Living 50 Plus Magazine December/January2023

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Executive Editor


Living 50 Plus Editor LORI FEW City Editor ERIC FLEISCHAUER

Assistant City Editor FRANKLIN HARRIS

Living 50 Plus Writers


Living 50 Plus Photographer


Circulation Director WALTER GOGGINS

Circulation Manager REBECCA BRAUN

Advertising Director BARETTA TAYLOR

Advertising Graphic Artists



Holiday cheer is front and center in communities across the globe during the holiday season. This year, celebrants can make this joyous season even more special by singing some of their favorite holiday songs. One holiday season favorite is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,ˮ a familiar tune that audiences first heard when it was sung by Judy Garland in the MGM musical “Meet Me in St. Louisˮ in 1944. The song was a hit among American troops serving in World War II and remains a beloved staple of holiday celebrations today. It was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmasˮ Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Let your heart be light

From now on, our troubles will be out of sight Have yourself a merry little Christmas, Make the Yuletide gay, From now on, our troubles will be miles away Here we are as in olden days, Happy golden days of yore Faithful friends who are dear to us Gather near to us once more Through the years, We all will be together




For story ideas or comments: Bruce McLellan 256-340-2431

For distribution questions: Rebecca Braun 256-340-2414

For advertising questions: Baretta Taylor 256-340-2370

For website questions: Daniel Buford 256-340-2408

Published by Decatur Daily Tennessee Valley Media

ON THE COVER: Dena Stephenson is shown in the historic Hartselle home that she and her husband, George, transform for Christmas. Photo by Jeronimo Nisa. Cover design by Stephen Johnson.

If the fates allow, So hang a shining star upon the highest bough And have yourself a merry little Christmas now Have yourself a merry little Christmas, Let your heart be light From now on, our troubles will be out of sight Have yourself a merry little Christmas, Make the Yuletide gay, From now on, our troubles will be miles away Here we are as in olden days, Happy golden days of yore Faithful friends who are dear to us Gather near to us once more Through the years, We all will be together

If the fates allow, So hang a shining star upon the highest bough And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

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Emotions run deep come the holiday season. Holiday planning can be hectic, especially for blended families.

Today’s families are increasingly blended, meaning they are a combination of families due to divorce or death. Even though the holidays are meant to be joyous, navigating traditions and accommodating the unique needs of all involved, including cultural traditions, visitation schedules, rituals, and religious beliefs, can be challenging. But blended families need not fret as they attempt to

negotiate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or New Years


The first step to holiday planning is to keep in mind predetermined custody or visitation agreements. Although there can be hope for holiday flexibility and generosity, try to stick as close to existing arrangements as possible. Some families choose to divvy up particular holidays throughout the year in advance. Others may do it as plans get arranged. As long as the arrangement is fair to everyone, the choice is up

to the families. The plans should be made known to all involved.


The Stepfamily Association of America says that communication during the holiday season is vital, especially for children so they know what to expect. Writing down specific itineraries can help alleviate the stress of not knowing where they will be at a given time. All members of the family should vocalize how they feel about particular aspects of the holidays so that no one is disgruntled. Do not expect others to be mind readers. Perhaps one person

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is focusing a significant amount of energy on trimming the tree when that isn’t as important to others. Discussing expectations can make planning that much easier.


The holidays without everyone under the same roof enjoying traditions that have been part of celebrations for years can contribute to feelings of anxiety for people accustomed to these annual traditions. Draw the focus away from how things used to be done and create new traditions that all can anticipate. Host a holiday movie night if this isn’t the year to have the kids for Christmas. An annual outing to see a concert or show might be a new tradition the entire blended family can enjoy.


Putting too much emphasis on trying to make the holidays perfect can backfire. Blended families must recognize that holiday celebrations will change. It can take time to find a new celebratory rhythm, and comparisons always will be made. It is acceptable to have mixed feelings about new traditions, but each member should go into the season with a positive attitude. Blended families may face additional challenges during the holidays. Working together, such families can restore joy to the season and create new traditions.

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The festive nature of the holiday season makes it an ideal time to sing, especially in groups. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that caroling, a tradition that dates back many centuries, ultimately

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collided with Christmas.Caroling and Christmas caroling are two different things. According to, the origins of modern Christmas caroling can be traced to wassailing, a term that has evolved for more than a millenium. What started as a simple greeting gradually became part of a toast made during ritualized drinking. Time magazine notes that the word «wassail,» which appeared in English literature as early as the eighth century, eventually came to mean the wishing of good fortune on one’s neighbors, though no one can say for certain when this particular development occurred.

During medieval times, farmers in certain parts of Britain would drink a beverage to toast the health of their crops and encourage the fertility of their animals. By 1600, farmers in some parts of Britain were still engaging in this ritual, and some were by now taking a

wassail bowl filled with a toasting beverage around the streets. These wassailers would stop by neighboring homes and offer a warm drink, all the while wishing good fortune on their neighbors.

During this period, wassailing had nothing to do with Christmas, but that began to change in Victorian England, when Christmas became more commercialized and popular. It was during this time when publishers began circulating carols, forever linking the tradition of wassailing with Christmas.

Christmas caroling as Victorian Englanders knew it might have fallen by the wayside. But while carolers may no longer go door-to-door singing Christmas songs and wishing their neighbors good fortune, those intent on seeing the modern manifestation of this tradition that dates back more than a millenium may be able to find some carolers at their local mall or church.

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The end of the year marks a period of heightened festivity. Come the holiday season, homes and businesses are decorated and everyone seems to have an extra spring in their step.

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The sight of snowflakes, candy canes, evergreen wreaths, and Christmas trees can elicit nostalgia for happy holidays of the past, as well as excitement for what is yet to come. When it comes to decorating for the holidays, there are certain items that set the scene.

▸ Christmas trees: Germany is credited with starting the modern Christmas tree tradition. It dates back to the 16th century when devout Christians brought trees into their homes and decorated them. German settlers brought Christmas tree traditions to America upon their arrival in Pennsylvania in the 19th century.

▸ Mistletoe: Mistletoe is known as the «kissing plant» and it is customary for couples to kiss while standing beneath the plant, typically hung in doorways and arches. Mistletoe was once hung to drive off evil spirts and ensure fertility. Kissing under the mistletoe was first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites.

▸ Lights: Lights are commonly seen during the holiday season. The custom of having holiday lights dates back to when Christmas trees were decorated with candles, which symbolized Christ being the light of the world. These traditions evolved from pagan rituals that would celebrate the return of light of the sun as the days grow longer after the winter solstice.

▸ Yule log: Many families burn a yule log in the fireplace and watch it burn while listening to Christmas carols. The familiar custom of burning the log dates back to solstice celebrations and the tradition of bonfires. The Christmas tradition called for burning a portion of the log each evening until Twelfth Night, also known as the Epiphany, which takes place on January 6.

▸ Poinsettias: Poinsettias are a tropical plant that originated in Mexico. Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first Ambassador from the United States to Mexico. He became enamored with the plants and brought them back to his native South Carolina. An old Mexican legend suggests a poor girl had nothing to offer baby Jesus at Christmas Eve services, so she picked a handful of weeds and put them at the bottom of the nativity scene. These weeds burst into bright red flowers and became known as «Flores de Noche Buena,» or «Flowers of the Holy Night.»

Holiday decorations borrow traditions from all over the world to help establish a festive wonderland.


Decatur Living 50 Plus 11
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The sight of snowflakes, candy canes, evergreen wreaths, and Christmas trees can elicit nostalgia for happy holidays of the past, as well as excitement for what is yet to come. When it comes to decorating for the holidays, there are certain items that set the scene.



Tucked away inside the closet of a guest bedroom, Martha Newman gets to work. Armed with a glue gun, cone-shaped shiny paper, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, watches and broaches, the 75-year-old Decatur woman creates glitzy and sparkly bejeweled trees.

She calls the creations memory trees.

Each bead, pendant and pearl she hot glues on a cone represents a treasured memory for loved ones.

“When I started this, I never imagined the impact these trees would have. But when I saw how people picked out different pieces on the tree and remembered when their mother or grandmother wore it, I realized how special it is,” Newman said. “Someone described this to me as my ministry. I think that describes it well.”

The idea for the trees began simply — as a way to raise funds for the Neighborhood Christian Center, where Newman and her husband, Tommy Newman, volunteer several hours every week.

For the Decatur-based nonprofit center’s Soup for Souls in the spring, Newman, who has previously donated pottery and paintings to the fundraiser, opted to cover a tree-shaped cone with jewelry.

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Martha Newman uses hot glue as she works on a jewelry tree at her home in Decatur. [JERONIMO NISA/ LIVING 50 PLUS] Donated jewelry fills trays in Martha Newman’s house. Newman’s husband, Tommy Newman, removes the backs from earrings, broaches and pins. [JERONIMO NISA/LIVING 50 PLUS]

The majority of the tree’s jewelry came from Newman’s daughter-in-law.

“When I asked if I could use her jewelry, she said, of course, because she didn’t wear it anymore” Newman said. “Well, when she saw the tree and recognized the pieces, she bid on it so she could pass the tree down to her daughter.”

The second tree Newman made as a gift to her stepdaughter, whose mother died unexpectedly.

“My stepdaughter found a lot of jewelry her mother and grandmother wore. I asked if she would let me make her a memory tree out of the jewelry,” Newman said. “When I saw how happy the tree made her and the memories it brought back, that’s when I realized the emotional impact these trees could have.”

The memory tree project expanded beyond Newman’s family when she noticed the quantity of vintage, damaged and out-of-style jewelry in the Neighborhood Christian Center’s clothes closet.

“We end up with a bunch of jewelry at the NCC. It is jewelry that is not really in style anymore and jewelry women transitioning out of prison and jail can’t wear to a job interview. I wanted to do something to reuse

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When I started this, I never imagined the impact these trees would have. But when I saw how people picked out different pieces on the tree and remembered when their mother or grandmother wore it, I realized how special it is.” Martha Newman.
Some of Martha Newman’s finished jewelry trees. [JERONIMO NISA/LIVING 50 PLUS]

them and thought of trees,” Newman said.

The idea appealed to Pamela Bolding, co-director of the Neighborhood Christian Center.

“I just loved it. It was so beautiful and I thought it was a great analogy of our getting to see lives transformed,” Bolding said.

As a way to display the trees, Newman contacted her longtime friend and owner of Cricket by the Creek Lisa Jones. After setting up the trees at the Decatur store, Jones contacted Newman about creating two trees using her grandmother’s jewelry.

“Lisa posted images of the trees on Facebook and several of her customers saw it. From there, more and more people have been requesting memory trees. I even have a friend whose hairdresser in Huntsville knew about the memory trees,” Newman said.

The response surprised Newman.

Since beginning the project, Newman has made 20 trees, including three trees shipped to Florida and three trees for sisters in north Alabama.

Each tree is different, telling the story of the person who wore the jewelry.

“On this piece,” Newman said, holding up a completed tree, “you can tell she loves Mardi Gras. There are pendants with the words ‘Spells’ and ‘Potions’ on them. She also had beads shaped like rams. I may not know what the rams represent, but the family will. Instead of having the jewelry sitting in a drawer,

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The Neighborhood Christian Center does so much good for so many people. I am amazed by the people who can go into the jails and teach. But, I’m not a teacher or a talker. I am a worker and a fundraiser. The memory trees are something I can do to help the Neighborhood Christian Center reach its mission.” Martha Newman.
Martha Newman works on a jewelry tree at her home in Decatur. [JERONIMO NISA/ LIVING 50 PLUS]

To create the trees, Newman starts by making a cone form out of shiny paper.

“I went to an arts and crafts store to find a readymade form, but they were too hard. And I couldn’t use a Styrofoam cone because, well, Styrofoam and hot glue don’t mix well,” Newman said.

She attaches the cone to a piece of wood and, using Gorilla Glue’s hot glue, winds necklaces up the form. She fills in the leftover space with lockets, broaches, charms, earrings, watches and pearls. Newman envisions the trees as centerpieces for holiday tablescapes or on the mantel.

Newman’s right-hand man — her husband — assists by removing the backs from the earrings, pins and broaches.

“It has been a joy watching her create these trees from people’s family members’ jewelry, giving them a tangible treasured gift of their loved one. We are so grateful for her and her husband’s willingness to give of their time in such a generous way,” Bolding said.

The trees cost $125 for a medium tree and $150 for a large tree. All of the money goes to the Neighborhood Christian Center.

For Newman, who started volunteering at the Neighborhood Christian Center after she retired 15 years ago, the trees represent a way to give back to the nonprofit organization, which distributes food bags, clothes and hygiene kits, teaches classes inside jails and prisons, offers holiday assistance and runs transitional homes.

“The Neighborhood Christian Center does so much good for so many people. I am amazed by the people who can go into the jails and teach. But, I’m not a teacher or a talker. I am a worker and a fundraiser. The memory

trees are something I can do to help the Neighborhood Christian Center reach its mission,” Newman said.

To see the decorated trees, stop by Cricket by the Creek, 1517 Sixth Ave. S.E., Decatur.

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memory trees allow families to display them and celebrate the memories.”
One of Martha Newman’s jewelry trees features old watches. [JERONIMO NISA/ LIVING 50 PLUS]



The sound of carols filling stores and sight of wreaths on doors can mean one thing — the arrival of the winter holidays.

‘Tis the season for baking cookies, roasting meats and mulling apple ciders.

As family and friends gather for festive celebrations, home cooks will turn to their favorite time-tested

Coca-Cola Cake

From Charlotte Wilson

FOR THE CAKE ▶ 2 cups flour ▶ 2 cups sugar ▶ ½ cup margarine ▶ 3 tablespoons cocoa ▶ ½ cup buttermilk

FOR THE FROSTING ▶ ½ cup margarine ▶ 3 tablespoons cocoa ▶ 6 tablespoons cola

▶ 2 eggs, slightly beaten ▶ 1 teaspoon baking soda ▶ 1 teaspoon vanilla ▶ 1 cup cola ▶ 1½ cup miniature marshmallows ▶ 1 pound confectioners’ sugar ▶ 1 cup chopped pecans

recipes. From the “heart of the home” — the kitchen — they will whip up family favorites of apple ciders, cranberry conserves, dressings, empanadas and more.

“This is the gathering house. You see that sign up there, that says it all,” said 64-year-old Charlotte Wilson, of Decatur, pointing to a sign that reads “Kitchen. Good Food. Good Friends. Good Times.”

For the cake, combine flour and sugar. Set aside. In medium saucepan, combine margarine, cola and cocoa. Heat to boiling and pour over flour and sugar mixture. Heat until well mixed. Add buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, vanilla and marshmallows. Beat well. Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes in a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan.

For the frosting, combine margarine, cocoa, cola and bring to a boil. Put confectioners’ sugar in bowl and pour mixture over top. Add pecans. Frost cake while still hot.

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Sweet Mexican empanadas by Maria Lomeli. [COURTESY PHOTO] Charlotte Wilson makes the same Coca-Cola Cake that her grandmother cooked for the holidays. [JERONIMO NISA]

Cranberry Apple Conserve From Rick Paler

▶ 1½ cups water

▶ 3 cups turbinado sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw

▶ 1 3-inch cinnamon stick

▶ ¼ teaspoon ground allspice

▶ 3 12-ounce bags fresh cranberries

▶ 3 Gala or Pink Lady apples

▶ 2 tablespoons Calvados or brandy

Simmer water, sugar, cinnamon stick, allspice and half of cranberries in a four-to-five-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until cranberries just start to pop, about 5 minutes. Add half of remaining cranberries and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Peel and core the apples and dice them into 1/4-inch pieces. Add to cranberry mixture along with remaining cranberries then simmer, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Stir in Calvados and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool to warm or room temperature. Throw away the cinnamon stick. Conserve can be made a week ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature or warm, if desired.

Sweet Mexican Empanadas


Maria Lomeli

▶ 4 cups all-purpose flour

▶ 2 cups Crisco vegetable shortening ▶ ¼ cup sugar ▶ 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

▶ ½ tablespoon baking powder

▶ Pinch of salt ▶ ½ cup cinnamon tea ▶ La Lechera Dulce de Leche or jelly of your choice for the filling

▶ Cinnamon and sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In small pot, bring 1-2 cups of water to a boil. Add cinnamon sticks and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and slightly cool. In large mixing bowl, sift together flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Slowly add in the vegetable shortening and mix with hands. You should be left with a sandy texture. Slowly add in the cinnamon tea and vanilla extract, mixing with your hands until you achieve a doughy consistency. Add more cinnamon tea if needed. Remove dough from bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface for about 2 minutes or until dough is soft and no longer sticks to your hands. Return to bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 30 minutes

Sweet Potato and Turnip Gratin From Rick Paler

▶ 2 to 3 pounds white turnips, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick

▶ 2 to 3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick ▶ 1 stick unsalted butter

▶ 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves

▶ 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves ▶ Salt

▶ Freshly ground black pepper

▶ Freshly grated nutmeg

▶ 1½ cups grated imported Parmesan cheese

▶ 1 cup bread crumbs, Panko or day-old French bread

▶ 2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 3-quart casserole. To blanch the turnips, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add sliced turnips and cook 5 minutes. Remove and drain thoroughly in a strainer. Gently combine the turnips and sweet potatoes. Place a layer of vegetables in the casserole and dot with half the butter. Sprinkle generously with tarragon, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cover with 1/3 of the Parmesan. Make two more layers. Top with bread crumbs and pour the cream around the sides. Dot with remaining butter and Parmesan. Bake until vegetables are soft, but not mushy, around 1 to 1½ hours. The gratin can be made ahead several days or frozen for up to 3 months. Let defrost in the refrigerator and reheat for 30 to 45 minutes in the oven or reheat in the microwave.

at room temperature. Uncover and remove from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out to a 1/8-1/4inch thickness. Using a round cookie cutter or special empanada mold, cut out even circles and repeat until little to no dough is left. Make sure to flour the cookie cutter or empanada mold to prevent sticking. Do not use cooking spray.

If using an empanada mold: Place a dough circle in the middle of the mold, then place a tablespoonful of dulce de leche or jelly in the middle of the circle. Carefully shut the mold and gently press the ends together. Remove from mold and place on parchment paper. If not using an empanada mold: Place a tablespoonful of dulce de leche or jelly in the middle of the circle. Carefully fold the circle in half and press the edges with a fork to create a seal. Gently pick up and place on parchment paper. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool slightly. While still warm, dust the empanadas with cinnamon and sugar on all sides. Enjoy with your favorite warm holiday drink.

Decatur Living 50 Plus 17

Chicken & Dressing

From Dorothy Woodruff

▶ 6 cups of chicken broth

▶ 4 cups of crumbled cornbread

▶ 5 crumbled biscuits

▶ 1 stick of margarine (melted)

▶ 2 cups of celery, diced

▶ 2 onions, diced

▶ 2 tablespoons of sage

▶ 1 teaspoon of thyme

▶ Black pepper to taste

▶ Shredded boiled cooked chicken

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the chicken broth, cornbread, biscuits, margarine, celery, onions, sage, thyme and black pepper. Add the chicken. Bake dressing for one hour.

Sweet Potato Pie

From Dorothy Woodruff

▶ 9 sweet potatoes

▶ 1 stick of butter

▶ 2 cups of sugar

▶ 1 tablespoon of brown sugar

▶ ½ teaspoon of salt

▶ 1 teaspoon nutmeg

▶ 1 egg (beat before adding)

▶ 1 cup of milk

▶ 2 tablespoons of cinnamon

▶ 1 teaspoon vanilla flavor

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all of the ingredients together and place pie filling into unbacked deep dish pie shells. Bake pie for one hour.

For holidays, Wilson bakes a Coca-Cola Cake passed down from her grandmother.

“She always made the Coca-Cola Cake for all our gatherings. It was so special because it was so moist and, more importantly, it was made from her with love. That’s how I make it, with love.”

Like Wilson, Dorothy Woodruff creates dishes for her family passed down through the generations.

“I learned to cook from my mother and if she ever learned from a recipe, I don’t remember it,” the 73-year-old Decatur woman said. “What I did to learn was I would watch my mother cook and eventually learned the recipes. We still have the same Christmas dinner that she served.”

That dinner includes chicken and dressing, ham, beef roast, turnip greens, macaroni and cheese, pinto beans, yams, chocolate cake, caramel cake, coconut cake, fried peach pies, tea cakes, cupcakes, ambrosia, fruit, peppermint candy, pecans and walnuts.

“It takes me about a week to get everything ready,” Woodruff said. “The funny thing is, I don’t like cooking, but when I’m cooking for my family, I will go all day long to make sure everything is just right.”

These pages contain several local cooks’ favorite holiday recipes.

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Dorothy Woodruff’s holiday cooking tradition involves making the same Christmas dinner that her mother made, including multiple meats and cakes. [JERONIMO NISA/LIVING 50 PLUS
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The red foliage on poinsettias are actually modified leaves called bracts. The flowers are the small, yellow buds in the center of the plant.



Poinsettias and their rich red, white or variegated color schemes are the ideal backdrop for Christmas celebrations. In fact, poinsettias are among the most popular decorative flowers during the holiday season.

According to the 2013 USDA Floriculture Statistics report, poinsettias accounted for about onequarter (23 percent) of all flowering potted plant sales that year. Roughly 34 million poinsettia plants are sold in a given season. Indigenous to Central America, the plant was introduced to North America in the 1820s when Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, brought the red-and-green plant back with him from a trip abroad.

While millions of poinsettias will be purchased for the holiday season, many mistakenly think their utility ends once New Year’s Day has come and gone. But with proper care

poinsettia plants can continue to thrive and bring warmth and beauty to a home long after the holiday decorations have been tucked away.

▸ Choose a hearty plant. Experts with the University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science say that many people mistake the plant’s leaves for its flowers. The red, white or pink bracts are actually modified leaves. The flowers of the plant are the yellow clustered buds in the center called «cyathia.» Choose poinsettia plants that have buds which are, ideally, not yet open.

▸ Keep the temperature consistent. Poinsettias prefer a room temperature between 60 and 68 F during the day and 10 degrees cooler at night. Humidity levels between 20 and 50 percent are ideal. Group plants on water-filled trays full of pebbles to help increase humidity levels.

▸ Place near sunlight. The United Kingdom-based Perrywood floral

company advises placing poinsettia plants near a bright windowsill but not in direct sunlight. Do not let a poinsettia touch cold window panes.

▸ Avoid drafts. The plants are sensitive to drafts and changes in temperature. So it’s best to keep poinsettias away from drafty doors, windows, radiators, or fireplaces.

▸ Don’t drown the roots. Wait until the surface of the compost dries out before watering the plant anew. Also, the decorative foil wrapper that covers pots can trap water and lead to root rot. Remove it or poke holes in the bottom to allow for drainage.

▸ Cut back plants. Come mid-March, cut back the plant by half to encourage new shoots, suggests the University of Illinois Extension. The plants also can be placed outside in the spring after the risk of frost has passed. Bring poinsettias back in around midSeptember to early October to force them to bloom again.

20 Decatur Living 50 Plus



Books transport people to different times, provide a sense of escapism and introduce readers to different schools of thought. Individuals may read for pleasure and/or to expand their intellectual horizons.

It’s important to note that reading also may help improve mental and physical health. With so much to gain from reading, now is a great time to embrace those book clubs, resolve to read more and explore how picking up a good book may be just what the doctor ordered.


Immersing yourself in a story requires focus and concentration. According to researchers at the University of Sussex, it took just six minutes of reading for study participants to experience slower heart rates and reduced muscle tension.

Stress is one of the biggest threats to overall health, as the stress hormone cortisol can lead to inflammation in the body that may impede the immune system, according to Piedmont Health. Finding ways to reduce stress, including through activities like reading, is a win for anyone who wants to improve his or her health.

Decatur Living 50 Plus 21 Thankful to ourcommunities forcallingand keepingus busythrough2021!Our familiesappreciate YOU!


According to the 2016 study, «A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity,» by Bavishi A, Slade M.D., reading exerts its influence on longevity by strengthening the mind. Reading positively impacts the way the brain creates synapses, optimizing neurological function. It also expands vocabulary, and helps with memory.


A 2014 study published in Neuroreport determined reading involves a complex system of signaling and networking in the brain. As one’s ability to read matures, these networks become stronger and more sophisticated. MRI scans found that brain connectivity increased throughout studied reading periods and for days afterward.


Through literary fiction, readers are exposed to the situations, feelings and beliefs of others. This can help a person develop a greater ability to empathize with others, according to Healthiline.


Reading is an effective way to wind down and relax before going to bed. It can be a positive nighttime ritual, provided one reads a paper book or utilizes an e-reader that is not backlit, as bright lights from digital devices may hinder sleep quality. In fact,

doctors at the Mayo Clinic often suggest reading as part of a regular sleep routine.


Individuals diagnosed with depression may feel isolated and estranged from other people. Books may reduce those feelings by helping a person temporarily escape his or her world into another. Also, books can serve as a common ground through which conversations over shared interests can begin with others.

Reading has many positive health benefits, which is why resolving to read more can be beneficial.


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When asked to give advice to those new to decorating for the holidays, Dena Stephenson — a self-described “nonrecovering Christmasaholic” — said, without hesitation, “Don’t do it.”

Then she laughed.

“Seriously, do what you can manage and then try to stop, but you

might not be able to stop, because once you start, it’s hard to stop,” the 64-year-old Stephenson said, “That’s advice I’d give to others, but I don’t take myself.”

Every December, George and Dena Stephenson’s twostory historic colonial home in Hartselle transforms into a winter

wonderland with 15 Christmas trees, hundreds of ornaments, three decorated mantles and an outdoor manger scene.

“I call myself a non-recovering Christmasaholic because I’m not even trying to recover,” Stephenson said. “I love Christmas and I love decorating. It’s a lot of work, but it makes me so

24 Decatur Living 50 Plus
Three decorated mantles and 15 Christmas trees transform the home of George and Dena Stephenson during the holidays.

happy, because of the warmth and love the decorations bring.”

Each decoration in the home represents a special memory for the family.

In the Stephensons’ formal living room stands the family’s main tree — a typical traditional Christmas tree with a conglomeration of special ornaments.

There is the pacifier the Stephensons’ son used as an infant, ornaments the Stephensons bought during their travels, crystal ornaments Dena Stephenson’s brother gifts her

Decatur Living 50 Plus 25
Each of the Stephensons’ 15 trees has a theme. [JERONIMO NISA/ LIVING 50 PLUS]

every year and the Holly Hobbie ornament Dena Stephenson’s grandmother made her.

“Even though the Holly Hobbie ornament is the least impressive ornament in my bag, because of its meaning, it is placed front and center,” Stephenson said. “All of the ornaments, to me, have a special meaning. There are no random ornaments.”

The other trees are decorated with specific themes.

There is the Santa Claus tree with Santa Claus ribbon, the elf tree, the fruit tree in the dining room, the redand-green tree in the breakfast room, the holiday photo tree in the foyer, the turquoise-and-silver tree in the master bedroom, the gold tree, the black tree with silver ornaments, an Auburn tree in the Auburn room and a nostalgic silver tree with a color wheel.

Meeda Bosse, Stephenson’s daughter, bought the silver tree as a

26 Decatur Living 50 Plus
Dena Stephenson says decorating her home for Christmas requires “a lot of work, but it makes me so happy, because of the warmth and love the decorations bring.” [JERONIMO NISA/LIVING 50 PLUS] Photos are the theme at the stairwell bannister in the Stephenson home in Hartselle. [JERONIMO NISA/LIVING 50 PLUS]

surprise for her mother. It is the type of tree that adorned Stephenson’s childhood home.

“When I was a child, we didn’t decorate much for Christmas. We had one tree. It was the silver Christmas tree you had to put each branch on that had a color wheel and was decorated with red balls. That’s all we did,” Stephenson said.

When George and Dena married, they decided to cut down a live cedar tree at the Stephenson’s dairy farm at Cedar Cove. After four years of George getting sick every Christmas season, they realized he was allergic to the live tree.

“That put an end to the decorating, temporarily,” Stephenson said.


With the rise in popularity of artificial trees, the Stephensons began decorating again.

“Some people call them ‘fake,’” Stephenson said, whispering the word “fake.” “I don’t like that word. I call them reusable. The first year we got a reusable tree, I thought, ‘Well, gosh, I can do two trees.’ It just grew and grew and grew. I never thought it would ever grow to be 15.”

Decorating for the holidays, which takes dozens of hours and typically begins in early November, represents a feat for Stephenson, who employs the assistance of friends and family.

“It is quite the ordeal. The first thing we have to do is bring all the trees, which are in the basement covered

Decatur Living 50 Plus 27
I call myself a non-recovering Christmasaholic because I’m not even trying to recover,” Stephenson said. “I love Christmas and I love decorating. It’s a lot of work, but it makes me so happy, because of the warmth and love the decorations bring.”
A Christmas tree lights up a bedroom in the Stephenson home. [JERONIMO NISA/LIVING 50 PLUS]

with plastic covers, upstairs. My husband lays them out in the yard. Then we have to move the tables, chairs and cabinets to the basement so there is room for the trees,” Stephenson said.

Then comes adorning the trees with ribbon and ornaments.

“I used to decorate during the Iron Bowl. People said I could decorate four trees during the Iron Bowl because I was so nervous

and just had to do something. I can’t wait until the Iron Bowl now because there are just too many trees. That’s too bad because it was a nice distraction,” Stephenson said.

Along with the family ornaments on the main tree, special decorations include the handmade Auburn ornaments George received from the Tigerettes while playing football for Auburn, and the holiday photograph cards the Stephensons receive each year.

“I got this idea from Southern Living. I hated throwing the photo cards away because they’re great pictures and I would get them from the same people every year, so I get to see their families grow,” Stephenson said. “I save the photo cards and hang them on the stairwell as decorations.”


For decorating ideas, Stephenson typically turns to home décor magazines.

“If you were to ask people to describe me, no one would say creative. I’m not artistic. I can’t sing. I can’t play the piano. But, I do love looking at magazines and get ideas and am good at replicating what I see,” Stephenson said.

One of those ideas involved decorating a tree with her daughter’s running memorabilia. The tree featured bibs and ribbons as ornaments, a cape from the New York City Marathon as a skirt and a pair of running shoes at the base of the tree.

The tree now stands at Meeda Bosse’s home, who lives with her husband, Jonathan, next door to her parents.

“I think I’ve definitely passed down my love for decorating to Meeda. How many trees do you have in your home?” Stephenson called out to her daughter.

28 Decatur Living 50 Plus
The theme is clear for the tree in the “Auburn room.” George Stephenson played football for Auburn from 1976-80. [JERONIMO NISA/LIVING 50 PLUS] Will Stephenson relaxes with his cat, Weagle, next to the Santa Clausthemed tree. [JERONIMO NISA/ LIVING 50 PLUS]

“Four,” Bosse answered.

“And my son-in-law, God bless him, is like me,” Stephenson said. “He made a 5-foot tall manger scene out of plywood. Every year, he puts the manger scene in our paddle boat and rows it over to the island in the middle of the pond. It is beautiful. I’ve had people say that they have brought family members from other cities just to see it. It really is a beautiful testament for the Christmas season.”


The home’s outdoor decorations also include a wreath on the door and lights around the boxwoods.

“It’s important to me that people can see the indoor and outdoor decorations from the road,” Stephenson said. “If we go to the trouble of decorating, I want to share it with as many people as possible.”

The decorations come down as soon after Christmas Day as possible. The Stephensons dust and place the ornaments in bins covered with trash bags and labeled with the room they will return to next Christmas. They spray the trees with Lysol before bagging them up and taking them to the basement.

“I keep telling myself that we’re getting older and won’t be able to keep doing this, but once I’ve seen the room decorated, I can’t then not do it. If I didn’t decorate, I would miss it too much. Going from room to room and seeing a beautiful tree that sparkles is uplifting for me,” Stephenson said. “As much as I love decorating for the holiday, as a Christian, I love Christmas for its meaning. It is a very special time of year.”

Decatur Living 50 Plus 29
An elf-themed tree, left, decorates one room. [JERONIMO NISA/LIVING 50 PLUS]

Health experts say that establishing and maintaining family traditions can boost overall well-being and vitality, especially as we age.

“As children become adults and move out of the house or away, the family traditions that bind us can sometimes get lost in the process,” says Aparna

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Abburi, president of Medicare and CareAllies with Cigna. “Forming new traditions or reigniting old ones can keep us connected to loved ones, ultimately helping us feel more fulfilled, happier and healthier.”

Here are some insights into the importance of traditions to well-being and vitality as we age, along with tips for keeping those connections going in your own circle of family and friends:

▸ Traditions help combat loneliness: According to a 2020 survey by Cigna, 61% of adults reported being lonely – a 7 percentage-point increase from 2018. That feeling was likely exacerbated by the pandemic that followed. Traditions can help to combat feelings of isolation. Consider setting up weekly video calls or trading letters and notes with relatives who live far away. Regular trips to a favorite destination, such as a lake or beach, or celebrating

important holidays together every year, can provide meaningful time together.

▸ Traditions pass on family values: Having shared values can help us feel connected to one another. Telling stories from the past or practicing cultural, spiritual and religious traditions are great ways to pass these values down from one generation to the next.

▸ Traditions can make us feel young again: From cooking and gardening to sports and games, family traditions often evoke old memories and make us feel young again. Sensory memories can be particularly powerful. Whether it’s a cookie bakeoff, ballpark peanuts and hot dogs, or a singalong around the piano, family rituals that include special sights, sounds and aromas are often the ones we think of most fondly.

▸ Traditions strengthen communities: Traditions are not just

for families; they can also strengthen ties among friends and communities. Consider getting a group of neighbors together for morning walks or meeting friends for shopping excursions. Make visiting the farmers market, attending free concerts in the park, playing community center bingo and gathering for other recurring local events part of your routine.

For more information about how to stay healthy while aging, visit www.

As you embrace the rituals that matter most to you, remember that traditions don’t need to be rigid or set in stone.

“Just as you might modify a family recipe to suit your dietary needs or switch from weekly phone calls to weekly video calls, don’t be afraid to tweak and expand on older traditions so they’re relevant and interesting today – and for years to come,” says Abburi.

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On most Fridays this fall, Erick Pratt completed work at his law practice in Decatur by lunchtime, climbed into his 2018 Nissan Altima and traveled to college football games across the Southeast — in places like Chattanooga; Macon, Georgia; and Spartanburg, South Carolina.

He didn’t go to watch games from the stands. Instead, he went to subject himself to the scrutiny of fans and eventually film graders as a football official working primarily in the Southern Conference. It’s an avocation he loves.

“You get the officiating bug and it just gets in you and you just enjoy it, and it’s a good release from work,” said Pratt, a 50-year-old Decatur attorney who works as a line judge on the football field. “Clients like it. If you’re a football fan, it’s a good way to start conversations with business (associates) or coworkers.”

While growing up in the Birmingham area, Pratt caught the officiating bug from his grandfather, James Brooks Pratt, and

father, Dawson Walker Pratt.

“My father was a high school official in Birmingham from like ’73 to about ’84 and he worked a couple of state championships when I was little. My grandfather was also a high school and SEC football umpire. I think he started high school (officiating) in ’50 and then he got into the SEC in ’63 and called until ’83. At that time you had to retire at 60.”

Erick Pratt remembers seeing his grandfather and other officials in his crew preparing to leave for weekly games.

“The guys would come to his house and they would just pack up and leave and go off to Vanderbilt or Ole Miss or wherever to work a game. ... That’s kind of what piqued my interest.”

The officials who worked games with Pratt’s grandfather “all seemed to enjoy it.”

“And you know, back then you had one game (weekly) on ABC. Keith Jackson usually called it. … We would see (my grandfather) on TV once every two years


Although he's only 50, Decatur's Erick Pratt has to stay fit as a football official to keep up with players often 30 years younger.

“For the SEC and the Sun Belt and Southern Conference, we have to run thirty 30-yard dashes with about 15 seconds rest in between each one. And then at the end of the first set of 10 we take like a … short break, and then we do the second set of 10, take a short break and then we do a third set of 10."

To stay fit, Pratt often runs near the neighborhood where he resides with his wife Tammy and son Brooks near Chestnut Grove Elementary.

“I used to jog a whole lot more, but (my doctor) said you need to stay off the roadways. I do cheat a little bit and run 1 to 2 miles (in the summer) three or four times a week.

“When the season starts, after the clinic in July, I’ll stop that and just try to do elliptical training and some weight training."

or something like that. He had Georgia and Georgia Tech one year when Herschel Walker was playing.”

Pratt wrestled and played football at Hewitt-Trussville High from 1986-90 and was a teammate of future Alabama quarterback Jay Barker. Pratt played one year of football at Presbyterian College and then finished his undergraduate degree at UAB. Still, sports beckoned.

He start working high school games with the Decatur Football Officials Association in 2003 and began calling collegiately with the Gulf South Conference in 2010. He became part of Southern Conference officiating in 2012 and made the supplemental list for the Southeastern Conference in 2013. Since the 2020 season, the Southern and Sun Belt conferences have been part of a football officials consortium with the SEC that allows all three to share training and administration.

“I wanted to stay active in athletics and I didn’t have a coaching background

32 Decatur Living 50 Plus
Line judge Erick Pratt of Decatur explains a situation to Mercer coaches during their October game at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga.

so (officiating) kind of just seamlessly (fit) into my law practice,” Pratt said. “Before I got married, I used to call everything. I’ve worked two state championships in football and six in high school wrestling.”


As line judge, Pratt has several key duties. He works with with the head line judge, who is stationed across the field, and both officials help determine where the ball should be spotted after a tackle, whether passes are forward or backward and whether they’re completed behind or beyond the line of scrimmage. The line judge must know where the first down line is before each play, look for fouls involving the offensive tackle on his side of the center, and watch the No. 3 receiver if three receivers line up on his side.

He also must explain rulings to the head coach on his sideline as the officials communicate among themselves on radio headsets. He said coaches usually are careful with how they respond.

“I’ve had Hugh Freeze when he was at Ole Miss. He was quite animated but a very good coach,” Pratt said of the coach who led Liberty University this season. “Most coaches try to make an effort to behave themselves. Because of television they don’t want to come completely unhinged.

“It costs them 15 yards if they’re arguing with us on the field. But we try to be judicious with that. It has to be obvious that they’re questioning the judgment or behaving in an unsportsmanlike manner, which is of course defined in the rulebook. ... We’re not looking to penalize the head coach, but he needs to stay near the sideline, preferably off the field of play. We try to use some common sense, and common sense goes a lot further in this endeavor than knowing every nuance in the rulebook.”

Bruce Austin, the referee in charge of the seven-official crew that Pratt works with, says he relies on the Decatur official’s expertise.

“From my standpoint, it’s always nice to have two or three officials that are really what I call rules gurus,” Austin said. “I’m fortunate. I’ve got a couple of them, and Erick’s one of those guys.

“He is very good with the rules. He studies them hard. He doesn’t take anything for granted when it comes to stuff we do on the field.”

Austin said that even though the referee has to be an expert on the rules and their administration as the leader of an officiating crew, it gives him “confidence” to have other sharp officials nearby.

“You got to have somebody that keeps you from going down the wrong path sometimes. You can overthink a lot of situations out there on the field.”


Pratt’s schedule for 2022 included Wofford of the Southern Conference playing host to Elon in Spartanburg on Sept. 10. Among his Southern Conference matchups were Furman at East Tennessee in Johnson City on Sept. 17, Western Carolina at Mercer in Macon on Oct. 8, and Mercer at Chattanooga on Oct. 22.

But occasionally he has a role in SEC games. That was the case in 2016 when Alabama played at LSU. He was the alternate official, had timing responsibilities and was “supposed to assist with one call on the field, the passer being over the line and then throwing a forward pass. I was lined up behind the line judge.”

The game ended in a 10-0 Alabama victory.

“There were some really talented folks in that game. Cam Robinson was the left

tackle for Alabama, Jalen Hurts (was Alabama’s quarterback). It was just a who’s who of NFL talent on both sides of the ball. Ed Orgeron was the coach at LSU.”

Last year Pratt was line judge when the University of Louisiana Monroe played at Kentucky. Mark Stoops coached Kentucky to a 45-10 victory over a team led by former Auburn head coach Terry Bowden.

“Coach Bowden, it was right after his father’s death and he was the most professional guy,” Pratt said of the late Bobby Bowden’s son. “He took his explanation and he didn’t argue about it because he was too busy calling the next play.

“The great coaches they don’t dwell on that (adverse call), they move on because they know they only have 25 seconds to get another play in. There’s no time for an elongated conversation. Coach Stoops at Kentucky, he gets a little animated, but I know they’re just doing their job.”

One of the most memorable games Pratt has officiated came after the 2021 regular season. Perry Havener, coordinator of officials for the Southern Conference, selected Pratt to officiate in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinal between North Dakota State and James Madison. It was played on North Dakota State’s home field in the Fargodome.

“It was about 10 degrees outside and real blustery. Of course that’s an indoor facility, but it was very cold. It’s a lot colder there than it is here in the winter,” Pratt said. “Getting to work the national semifinal was a big honor. ... It wasn’t my normal crew. ... I was fortunate enough to get chosen.”

North Dakota State ended up winning 20-14 on the way to its ninth FCS title in 11 seasons.

“That was such an exceptional game because the crowd at indoor stadiums is just extremely loud,” Pratt said. “It was just a very intense game.”


Officiating isn’t a simple matter of picking up rules from watching games on television. Officials have to study the rulebook and attend training. Each week, an official is

Decatur Living 50 Plus 33
Line judge Erick Pratt awaits a kickoff during a Southern Conference game between the University of Chattanooga and Mercer University in October at Finley Stadium. [MATT HAMILTON/CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS]

graded on his position and calls are marked correct, marginal or incorrect in reviews of film by veteran or retired officials.

“We have a weekly study video once the season starts,” Pratt said. “Even in the offseason the national coordinator who is now Steve Shaw sends out a biweekly quiz and a biweekly video. So we watch the video and we work the quizzes and try to learn and try to minimize mistakes.”

In addition to that scrutiny, officials in a crew will arrive for a Saturday game on Friday night. Austin says his crew often has a meal brought to their Friday night meeting room rather than going to a restaurant.

“We’ll watch films and discuss both teams that are playing — know what their tendencies are and what they may be looking to do,” said Austin, whose fulltime job is as vice president and general manager of television station WALB in Albany, Georgia.

“We’ll probably meet for three hours on a Friday night and then also meet for a brief moment Saturday too before we head off to the stadium. So it is a lot of work. It is a lot of time invested. But it tells on you if you’re not prepared.”

Pratt said the pace of action makes officiating challenging.

“It looks easy at 2:30 on CBS, but it’s bang, bang out there and you have to

make a decision,” he said. “You don’t get the luxury of playing it back and seven different angles. You have to make a call and we try to use our mechanics to get in the best position to make the call and then try to do it correctly.”


Not everything is rosy for officials. The Alabama High School Athletic Association has an ongoing effort to recruit additional officials for football and other sports. Ken Washington of the AHSAA said the organization had 1,725 football officials this season, a decline of 311 since 2016.

Pratt said, “The numbers are down because people don’t want to deal with the hassle of crazy crowds and parents and crazy spectators. Unfortunately, it just kind of comes with the territory.”

He credits his having a good experience as an official to mentors, such as his grandfather, Havener, Dale Simmons, who is a former college official from Lawrence County, and Shaw, who formerly coordinated officials in the SEC and Sun Belt Conference.

Pratt said his mentors taught him to “see what you call, don’t call everything you see. If you passed on something, just be able to communicate that to your boss, the supervisor, hey I passed on this holding call because I didn’t think it was a big restriction. It’s a little grabby, but it didn’t get the guy off his feet.”

He also said it’s important for college officials to have understanding families because they are out of town most Friday nights and Saturdays in the fall.

“When I’m mentoring a younger official, I say, ‘If mama’s not on board, do not go down this pathway cause it will be brutal. It can lead to you being unhappy in your marriage.’”

His wife Tammy is “very understanding” about his officiating, he said.

“She allowed me this one endeavor. I don’t play enough golf to matter. I don’t get to fish enough. ... I take my wife and son to two, three games a year … so do the other crew members. So the wives become very close, and we try to structure those games where everyone can be together. The wives can go shopping, go the the

game and then we eat dinner together afterward.”

Pratt relocated to Decatur after a friend of his grandfather’s told him about a vacancy at the law firm Chenault Hammond PC. Pratt, who graduated from Samford’s Cumberland School of Law, was hired by the firm in 2002 and continues to practice at its office on Second Avenue Northeast. When he started with the firm, he asked if working his schedule around officiating would be OK.

“They said if it’s something you want to do, we don’t have a problem with it. As I got older, it’s just kind of understood around my place that Friday we’re going to a game. I try not to schedule any consults beyond noon.”

Geoff Cabe, senior associate commissioner of the Southern Conference, said football officials are independent contractors and the conference doesn’t disclose the pay scale for them. But Austin said the pay officials receive isn’t the biggest incentive for them to call games.

“The adrenaline that you get to accomplish working in a football game, to have known you worked, you administered your fouls right .. it’s almost like competing,” Austin said. “This isn’t necessarily winning or losing, it’s just having that accomplishment as a football crew that you did something as best as you could each week.”

And that’s the best cure for the officiating bug.

34 Decatur Living 50 Plus
Erick Pratt keeps in shape for football officiating by taking a training run in his Southwest Decatur neighborhood this fall. [BRUCE MCLELLAN/LIVING 50 PLUS] Line judge Erick Pratt takes note of the time of a score at Finley Stadium in a game between Chattanooga and visiting Mercer in October. [MATT HAMILTON/CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS]

he holiday season is a special time of year. Many factors combine to make the holiday season so unique and festive, and that includes all the effort people put into decorating their homes.

Much thought is giving to holiday lighting arrangements and which tree to buy, but it’s

equally important to consider pets when decorating. Many common household pets are naturally curious, and that curiosity can make it difficult to decorate safely come the holiday season. But various pet-proofing strategies can ensure holiday decorations and displays aren’t compromised by four-legged friends this season.

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▸ Secure the Christmas tree. Much like other residents of the home, pets may be mesmerized by a glowing Christmas tree. Pets may sniff around the tree or investigate it closely, which can increase the chances that it tips over. That poses a significant safety hazard and underscores the importance of using a sturdy stand.

Fastening the tree to a wall, much like one might do with a television that isn’t mounted, adds a further layer of protection from tipovers.

▸ Block off the base of a live tree. Live trees need water to stay green and keep their needles throughout the season. That water could prove enticing to thirsty pets. Drinking water from a tree stand could increase the risk of the tree tipping over and the water could upset the stomach of pets if the tree was treated with pesticides prior to being brought home. When decorating with a live tree, make sure the base of the tree where the water will be is blocked off. A small fence around the tree could keep curious pets

away. The room where the tree is located should be locked or inaccessible when pets are home alone.

▸ Inspect and conceal light wires. Wires can become frayed over time, and that could pique pets’ curiosity. Lighting wires should always be inspected prior to decorating and frayed or damaged wires should be thrown away, even if it means replacing lights. If wires are still sturdy, conceal them along the base of the wall using a cable concealer, which prevents pets from chewing on them.

▸ Avoid lighting candles. Candles should not be lit in homes with pets. Even candles on shelves that are seemingly beyond pets’ reach can be hazardous, as pets, especially cats, have a way of accessing spaces they seemingly shouldn’t be able to reach. Use electric candles in lieu of traditional ones.

▸ Speak to a vet about seasonal plants and flowers before bringing them into the home. Pet owners can speak with their veterinarians before bringing poinsettias, holly and other seasonal plants and flowers into their homes. Some pets could suffer allergic reactions if they eat certain seasonal plants, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and speak to a vet before including live plants and flowers in decorative displays.

Decorating is part of the holiday season. Pet owners must exercise an extra bit of caution to keep their pets and homes safe when decorating during this special time of year.

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Christmas Eve is viewed differently by different people, even those who live under the same Santa-ready roof. Adults may see Christmas Eve as crunch time when they must prepare food for the next day or set up presents for their children to open in the morning. Children, on the other hand, are focused on Santa’s visit and little else.

Grandparents naturally want to make Christmastime as special as possible for their grandchildren, and that may involve ensuring that Christmas Eve is just as memorable as Christmas Day. The following are some ways to impart more magic into Christmas Eve celebrations.


On Christmas Eve, churches often hold celebrations that may include late-evening or midnight services that

celebrate the birth of Christ when the calendar switches over to December 25. While it does make for a late night, it can be thought-provoking for kids and a unique experience unlike any other.


Children like to leave out a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa. That makes Christmas Eve a perfect time to whip up a fresh batch of cookies. Explore different recipes to come up with a unique offering each year.


Watching television or looking at a tablet or mobile phone before bed can be too stimulating when it’s time for children to wind down for bed. Choose a holiday tale or tales that can be read as a Christmas Eve bedtime story. Reciting the poem «A Visit from St. Nicholas (‘Twas the Night

Before Christmas)» is a great way to set the Christmas Eve mood.


Why should Santa’s reindeer be left out when it comes to receiving treats? Reindeer dust, made from a combination of oatmeal, rice cereal, dried fruits, and glitter (if desired), is purported to attract Santa’s reindeer and provide them a nibble at the same time. Plus, it’s generally safe for other animals in the yard to eat.


Caroling may not be the norm, but some families may want to revive it. Closeknit communities can organize familycentric caroling opportunities and roam the cul-de-sacs and other pedestrianfriendly areas singing popular songs.

Christmas Eve is a great time to embrace various traditions that help to make the season even more special.

38 Decatur Living 50 Plus


illions of people across the globe feel that the holiday season is a magical time of year. Though those people come from all walks of life, it’s likely that no group is as taken by the unique spirit of the holiday season as much as children.Whether they’re looking forward to Santa’s arrival or preparing for a school holiday pageant, kids have much to be excited about come December. Grandparents can channel that enthusiasm by involving kids when decorating around the house this holiday season.

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▸ Make homemade ornaments. The options are limitless when making holiday ornaments with children. From simple ornaments made from pinecones picked up outside to more complex projects designed for children nearing adolescence, parents can look to

the internet to find design ideas and directions for hundreds of ornaments.

▸ Let kids lead the way when decorating the tree. Families that celebrate Christmas can let kids lead the way when decorating their Christmas tree. Kids are likely to spend weeks leading up to Santa’s arrival gazing in awe at the tree, and knowing they decided where to place the various ornaments on it might make the season even more special for youngsters.

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▸ Take kids along when choosing lawn ornaments. It’s not safe to involve children when installing

lighting displays, but kids will get a kick out of choosing inflatable lawn decorations and other items to place

around the yard. Take kids along when buying new items and then seek their input when placing Frosty, Santa and his reindeer friends around the yard.

▸ Include kids in culinary decor. Many celebrants cannot imagine a holiday season without gingerbread houses and cookies. These traditions provide another great opportunity to involve children in holiday decorating. Set aside some time to make homemade gingerbread houses, which can be used as decorations before they’re ultimately eaten. Cookies may not have the shelf life of a typical gingerbread house, but kids can pitch in and decorate cookies prior to a holiday party or family meal.

The spirit of the holiday season can be seen on the faces of children each December. Inviting kids to pitch in when decorating for the holidays can make the season even more special for its youngest celebrants.

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The spirit of the holiday season can be seen on the faces of children each December. Inviting kids to pitch in when decorating for the holidays can make the season even more special for its youngest celebrants.
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Estimates vary depending on the year and scope of the study, but research into New Year’s resolutions has generally found that fewer than 10 percent of people who make resolutions each year stay the course until they’ve accomplished their goal. In fact, a 2020 poll conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with Crispy Green found that the average person has abandoned his or her resolution by February 1.

No two people are the same, but resolutions could fall victim to various pitfalls that can affect anyone. Recognition of these pitfalls when making a resolution may improve

your chances of being successful in the year ahead.

▸ Lack of specificity: When making a resolution, be as specific as possible. If you want to read more, resolve to read two books per month (or however many books you feel you can reasonably read in a month). If you want to lose weight, speak to your physician to help you set a specific weight loss goal you can meet without compromising your overall health.

▸ No measuring stick to track progress: Specificity is important, but it’s not the only tool you can use to stay the course with a resolution. Maintain a resolution journal or

blog that allows you to gauge your performance. This can help you engage more fully in your resolution efforts, providing an outlet you can use to explore your successess and failures. The more engaged you are in your resolution efforts, the more likely those efforts will prove successful.

▸ Going it alone: The buddy system works when pursuing various goals, and New Year’s resolutions are no exception. A friend or family member along for the resolution journey can make it easier to maintain your motivation. For example, anyone who wants to read more can join a book club, which can provide the motivation to finish books or excerpts before a weekly discussion.

▸ Biting off more than you can chew: Small resolutions may not seem like much, but minor efforts can serve as the stepping stones to realizing larger goals. If your goals are too ambitious at the outset, you’re more likely to give up at the first setback.

▸ Not anticipating setbacks: Setbacks will happen, and as noted, it’s easy to let them derail your efforts when they first appear. Recognize that there will be bumps in the road but that these bumps should in no way end your journey. Take setbacks as the valuable lessons that they can be, and use them as an opportunity to examine what you did that didn’t work and what you can do to avoid future setbacks.

Decatur Living 50 Plus 43
44 Decatur Living 50 Plus Fu rn it ure t o fi t y o u r Li fest yl e! Cornerstone Furniture DECATURSHOPPINGCENTER 15566th AveSE256-351-8784 Weoffer12monthssame ascashandimmediate delivery availableoninstockitems. 4 6 3 9 8 3 1 Large selection instock 20%off storewidenowthroughDecember23rd HOW TO PLAN FOR POST-RETIREMENT MEDICAL EXPENSES People need to be aware of the potential costs of medical care in retirement and plan ahead so they can meet those obligations if and when the need arises.

hen individuals retire, they not only walk away from work, but also relinquish thier steady paychecks. For many, retirement can be a potentially risky financial endeavor. Saving for retirement is a great way to mitigate such risk, but unforeseen expenses, such as medical bills, can quickly derail a retirement plan.

Many people have a greater need for medical care as they get older. The Fidelity Investments Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate indicates health care can be one of

the biggest expenses a person will take on in retirement. The average 65-year-old couple who retired in 2021 in the


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United States can expect to spend $300,000 on health care and medical expenses during retirement. The financial resource The Street says other studies suggest it’s wise for retirees to plan to spend between $3,000 and $7,700 per year on health care.

Financial advisors warn that relying exclusively on Medicare to cover health care costs isn’t going to cut it. Benefits under the Medicare program often aren’t enough to pay for all of a retiree’s needs. There may be gaps for chronic treatment of illnesses and specialty treatment for certain conditions. Long-term care services also typically are not covered. It’s important to note that Medicare will cover general doctor’s visits, but it does not cover the cost of deductibles or copays.

Individuals need to be proactive and plan for medical expenses in retirement. After housing, healthcare is the most significant expense for retirees. Health spending accounts and long-term health insurance are two options for people looking for ways to cover their health care costs in retirement.

As of 2022, people can contribute up to $3,650 for an individual or $7,300 for a family per year into a health savings account. After age 55, an additional $1,000 per year is allowed. Money in an HSA grows tax-free and it can be spent tax-free on qualified medical expenses. Once

a person has Medicare, he or she no longer is eligible to contribute to the HSA, but can use money already in the account to pay for qualified medical expenses that are not covered by Medicare.

Long-term care insurance is another option, and many people invest in such an account during their 50s or 60s. The earlier an individual enrolls in a program, the lower the premium. According to Personal Capital, most policies will not start until a patient has needed assistance for 90 days and other qualifying guidelines are met. Generally speaking, long-term care insurance also is use-or-lose. If there’s never a need to use the insurance, it will not be refunded. This is a risk that certain people are willing to take.

In addition to these options, people may consider gap insurance programs. When putting together a retirement plan, it can be wise to speak with financial advisors who can customize products based on their expected needs.

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Many people have a greater need for medical care as they get older. The Fidelity Investments Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate indicates health care can be one of the biggest expenses a person will take on in retirement.
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