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Karen Lentner, MA, RD, LDNKaren Lentner, MA, RD, LDNWhen cooking a meal do you ever think your food tastes bland?  Have you tried using herbs and spices, but don’t know what or how to use them? Herbs and spices have been used since ancient times, but their use in modern-day cooking has become increasingly popular.  In homes and restaurants, many people are using varieties of seasonings and flavors commonly used in cuisines around the world.

The magic of herbs and spices begins when you add them to healthy foods such as broccoli or spinach and these foods become so flavorful, you want to eat more.

If you’re looking for ways to eat healthier and enjoy what you eat, making the food taste good is important.  Herbs and spices used individually, in blends, fresh or dried. are a great way to flavor your food.  If you have health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease, using herbs may help reduce the amount of salt, sugar, or fats you use, critical in keeping these health conditions under control.  The magic of herbs and spices begins when you add them to healthy foods such as broccoli or spinach and these foods become so flavorful, you want to eat more.  Try adding small amounts of extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, and onion and discover how flavorful and tasty these foods can be.

What are herbs and spices?

Herbs come from the green leafy part of plants.  They include parsley, basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, mint, dill, and cilantro, and may be used fresh or dried.  They are wonderful in all methods of cooking, including roasting, frying (sautéed), or grilling, adding a burst of flavor to meals.  Herbs tend to be used in larger quantities than spices. 

Spices come from various parts of plants, including seeds (cumin, mustard, cardamom, chiles, fennel, nutmeg), bark (cinnamon), fruits or berries (peppercorns, allspice), root-like stems or rhizomes (turmeric, ginger), beans (vanilla), and flower buds (cloves, saffron).  

Herbs and spices add minimal calories to foods, however the flavor they add to nutritious foods including vegetables, fruit, fish, poultry, etc., makes them more appealing, therefore you are more likely to consume them.  Many herbs and spices contain polyphenols, often known for their anti-inflammatory effects, which is another benefit and the reason they have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries.  These include cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, garlic, cayenne, black pepper and clove.  

Build your spice cabinet and storage

It’s hard to match the flavor of fresh herbs, but a great place to start is with commonly used dried herbs and spices including basil, oregano, pepper, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, cinnamon, and chili powder.  To become familiar with the distinctive flavor of a particular herb, try mixing it with butter, margarine, or cream cheese, let it stand for an hour, and taste it on a cracker. 

Herbs and spices on a bowl of squash and zuchinni with tomatoes, onions, & garlicHerbs and spices may be categorized based on strength of flavor.   Strong flavored herbs include rosemary, sage, mustard, cardamom, and curry blends.  Rosemary, a fragrant evergreen, may be added to soups, stews, poultry, lamb, and potatoes.  Curry blends, a combination of pepper, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, and more, are best known for adding flavor and fragrance to Indian dishes.  Cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, and cardamom are naturally sweet flavored spices that allow you to reduce the amount of sugar in baked goods, desserts, and coffee.  Cinnamon can be added to stews, sauces, winter squash, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, or baked apples.

Medium-flavored herbs include basil, cumin, tarragon, garlic, oregano, thyme, and turmeric.  Italian seasoning blends may include a combination of these herbs and may be added to homemade pizza or pasta sauce.  Thyme is useful in stews, legumes, chicken soup, meat rubs, and on poultry, roasting vegetables, and potatoes.  Simply add a few sprigs of fresh thyme or a teaspoon of dried.  Oregano, often used in Mediterranean or Mexican cooking, is excellent with Greek salad dressings or a marinade made with olive oil, garlic, and lemon.

Mild or delicate herbs include chives, cilantro, dill, and parsley.  These may be added to meat dishes, sauces, and potato or pasta salads for added flavor and color.  Remember to add herbs at the right time.  Sturdy herbs such as rosemary, thyme, chili flakes, and oregano may be added at the beginning of cooking, while delicate herbs such as parsley, basil, cilantro, and dill should be added at the end.

Store dried herbs for 1 to 3 years (i.e. thyme and oregano), ground spices 2 to 3 years, and whole spices (i.e. cinnamon sticks) 3 to 4 years for optimal flavor.  Store in airtight containers in a cool, dry cabinet or refrigerate. Their aroma should be fresh and pungent.  If they have lost aroma or flavor, discard them.  Fresh herbs should be dry, wrapped in a paper towel, and sealed in a plastic bag and refrigerated.  Herbs may be dried by tying stems into a small bunch, and hanging the bunch for 7-10 days.  You may also spread fresh herbs on a paper towel and microwave them for 20-second intervals until dry.

If testing herbs and spices in a soup or stew, remove ½ cup, adding a pinch of the herb you want to try.  Add more if desired, trying an additional herb if you’d like.  If you enjoy the flavor, add it to the rest of the stew. 

Fresh to dried herb equivalents

One tablespoon (or 3 teaspoons) of finely cut, fresh herbs is equal to one teaspoon of dried.  If using fresh herbs, finely cut the leaves as the more surface exposed, the greater the flavor.

The key to using fresh, dried or frozen herbs is to experiment.  Try different combinations and amounts based on flavors you discover and enjoy.  Start with a “pinch” until you are familiar with the strength and flavor.  You can always add more, but you can’t remove it.  Take advantage of their many benefits, and enjoy the availability of fresh herbs in the summer.  You will find them in markets and at farmers markets, sold by the bunch.  Try something different every time you go.  I hope you discover some wonderful new flavors!

Maile Shoul, Project Manager, Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin RegionMaile Shoul, Project Manager, Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin RegionFranklin County and the North Quabbin Region saw a record number of 31 fatal opioid overdoses in 2020, which sadly caps a three-year trend of increased opioid-related fatalities across our rural communities. A record number of Americans died of opioid-related fatalities last year, where over 81,000 lost their lives. Over two million people in the United States suffer from opioid use addiction, including more than 275,000 people in Massachusetts. 

When it comes to treating opioid addiction, we know what works - Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). Also known as Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD), this is considered the ‘gold standard’ of care. There are three medications used for MAT: buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone. The use of MAT is recommended treatment for opioid addiction by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, American Medical Association, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. While MAT may not be the right fit for everyone, years of research have consistently shown that medications to treat addiction significantly increase adherence to treatment, compared with counseling alone.

Imagine if people taking medication for diabetes were not allowed to fill their prescriptions at pharmacies, but instead had to travel to special diabetes clinics, once a day, every day, to take their pills.  

Buprenorphine (also known by its brand name, Suboxone) and naltrexone (also known by its brand name, Vivitrol) can be prescribed by primary care providers. Primary care providers can also prescribe methadone for treating pain. However, methadone, when prescribed for addiction treatment, is subject to such an intense level of regulation that it is out of reach for tens of thousands of people who could benefit from it. 

There is currently only one outpatient methadone clinic located in our 30-town region of Franklin County and the North Quabbin. This clinic is located in Greenfield. We, at the Opioid Task Force, are encouraged that this clinic recently expanded its capacity and that a second methadone clinic is in development in our region. However, even with this increased capacity, access to methadone remains very hard to obtain for too many of our residents. This problem is compounded by our rural region’s lack of access to robust public transportation, which has been further reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal laws regulating methadone treatment programs were written in 1974 and have not received a significant update, despite decades of research that has advanced our understanding of opioid use disorder. Under current methadone laws, patients must show up to a methadone clinic in person every day to take their medication. These laws are antiquated, punitive, and are rooted in racial discrimination. No other medication is treated this way. Imagine if people taking medication for diabetes were not allowed to fill their prescriptions at pharmacies, but instead had to travel to special diabetes clinics, once a day, every day, to take their pills. What if, like methadone clinics, most of these diabetes clinics were located in cities, forcing residents in rural towns to travel long distances to take their lifesaving medication? Would it be a surprise if people found it hard to stick to their diabetes treatment? 

When COVID-19 hit, the federal government changed these regulations almost overnight. In order to decrease the number of people congregating at clinics, in March 2020, the federal government issued guidance allowing all patients who are on a stable methadone dose to receive 28 days of take-home medication, and for patients who are less stable to receive 14 days of take-home medication. This not only decreased the danger of spreading the COVID-19 virus at methadone clinics, but it meant that people prescribed methadone were no longer prisoners to their daily dosing schedule. 

Early research examining the impact of these loosened regulations shows promising results. Patients took and stored their medication safely, and there were very few reports of people selling or giving away their medication, which is often cited as a justification for strict methadone guidelines. However, these methadone take-home allowances are currently tied to the COVID-19 state of emergency, and patients and providers are terrified that they could be taken away just as quickly as they were implemented. One patient said, “I am terrified that so many people are getting the [COVID] vaccine because it means I might lose my take-homes.” 

The Opioid Task Force is advocating for three immediate changes to methadone regulations: ensuring that relaxed take-home methadone allowances extend beyond the COVID-19 state of emergency, lifting the moratorium on mobile methadone vans, and establishing a federal commission to fully examine and update our outdated methadone system. We also support methadone being prescribed in primary care offices and the dispensing of methadone in pharmacies, practices that are already common in many other countries. 

Most importantly, we must finally end the stigma that surrounds methadone, a stigma that exists partly because this lifesaving, safe medication is regulated so differently than other medications, despite evidence showing that these regulations are largely unnecessary.  We hope you will join us in our efforts to increase access to this lifesaving medication for members of our community.

Dean Lagrotteria, Elder Protective Services Regional DirectorDean Lagrotteria, Elder Protective Services Regional DirectorTuesday, June 15, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.  In honor of this day, The Good Life asked Dean Lagrotteria, LifePath’s Elder Protective Services Regional Director, some questions about the work of Protective Services.

What is Elder Protective Services?

Elder Protective Services (EPS) at LifePath investigates concerns regarding physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; financial exploitation; neglect; and self-neglect.  The purpose of EPS is to alleviate or eliminate the effects of elder abuse in the least restrictive way while respecting everyone’s right to make their own decisions.  LifePath’s Elder Protective Services program covers all of Franklin County, the North Quabbin area, and all of Berkshire County. 

How does the Elder Protective Services process work?

The program receives reports of concern from family, friends, police, fire, EMTs, hospitals, and others.  When someone has a concern that an elder's needs are not being addressed, that an elder is not addressing their own needs and there is potential for serious harm, or that an elder is being abused or exploited, a report can be filed with the Central Intake Unit.  This statewide unit refers reports to the appropriate local Elder Protective Services program.

When a report is assigned to a worker, the worker's first step is to speak to the elder to see what the elder says about the concern, talk with the elder about their feelings about it, and assess their overall safety.  Once the in-person interview occurs, the worker will go about gathering additional information by speaking to people who may know about the elder's situation and by reviewing any records that may be pertinent to the concern.  

Oftentimes, when a report is filed, elders are worried they have done something wrong or a family member will get into trouble.  First, the report is not against the elder but on behalf of the elder.  Second, our primary goal is to restore health and safety, not punish those involved.  There are times, however, when abuse, neglect, or exploitation causes significant harm to a person and may be a crime.  In those instances we refer to the local District Attorney for further investigation, all the while working with the person to establish a safe home, free from abuse. 

We will work with the elder to develop a plan to address concerns, such as arranging for a Bill Pay volunteer, who can help protect against financial exploitation, or Meals on Wheels, to help ensure the person has healthy food.  The elder gets to decide what happens and how their situation will be addressed.  They can also decide to do nothing and we in EPS will respect their wishes and their right to make that decision.

How long have you worked in the field and what led you to this role?

I have worked in the field for over 10 years, having started out as a Protective Services Worker.  I was inspired to this work after addressing concerns for my own grandparents who did not have the skills or resources necessary to keep themselves safe at home.  When I learned that there was a program that could have helped them, I wanted to be part of it. 

Why do you feel this work is important?

Abuse of people over 60 is a serious concern.  Often our clients are vulnerable, with no one to advocate for them, and can be at the mercy of those who will do them harm either through intention or lack of knowledge of an older person's needs.  Also, the rights of elders are sometimes overlooked when others try to help.  The wishes and choices of an older person are as important to EPS as alleviating abuse.  

How prevalent is elder abuse?

One in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse.  Some estimates range as high as five million elders who are abused each year.  One study estimated that only 1 in 24 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.  Annual loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $36.5 billion.  In our service area we received 1,237 reports from July 1, 2020-May 25, 2021.

How has COVID-19 changed the ability of elders and loved ones to reach out?

COVID-19 drastically reduced the number of reports that were filed.  Elders were not being seen by family, friends, doctors, visiting nurse associations, or other providers and therefore concerns were being reported and addressed less.  Also, some elders chose to go without needed support and services due to concerns about COVID-19.  I worried during that time that due to a lack of contact with others, the elders had no one to help and no one who knew that they were alone and in need.  Even when we did receive reports, elders and families were reluctant to engage with EPS and any subsequent recommended services, due to fear of COVID-19.  As people re-engage with their friends, family, and neighbors after this time of social isolation, we ask that anyone with a concern about an elder reach out to us.

What would you like to tell readers who may know of an elder at risk but are hesitant to call?

Making that call can cause one to feel anxious about "getting someone in trouble" or that you are "reporting on the elder.”  Getting an outside agency involved in what seems like a "personal" or "family matter" may be worrisome.  Most abuse or neglect is committed by those closest to an elder, namely family and friends, and can happen for many reasons.  Our goal is to identify the causes and work with the elder, caregivers, and family to help make the situation better.  EPS cannot intervene without the consent of the elder, and it is not about assigning blame.  Filing a report could be the key to unlocking the help and services someone needs quickly.  When in doubt, give us a call and we can help you decide what to do.

Can reports be anonymous?  What about when a family member feels their family will know it was them who made the report?

All reports are confidential.  Your name will not be given to the elder, family, or others.  There are limited situations where your name would be given to a local DA for further investigation in criminal matters.  You can still file a report anonymously if you are not comfortable with providing your name.  If, however, you feel comfortable letting the elder know you are filing a report on their behalf, please do so.  When we visit an elder for the first time, they usually ask who reported.  As I have said, we cannot share that information.  Sometimes that will become a barrier to the elder accepting help from EPS.

If you are concerned about an elder, please call the 24/7 Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-800-922-2275.

Attorney Pamela OddyAttorney Pamela OddyLately, I find myself settling multiple estates in which the decedent wrote his/her own will. In each case, I do not know what the motivating factor was in not consulting a lawyer for this service. Was it a desire to save money on a lawyer's fee? Was it because they did not trust lawyers? Or was it because they felt that their last wishes were really simple and straightforward and, therefore, there was no need to consult a lawyer? Whatever the motivation to avoid hiring a lawyer to draft a will, the members of the family left behind are now paying a rather high price.

In one estate that I am settling, the decedent hand wrote his own will. In another estate, the decedent used a form that he retrieved from an online source. In the third case, the decedent copied a friend's will and adapted it to his own purposes and left out clauses that he either did not understand or thought to be irrelevant. All of these wills had one thing in common: They omitted very valuable clauses that are designed to make it easier and cheaper to settle an estate.

Whatever the motivation to avoid hiring a lawyer to draft a will, the members of the family left behind are now paying a rather high price.

A common denominator of these "do it yourself'' wills appears to be the omission of a clause that gives the personal representative of the estate the authority to sell the real estate without obtaining permission from the probate court. The technical name for the clause is "Power of Sale." lf this clause is omitted from the will, it forces the personal representative to petition the court to obtain permission to sell the real estate. The petition takes time to be prepared because of all the supporting documents that it requires before submission to the court. During this pandemic, the court is extremely slow and it is not uncommon for this petition to take 4 to 6 weeks to be prepared, submitted, and approved. In the meantime, the buyer might walk away from the sale because it is taking too long or the buyer might lose his mortgage interest rate lock. In addition, creditors who are dependent upon the sale of the house for their payment such as plumbers, contractors, or electricians who may have had to put substantial work into the house to make it saleable are out of luck. The cost of the petition is $250 just to file with the court. On top of that fee, the lawyer also charges for preparation of the petition and also for the supporting documents that the petition requires. All of these problems can be avoided if a lawyer is the one to draft the will.

In another estate I am settling, it has taken over one month to obtain the court’s authority to sell the real estate. I am sure that the pandemic has slowed down the court's response. However, in the meantime, the buyer has lost his interest rate for his mortgage and the sale has had to be extended.

The bottom line is that if the person who drafted his own will thought he was being smart not to consult a lawyer, then he would most certainly be horrified to know that if a lawyer had drafted his will, it would have saved the estate at least $1000, if not more. This is a perfect example of being penny wise and pound foolish.

Barbara Bodzin, Executive DirectorBarbara Bodzin, Executive DirectorJune is recognized as International Pride Month marking the anniversary of the riot at the Stonewall Inn, in New York City, which led to a global movement for LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual or Agender) rights and annual Pride marches to build community, increase visibility, and advocate for equal rights. When it comes to civil rights we are thankful to those who have come before us to challenge the societal norms of the day and expand protections to those excluded or marginalized. 

For LGBTQIA+ people, the simple act of coming out of the closet meant (and can still mean) losing one’s family, job, status in society, or even their life. The social isolation of being outside the norm fostered a deep sense of community and support. LGBTQIA+ people relied on one another and helped each other to thrive in adverse conditions. For those who did, the brave act of coming out publicly paved the way for many others to be proud of who they are, and who they love, and come out as well.

Despite the fact that LGBTQIA+ people can marry legally, and the many advances in equal rights over the years, as LGBTQIA+ individuals age, challenges arise with healthcare, housing, and long-term care due to lack of training and understanding of their needs.

This past year is not the first time that LGBTQIA+ elders have faced a pandemic and had to adapt. The AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) crisis was a global pandemic that was not recognized as such due to the populations being affected initially. The actions that LGBTQIA+ activists took to raise awareness led to a push for developments in HIV treatment, and access, and ultimately a worldwide reduction in deaths from AIDS. 

The lessons and experience of the past helped many LGBTQIA+ elders adapt once again.  LifePath’s Rainbow Elders group quickly made the shift to virtual gatherings in March of 2020, and took an intergenerational approach to help participating older adults become more technically savvy. As Massachusetts progresses towards reopening, the group is considering a hybrid model in order to continue to include older adults  who are homebound, or otherwise cannot attend live events. Click here to learn more about Rainbow Elders events.

Despite the fact that LGBTQIA+ people can marry legally, and the many advances in equal rights over the years, as LGBTQIA+ individuals age, challenges arise with healthcare, housing, and long-term care due to lack of training and understanding of their needs. To begin to address this, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, in 2018, signed into law “An Act Relative to LGBTQIA+ Awareness Training for Aging Services Providers.” The first-in-the-nation law will require that all state funded or licensed providers of services complete training in how to provide meaningful care to LGBTQIA+ individuals and ensure that they can access services. Training is underway but there is still a long way to go in this area to recognize unique needs and provide relevant care with dignity and respect. 

Beginning in June, LifePath’s Healthy Living program is launching a 7 week course “Living Well as LGBTQIA+ Older Adults with Long-Term Health Conditions.”  This free, remote workshop will be led by two LGBTQIA+ leaders, who are also challenged by chronic conditions, and will be held Tuesdays, June 22–August 3, 1–3:30 p.m.

Over the past year one thing we have all learned is that we are all in this together, despite our differences.  If you are LGBTQIA+ or know someone who is, please take inspiration from the easing of the pandemic restrictions to reach out and support one another, whether there is a pandemic or not. We will all benefit from a supportive community.