Monday, December 12, 2011

Top 10 Holiday Gift Plants for Seniors on Your Gift List

This is the season we celebrate life, joy, goodwill and peace. It’s most appropriate to give a living gift that can provide enjoyment, generate smiles and calm stressed nerves. For senior friends and relatives, a plant suitable for a windowsill is a wonderful gift that keeps giving joy, initiating pleasant conversation and triggering fond memories months after the Christmas decorations are packed away.
You might want to consider for an aging friends or relatives easy plants such as African violets, begonias, peace lilies, rosemary, ferns, a windowsill herb garden, a palm or ivy. The therapeutic value of caring for a plant that literally depends on us, that will grow and bloom for us, and encourages us to look forward to tomorrow can’t be under estimated.

Don’t neglect the potential for whimsy in horticultural gift giving. There is the traditional Chia pet, a coffee plant for the Starbucks addict on your list, or catnip for the feline friendly. The tools of gardening also make great gifts, like the user friendly Fiskars pruning shears. Garden books, decorative containers, moisture meters, fertilizers, like Zoo-Doo also make great and useful gifts. Creative readers of this blog can make a distinctive garden hat, personalized pots and unique containers, laminated seed packet markers, etc. for their gardening friends.

Important factors to remember when selecting plants for giving includeMatch the gift plant to the person’s interests and abilities

Match the gift plant to the setting the person can provide. Indoor space, outdoor space, sunny window, sunroom, patio, conservatory greenhouse, shade garden, etc.

Purchase the plant as close to the time it will be given as is convenient, but don’t wait until Christmas eve to find that perfect poinsettia.

Keeping plants viable until they are given.Remember that all plants need light, water and air to live. Denied these big three for even a short time can seriously affect their appearance, producing a gift with yellow foliage, dropping leaves, moldy flowers, or gift wrapped compost.

The cooler we can keep cyclamen, Christmas cactus, mums, mini-roses, amaryllis and lilies the better the chances of an attractive bloom on the big day.   

Don’t keep gift plants in those plastic sleeves or decorative pot covers while waiting for Christmas morning. Unless the gift is a water lily there needs to be drainage provision. Keeping a plant in a plastic bag doesn’t satisfy this need.

Keeping them alive after the batteries in the toys are all dead and the ornaments are all packed away.There are plants that are best treated as a bouquet. When they are done blooming they can become compost. Forced tulips, potted & decorated spruce trees, potted ornamental cypress, cineraria and calceolaria are examples of plants that were designed by nature for a brief but glorious moment on a sunny windowsill.

Plants that will make an effective addition to the outdoor landscape should be moved out there as soon as possible. Hollies, junipers, cedars and most other evergreens aren’t well adapted to life indoors. Living Christmas trees like blue spruce, cedar, juniper and holly will tolerate a couple weeks in the living room if they are kept watered, but they need their place in the cool winter sun as soon as possible.

Poinsettias, mums, amaryllis, kalanchoes, begonias and cyclamen will continue to bloom with enthusiasm on a sunny windowsill. Ivies, ferns, peace lilies, anthuriums, ficus and many others are quite content to enjoy an extended stay with you, as long as they get sufficient light and water.

Most plants living indoors should be kept evenly moist but not soggy. The easiest way to do this is to place them in a saucer of water and let them soak it up until the soil surface is moist, dump and excess water from the saucer and let the plant drain for a while. Then don’t water again until the soil surface is dry.

Get the gift plants out of those plastic sleeves as soon as possible. They can hold enough waster to drown your plants.

Top 10 Holiday plants for senior citizensBased on ease of care, color and safety

10. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme windowsill herb garden is #10 on the list but is a great gift that can be useful for many seasons to come, is safe and easy to grow.

9. Ferns, the common Boston ferns, Ruffles and others are easy to grow, are a great reminisce plant and can be decorated for the season.

8. Ivy is rugged and eager to grow. It can be found as topiaries in Christmas tree, hoop, heart, and globe shapes. You can also find ivy hanging baskets or small decorative pots. This is an inexpensive, yet dependable, plant

7. Mint is# 7 on the list. It is rugged, easy, aromatic and can be used throughout the winter. It can be planted outdoors in the spring.

6. African Violets are not often thought of as a traditional Christmas plant, but they are ideal, colorful, easy to grow and propagate, few insect problems and a great reminisce plant.

5. Norfolk Pines are found in all sizes from tiny 3" pots to 6' trees. They are often available decorated with lights and ornaments, but you can theme the decorations yourself and make it a truly unique gift plant that will thrive for years with little effort.

4. Christmas cactus
are great for color and ease of care. They are now available in a wide variety of colors from red to white, pink, lavender and even creamy yellow. They are also easy to start and share as a pass along plant and can live for generations.

3. Rosemary is # 3on the list because it is so aromatic, easy to grow, safe for people and pets and makes a great addition to a wide variety of meals.

2. Mini-Roses are #2 because they are so colorful, so easy to grow and will bloom in spite of you. They will thrive indoors and out as long as they get enough light and water.

1. Poinsettias
are the #1 plant for this season. They now come in a variety of colors and the "bloom" (really modified leaf bracts) will remain colorful for several months. They can be kept to rebloom next year, but this can be a challenge. They are best treated as a long lasting bouquet, not a perennial.

10 holiday plants that are dangerous when ingestedIf there is the possibility of ingesting leaves or other plant parts avoid plants on the danger list below. The same plants can also be harmful to cats and dogs if chewed or swallowed.

1. Mistletoe

2. Holly leaves and berries 

3. Amaryllis

4. Azalea

5. Cyclamen

6. Philodendron

7. Florist primrose

8. Narcissus

9. Tulips

10. Anthurium

Other great SAFE plants for holiday giving include
Chia pets, they make a great whimsy planter and the cats love ‘em.

Orchids are easier than you think









Combination planters


These plants that have become a part of the celebration of the Christmas season can continue to give life and color to the home long after the Christmas decorations are packed away. They can bring joy to seniors living in their own home or in a senior community. They can inspire pleasant thoughts and trigger fond memories. They also serve as subjects for conversation.

Special thanks to Lowes Home Improvement Stores and Smiths Supermarkets for many of the photos used in this article. The quality and diversity of plants in these stores was exceptional.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Charles Lewis Garden of Opportunities

Wanted to share a few thoughts that seem to be getting some traction in the past couple months.  I welcome your thoughts, suggestions and ideas. The following is little more than a wish list at this point.  We need to find a location and funding before we can get serious. 
A model home for accessible gardening
What if we created a "Model Home" for accessible gardening and horticultural therapy in New Mexico? This could be a place to serve the special needs in every community, improve quality of life, and demonstrate ways we can to work together to cultivate peace within ourselves and throughout the community. This can be combination of classroom and garden setting for the healthcare community, senior services and children with special needs. This can be a site where research can be conducted and professionals can gain insight into the value of the people-plant connection and the healing garden while individuals can be empowered.

Empowerment, quality of life, individual, family and community health are all the harvest we can reap from a truly accessible garden that goes beyond food production to cultivate hope, pride, interaction, cooperation and improved diet.

It would be only right to dedicate this garden to the memory of Charles Lewis, a true visionary in the exploration of the people-plant connection and one of the pioneers of modern horticultural therapy. His Green Nature - Human Nature is one of those pivotal books that provides so much insight into the way the garden can transform people, be a place of healing, and an inspiration. Charles Lewis was a resident of Albuquerque for a number of years and continues to influence the direction of horticultural therapy and the interaction between people and plants. This garden could be used in a number of ways to showcase the possibilities and help to express his dreams. The following could be a part of the Charles Lewis Garden of Opportunities

Vegetable gardensA raised bed does not make a garden accessible.
This could be a place with truly accessible gardens; table gardens, vertical gardens, trellises and arbors. All are simple ways that the art of gardening can be combined with the grand traditions of the kitchen/backyard garden. Here we can learn from each other, share the foods of New Mexico’s diverse cultures and the techniques that make the family garden successful for all. Less than 10% of Americans community gardens are wheelchair accessible.

Horticultural Therapy programsThis could be a site with "classroom" space to conduct indoor horticultural therapy programs for visitors from local senior care communities, adult day care programs, rehab and treatment programs, youth programs and more. A place where elements of the community can be welcomed for specific programs, special needs populations can have on-going programs with activities, engagement and empowerment.

Training programThis could provide a site where classes can be conducted for professionals, senior care, community and educational staff, family and professional caregivers and healthcare professionals. The elders involved are also the resource and the teacher

We could provide a place where research can be conducted on ways that horticultural therapy can be most effectively used in a variety of venues, including:

Hospital healing gardens; Cancer treatment and general surgery recovery
Adult day care
Senior care and progressive care services
Alzheimer’s programs
End-of-Life & hospice
Family caregivers and professional staff
Children and adults with special needs
Victims of trauma, domestic violence or PTSD

Some possible research projects
Ratio of gardening traditions and incidence of Alzheimer’s, initial study
Ways to most effectively promote engagement between family and the one with Alzheimer’s
End-of-Life & hospice, was to make best use of a hospice/grief garden
Value of the people-plan connection for preparation for those facing end-of-life
Ways to use the garden as an element of anticipatory grief and dealing with caregiver stress
Ways to most effectively use a children’s garden setting in hospitals
Cancer patients, rate of recovery times and controlling negative impact of treatments
Family caregivers and stress reduction through passive garden time and active engagement

Elements of the Charles Lewis Garden of OpportunitiesAn enclosed garden area where features of a healing/paradise garden can be created to explore the most effective use of this setting for people with special needs. Features will include:

Enclosure, green, artistic
Walkways & wander paths
Seating and shade
Reminisce gardens
Scratch & Sniff sensory experiences
Water features, pool with fish, turtles, butterflies, ladybugs
Fruit and vegetables
Meditation stations
Conversation stations with sensory elements
Whimsy, feeding the sense of humor
Discoveries, feeding the sense of wonder

Life skills elements

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dirty Hands and Active Minds Part 2

In Part 1 we discussed the problems with a gardening program at the Three Hills Senior Center and explored some of the reasons these programs often fail.  In Part 2 we follow the folks at Three Hills as they discover was to use their garden area as a therapeutic resource.  Hope you enjoy the rest of this story.  I welcome your thoughts, ideas and comments.
Peace, Hank Bruce

Defining the program before you begin.

Dr. Bennett revived the horticultural therapy program at Three Hills by bringing Jessica, an experienced horticultural therapist, in for a training session for the staff. In two days she introduced everyone from the administrator to the maintenance crew to the field of horticultural therapy. She did this by engaging staff and residents in a little hands-on activity where they had fun learning the basic objectives for such a program, and how to implement them.

She explained that there are universal objectives, such as:
∙ Empowerment
∙ Increased socialization
∙ Sensory stimulation
∙ Physical activity
∙ Mental stimulation
∙ Increased participation

Then she discussed Individual Treatment Goals.
They reviewed the charts of five residents who had expressed interest in a gardening program. They discussed specific expectations, limitations and needs. Then they wrote a list of three objectives for each participant in the program, and several possible ways to achieve these. The residents selected a “JOB” from a list and this became the basis for their participation and evaluation.

∙ Gladys needed to work on her balance and proper body mechanics. She accepted the job of tying the vines to the trellis every three days.

∙ Jimmy was dealing with chronic depression and needed to work on awareness of his surroundings. He chose the responsibility for monitoring water needs with the moisture meter.

∙ Maureen needed to improve her confidence level and interpersonal skills. She was given the responsibility of deadheading the flowers in the entry way garden.

∙ Carl had some problems with attention span and details. But when he selected the job of tending the roses he became a rose expert.

∙ Bernie had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and displayed moments of anger and inability to follow directions. She worked with the “Reminisce Garden” planted with safe, non-toxic sensory plants. She spent a good deal of time talking to her “silent friends” and a few fellow gardeners as well.

Cultivating success
So often horticultural therapy programs that begin with a burst of enthusiasm and initial success falter and fail within months and many don’t survive to the second year. This can be prevented with a little planning ahead, and including the participants in the process from start to finish.

The site
Next Jessica walked through the courtyard discussing some of the elements that limited resident activity there. These included narrow walkways, little shade, limited access to the plants, little opportunity to be actively engaged. It was a beautiful landscape, but it was designed to be a passive rather than active experience. She suggested:
∙ The addition of a gazebo and a couple shade canopies
∙ Several vertical gardens and a “covered bridge” that provided easy access to plant material, an active experience and shade.
∙ Portable gardens that made gardening activities accessible for wheelchair users, and those who had mobility limitations.
∙ A whimsy pool with rubber ducky races, a potted cattail, a water lily, a real live turtle and several goldfish.
∙ A butterfly garden, created in cooperation with a local elementary school.
∙ Curbing on the walkways to help keep wheelchairs from tipping.
∙ Most popular was the Barefoot Park compete with bubbles and a beanbag court.

It should be noted that the residents made the bean bags and helped compile a list of features for the garden. They planted around the covered bridge with plants they selected by voting, and even painted rubber ducks as a part of an multi-generational program.

The gardening activities involved both indoor and outdoor projects, and not everyone was doing the same thing. Often they worked as teams, helping each other, sharing memories and new discoveries. Many of the projects involved starting plants from seeds or cuttings. These would become their individual “windowsill gardens.” Often they would make planters to give to friends, folks at the nearby hospital, and staff.

Bernie worked with the Reminisce Garden. Often she would sit on the ground and pet the leaves of the Lambs Ears or smell the mints, or pull the petals from the roses and throw them in the air.
Her treatment goals included:
Finding her way to the Reminisce Garden each day
Strolling the entire courtyard following the “Wandering Way Path, (painted pink)
Reducing anger and agitation
Sharing memories
Following simple directions in a 1-2 sequence
Engaging in meaningful shared activities

With most forms of dementia the goal is not to follow a treatment plan leading to healing, but it is a matter improving the quality of life for the individual and the family. This can involve sensory and mental stimulation, delaying decline, providing some positive moments, connecting with the person dwelling within, and engaging with the surroundings and other people. But most of all it requires us to accept the individual as a fellow human being and respect them as such.

Each day her activities were briefly noted in each of the treatment goals, and a weekly summary was prepared. At the end of the three month program overall response was reviewed with staff and a new set of treatment goals and activities was prepared. It should be noted that her anger outbursts began to decline within the first week and were rare by the end of the first three months.

For others the Individual Treatment Goals included:
∙ Improved range of motion
∙ Reduced need for anti-depressive medications
∙ Engaging in group activities
∙ Successful problem solving
∙ Accepting responsibilities

Soon the residents formed a Green Thumb Club that included many gardeners who did not have Individual Treatment Goals. All the residents engaged in the decision making process, and had the freedom to do individual projects as well as the group activities.

Investing in a Professional

Gardening activities and horticultural therapy programs can function best, and be most productive, when a professional horticultural therapist is active in the design, implementation and progress of the program. If there is not funding available to hire a horticultural therapist, have one conduct a staff training program for your facility. This is a good investment.

For more information on this contact Hank Bruce & Tomi Jill Folk at Petals & Pages Press. They also have a list of books on the field of horticultural therapy that provide a wealth of projects and activities for your clients.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dirty Hands & Active Minds, part 1

Gardening Programs for Seniors,
Why some are successful and others aren't
The following is part 1 of a true story about a horticultural therapy program in central Florida a few years ago that almost failed.  This is adapted from Dirty Hands and Active Minds, a horticultural therapy course Hank Bruce offers for activity professionals and senior care communties.

Conversation in the courtyard
Dr. Bennett was reviewing the activities program with the Three Hills Senior Center when they walked out onto the patio. The landscaping crew was busy trimming the shrubs and cleaning the flower beds while maintenance was cleaning the fountain. There wasn’t a resident in sight.

“I thought you had a horticultural therapy program here,” Dr Bennett commented as he walked over to a raised bed with a few withered plants crying for a drink.

“Oh, we tried it,” Betty responded, but there was little interest. “We brought in a series of speakers, but few attended the lectures.”

Dr. Bennett sat down at the concrete table, almost too hot to touch in the blistering hot afternoon sun. “Did you contact the horticultural therapist I recommended? Did you get the project books on the list?”

“Well, NO.” Betty responded with a touch of pride in her voice, “We found a master gardener who volunteered. Didn’t cost us a penny.”

“Do you have a list of goals and objectives for your program?” he continued.

“Why, the objective was to get them off their duffs and out here with the flowers. Maintenance has gone to a lot of effort to clean this place up for them.” After a pause, she continued, “I have a lot of work to do and I don’t think this is working.”

“I see,” he was now frowning, “But, I sent you the program outline from Sterling Oaks. Didn’t you follow that?”

"Naw. The master gardener said that they might not take proper care of the plants, and they would die.”

A Dozen reasons why this program died:
1. There were no stated goals. Why are we doing this?

2. The residents were treated as spectators rather than active participants. It never became their program.

3. Few on the staff were aware of the existence of the program, and didn’t have a clue as to why they were doing it. It just looked like more work to them.

4. The courtyard area where the program was to take place had no shade, and the gardens were not accessible. The location for the activities, indoors and out must be comfortable, safe and convenient.

5. Failure to understand that IT’S ABOUT THE PEOPLE, NOT THE PLANTS.

6. The master gardener had received no training in horticultural therapy theory or practice.

7. There was no mechanism in place to evaluate the program and individual participation or progress.

8. Activities and projects were not appropriate for clients age, ability, culture, education, seasonal flow.

9. There was no follow through and follow up of projects. Show off time.

10. Physical, emotional, and social factors were not integrated into the activities.

11. Failure to include the clients in the decision making process.

12. Facility failure to understand the value of such a program.

People grow in the garden too
But, most important was the failure to accept the client’s potential as well as the limitations. So often we focus on the “Can’t do’s that we constrain the participant. This is true of children with special needs as well as seniors. Sp often, when we give the freedom to try we discover that both people and plants can grow in the garden. It’s called the People-Plant Connection.

In Part 2 we will discuss some special ways to make the experience more enjoyable fo all.

Friday, May 6, 2011

All I Needed to Know About Life I learned in the Garden

George is a retired teacher. NO, that’s not quite true. He’s still teaching. He spends his Saturday mornings teaching composting classes at the community garden center. He delights in getting his hands dirty, but enjoys even more watching the children get their hands dirty feeding the earth worms, turning the piles of compost and tending the plants in the multigenerational community garden.

He sits and talks with the kids about how math and science are a part of gardening. Then he shares a little gardening history, gives them little hands-on quizzes and talks about the difference between healthy home grown food and the junk found in their backpacks. Sometimes they will even prepare a salad, or share some of the fresh strawberries. He started this garden with the hope that the kids would come if it looked like fun. It succeeded beyond all expectations and now many of the kids bring their families along. Others have started their own family garden in the backyard at home. One family even lined the sidewalk with chile peppers and rainbow chard.

George, the kids and some volunteers made some interesting observations about the garden as an outdoor classroom. Part of this article came from their comments.

Why the Garden is Better Than TV
■ The scenes change faster than the images on the TV cartoons. Just watch a hummingbird.
■ There is real life terror, from flesh & blood monsters. I’m talking about fire ants, mosquitoes, hornets, spiders and snakes.
■ The music is fast paced and even more cacophonous than your favorite music channel, particularly when the cicadas and grackles are performing.
■ You can’t smell the TV screen like you can fresh moist earth, tomato vines or roses.
■ There are no reruns in the garden. Each season is different and unique, and each day comes with its own surprises, just waiting for you to discover.

Lessons Learned and Lasting Values Cultivated
In a society that seems to be preoccupied with values and virtues, perhaps we should turn to the garden for a few lessons. These are a few of the lessons we can learn from the people-plant connection, lessons for all ages.

Patience A thirty second sound bite doesn’t teach us how to wait for results, but growing roses and tomatoes does.

Planning ahead Part of gardening is preparation for the future. We have to formulate expectations and then work toward them. Knowing that we can actually influence the future is empowering, for both children and adults.

Responsibility The plants in the garden depend on us for water, care and sustenance. We soon learn the consequences of failure to meet our responsibilities, but we also experience the joy that comes from fulfilling these obligations.

Cooperation We learn not only to cooperate with others, but also with the forces of nature, the climate and even the plants themselves.

Handling disappointment We experience both success and disappointment in the garden. Sometimes we know loss through no fault of our own. Life doesn’t always happen the way we wish it would. We all must learn to accept and grow from loss. We also have to learn how to graciously accept the gift of success.

Faith It takes a lot of faith to plant a seed and expect to smell a flower or taste the salad sometime in the future. This act of gardening also requires confidence in ourselves and trust in the future.

Confidence We learn in the garden that we can be a part of the growth process, in both ourselves and the living things that we are cultivating. We learn that we can succeed. Confidence is the seed that produces such beautiful flowers as pride and self-worth.

Empowerment In the garden we are empowered by making decisions, experiencing success and being in a partnership with the Creator.

We may think we are cultivating a few flowers, herbs or vegetables, but the real harvest is ourselves. We all have a lot to learn, and teach, in the garden. If you want to discover these lessons for yourself, take a child by the hand and work with him or her in the garden. It will all come to you, each virtue in its own season.

Adapted from Garden Projects for the Classroom and Special Learning Programs,
by Hank Bruce & Tomi Jill Folk, published by Petals & Pages Press, 2004,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New Books for Older Readers

That's the way the headline read about a new series of books Tomi and I have launched for folks who have achieved the status of ELDER. The following is the story of how the genre we are calliong "Elder Fiction began.

Seniors Illustrated was inspired by and created for our elders, both at home and in senior care communities. These are short stories with older adults as the heroes and heroines. There will be between two and four new titles released per year. Each is written to respect and honor our elders, but can be enjoyed by all ages. Sally Lamas, a gifted artist, is doing a fantastic job with the illustrations.

  • What does a Seniors Illustrated book look like?
    Each title is paperback, about 60 to 70 pages in an easy to hold 8 ½ x 11 format, with a glossy cover. This size is convenient for arthritic hands.
  • They have full page illustrations on the left page and accompanying text on the facing page. This gives the visual impact first, followed by the words in large print.
  • There is white space than is commonly found in adult literature. This makes it easier to focus and read with impaired vision, or cognitive limitations.
  • The pictures are black & white outline form so that individual readers can color them if they so desire.
  • This can reinforce the story by expanding the visual and verbal information to include physical input.
  • The act of coloring makes the reader a partner in the story. It also provides readers the opportunity to make their own interpretations and decisions, another empowering activity.
  • Many readers have chosen to add details or background to these illustrations as an outlet for their creativity.

Poetry is a part of each Senior’s Illustrated book. The format and rhyme of a poem is often a great memory trigger and many individuals with cognitive impairment can interpret lines of a poem better than prose.

Along with each short story is a page or two of activities that relate to the story, and sometimes, a quiz, or short commentary.

Why did we create Seniors Illustrated?
It all started when we were doing a horticultural therapy training program for the staff at a senior care community last year. As we entered the activities room we noticed a stack of Little Golden Books on the table. You know, those little children’s books with the children’s stories and lots of pictures. After our program we complimented the activity director on their intergenerational program.

She said, "Oh, we don’t have an intergenerational program. Why did you think we did?"

We pointed to the Little Golden Books on the table and started to explain that we assumed the elders living there were reading them to the children who visited.

She responded, "That’s all we could find for many or our seniors who have trouble following the plot in a novel, or even holding a big book in arthritic hands." She then spread some of the books out on the table. "This is the best we could do."

We contacted a number of our friends involved in senior care, rehab programs and hospitals. They all decried the lack of reading material written and formatted for our senior citizens.

Others agreed that they had attempted to provide opportunities to read by supplying children’s picture books. This is minimally effective at best. The characters and plots don’t speak to the interests of senior citizens. The presentation doesn’t provide the mental stimulation that can be most beneficial for persons with cognitive impairments and memory limitations.

To remedy this situation, we launched this series of senior short story / picture books written specifically for our elders. Seniors Illustrated stories are written and illustrated to entertain, amuse, inspire and engage mature readers, including those with physical and mental limitations. Subject matter varies from senior romance to elder heroes making a difference in the world, poetry for inspiration and conversation, a little humor and a few activities.
The first two volumes are out now.

Seniors Illustrated Volume 1 features two great short stories: Barefoot in the Grass and Fisherman, Fisherman written by Hank Bruce and illustrated by Sally Lamas. You will also enjoy two thought provoking poems by Tomi Jill Folk; Celebrate & Enjoy Life
Barefoot in the Grass introduces Flo and Claire, pranksters who brighten the lives of (almost) all at the Whispering Winds Senior Center. Come, let them add some sparkle to your day. Be prepared to smile, perhaps even laugh out loud.
Fisherman, Fisherman is about an elderly gentleman who befriends a young teen about to become a gang member. Together they go after the biggest fish in the canal, with only a homemade cane pole. Each of them is escaping a setting that would cast them in a role they do not want to play. Let Mr. Cal and Devon take you on a Florida adventure you will not soon forget. Based on a true story.

Seniors Illustrated Volume 2 features two more great short stories: Cactus Flowers & Friends and The Great Potato Drop. Both written by Hank Bruce and illustrated by Sally Lamas. You will also enjoy thought provoking poems by Tomi Jill Folk and a trivia quiz, along with more great ideas for activities and discussion.
In Cactus Flowers & Friends a couple wait six years for a plant to flower. When it does their friends throw a party to celebrate this rare event. The neighborhood comes together on the special night with great anticipation. The visitors include a little girl with special needs who becomes as important as the flowers themselves. This story might trigger some memories, or inspire someone to grow this dramatic "Queen of the Night."
In The Great Potato Drop a group of senior citizens tackle hunger when they arrange to have 45,000 pounds of potatoes dumped in the parking lot of Whispering Winds Senior Center. It becomes a truly unique adventure for the entire community. Won’t you join the them at the mountain of potatoes? Got any good potato recipes?
We were honored to receive the following comments from Kathryn Martin on Seniors Illustrated Vol 1

Kathryn Martin is a speaker, humorist, author and she plays Miz Maudie across the country. She has devoted her life to enriching the lives of America’s elders and giving the gift of laughter to everyone. Her website provides insight into her diverse talents. She had the following comments to make after reading Seniors Illustrated Vol. 1. This is what she had to say.

Very attractive!!!! The book is so good, I never quit until I'd read the entire thing!!!
I find the book very attractive.

Front Cover: Shiny but not too shiny to create a glare for older eyes. FEELS good to the touch. Has a comforting feeling and size for arthritic hands to hold easily.

Inside: Print just right. Good quality paper... no glare to read...yet will accept coloring...
These are two stories that are impossible to put down without finishing! You've captured the essence without wasted words...Just easy enjoyable reading.. sense of anticipation... a little nervousness that the main characters will get caught.... the joy at seeing the "bad guys" put in their places.... then realizing how far they've been missing the mark... changing.... wonderful!!! I am really impressed.

Tomi's work is just woven into the whole thing so wonderfully. What a good idea to include something like that as so many of the older folks have enjoyed memorizing poems in their earlier years...lots of recitation... so still enjoy good poetry.

Sally's art work is really custom made.... It's easy to look at... has enough detail to back up the story ... gives one a picture of the characters and locale... yet simple and easy to color.
Then to put in suggested activities .. fantastic ideas.

I'd say from here, "You've got a hit on your hands!"

These books are available from or directly from Petals & Pages Press I would like to hear your thoughts on the value of materials written specifically for mature readers.

Peace, Hank

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Gingerbread Friends, a Christmas Gift for All

Dear friends and visitors,
The following short story is from the latest book written by my wife, Tomi Jill Folk and myself. Windowsill Whimsy, Gardening & Horticultural Therapy Projects for Small Spaces was released at the American Horticultural Therapy Association conference in Lexington, KY on Nov 1st. It was written for activity directors, teachers, community workers and family members. It is already selling well, including some international orders.

In this collection of HT projects, activities and quizzes we included a few short stories. The following is an excerpt from this book. It is my Christmas gift to you. Hope you enjoy it.
Peace, Hank

Gingerbread Friends
short story
of the shared joy
and the simple blessings
that can be found in the wishes
of a small child and the wisdom of an old lady

Jessie had reached that point in the afternoon where school was BORING. She had enjoyed the reading class in the morning, and art was always fun. Today she had made a special picture to take home for her mother. But, now Mrs. Olsen seemed to have lost her enthusiasm as well. Last year they would have taken naps, but now they had to learn social studies and math in the afternoon. Jessie had always wondered if teachers took a nap at the same time the kids did. Several times she had tried to stay awake and find out, but she always fell asleep. Now, in first grade, there were no naps.

Today is was really cold outside. Wind whistled around the corners of the school and through the big blue spruce that stood by the flag pole. Jessie suddenly realized that Mrs. Olsen wasn’t looking at them, she wasn’t even looking at the book she was holding. She was looking out the window! And she was smiling. When she smiled like that it usually meant that the goldfinches and chickadees were having a snack at the sunflowers that had grown from the seeds they all planted last spring.
"Children!" she said. "Do you see what I see?"
Everyone turned their eyes toward the windows. Jessie stared at the sunflowers but couldn’t see any birds, just the big seedheads nodding at her in the wind.
"Look closely," Ms. Olsen told them all as she motioned for them to get out of their seats and follow her to the windows.
"IT’S SNOWING!" Tanya shouted.
Everyone of the children strained their eyes to see the first snow of the winter. Next week was Thanksgiving. The snow was late this year. Soon each of them had spotted a flake and followed it to the grass on the lawn, or the sidewalk. In a few minutes the beautiful crystals were appearing so fast that they seemed to be standing on tippy-toe on the blades of grass and the needles of the big old spruce at the corner of the playground. Then they would disappear into mini-puddles of water.
Everyone was hoping that there would be enough snow to do all the fun things we can do with it.
Alex was thinking about building a snow fort. Shawna had never seen snow before and was wondering what it felt like to have it melt in your hand. When Carlita closed her eyes she imagined she could feel the wind in her face as she rode her sled down Gourley’s hill. Freddie and Tucker had visions of snowball fights. Michelle was trying to remember where she had put her ice skates last spring.

Jessie’s joy turned to sadness when she thought about the last time they had snow. It was last spring. She could remember helping her neighbor, Old Mrs. Carter, shovel her walk. Tears formed in her eyes when she thought about her neighbor falling and breaking her hip. She remembered running in the house to call 911. She remembered bringing out blankets and a big old quilt to keep Ms. Carter warm until help came. She remembered them lifting the old lady onto the stretcher and into the ambulance. She remembered that Mrs. Carter never came home.
She went back to her seat and got a tissue from her backpack.
Ms. Olsen came over and sat down beside her.
Jessie told her all about how her neighbor had been taken to a hospital, then a nursing home.
"Would you like to visit her?" The teacher asked, as she put her arms around the sadness, giving Jessie a comfortable hug.
"Can I?" Jessie asked in return.
"Of course. I think Mrs. Carter would like to have a visit from you."
The smile returned as Jessie wiped her eyes and tucked the tissue in her pocket. "When can we?"
"The Holly Hill Senior Care Center is only a couple blocks from here. Let’s call your mother and see if it’s all right for you to go."
Jessie’s mother wasn’t certain that it would be good for Jessie to see all those old folks at "the home" but finally agreed to let her visit their former neighbor.
By the time school was out there was a soft layer of fresh new snow all over the grass and the trees, but it was all melted on the walkways and the parking lot. There is a magic in the first snow of winter. Jessie had put on her coat and started for the door when she remembered the picture she had drawn for her mother earlier that day. She raced back to her desk and carefully tucked it into her backpack.
When they got to the Holly Hill Senior Care Center, Jessie thought that it looked a lot like a school. There were sidewalks, a parking lot, spruce and holly trees, and there was even a bird feeder right outside the dinning room windows. When they stepped inside she saw several people in wheelchairs, a nurse and several other people who seemed to be very busy. There were bouquets of flowers in the lobby and a big old sandy colored dog keeping an elderly gentleman company down the hall.
"Levenia Carter is in room 143, down this hall and to the right," the lady at the desk said. Then she thought about it for a moment. "Is she expecting you? She doesn’t get many visitors."
"We’re going to surprise her," Jessie announced. "I even brought her a picture I made today." This piece of artwork had been intended for Jesse’s mother but it seemed Mrs. Carter might need it more.
They went down the hall and made a right turn. There was room 143, beside the door was a name plate that said in small red letters "Ms. Levenia Carter." Inside the room was a bed, a night stand, a small table with a TV on it and a rocking chair by the window. That rocking chair was slowly rocking back and forth, but its back was to them so they couldn’t see its occupant.
"Mrs. Carter, Ma’am?" Jessie asked as a way of announcing their presence.
Slowly the wrinkled dark brown face surrounded by a halo of snow white hair appeared from the side of the rocker. There was a brief moment of pondering, then a smile spread across the entire face and a hand reached for the aluminum walker that waited beside the chair.
"Lord Almighty, if’n you ain’t a sight to behold." She stood and grasped the walker with both hands. "Come over here, Child, let me look at you. My how you’ve growed."
Then she looked at Ms. Olsen and deep lines crossed her forehead. "Who might this be? I know it ain’t your Mamma."
Jessie introduced her teacher and they slowly walked down to the end of the hall where there was a sitting room with some comfortable chairs and a window where they could continue to watch the snow falling on the shrubbery and trees outside.
"I remember the last time it snowed. You saved my life when you called them medics." She paused for a long moment, then continued. "Child, I surely do miss you. Come here and give me a hug."
They talked about snow and Thanksgiving and winter and Christmas. Jessie always like to hear Mrs. Carter talk about her childhood in Georgia where she grew up. Her father had been a sharecropper and life was tough. She didn’t get to go to school much and didn’t learn to read until she moved north with her husband after their farm was sold.
When Jessie gave her the picture she kissed the child and held the colorful drawing of a gingerbread man to her heart. She would pause every few seconds to look at it again.
Soon it was time to go. They walked Mrs. Carter back to her room and put on their coats. After one last hug. Mrs Carter opened the drawer of her night stand and removed a roll of tape. She taped the picture on the wall right beside the window. "There. Now every time I gets lonely I can just look at my Gingerbread Friend." She laughed and everyone hugged again.
Jessie had so many questions she wanted to ask as Ms. Olsen backed out of the parking space and onto the street. She wanted to ask about what it was like to get old. She wanted to ask why everyone seemed so lonely. She wanted to ask why those people had to stay there. She wanted to ask if Ms. Olsen was going to get old and stay there. She wanted to ask if she was going to get old and live there. She wanted to ask why Ms. Carter couldn’t come home again. But she held all these questions inside.
It was on the way to her house that the idea came to Jessie. "Ms. Olsen, could we do something?"
"Umm. Maybe. What do you want to do?" She asked as they reached Jessie’s driveway.
"Could we come back again? Can we visit Mrs. Carter next week?" Jessie asked hesitantly.
The teacher was quiet for a moment, then answered, "I don’t know. Do your think your parents will allow it?"
They did visit the old lady the again, the week after Thanksgiving. Mrs. Carter seemed to have a sparkle in her eyes. Jessie was pleased to see her picture of the "Gingerbread Friend" still taped on the wall where the old lady could see it from anywhere in the room.
They had a nice visit. Mrs. Carter told them about how, when she was just a youngster herself she helped bake gingerbread cookies, because that was all they had to decorate their Christmas tree. "We was too poor to buy ornaments, and us children could eat them cookies when no one was looking."
When they left they walked down the hall passing lonely men and women in chairs and wheelchairs. They all looked so sad, but they smiled when she waved at them and said "Merry Christmas."
"Ms. Olsen, I wish we could do something." Jessie said as they stepped out into the wind and snow that was swirling around the parking lot. "Can we?"
"Well that depends. I think a trip to MacDonald's will spoil your dinner. I don’t think your parents would like that very much."
"No. That’s not what I was thinking." There was a sparkle in her eyes as she spoke. "I wish all of us from school could come over and visit with Mrs. Carter and all the other people here. They all seem so lonely."
"We’ll have to talk to the rest of the students, all of your parents and these folks here too." Ms. Olsen was hesitating, not sure this was a good idea, but proud of Jessie for thinking of it.
"But, it was so much fun to hear her tell the story about her Christmas when she made all the gingerbread cookies." Jessie was using her ‘please, may I’ voice.
An idea was forming in Ms. Olsen’s mind. "I think that would be a lot of fun for everyone. Let’s find out what we can do."
By the next afternoon Jessie and her friends were on the Internet looking for recipes for gingerbread and Mrs. Olsen had spent her lunch hour with the principle. Jessie’s wish was about to come true.
It was Friday afternoon when the bus pulled up to the school and all the children in Ms. Olsen’s class piled in, each one carrying cookie cutters, eggs, flour, milk bowls, gingerbread cookie cutters and cookie sheets.
When they arrived at the Holly Hill Senior Center, there was a big Christmas tree in the lobby. Christmas carols were playing and there were dozens of folks with wheelchairs and walkers waiting for them. It seemed like everyone was talking at once as the lady in the blue uniform and Santa hat led them all down the hall to the dining room and kitchen.
They gathered around the tables and started to read recipes, crack eggs, measure milk and flour. Everyone was talking at once and everyone was getting dusty with the flour and sticky with the egg whites, and everyone was having fun. They worked in teams to mix the gingerbread cookie dough, stamp out the shapes with the gingerbread people cookie cutters, put them on the cookie pans, and march them into the kitchen where the chefs would put them in the ovens. Soon the tables were filled with hundreds and hundreds of "Gingerbread Friends."
As soon as they were cool everyone started decorating and trimming them with icing, candy and colored sugar sprinkles. Each table was a mess and every hand had sticky fingers, but everyone was smiling and laughing.
Finally it was time to take the cookies out to the empty tree in the lobby.
Trays, and boxes and rolling carts were filled with "Gingerbread Friends." Everyone in a wheelchair had a tray of cookies on their laps as they formed a parade from the dining room to the lobby. The school children were pushing the wheelchairs of their new found grand-friends, and everyone was singing Christmas carols as they paraded down the hall.
Everyone took turns hanging their favorite "Gingerbread Friends" on the tree until that tree was so full of gingerbread ornaments that there wasn’t room for even one more "Gingerbread Friend."
But there were still hundreds left, all sizes and shapes of gingerbread men, gingerbread women, gingerbread girls and gingerbread boys.
"Look at all the cookies we have left over," the lady in the blue uniform moaned. "What are we going to do with all of these?"
Mrs. Carter had become quiet, and almost sad as the tree was filled with "Gingerbread Friends." Now she turned to all the people gathered in the lobby. They were all tired, well dusted with flour, dotted with icing in a rainbow of colors. Everyone became quiet while she braced herself against her walker.
"We are all so blessed here today. Look at us. We are warm. We got friends, music and more cookies than we can ever eat."
She paused and shifted to her other foot to ease the pain in her hip. "There’s folks out there," she pointed out the window at the swirling snow, "So poor they ain’t got Christmas trees, no presents, no warm places to live, so poor they ain’t even got a friend."
A big smile crossed her old and wrinkled face. "We can share our blessings. We can share our Gingerbread Friends.
And that’s the way it all started. The Gingerbread Friends were boxed up while coats, and scarves, and mittens and hand knitted caps were gathered from each room. Soon they were ready to deliver the Gingerbread Friends to the homeless shelter downtown, and the people who were in the Meals-on-Wheels program, the school for children with developmental disabilities. And other places that got added to the list as they loaded the Holly Hill vans and the school bus.
The next time you eat a gingerbread cookie,
or see a gingerbread house,
or gingerbread people on a Christmas tree
think of the Gingerbread Friends
and what grew from a wish made by little Jessie
and the vision of an old lady named Levenia.
Think of what can happen when we all join together
and share our joy, and share our blessings,
when we become a blessing to each other.
Peace isn't something we possess, it's something we share