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Harrisonburg Among Best Places To Retire

October 12, 2017

Named as one of 25 “Best Places to Retire” in July by Forbes Magazine, Harrisonburg, Virginia is home to the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC). We asked some local experts what makes Harrisonburg such a good retirement location.

“There are two top reasons: a moderate climate with four seasons and a low cost of living,” said Peirce Macgill, Assistant Director of City of Harrisonburg Department of Economic Development. “But drill down deeper, and you’ll see that Harrisonburg has something for everyone.”

Located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg is a city that has a friendly, small town feel with many big city amenities. Its population is 52,612 within city limits or 131,565 total in the Harrisonburg Metropolitan Statistical Area*.

Harrisonburg is home to both James Madison University (JMU) and Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). Both offer a variety of educational and social programs for people over 50 as does Harrisonburg’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Photo courtesy of Eastern Mennonite University

“We have over 35 restaurants, several coffee shops, a variety of yoga studios, arts classes, craft breweries, cool boutiques, a food co-op, farmers market, post office and so much more that you can easily walk to within downtown Harrisonburg,” said Andrea Dono, Executive Director of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance.

Harrisonburg boasts the first Culinary District created in the state of Virginia. It also serves as the retail center of the Shenandoah Valley.

The city hosts plenty of festivals. Among the best known are the Bach Festival, the International Festival and the Rocktown Beer & Music Festival. Several local theatres feature productions across a wide range of the performing arts, and local restaurants and bars support a thriving regional music scene.

Each month, locals enjoy participating in First Friday, when new art is placed in dozens of locations and people come out to stroll to those different spots to enjoy music, food and drink, and art. But at any time of the month, they can enjoy visits to the Virginia Quilt Museum or taking their grandkids to the Explore More Discovery Museum.

“Harrisonburg residents put a high value on maintaining a strong sense of community in a way that I never experienced living in other places,” said Dono. “Related to this is how people of all ages interact and spend time with each other. I’ll see people of different generations going to see a band play at Clementine or hitting a happy hour at a brewery. I like seeing a mix of Millennials and Boomers (and everyone in between) enjoying the same things together.”

Photo courtesy of the the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts

There are plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities, too.

“Harrisonburg has excellent walking trails, parks and botanical gardens,” said Brenda Black, Tourism and Visitor Services Manager at the Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center in Harrisonburg. “The nearby Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains offer plenty of recreation and outdoor activities.”

Dono said, “Harrisonburg is repeatedly recognized for its gorgeous road cycling and top-notch mountain biking amenities, and hikers, birders, naturalists and photographers also have no shortage of majestic places to discover in the surrounding mountains as well as at the Arboretum on JMU’s campus.”

Fortunately, retiring in Harrisonburg is more affordable than many places. “We have a 4% lower cost of living compared to the rest of the state,” said Black. “Unemployment is low, but there are plenty of part time employment and volunteer opportunities.”

And finally, there’s easy access to nearby cultural attractions, major cities and airports like in Richmond, Charlottesville and Washington, D.C.

“No matter what your tastes and speed are, Harrisonburg has something to offer everyone,” said Macgill.

*Population estimates for the city and MSA are from 2014. Learn more facts and figures about the area.

This article's lead photo is courtesy of Harrisonburg Tourism & Visitor Services.

Favorite Foods for Fall

September 13, 2017

Fall is one of the best times of the year for cooking and eating local produce. With the cooler weather comes harvest season and an abundance of fresh, healthy vegetables. So it’s easier to eat in a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly way.

“Eating local produce lowers your carbon footprint because the vegetables don’t have to travel as far to get to you. They also taste fresher - you might even be eating the vegetables on the same day that they were picked,” said Lauren Beach, a Registered Dietician at VMRC.

Typical fall produce includes bell peppers, acorn and butternut squash, green and red okra, beets, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and leafy greens like lettuce, kale, collards, spinach and chard.

VMRC gets much of its produce from its very own Farm at Willow Run, while individuals can source their own through local farmer’s markets. VMRC Chef Jeremiah Moyer is always cooking up new recipes to feature whatever has been freshly picked.

“You can do a lot with fall and winter squashes like butternut and acorn,” said Moyer. “Simply roast them with a little salt, pepper and oil, or you can make them a little sweeter by adding cinnamon and brown sugar. Some other favorite dishes are manicotti with butternut squash filling; butternut squash hash with red delicious apples, garlic, shallot and bacon; acorn squash stuffed with onions, peppers, a crab cake mixture and sausage; and butternut squash soup optionally including kale. As a starch vegetable, squashes are great for breakfast, brunch or dinner.”

A roasted vegetable medley is another excellent option because it gets a variety of nutrients into your diet. Simply cut up and mix some of the following: beets, squash, cauliflower, rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, carrots and regular or sweet potatoes. Then roast them together in the oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper.

Moyer’s beet salad has proven popular among VMRC residents. He first boils the beets, then roasts them with thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper before putting them over salad greens and topping them with a vinaigrette dressing.

“It’s important to have a rainbow of colors in the foods that you eat each day,” said Lauren. “For example, dark leafy greens are high in iron, and kale has lots of vitamins A and C.”

Kale can easily be turned into kale chips, and kale, chard and collards can all be sauteed. Then serve along with rice or pasta for a satisfying, hearty meal.

“One thing a lot of people neglect is turnip greens,” said Moyer. “They just cut them off and throw them away, but they are really good to eat. I like to braise them. I saute them in olive oil and after they wilt, I add water, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar.”

Last but not least are options for casseroles or quiches featuring ingredients like fresh swiss chard or spinach.

The abundance of produce in the fall makes eating it more affordable because large post-harvest supplies drive down prices. That means it can be a good time to stock up ahead of a long winter without fresh vegetables. You can process and freeze greens; make and freeze soup; or can a variety of vegetables to ensure that you’ll eat healthy all winter, too.

Make Decisions While You Still Can

August 17, 2017

Although 90 percent of people say that talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important, only about 27 percent have actually done so according to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Discussing topics like becoming incapacitated and dying can be difficult.

“Making decisions about end-of-life healthcare is important, and you need to do it before you get there,” said Mandy Slaubaugh, Social Services Manager for Complete Living Care at VMRC. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. You might get into an accident or become ill and not be able to make your own decisions. You don’t want your children or other relatives to fight about what to do with you. Making decisions ahead of time and communicating them to your loved ones is a gift to your family.”

Preparing an Advance Medical Directive (AMD) is one of the most important things you can do. It lets you state your wishes about what kind of medical treatment you would want if and when you are not able to make those decisions, such as when you develop a terminal condition or are in a permanent vegetative state. These directives typically address the following questions:

  • Should resuscitation be attempted?
  • Should life prolonging treatments such as nutrition, hydration and/or ventilation be given, continued or withdrawn?
  • Should treatment shift from the intention to cure to hospice or comfort care only?
  • Should a nursing home resident or someone ill at home be hospitalized?

Sometimes Advance Medical Directives will also address psychiatric issues and treatments.

In an Advance Medical Directive, you name one or more individuals to make those decisions on your behalf any time you are unable to do so - whether or not at the end of life.

“If you don’t name someone in advance, the law will decide who will make the decisions for you,” said Mandy. “In that case, that person may or may not make decisions in accordance with your wishes.”

Some people name a primary and secondary decision-maker - a good idea in case a primary decision maker is unavailable, unable or unwilling to fill that role. Others name two (or more) people to decide together, but that can lead to fighting between them if they disagree about what to do or not to do.

In the state of Virginia, two witnesses must sign an Advance Medical Directive (sometimes also called an Advance Directive for Healthcare) but notarization is not required. Requirements for such documents vary by state.

Another important document to prepare is a Power of Attorney (POA). It lets the person or organization you designate take care of legal, financial, insurance, business and/or medical matters on your behalf as you specify if you are unable to do so. For example, it can let a loved one take care of paying your bills for you while you are hospitalized.

POAs are legal documents which often but not necessarily prepared by lawyers and which must be notarized as required by state law.

“Once you’ve done your Advanced Medical Directive and Power of Attorney, make sure the person or people you have named in those documents know about them,” said Mandy. “Give copies to them as well as your family, friends, lawyer and doctor. If you know that you will be going in for treatment, give a copy to the hospital.”

For easier future reference, you can upload your Advance Medical Directive and declare your organ donor preferences on the following website:

Advance Medical Directives and POAs remains in effect until you revoke them. You can change your mind any time and update your documents. You may have different wishes at different points in your life, or you may decide you would prefer a different person making decisions for you.

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