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By Marge Knoth, Author, Activity Professional
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Marge Knoth attended Purdue
University and took her activity
director training at Indiana
University and her social
service at Ball State. She is
the author of ten books for
activity professionals. Her
books have been used as
teaching guides in colleges,
trade schools, and in activity
director courses throughout the
U.S. and Canada. They have
won both national and state
awards from the National
Federation of Press Women
and Women’s Press Club of
Marge has written a monthly
column, "A Letter from Marge"
for Current Activities in Long
Term Care. She has been
published in Family Circle,
Lady’s Circle, Women’s Circle,
Indianapolis Woman, Christian
Science Monitor, Event,
various Christian and craft
publications, and other
magazines and newspapers.
She wrote a weekly newspaper
column called “Do You
Remember?”, and wrote and
recorded a long-running series
of nostalgic radio
commercials. Also, she is a
motivational speaker having
traveled the United States and
Canada speaking at many state
and province activity
Begins With Yours
by Marge Knoth
Activity directing is an exciting career, but it is also a draining one. You want to be the
best you can be for your residents. You want your professionalism to shine. You want
your charting to be accurate. You want to plan exciting activities. You give so much to
your residents, your volunteers, and your facility, thinking little about yourself or your
needs. But what many activity directors do not realize, is that their generosity comes at
a price. That price is their physical well-being.
After eight full hours at your facility, you magically become mom again (or dad), wife (or
husband), or Grandma or Grandpa, or daughter or son. New responsibilities are thrust
upon your shoulders. There are hugs to give, fights to settle, mail to answer, calls to
make, and supper to prepare. There are kids’ lessons to help with, and sports events
to attend. There are dishes to do, and a house to clean, and prayers to say. Your
parents need to be visited, and the cancer society is waiting for you to collect funds for
them. And after all that, you are suddenly to become the romantic wife (or husband),
and lover. It’s no wonder activity directors find themselves stressed out. It has been
estimated that the average length of an activity director’s career is 18 months, though I
doubt that figure. As I travel about the country, I find many activity directors who have
remained with their careers for years. How can this be? No doubt, he or she has
learned, possibly the hard way, some valuable coping skills. Let’s take a look at some
of those survival skills and what you can do to better balance your home life and your
If you hope to be, or to continue to be, a successful activity director, you must first take
good care of yourself. This is not selfish thinking; it is wise counsel. Someone once
said, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” We need to keep our priorities straight.
In the order of importance, I challenge you to make a list of what is most important in
your life. Ask if you are spending the highest percentage of your time on the highest
priority in your life. Begin to build on that foundation. In my own life, I strive to put God
first, my husband second, my children and grandchildren third, and my career fourth.
Unfortunately, I must confess, I don’t always succeed. I know I must get enough sleep,
watch my diet, exercise, and avoid overwork (that’s the hardest). In addition, I must allot
time for fun.
Difficult as it seems to be, learn to separate your work life from your home life. Granted,
this is not always possible, but do the best you can. Use the drive home to
psychologically switch hats and prepare for your next responsibility. Listen to relaxing
music. Sing. It is a great stress reliever. If the day has been rough, wipe it from your
mind. Think pleasant thoughts.
Accept responsibility for your own life. Quit blaming others when things go wrong, or for
the way your life has turned out. If your past was bad, put it behind you. Tomorrow is a
new day. You are responsible for that. Accept full responsibility.
Try keeping a journal. This is not necessarily a diary of the things you do. It is a place
to pour out your heart, to write what you are feeling and thinking. Record your
frustrations, your hopes, your dreams. Write down insights you have had and lessons
you have learned. Write about the good things you do, and the things that happen to
you. Journal writing is healthy. It is like an intimate talk with a good friend.
And that introduces another survival measure–having a good friend. I once heard the
quote, “A friend is a gift you give yourself.” And how true it is! You can have many
acquaintances, but if you have one good friend, you are blessed indeed. A friend does
not condemn you when you fail. A friend does not have to make everything right, just be
there. He or she doesn’t have all the answers, but is patient to hear you out. You can
tell him or her anything and know it will go no further. A friend is only a phone call away.
Recently I had a speaking engagement and the day before I was to leave, I came down
with laryngitis. A good friend happened to call, and I could hardly get a word out. Even
though she fears highway driving, she said, “I’ll be right there!” She arrived with throat
lozenges and a decongestant, “so I could get a good night’s sleep”. She then helped
me staple my handouts and shared a cup of tea with me, even though I couldn’t talk to
her. As the old saying goes, “He who finds a friend finds a treasure.
Eat healthy. Most of us, at some time or another, fight the battle of the bulge. Through
the years I have seen many diets come and go. Most did not work permanently. In
recent years we have learned more about nutrition and to be conscious of our fat
intake. And when we do eat fat, we are urged to concentrate more on the good kind of
fat like olive oil. It is not necessarily food in general that makes us fat, so much as the
fat in that food. Labels are deceptive. You may read “97% fat-free” or “only 2% fat” and
think that is good. Don’t accept it at face value. Here is a simple formula to double
check those advertising gimmicks, or to know if what you are eating is contributing to
* Each gram of fat contains approximately 10 fat calories.
* Multiply the fat grams (listed on most labels) by 10 to get the calories of fat in that
food. For example, if the label says there are five grams of fat in a serving, add a zero to
five (50). If they are not listed, don’t buy it.
* Now, find the total calories in the serving and divide the calories (let’s say
125calories) into the 50 to find the percentage of fat in that food. 50 divided by 125 = .40
or 40% of the calories come from fat. That would be a no-no.
If you want to lose weight or just keep a trim body, don’t eat anything that has over 20%
fat. Consider purchasing the fat-free foods on the market (though they often have more
sugar) and use the above formula on the rest. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables and
moderate amounts of rice, beans, pasta, and baked potatoes. Forgo the butter, and
consider fat-free margarine or fat-free sour cream for toppings. Enjoy salads with fat-
free dressing. Eat fish and chicken and very little red meat. Learn to drink lots of water.
If you are not a water drinker, try the bottled non-carbonated ice-cold spring water. It
may quickly change your mind and even replace those soft drinks that provide only
Exercise also helps burn fat. You probably think you get plenty exercise at work, but it
may not be sufficient. You need to get your heart rate up and then keep exercising for at
least 20 minutes. Most any exercise will do–tennis, swimming, running. Most of us
aren’t up to running, but a brisk walk can do just as well. Four good walks a week can
make you feel better and help keep your weight in check.
Laugh more. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Laugh at yourself. Laugh with your
mate, and laugh with your children. Invest quality time in your children. As important as
activity directing is, your children are so much more precious. Looking ahead, it seems
as though they will never grow up and leave home, but I can tell you, looking back, it
seems one just blinks their eyes and the children are grown and gone with children of
their own. Take time to enjoy them now.
If you are married, treasure your mate. Between your job, his (her) job, your home
responsibilities, and your children’s demands, it is easy for hubby (wife) to feel
neglected. Schedule time just for him (her). Plan a romantic candlelight dinner, or take
your mate out to eat, take a boat ride in the moonlight, go for a midnight swim, or just
slip out for nice long walks together.
Take time for fun. This may take some planning to fit into your hectic schedule, but it is
vital to a healthy, happy you. Make a list of fun things to do, both big and little. These
may include shopping, sports events, antique-hunting, attending a play, scrapbooking,
jewelry-making, or playing cards with friends. It might be talking on the phone, taking a
leisurely bath, or working in your flower garden. Reading is very relaxing. There is so
much to learn in non-fiction, but you can tune out the world while reading a good novel
or other fiction book.
Take some quiet time each day. If you choose, pray; if not, just relax and enjoy the sky,
the ocean, the mountains, or a lovely flower garden. Read something inspirational.
Finally, love yourself. In 1532, Francois Robeluis said, “So much is a man worth as he
esteems himself”. It is still true today. Brian Tracy in his book, Maximum Achievement,
says your self-esteem is determined by how much you like and respect yourself. He
goes on to say, “It determines your personality and level of happiness. Low self-
esteem precedes and accompanies most failure and frustration. High self-esteem
leads to high performance and success in every area of our life.” Realize you are very
special just the way you are. You do not have to look like anyone else, think like anyone
else, or act like anyone else. You are a unique individual; there is no one else exactly
like you. You are special. Sure, you are aware of your short comings. We all are. But
take stock of your strengths and build on them.
Finally, keep your life in balance. Look at it as a whole, not just in terms of activity
directing, with the rest somehow squeezed in. Learn to take good care of yourself.
Build a happy you and a happy home. Then when you arrive at work, you will be alert
and energetic, and you can truly let your professionalism shine. God bless you all.