Review Category : Contributors

Juggling the challenges of the Sandwich Generation

Life expectancies are almost five years longer today than they were 30 years ago, according to the 2011 National Vital Statistics Report, a fact that increases the likelihood you will provide some form of support for aging parents — through home care, helping out with day-to-day chores, or even covering living expenses. That role can make significant demands on your time, energy and financial resources.

The challenge is even greater if you’re also dealing with raising and educating children, grandchildren, or perhaps helping a new graduate get a start in the world. According to AARP, about 66 million Americans take care of a parent, spouse, relative or other loved one, and roughly a third are also raising a child — at the same time.

Katie Cuppia Phifer

Katie Cuppia Phifer

“While you may want to provide for everyone’s needs, it’s probably not possible,” says Deborah Eickhoff, vice president, High Net Worth Planning Group at Wells Fargo Advisors.

Still, there is good news. Consider the following four steps as you map out a strategy to help balance your family obligations without sacrificing your own financial security.

1. Prioritize your expenditures. Taking care of your parents and children at the cost of your own long-term financial security is counterproductive. If you’re looking at how to afford healthcare and living expenses for a parent, or education or living expenses for a child, it is important to explore all of your options before depleting your retirement savings. Your parents or your children may have access to more resources than you do.

“Start by creating your own retirement plan,” Eickhoff says. “Once you have that plan in place, you can figure out what you can actually afford to do for your kids and your parents.” As a Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Advisor, I utilize the Envision® investment planning process, which can help you create this plan and show you how different scenarios of helping kids and parents affect it.

2. Assess the situation. Does the thought of asking your aging parents about the way they handle their household finances — or how they’d feel about moving to a nursing home — fill you with anxiety? You are not alone.

However, it is important to develop a clear understanding of your role in your parents’ care and the finances that will have to support it. You can’t afford to delay this conversation. As your parents get older, it’s important to sit down with them and talk about their health and financial well-being — before urgent decisions are forced on you or your family.

Start by getting a handle on your parents’ current living costs, and try to estimate what the outlays will be down the road. Long-term care costs vary by state, so if you and your parents are considering assisted living or home health care, you will have to do some research for the state where they expect to retire. In South Carolina, the average annual expense today for a private room in an assisted living facility is $51,672, according to the average local cost of long-term care based on John Hancock’s Cost of Care Study, conducted by LifePlans, Inc., 2013. Individual facility costs may vary.

3. Make the most of financial resources. Spend and invest every dollar where it will do the most good. Contributions to 401(k) s, IRAs, and 529 college savings accounts offer tax benefits that can help your savings grow more quickly.  An additional consideration is a Roth IRA. A Roth IRA will generally appeal to people who want tax-deferred earnings, and are OK with the idea of making after-tax contributions now in exchange for tax-free distributions in retirement.

Long-term care insurance, which can help cover nursing home and home health care expenses, may be worth considering for your parents — or for you. Eickhoff notes that premiums on such policies rise sharply for older buyers, but the coverage is more affordable for people in their 50s and 60s.

Your parent’s financial situation may even make her eligible for certain benefits. One example is income. If your parent’s annual income is relatively low, you may be able to claim him or her as a dependent on your tax return. This may defray the cost of care. Talk with your tax advisor before doing this to see if your situation qualifies.

4. You have support. You don’t have to do the heavy lifting alone. Reach out to other family members. They may have different ideas about how to help your parents, so discuss the level of care your parents need and define your respective roles. It’s important to discuss details such as how much time, energy and money each of you is willing to contribute to help your parents. Resources such as Eldercare.gov, Caregiver.com and Medicare.gov can provide useful information and contacts. Regardless of your family’s size, know that you can find assistance to help you manage.

As more and more people face the challenges of being part of the “sandwich generation,” it is important to understand your own goals for your retirement, and the goals of your loved ones. Having a plan in place and following the above steps will help this new reality become more manageable.

This article was written by Wells Fargo Advisors and provided courtesy of Katie Cuppia Phifer, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and Financial Advisor in Beaufort, SC at 843-982-1506. Investments in securities and insurance products are: NOT FDIC-INSURED/NOT BANK-GUARANTEED/MAY LOSE VALUE. Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC, Member SIPC, is a registered broker-dealer and a separate non-bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company. 2013 Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC.  All rights reserved.

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Teaching an old dog new tricks

By Lee Scott

We have all heard the old saying, “Can’t teach an old dog a new trick.” And for some reason when we hit a certain age, we start to believe that phrase and convince ourselves that it is too hard to learn a new skill. I had to rethink this misconception recently,  but it took a day with my granddaughter and a day on the golf course.

My granddaughter Sloan and I were playing volleyball in her backyard.  She started to get frustrated because she couldn’t serve the ball as well as I was serving it. We went through the steps together of how to hold the ball, placement of hand, keeping your eyes on the ball and knowing where you want it to go — all those skills that I had been taught as a child. I assured her, in my wise Grandmother voice, that practice was the key to success in anything she tackled.

About two weeks after this happened, I entered a small golf tournament.  It was advertised as a women’s only Cayman Golf tournament and opened to both golfers and non-golfers. The idea was to pull non-golfers out of the wood work and entice them to try golf, a great marketing technique especially when you think of all the golf courses and tournaments around our area. Although I had taken golf lessons about five years before, I had not played since.

There were 44 women playing in the tournament, some of whom were experienced golfers, some relatively new to the sport and some, like me, who really didn’t have a clue. I did know some of the basics like how to hold the club and look at the ball. And I did understood in theory the stance and the swing techniques. It was a lot of fun and the  other three women who made up my  foursome were wonderful.  They made encouraging remarks, like “you’re doing great,” “it just takes practice,” “don’t worry, I have spent many rounds of golf shooting balls into sand traps”.  But I did start getting frustrated until I remembered my experience with my granddaughter. My frustration at not getting it right all the time was similar to hers.  We both wanted to be doing the sport as well as the experienced teacher.  But the truth is it still takes time to learn something new regardless of your age — time to do it wrong, time to take classes, time to practice and time for a little patience. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks. We just have to remember how we learned them as children.

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How Fido feels about Halloween

By Tracie Korol

When my son was tiny, Halloween was a perplexing time when grown-ups decorated with squash, when Mom fussed around making something in the basement and shortly thereafter fussed around dressing him up in bunchy strange clothes. Then, one night, for no reason, Mom stuffed him into the bunchy clothes and took him to the neighboring houses wherein the inhabitants gave him candy. What a great idea! Why aren’t we doing this every day?

Later, as he grew older Halloween became a time of shared conspiracy in creating the perfect costume, competing with friends for the weirdest and coolest, testing a mother’s creativity and facility with foam rubber.  Our neighborhood decorated and dressed for Trick or Treat night with costumed parents accompanying their costumed kids. The Halloween frenzy grew to the point where the neighborhood dogs were hobbling around wearing buns, skirts and wings.  Our dog, Dave, who had a look of benign misery most of the time anyway, looked more despondent than usual on Halloween night and all we did was gel his topknot to look punk.

To costume a dog is to deny his essential dogness.  Deep within your dog’s chromosomes is the inherent sense of wolf behavior. In a wolf community, one animal may “stand over” another, placing his body on or close to another as a communication, a scolding.  To a dog, the experience of being bound into a Yoda suit does not elicit festivity, more, the uncomfortable feeling of being “ranked”.  Notice when you dress up a dog they freeze in place as if they are being dominated. Also notice that is only a matter of moments until Best Friend begins to dislodge the garment by pawing, shaking, dragging or rolling in something foul so as to necessitate removal of the bumble bee hat.

Dogs are extremely good sports. They will do just about anything to please their humans. Some maintain that Binky LOVES dressing up. But think about it. Does Binky really enjoy the sensation of a balloon glued to his nether parts, horns strapped around his head and a bell around his neck that clanks with every vibration? Probably not.  Even when the costume is not as extreme — say, wedging a dachshund into a bun, or a Maltese into fairy wings — is the perceived joy you see in the dog a result of the costume or the result of the liver treats you use to bribe him to hold still for pictures or the high-pitched “you’re-so-cute-oh-yes-you-are!!” that accompanies the reveal.  A dog works on the What’s In It For Me principle. Loads of snacks and attention? Sure, I’ll feel bunchy and uncomfortable — for about a minute.

Here’s another way of looking at what your costumed dog may feel.  What if, one day, when you arrived at work, your boss announced, “Today is Underwear Day! Strip down to your skivvies!”. Um. How awkward is this? But, then your boss hands you a box of Godiva chocolates, tickets for the big game and your co-workers cheer and tell you you look great in your tighty-whities. Well, okay then. Maybe not so bad. I can do this for a day. Tomorrow is back to normal, right?

If you insist on dressing up your pet, make sure the costume isn’t annoying or unsafe.  It must not constrict movement or hearing, or impede his ability to breathe or bark.  Make sure his outfit doesn’t have dangly bits that he could trip over or chew off and swallow.  Make sure he can move freely without clunking into furniture or snagging on branches.  Make sure his outfit doesn’t make noise, tinkle, clank or rustle.  A white stripe down the back of a black dog masquerades him as a skunk, black stripes on an orange dog can masquerade him as a tiger or a little hair gel can turn your Bedlington into a camel.  All low-key efforts that will afford him his safety and his dignity.

Not unlike my son at age 2, your dog does not understand that Halloween is YOUR holiday, not his. Wearing a sweater in the winter keeps him warm; wearing something that makes him look like a banana or an armadillo is humiliating.

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Searching for the perfect Gumbo recipe

By Lee Scott

Learning the local cuisine has become an adventure. Eating the fresh vegetables, the assorted seafood and desserts such as Key Lime Pie and Lemon Squares have expanded my family menu. One of the most popular dishes around appears to be the gumbo. After eating Seafood Gumbo at various restaurants, Chicken Gumbo from the grocery store and Shrimp Gumbo from the seafood market, I decided that I needed to find a good recipe. Although I have found the ball jars with gumbo at the local farmers markets, I wanted to make my own from scratch.

I typed in “Gumbo” in the search engine and found pages and pages of recipes and instructions. It didn’t take long to discover that okra was found in all the soups. I did a little research and found that the term “gumbo” is a traditional word for okra, which I hadn’t known. Further research revealed that it is thought that the term gumbo is derived from the West African Bantu word “Ki ngombo”.  So technically, it is okra soup or stew.

The recipes provided some interesting hints, like always sauté the onions and okra before you put them in the soup stock and fresh okra is a must.  When I spoke to my butcher in the local grocery store, he told me which Andouille sausage to use and he said when making Shrimp Gumbo, always use fresh shrimp.  He said that the freshness of all the ingredients makes a difference in the flavor. I also got another hint in a book I recently picked up at the library titled  “Sanctuary Cove” by Rochelle Alers. In the fictional novel, the main character learns the secret to a good gumbo: Fry the okra in oil to reduce the coating before you put it in the soup. This, she is told, is the true Gullah secret to great Shrimp Gumbo.

But the best advice about my quest for the best Gumbo recipe came from a discussion with a local shrimper.  He shook his head at me and said, “Never mind about a recipe. It’s who made it that’s important. There was never any better Shrimp Gumbo in the whole world than my grandmother’s  Shrimp Gumbo. She threw everything in the pot and served it with corn bread.”

I thought about his comments and realized that no matter what recipe I use,  my grandchildren will remember that they had the best Shrimp Gumbo ever from their grandmother. Wise man.

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Why get a dog?

By Tracie Korol

The decision to get a dog is not something to be taken lightly.  While the sweet face of a puppy can tug our heartstrings into an impulse buy, we need to know, up front, the significant investment of time and money that little charmer will require. Socializing and training a new puppy is time consuming and, occasionally, frustrating. Working to provide all that is necessary to successfully integrate a dog into a family environment can increase the amount of stress on the family and the dog,

This is especially true if the primary caregiver(s) are working outside the home and/or have young children, are themselves elderly or infirm, have an elderly parent, or other persons and pets to care for. This does not mean that it cannot be done. But, prospective dog owners often underestimate the investment of time, energy and money required. Making this decision impulsively can lead to frustration, disappointment, and possibly result in the surrender of the dog to a shelter or rescue.

The first question you should ask yourself honestly is: Why do I (we) want a dog? Is your answer:

For my children: Trust me, this will be your dog.  After the honeymoon period the kids may play with the dog, occasionally.  Guaranteed, they will whine about dog-related responsibilities, doing them grudgingly, only after significant prodding from you. As children’s interests and activities change over the years, their level of involvement with the dog will most likely be inconsistent, at best.  Additionally, your children, especially, young children, will need to be trained in how to behave with the dog and will need to be supervised when with the dog.

For protection: The only time is it a good idea to get a dog for the purpose of protection is in professional or agricultural situations and only when the owner is humane and knowledgeable of dog behavior and dominant dog handling.  In all other situations an alarm system or security fence are much more appropriate and effective.

To breed puppies: The breeding of dogs is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.  If it is not your intention to remain responsible for all of your puppies for their entire lives, including being willing to take back and care for those that may find themselves homeless, do not enter into this endeavor.  If you are planning on breeding for profit, understand that there are much easier, more profitable and more ethical ways to make a buck.  Dogs are living beings and dog breeding requires a significant investment of time, money, labor, knowledge, both academic and practical, patience, and emotional fortitude, to be done responsibly and humanely.  Visit the county shelter and witness the problem yourself.  Look at the faces of the homeless dogs and talk to the volunteers and staff who, all too often, must take that final walk with them.

Because BreedX is cool, was in a movie, is unique and exotic, is free or cheap: One of the worst reasons to get a dog is because of their physical appearance or popularity due to a movie or TV show.  Often, these venues feature exotic, rare or unique breeds that are, in the overwhelming majority of pet situations, unsuitable as companions.  Also, remember that a free dog is never free. When your friend, coworker or relative offers you one of Fluffy’s puppies think hard about the necessary investment over the next 16 years.

Dogs require significant financial, physical, time, and environmental resources.  Dogs are not the fulfillment of ANY fantasy.  The responsibilities are legion through all stages of dog-hood and continue on after you’re gone. How many dog owners, for instance, have a plan, in writing, for the dog in case of their disability or demise? Your dog should become your Best Friend, after all.  Make the right decision at the right time for the right reasons and for the best possible outcome.

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Glorious October!

By Susan Stone

October is one of my favorite months of the year. Gardeners, joggers and dog walkers can once again be out in the middle of the day without fainting from the heat. We can finally open the windows and get some fresh air in the house!

Our garden tasks for the month are all about clean up and preparation. Here are a few chores you can do now to reduce your labor in the spring and to keep your gardens healthy.

Roses: If you haven’t already, stop fertilizing and pruning your roses this month. They need to finish their natural cycle by developing their rose hips. These are the hard round bulbish growths at the base of the flower. Once they have ripened (by February), you can harvest them for rose hip tea or other recipes. They are very high in vitamin C and worth saving or sharing.

The most important thing you can do for your roses now is to clean out the leaf material under them. Discard all diseased leaves. DO NOT THROW THEM IN YOUR COMPOST! This will reduce the chance of black spot and other fungal diseases later. One more thing, for all of our northern gardeners, in the South, we do not prune our roses back until Valentine’s Day. I know they can look a little raggedy, but please do yourself and roses a favor and get over it. If you cut them back, they will push out new growth and won’t have time to harden off before the frosts come.

Fruit crops: There are still citrus fruits ripening on the trees, but most of our fruit trees and grapevines are finished for the year. Collect and discard all of your fallen fruit. This is also not a compost item. Decaying fruit attracts insects. Many of our banana plants got zapped last winter, but recovered nicely. If you were lucky enough to get bananas this year, wait to harvest until just before our first frost. Our growing season isn’t quite long enough to harvest them ripe, so they will still be very green. To speed up the process, place them in a brown paper bag with an apple.

Bulbs: First, do yourself a favor and buy high quality bulbs. The cheap bulk bags are generally poor performers. You can plant bulbs now through November. If you have your heart set on tulips and hyacinths, you’ll need to refrigerate them for about six weeks before planting them in December or January. If you have room in the fridge, plant a small pot of paper whites to enjoy indoors. They will need a little more time in the cold (about three months). Flowers will appear in about 2-3 weeks at room temperature. Daffodils are still the hardiest bulbs we can enjoy year after year. Just remember that the squirrels really love them too. Plant your bulbs under chicken wire or other barrier that they can penetrate but the squirrels can’t. You can also try planting bulbs amid your thick groundcover. Squirrels usually don’t dig in groundcover.

There is still time to plant your winter food crops. If you missed the opportunity to plant by seed, the garden centers are full of potted plants. Lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and collards are just a sample of what is available this time of year.

Keep collecting your flower seeds and place them in paper envelopes to keep them dry. Label everything! If you want to sow some flower seeds now for spring, four-o-clocks, poppies, cornflowers and larkspur are a perfect choice.

You may send Susan your questions and garden wisdom to theriverangel.ss@gmail.com.

RECIPE OF THE MONTH: The No-See-Ums are really waking up with the cooler temperatures so I am republishing last month’s recipe. Your sanity may depend on it!

• 1 oz. Cinnamon Leaf Oil, about $5 online

• 8-10 oz. Witch Hazel, about $1.50

That’s it! Put it in a spray bottle and shake! Adjust the recipe for strength. Test for sensitivity to the cinnamon, don’t use it straight. Too much of a good thing is still too much!

 
 
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Wherever you go … there YOU are

By Martha O’Regan

You can never get away from you, no matter how hard you try. And, to face more truth, you are responsible for you.  There is no one else out there who knows you or can take care of you better than you — not your spouse, doctor, parent, partner, child, sibling, no one.  You are your greatest ally as well as your worst enemy.  Only you can get you in trouble and only you can get you out. It is you who make choices, both good and bad.  So, you may as well just sit down and introduce yourself to all of you and decide it’s time to be friends to begin working together for your highest good.  Simple, just not so easy, at least not at first.

Martha O'Regan of Thera Vista

Martha O’Regan of Thera Vista

Admittedly, it was a bit of a bummer to become aware that I was a steward of this vessel that I inhabit each day. No more excuses, no more waiting for the miraculous alternative to exercising or cheeseburgers, no more “if only this, that or the other thing would occur, then I will be happy” statements.  I had to dig in there and re-connect with all of me.  “Mind, meet body … Body, meet spirit … Spirit, meet mind.”

Now that the introductions were complete, we had to figure out our new arrangement. No longer could mind override spirit in getting my body in gear or choosing a healthy alternative to that cheeseburger. Now that we had re-cognized our relationship, body became more in tune to mind’s ramblings to ignore spirit. As an example, mind says, “Oh, just turn off that alarm clock and skip the workout, who will know anyway?” Uh hum, spirit will, then mind will have to hear about it all day, eventually fatiguing the body from carrying the guilt all day.  So not worth it, better to just listen to spirit and get up!  Ultimately body and mind feel better, and spirit is happy — it’s all good.  However, I must say, this goes on regularly within me but as long as I know spirit has my highest good in mind, I try to listen to it rather than my mind.

What about you? Do you know all of you? Give it a try, have some fun with it.  Give each entity a name and establish a working dialogue amongst them — I have found that all three prefer kindness and ease more than annoyance and sarcasm.

As I continue to nurture this relationship within myself, I am continuously aware that this is my life no one else’s. Not in a selfish “it’s all about me” energy but an “oh my gosh, this is my life, what am I going to do with it?” energy.  I get to choose my hopes, dreams and desires and how am I going to achieve them and who will be a part of it. And, I get to relish in my own successes as well as learn from my own mistakes which allows spirit to remind me not to do that again.

Understanding that my physiology is directly connected to my thoughts, emotions and perspectives allows me to choose wisely for my overall health and well-being. Being a steward of my vessel and getting to know all of me is no longer a bummer but rather a gift. I decided that taking time for me, doing what I love to do, being with who I love to be with and doing it authentically with kindness and ease was far better than where I was before my “ah ha.” There is still the daily debate amongst the three of us, but now it’s with delightful banter.

I invite you to get to know all of you and enjoy the rest of your ride here on planet earth — since it’s where you are and you have to take you wherever you go anyway.  In Joy … Enjoy! Live Awake … Have Fun!

Martha O’Regan, is Your B.E.S.T. Life Coach, supporting you in creating and allowing the B.E.S.T. Life of your Dreams. Contact her at 843-812-1328 or yourbestlifecoach28@gmail.com to discover just how easy it can be to create change in your life. Visit www.yourbestlifecoach.net.

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Just a little letter to let you know the kids are all right

Dear Mom,

Last weekend brought the first truly cold evening and as I snuggled into my flannel pajama pants, I thought of you. This month is both of our birthdays and I remember picking and carving pumpkins and getting ready for my favorite holiday, Halloween.

It’s such a busy time of year and we have so much going on just at our house. The big news is that Selah started walking, and now she can’t be stopped. At 14 months, she’s as feisty and independent as ever, and she looks like a Mini Me, fat cheeks and all. It seems obvious that the sassy gene you passed down to me will live on for another generation, and also that we are totally in for it if she grows up to be anything like her stubborn mama and headstrong grandma.

What can I say about Wolfe? He’s 2 and a half and way too smart for his own good. He’s quite the character and jokester and makes us laugh often. Not going to lie, he’s going through a bit of the Terrible Two’s as far as pushing boundaries (which he does well and often) but his fun, vivacious personality makes up for the sometime naughty behavior. He loves music and his guitar and his tastes range from The Avett Brothers to Katy Perry.

Daniel and I are doing well, too. We still like to watch our family shows “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” together, and most days are divided up into work and taking care of little kids. Earlier in the year I was doing really good exercising and eating right, but recently I have fallen off the healthy bandwagon and increased my workload and overall feel like a crazy person.

I’d like to think you’re looking down on us and can see your grandkids. They are, like, everything you could hope for — silly and smart and active and sweet (and also demanding and exhausting. Why didn’t you ever tell me kids were so much work?) Sometimes I hope you’re not watching us, especially when I’m tired or impatient and the kids are fussy or whiny and something will happen, like the cat puking on the carpet, that will just send me over the edge and I either freak out at any unsuspecting animal or human in my path or go lay on my bed and close my eyes and wish the day was over. I guess every mom has moments like that, and it’s during those times I wish I could talk to you most. We would have long conversations like we used to, and then you would try to give me advice and I would get mad and defensive and sometimes even hung up the phone because I didn’t want to listen to your help. Ha, just thinking of how I used to act like such a brat makes me laugh and cry at the same time. I’m sad because I’m sorry for putting you through such hell (especially as a teenager). And I’m laughing because it’s not until now, with my own kids, that I can understand what you must have been going through but will never be able to say thank you for everything you gave me and all the love you bestowed on me, even when I didn’t deserve it. I hope to be half as good a mom to my kids as you were to me. I miss you and love you.

Always, Pamela

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Magellan and me

By Lee Scott

We had the opportunity recently to go off for a day on the water with a group of people from a local boating club. Our 22-foot power boat is a great vehicle to tour the Lowcountry islands and to spend a day with new friends.

The six boat caravan rendezvoused in the Morgan River and headed toward the Atlantic Ocean. It was a beautiful, sunny day with calm water. We had our Garmin GPS chart plotter running so we could identify the marks and rivers along the way. We rounded Green Can 9 on the St. Helena Sound and headed for the swing bridge going into Harbor River.   The 15 foot clearance was enough for us to go under but we had to wait as the bridge opened and a couple of the taller boats went through. Then it was on to Story River towards Trenchards Inlet.  The scenery was captivating with large houses sitting out on small islands in the middle of green marshland and long docks leading out from hidden hunting cabins.  The wildlife was everywhere and the dolphins played on our wake.

When we reached our destination near Bull Point, we anchored the boat and everyone broke out their chairs and food. After a while, we noticed black clouds slowly coming at us from Hilton Head Island. As the clouds approached, the two of us agreed that we should head home since this was our first time exploring the area. We did not want to get caught in a squall. The rest of the group stayed put and did not seem too concerned.

Once again we were fascinated by the scenery and failed to notice the depth sounder and the declining numbers until it was almost too late. My boat’s captain, Magellan, who has raced sailboats in the ocean and gone up and down the coast, suddenly slowed the boat to a crawl and said, “Oops, I’m not paying attention!” According to our electronic gadget we were deep into marshland and almost aground. Thank goodness for high tide.

Once we got back out into St. Helena Sound, we were in good shape but the storm was moving towards Beaufort.   We timed it perfectly so that just as we were coming into our creek, the clouds opened up and we got soaked! On the other hand, the group we left behind had a pleasant day of sunshine and fellowship.

Next time, me and Magellan are going to trust the locals.

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When a treat is really a treat

By Tracie Korol

To our dogs, food is love — and security, affirmation, and reinforcement. When we give our dogs what I call “high-value” treats — foods that are especially sweet, meaty, and yummy-smelly — the message we want to deliver transports to them through the treat especially loud and clear. From a trainer’s viewpoint, I am ever appreciative of the ability of yummies to “classically condition” a dog to tolerate, and then even enjoy, circumstances that he previously found unsettling, frightening or threatening. It’s good to reward our dogs for a job well done. Plus, it’s fun for us to feed our dog friends something they’re crazy about.

The down side is that treats are probably the most likely of all dog-related items that we buy impulsively because the labels are so cute and the names are so clever. We don’t even think to glance at the ingredients. I would hope by now, faithful readers, that you routinely flip over any dog product bag to read the ingredient list, ever searching for the very best for your Best Friend. It would be counter-productive to spend time and energy finding (or making) the best healthy food for your dog if you’re going to trash your own efforts at health building with low-quality, additive-filled junk food treats. Read the label.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find treats for your pet that do not contain stuff that is not good for him including artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.

Healthy treats do not contain:

Artificial colors: Dogs are somewhat aesthetically challenged: they don’t care whether their food is brown or blue. Artificial colors are absolutely unnecessary.

Artificial or low-quality palatability enhancers: Avoid treats that use salt as a flavor-enhancer as well as treats that contain corn syrup, sucrose or ammoniated glycyrrhizin (a licorice derivative) and artificial flavorings like barbecue or smoke flavor.  Dogs are not as swayed as we are by the mysteries of barbeque and hickory.

Chemical preservatives: BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin, potassium sorbate, sodium nitrate and calcium propionate are chemical antioxidants added to foods to extend shelf life and reduce fat spoilage. These chemicals are responsible for the “natural bacon-y” texture of some doggy treats and the reason why, if you left a bacon-treat on the dashboard of your car it would still be “bacon-y” pliable a year later.  BHA and BHT are also used to preserve carpet. The FDA (U.S Food and Drug Administration) regulates ethoxyquin as a pesticide and prohibits its use in human foods. However, it continues to be used in pet foods. Propylene glycol is such a uniquely nasty chemical preservative that it requires it’s own call-out. It is used in pet snacks (and some human foods) to keep them moist and chewy, and to prevent discoloration in preserved meats. It’s also used as the main ingredient in deodorant sticks, tattoo ink, and is used in newer automotive antifreezes and de-icers used at airports. An interesting use for this chemical is to create artificial smoke for theatrical productions and training exercises for firefighters.

Healthy treats contain:

Whole-food ingredients: This means whole grains rather than grain “fractions” — wheat rather than wheat flour, wheat bran or wheat starch. Look for whole, named meats or meat meals — chicken, chicken meal — rather than by-products, unnamed sources (“animal” protein) or fragments. By-products and fragments of what animal would be my first question.

Natural preservatives: Vitamins C and E (the latter is often listed as “mixed tocopherols”) are effective and safe preservatives. Some treats contain no preservatives at all.

Natural sweeteners: Applesauce, molasses or honeys are better than artificial sweeteners, by far.  While dog food should not contain added sweeteners, a treat should still be a treat. A piece of baked sweet potato should be all the sweet a dog needs.

A treat for your dog should be a treat from all angles. Tasty, occasional, a little out of the ordinary and fun.  Try this: Next time you eat an apple, bite off a chunk and hand it to your dog. Guaranteed he’ll like that better than anything that comes in a plastic container.

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