. Other times due to the invisible symptoms we experience and successfully accommodate, they forget we have limitations.  It’s up to us to share our limitations when they affect others.  No one who cares about us really wants our health compromised because of them.  Usually they don’t understand that the little things could be a tipping point for us that requires a long time to recover.

It takes a lot of effort to live well with a chronic illness among people that have much more natural energy. They haven’t been forced to face these issues, and they may not understand how little things for them can be big things for us.  It’s our job to take care of ourselves while nurturing relationships and living a life we love.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38.  Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/

Share

December 2017 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our 2017-18 Art Showcase – celebrating the work of artists affected by multiple sclerosis (MS).

We have received many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share their work and their stories with you. Please visit our online gallery to view all of the new submissions.

Kimberly Stevens – Roanoke, VA
Christmas Stars
Kimberly Stevens - Christmas Stars

About the Artist:
“Diagnosed in January 2012 and no longer able to work, I became determined to find ways to keep busy based on my daily MS symptoms. MS requires flexibility.

Shaky hands and eye issues have made jewelry and glass working very difficult these days, and after going to a paint night party, I was inspired. I’ve enjoyed painting with stencils to create mixed media artwork and painting clay pottery for the past year.”
Read more

Send an eCard

Share

The “Common” Cold

It’s that time of year again. Everywhere you turn, it seems like someone is sniffing, sneezing, or coughing. For most people, cold season is a nuisance, but for people with MS, cold season can be debilitating, and even lead to health complications.

Cold viruses often impact people with MS differently than the rest of the population, making cold prevention and recovery very important. This month, many in our MS community shared their experiences with the common cold and we thought you might relate as well. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Symptoms & Recovery Time

“The past two winters, I have caught my daughter’s cold and I get hit HARD to the point I have to go to emergency and get booked into the hospital.”

“Like having life sucked out of you”

“Whenever the rest of my family gets a cold or virus, it passes within a week. When I catch it (and I almost always catch it) it lasts for weeks, PLUS I get pseudoexacerbations on top of it. No fun.”

It takes me 3 times as long to get over a cold than it does anyone else. So frustrating!”

“When I get a cold now, it lasts 2-3 weeks”

According to our MS community, the “common cold” is anything but common. While most people recover from a cold in seven to ten days1, for MS patients, it can take much longer. According to many of our community members, cold symptoms are also more intense for people with MS, often making underlying MS symptoms more noticeable.

In addition to typical cold symptoms (such as fever, cough, congestion, body aches, and headaches1), cold viruses can also lead to MS pseudoexacerbations, which usually last less than 24 hours and may mirror the symptoms of a full-blown MS relapse. Because a fever can trigger a pseudoexacerbation2, you may want to ask your healthcare provider if over-the-counter fever reducers (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen) are safe for you.

When You’re Surrounded by Sick People…

“Every time my parents get sick then I will catch it…I just wish they would learn about MS.”

“Unfortunately for us, even the hospital and doctor office can be risky.”

“People just don’t understand, no matter how much you explain it to them.”

I try to stay away from sick people.”

“Do NOT expose yourself to sick people. If they don’t get it, tough. Please protect yourself.”

MS is understood to be an autoimmune disorder.3 In terms of immune health, many community members have shared that MS has made them more susceptible to colds, as well as other illness. According to many of you, being around sick people almost guarantees that you catch whatever’s going around, making doctor’s offices, public transit, and even the workplace risky during cold and flu season.

For many community members, it can be difficult to avoid the cold germs, especially without accusations that you’re being “rude” or “overdramatic” when asking sick people to keep their distance. However, if you’re managing MS, your health is the priority. To stay healthy during cold season, many community members recommend avoiding sick friends, family, and strangers all together, and talking to people about how MS affects your immune system.

Cold Complications

“Sinus and ear infection, felt like I had the flu. Going on day 8. Ugh.”

“I have a cold and 2 infections right now. It can’t ever just be one thing.”

“Ear infections”

In addition to experiencing more intense cold symptoms, a longer recovery time, and increased susceptibility to the cold virus, individuals with MS are also more susceptible to infections.4 Common colds can spread to the ears, chest, and sinuses,5 leading many MS patients to experience other complications as a result of a cold, such as ear infections and sinus infections. Because MS can make it harder to fight infections, be sure to talk to your doctor if you think you’ve developed an infection, or if you experience a pseudoexacerbation lasting more than 24 hours.

Staying Healthy… or Recovering

“NO double dipping, sharing drinks, utensils, and most definitely, the cook must NOT lick the spoon the put it back…Even if your family and friends are not showing symptoms, they could have picked up something.”

“Wash your hands all day, all night, and eat tons of veggies. I drink a blender full, and it really helps. Take good care.”

“Wash your hands, don’t kiss anyone (except your honey), tons of veggies, exercise as tolerated, and get LOTS of sleep.”

As we move into cold and flu season, many of our community members have suggestions for staying healthy and cold-free, such as good handwashing, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep. If you do develop cold symptoms, consider these tips for fighting a cold. To prevent the flu, you should also talk to your healthcare provider about getting a flu shot, especially if you are exposed to family members and co-workers who may carry the flu virus.

Works Cited

  1. Mayo Clinic. “Common Cold.” Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/ symptoms-causes/syc-20351605. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
  2. Editorial Team. “Is It an MS Relapse or a Pseudoexacerbation?” MultipleSclerosis.net, Health Union, 6 Mar. 2017, multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/relapse-or-pseudoexacerbation/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
  3. Health Union. “What Is MS?” MultipleSclerosis.Net, Health Union, multiplesclerosis.net/what-is-ms/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
  4. Montgomery, S., et al. “Hospital Admission Due to Infections in Multiple Sclerosis Patients.” European Journal of Neurology, vol. 20, no. 8, Aug. 2013, pp. 1153-60, dos:10.1111/ene.12130. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
  5. NHS. “Common Cold: Complications.” National Health Service, NHS, www.nhs.uk/conditions/common-cold/complications/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
Share

Holiday Assistance

With the holiday season in full swing some individuals may find themselves busy making plans and preparations for this festive time of year. For others this season may represent a time when some extra help is needed to make the holiday special. Financial challenges can make expectations of the holidays a struggle, but it’s important to know that there are resources available that may help support your holiday activities, and therefore lift some of the stress that can accompany these festivities. The following community resources may be able to offer help through the holidays. Be sure to check with the organizations directly about their application requirements and deadlines as many have specific time frames to apply for help.

  • Salvation Army offices offer seasonal services and holiday assistance programs to help families in need with holiday dinners, toys, and clothing. Search for your local office to inquire about direct programs and services and application deadlines.
  • The United Way can offer information and referrals for holiday assistance programs in your community.
  • The Toys for Tots Program provides new, unwrapped toys during the holidays to children in need through community outreach and support efforts.
  • Catholic Charities Services and other local religious organizations may offer seasonal assistance as well, though these programs can vary based on location. Contact the groups in your area directly to inquire of services available.
  • Contact the county department of family/social services in your area, as their office may have additional holiday assistance and resources available.
  • You can also check with local schools in the community that may know of holiday assistance programs for families.
  • Community food banks may also be able to offer holiday assistance programs in your area during the season.

Again, many community assistance programs have specific application deadlines and requirements in order to receive holiday assistance by a certain time. Be sure to reach out to the resources to see what’s available in your area and how to apply.

Share

You Are Stronger Than You Think

By Penelope Conway

There are so many things that I’m thankful for. I could list the usual: family, friends, warm fuzzy slippers and coffee…but those things seem so shallow to me now. Not because they aren’t important, but because my focus has shifted greatly over the years.

This morning, as I sat asking myself why I’m thankful, a flood of thoughts came to my mind. I have seen people faced with terrible circumstances who have become bitter in the process, and I have seen others rise above their challenges and become a light and a source of hope to the world around them. Which am I? Which are you?

As someone living with multiple sclerosis, I remember the day I sat in the doctor’s office when he gave me the unwelcome news that I have MS. I went through a full range of emotions in the weeks that followed from denial, to pain, to anger, to depression, to acceptance. It was a shocking blow to my life and something that I never saw coming. I had plans and MS wasn’t one of them.

It’s definitely been a hard road. I have had to adjust the way I do just about everything because even the simplest of daily tasks have become challenging for me. Some days I even have arguments with myself about getting dressed for the day or going to the store for something other than toilet paper. It’s amazing how much I took for granted before MS.

But you know, regardless of the struggle, I refuse to give up. I will NOT let MS keep me from being thankful…or from living.

The questions that I’ve asked myself, even just recently, have been simple. Can I be thankful regardless of the circumstances I find myself in? Can I find beauty in the chaos? Can I look this disease of MS square in the eyes and say, “I am not defeated because of you and in spite of the challenges I face, I will be thankful for each new day I am given.”

I decided to stop questioning why I was going through this crazy storm in my life and resolved to be thankful as I go through. I pictured myself as a tree swaying in the wind, but anyone who has ever lived through a tsunami, hurricane or tornado knows that even the strongest of trees break. It may still be standing when the storm subsides, but scars are left behind as a reminder of what once was branches and sometimes even the trunk breaks.

The truth is, multiple sclerosis changes you. It leaves scars both in your brain and spine, but also in your heart. You change. The storm you are enduring…people can’t see it. Some try to understand, but without living in your body and experiencing your journey by walking in your shoes, they just can’t understand the mental and emotional pains you face each day along with a slew of symptoms. They don’t know how often you cover your tears with a smile and piece together your heart with bubble gum and shoestrings.

Are you stronger because of MS? Absolutely you are. You are stronger even in the breaking. You have endured much and just like how a tree grows new limbs once a storm has torn it apart, you are growing and changing every day. You may be at a place where you feel like the storm is overtaking you, but the winds will calm and the sun will come out.

Hold on with everything you’ve got, then when you find your strength again…hold your head high proud of what you’ve come through and choose to be thankful for all you’ve overcome. I have learned that strength isn’t measured by the amount of things I can do or by how little I cry, it’s determined by the attitude that I have while going through the storms in life.

Not many people can make it through a storm, break, then keep going…but you are doing it. So the next time someone tells you to stay strong, smile in your brokenness realizing that your scars speak of your strength and tell a story that only a warrior can tell.

*Penelope Conway was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in November 2011. She is the author and founder of Positive Living with MS (positivelivingwithms.com) where she uses humor and her own life experiences with MS to help others navigate this unpredictable journey. She believes that staying positive and holding onto hope is the key to waking up each morning with the strength to get through the day.

Share