Dear friends,
This story holds such lovely memories for me. I wanted to share it with you, in case the tale evokes delicious and sweet memories for you. Here’s to a meaningful, connective, and fun holiday season. With warm regards, Deborah
The Ways the Cookies Crumble
I set my briefcase on my gritty kitchen counter and traced the raised gold lettering on the thick ivory card. “You are Invited to a Holiday Cookie Party,” the note read. The invitation was from a fascinating, creative, high–powered executive I had met several months ago. I was surprised and thrilled that she had invited me to such a gathering.

Each woman would bring a batch of home-baked cookies, she wrote. We would then get to sample all the cookies and bring a bag of treats home to our families. I adored the idea of getting to bring my teenage daughters such an array of home-baked sweets. I envisioned a room filled with charming baskets of star-shaped sugar cookies, generously topped with red or green frosting. I imagined a jolly basket of Santa cookies and a fragrant ginger-scented array of reindeer cookies. I fantasized about thumbprint cookies, shaped like snowflakes and gooey with jam, and about silky buttery sandies melting in my mouth. And…

Then I realized the implication; these holiday cookies would not only need to be beautiful, creative, and delicious, they would need to be presented in festive and unusual ways. I had never really made anything other than the occasional clumpy chocolate chip, peanut butter, or oatmeal cookie. Why hadn’t my mother been a more glamorous baker, I fretted, as I rummaged in the refrigerator for something to make for dinner. She only made the plainest of cookies—date crumbs, peanut butter, and chocolate chip. As I boiled water for pasta and heated up the jar of marinara sauce, a number floated into my head and I dialed it.

“If I go to this party, will you help me with a recipe and a cute idea for presenting the cookies?” I asked my friend Judith, who was graced with five-star baking abilities.

“Of course,” she said. Judith’s aplomb would fit right in at such a gathering. Briefly, I wondered if she could attend in my place and just deliver my treats to me.

I told my daughters the good news—in several weeks we would have our own private holiday cookie festival. Since our sweets were usually made by some giant corporate entity, they were ultra-excited.

A week later, I received a thick packet in the mail. Judith had selected a number of “easy” recipes for me. I smiled as I looked over the pictures of adorable cookies with a cute holiday twist.
I frowned as I read through the baking instructions; each cookie demanded its own specialized pan, gourmet tool, thermometer, or esoteric ingredient.

As the day of the cookie party neared, I had no recipe, no cookies, no plan, and nothing good to wear.

That night at dinner, I said, “I don’t think I can go to the party.”

“Why not?” Sarah said sharply. She was thirteen and took promises and plans very seriously. Plus, she had a highly sophisticated taste for sweets and was looking forward to expanding her repertoire.

“I can’t just walk in carrying a paltry tray of blobby looking chocolate chip cookies.” My throat constricted and I wished I were a mother who could whip up a butterscotch soufflé from ingredients that just happened to be in my kitchen cabinets.

“Why not?” my older daughter Jessica said. Even during the holiday season, she kept to her black-themed wardrobe. She looked Gothic and serious as she said, “Everyone else will be all silver bells and fancy sprinkles. You will represent the good old- fashioned approach to the holidays; your simplicity will be refreshing.”

I took a breath and considered her words. If worse came to worse, I could always pretend I never saw those cookies before in my life.

That evening, my daughters and I made chocolate chip cookies and put them in a tin lined with aluminum foil. In honor of the season, I unearthed a shiny red bow to top the tin.

Walking into the party was like walking into a fairyland. Christmas lights lined the windows and a sparkling tree spread its branches into the living room. The dining room table looked like the December cover of Gourmet magazine. Stars, hearts, Christmas trees, snowmen, all the icons of the season were glowing with icing and sprinkles.
Some cookies were nestled in hand-made wreathes. Others shone from star-shaped or tree shaped boxes. A miniature set of reindeer surrounded a bejeweled fruitcake. A galaxy of colorful star-shaped cookies decorated a tiered silver-server. I admired each display while looking for a quiet corner where I could tuck in my tin of chocolate chips. I finally settled them between candy cane cookies and gingerbread Santas.

My hostess offered me champagne and the conversation flowed. Then she announced, “It’s time to gather the cookies.” She had a large silver gift sack for each of us and encouraged us to take several of each cookie. As I toured the table, I sneaked a look at my humble confection. What if no one took any? What if I had to bring the whole batch home? What if… The doubts daunted me as I filled my sack with delectables.

“Who made the chocolate chip cookies?” someone asked. The room quieted and my breath quickened. As the silence spread, I finally said, “I did.”

“What an interesting idea,” someone said.

“I never would have thought of it. It’s comforting. These cookies remind me of my mother and home.”

I smiled as I put three Santas in my sack and headed for the reindeer.

That evening my daughters and I had a magnificent holiday feast, consisting of cookies, cookies, and cookies.

“Here’s the strange thing, Mom,” Jessica said, as she leaned back, sated. “Your cookies are really just as good as any of them. Not as cute, but just as delicious.”

“More delicious,” Sarah said.

I smiled, thinking that about my mom’s cookies when I was growing up. Maybe there was something about the plain old recipes offered in the plain old way, so sturdy, so unglamorous, and yet so deliciously like coming home.

 

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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 “Who prepared this delicious meal?” a friend asked during a holiday dinner.

I named my brother Dan, our head chef, first. Then I included the support team—myself, my mom, my daughters and nephews.

“Did I help?” Mom whispered as I passed her the mashed potatoes.

“You sure did,” I told her. ”You mashed the potatoes, put the marshmallows on the sweet potato casserole, and mixed the fruit salad.”

“That’s good,” she said. “I like to help.”

Our desire to help and contribute to seasonal celebrations doesn’t end with a diagnosis of dementia. It’s lovely to linger in the kitchen together, preparing food for the holidays. It’s even lovelier when you can adapt and enjoy dementia inclusive holiday cooking so that people of varying abilities can participate.

Rebecca Katz, author of The Healthy Mind Cookbook, sees food as a great equalizer, something anyone can enjoy regardless of abilities. Fixing a delicacy for someone offers a tangible and delicious way to give back.

Here are six secrets of dementia Inclusive holiday cooking.

  • Leaf through a favorite family cookbook or recipe box and use the pictures and recipes as a catalyst for conversation. Ask open-ended questions, such as, ”What does that brownie recipe make you think of?” “What do you like about the holiday season?”
  • Chose a time of day when you’re both rested.
  • Create a comfortable kitchen environment, by playing familiar seasonal songs you can both hum or sing along to.
  • Reduce extraneous noise and distractions, such as a television in the background.
  • If you wish, take photos during the experience. That way, you can relive the adventure and share with family and friends.
  • Indulge in instant gratification, if possible, by sampling your work when the cooking is complete.
  • Even if the person living with dementia can’t help prepare food, he can still enjoy sitting in on the action and the conversation.

Whether you’re stirring a pot of orzo or dropping mint leaves into cool water, enjoy your time of creation and connection in the kitchen.

A longer version of this piece originally appeared on Joan Lunden’s excellent website:      Enjoy Dementia Inclusive Holiday Cooking.  Thanks to Sue Fitzsimmons, MS, ARNP, Judith Fertig, author of The Memory of Lemon, Kate Pierce, LMSW, Alzheimer’s Association Greater Michigan Chapter, and Rebecca Katz, author of The Healthy Mind Cookbook

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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At first, the checklist of “can’t do’s” was daunting. No more playing the cutthroat card game Hearts. No more leisurely Scrabble sessions, with unabridged dictionary and bowl of fancy mixed nuts at the ready. No more hunkering in at the movie theater for a sparkling new release. With my mom’s dementia, so many of our traditional holiday activities simply wouldn’t work. So we had to think creatively and find ways to bring joy to the holidays with dementia friendly family  activities.

We created a photography/collaging/ scrapbooking project with a Thanksgiving themed story that starred all of us, The Little Kitchen that Could. I wrote up a simple story that featured a world famous chef, my brother, a series of sous chefs, the rest of the family, and my terrified pots and pans. Terrified because after a quiet life of heating up an occasional cup of water for tea, they were being forced into actual cooking. We all pasted faces on the pots and pans, posed for photos, and added ideas to the storyline. Once we developed the pictures, we sat around the dining room table and put the scrapbook together, while listening to my parent’s favorite old 40s melodies, and eating our traditional fancy mixed nuts.

This project gave our gatherings a new focus, helped us adapt treasured traditions and transition to new dementia

Adding “traditions” enriched our family gatherings.

Here are some additional ideas to cheer on your family.

  • Create a holiday play list to cheer you all on. If you’re prone to winter blues, include songs that brighten your spirits. If you don’t celebrate the holiday, use favorite winter or seasonal songs. Listen to these songs with your partner who has dementia and with family and friends.
  • Create a large print sing-along book for seasonal songfests. Include family favorites, personal seasonal tunes, and other tunes that are fun to sing or hum to.
  • Invite talented relatives or friends to share their musical or dance abilities.
  • If your partner likes animals, invite well behaved pets to come to your gatherings, offering a creature to nurture and observe and admire.
  • Create a family “giving back” project you can all be part of, so your partner is able to contribute to others. This can be as simple as icing cookies for a women’s shelter or making dog biscuits for an animal shelter.
  • Share favorite poems, by reading them call-and- response, one person reading, “T’was the night before Christmas,” and others repeating the line. Create your own family poem, as something to include in your holiday card or on your social media.
  • Add in laughter. Use the ha ha chorus, substituting “ha ha’s” for the words of favorite songs. You’ll find yourself chucking within seconds.
  • Arrange flowers together for a centerpiece, paying attention to colors, textures and aromas. Set the table together.
  • Play favorite music and talk about it, saying, “What does that song remind you of?”
  • Create a Taste Book, a scrapbook of favored recipes and memories around these foods. Plan to make or bake a recipe or two together.

Several esteemed experts and organizations helped me create this list of dementia friendly holiday activities. For more information about their, visit:

Natasha Goldstein-Levitas, MA, BC-DMT   natashagoldstein.com

Dan Cohen  Music and Memory

Gary Glazner  Alzheimer’s Poetry Project

Dr. Madan Kataria  Laughter Yoga

The team at the  Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

Nettie Harper and Kelly Gilligan  Inspired Memory Care, Inc.

Judith Fertig, novelist and cookbook author  Judith Fertig

 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.  

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The tables are scattered with pine cones, sycamore leaves, and decorative branches, along with bottles of glue, vivid construction paper, and pots of colorful paint. Our KC Memory Cafe begins with sharing memories of camping, scouting, or outdoor activities. Then a lively group of Girl Scouts leads us in song, reminding us to, “Make new friends, But keep the old, One is silver, And the other gold.” 

After our singalong, cafe guests experiment with the art supplies and natural objects. They dip pine cones into red paint and brush blue across crusty leaves. They paint a stick bright orange and wrap it with yarn. The Girl Scouts weave through the artists, pouring extra paint, distributing additional papers, and assisting when asked. The guests work, admire, chat, and laugh as these creative projects emerge. By the end of the cafe, the tables are covered with innovative art and people are smiling as they return home. 

Click here for a look at our cafe.

 

Want to introduce more nature into your lives?

“Research shows that nature-based activity is therapeutic and is essentially a form of treatment for dementia symptoms, helping a person remain at home longer,” says Garuth Chalfont PhD, American Society of Landscape Architects, and author of the. Dementia Green Care Handbook.       

Gathering flowers, walking a tree-lined sidewalk, plucking a cherry tomato off its vine, watering a house plant, gazing out the window at chickadees—these meaningful natural activities increase pleasure, relaxation, social interactions, and sensory stimulation. 

Here are a few other ideas:

• Create observation spots in your living space so you can enjoy looking outdoors. Even watching the weather helps people feel engaged in the natural environment.

• Improve your view with interesting additions, such as bird feeders and birdhouses, bubbling fountains, wind chimes, wind spinners, outdoor sculpture, and various plants and herbs. 

• Add resilient plants to your home.

• Bring in natural objects to touch, identify, arrange, draw and craft with. 

• Visit garden centers, parks, playgrounds, and zoos for a rich natural experience.

• Increase your popularity by taking a dog with you on a walk, either your own or borrow your neighbor’s pup. 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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“Drumming ultimately has therapeutic value, providing the emotional and physical benefits collectively known as “drummer’s high,” an endorphin rush that can only be stimulated by playing music, not simply listening to it. …The endorphin-filled act of drumming increases positive emotions and leads people to work together in a more cooperative fashion.”                            The Neuroscience of Drumming

 

 

 

Want to experience your own drummer’s high?

Click here and tap along to the beat.

The beat goes on at KC Memory Cafe. Brandon Draper of Drum Safari reminds us how connected we all are by tapping his hand on the table. “No matter where we come from, we all share this internal rhythm, our heartbeat,” he tells us. We tap along with him, and follow his lead as he introduces other more complex beats. Ninety of us are gathered on the lower level of the Plaza Library to experience the magic of drumming, guided by Brandon, his wife, and two daughters. He introduces us to ancient drums and to contemporary instruments. After our briefing in the powerful history of drumming, we all have an opportunity to experience the “drummer’s high.” 

The excitement and energy in the room builds as we all make music together. We are laughing, banging away, singing call and response, and thoroughly engaged in creating cooperative sounds.

People lingered for a long time afterwards, drawn together by the shared experience. 

Though Brandon has shared his drumming skills many times, performing at the KC Memory Care touched him deeply.  He was thinking of his beloved grandmother, who had lived with dementia. He stayed connected with her through music. “To be here, sharing with all of you, meant so much to me,” he told us.

Our thanks to the wonderful team from Santa Marta Retirement Center, who nourished us with delicious snacks and helped serve everyone. Thanks also to Pam and Beverly, who helped nurture, serve, encourage and keep the beat going on.  Want to volunteer or get on our email list? Just contact Heather Harrison, heatherharrison@kclibrary.org 816-701-3763

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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The buzz of conversation ceased as singer/actor Robert Gibby Brand stepped up to the microphone. His accompanist, pianist Robert Pherigo, played the opening bars of Oh, What a Beautiful Morning and Brand soared into the “Bright golden haze on the meadow.” Instantly the audience, ages two to 85 plus, was listening raptly. Brand continued his concert, inviting us to sing along on It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, and melting us with the Cole Porter classic Night and Day. Brand told us the story behind each song and left us wildly applauding after performing Some Enchanted Evening.  It was some enchanted beautiful morning at the monthly KC Movies & Memories program. 

But the enchantment didn’t stop there. First we watched the Oscar nominated short, Room on the Broom, which illustrated the joys and challenges of inclusion in a most creative, playful, and poignant way. 

One of the characters said plaintively, “I am a bird, as green as can be. Is there room on the broom, for a bird like me?” The witch’s clingy cat captured that part in most of us that doesn’t want to share, that believes there is not enough. But the witch reminded us, “Yes, there is room.”

Afterwards we discussed the movie, asking who identified with the clingy cat. All of us had to raise our hands. Then we asked who identified with the witch, who welcomed everyone, and there was a large showing of hands.  We also talked about favorite characters and what parts of the film we liked best.  

 

 

To finish our mini film-fest, we played an inspiring clip from a Mr. Rogers show, and showed Purl, an 8-minute Pixar film, about how our differences can enrich our lives. 

It was an inspiring program and everyone left uplifted and delightfully sated by our fresh-made popcorn and other treats.

For a taste of Some Enchanted Beautiful Morning, click here. 

A big thanks to our volunteers, Sharon, Julie, and Pam, and to our generous hosts, The Plaza Library.  

Want to continue the magic at home?

Room on the Broom is a 20-minute  film that is fun for all ages, while being both entertaining and profound. You can easily generate open-ended questions and invite comments and conversation. We talked about, “If you were an animal, which animal would you like to be?” “Who did you identify with?” “What were your favorite parts of the movie?” “Have you ever not wanted to share?”

Want to continue the magic with us?  Mark your calendars for the first Wednesday of each month at 10:30. Please join us for our next cafe and our next movie program.  For more information, contact Deborah at creativity@pobox.com 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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The group pauses in front of a large contemporary sculpture, depicting a preacher standing before his congregation at a small country church.  They walk around the piece, noticing the pews, the organist, and the variety of parishioners, and chatting as they view. Then they settle into chairs and co-facilitator Esther Smith asks: “What is one word that comes to mind when you look at this piece of art.”

 

“Boring,’ says one woman.

“What makes it boring?” Esther asks.

“It brings me back to my childhood, when I was stuck in church for hours,” she answers. “I was so bored.”

A few others nod. Someone asks, “When was this made? Where is it from?” and the conversation about the art continues.

Every month at the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, Teaching Artist Esther Smith guides a group of care partners and people living with dementia on a 90-minute gallery exploration called Musings Together. 

“It’s a light-hearted, interactive experience,” Esther says. “We go at a slow pace, seeing only three to four works each time. We want people to have a comfortable, personalized experience with art.”

The open-ended conversation brings out people’s stories and ideas. Sitting in front of Giovanni Bellini’s Madona and Child, Esther asks, “What lines do you notice in this painting? Trace them in the air with your hand.”

After people trace their lines, she asks, “What line was most interesting to you?” That question might lead into a discussion of what makes this painting different. Then Esther might invite the group to pose like the picture. She might say, “How would that baby’s head feel in your hand?”

“These simple prompts launch us into deep conversations,” Esther says. She and her team are experimenting with expanding the sensory experience, including bringing out oranges when they’re gazing at a still life of fruit and letting each guest hold and examine the orange. Esther also invites people to occasionally sketch an aspect of a drawing that appeals to them, using a drawing pad on a clipboard. 

“ A number of our participants have never been regular museum-goers. Now they feel comfortable here and come more often,” Esther says. “Developing a new community of friends and an expanding interest in art enriches their lives.”    #

Want to look at art with someone who is living with dementia?

If you’re visiting a museum, focus on a gallery with 3-4 large and interesting pieces. Ask a docent for advice, if needed. If you’re at home, give yourself plenty to time to comfortably view a few works of art on-line or in books. 

  • Bring a folding chair, so you can sit.
  • Chose a time of day when your partner is energetic and the gallery is relatively quiet.
  • Have fun just noticing the aspects of the piece. You might invite comments on colors, textures, familiar figures, objects that seem odd to you, and other aspects. 
  • Ask open-ended questions, such as, “What does this piece make you think of?” “What do you like about this piece?” “How do you think that main guy feels?” 

When attention wanes, move onto something else, including a lovely coffee or tea break.   

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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“I wish I had a red balloon,” one of our guests said, after the inspiring ending of the short film, The Red Balloon. Moments later, the dream came true. Each guest was offered a buoyant scarlet balloon, the magical symbol of a meaningful film.

The Movies & Memories program now has a new time and date: the first Wednesday of each month from 10:30-12:00. 

        

 

 

As guests enter the lower level of the Plaza Library, they breathe in the enticing aroma of fresh popcorn. Soon, they are settled in comfortable chairs and munching on popcorn and cookies, while being serenaded.  They sing along with Richelle Basgall, who engages them with fiddle, guitar, kazoo, and more. They tap their feet and clap their hands, belting out favorite folk songs and old standards, such as  Ol’ Suzanna, Que Sera Sera,  and I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.

Then the lights lower and everyone watches intently as a young boy and his red balloon form a deep bond, and stick together, despite many obstacles.  People were still talking about the movie as they and their balloons trail down the hallway, heading towards home.

Get a taste of The Red Balloon movie event by clicking here. 

 

Many thanks to our wonderful volunteers, including Sharon, Julie, and Pam. And special thanks to Sharon and Elizabeth from Stonecrest for bringing delicious snacks for us.

Our next movie experience is on July 3rd. Please join us for Room on the Broom, and other short films, a celebration of diversity.  You’ll love the songs from Robert Gibby Brand, our featured musician. 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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We were delighted to spend time with the bright and curious sixth and seventh graders in Mary Silwance’s class at KC Academy. They had read the young adult novel Hour of the Bees, which features a poignant relationship between a pre-teen girl and her grandfather who is living with dementia, and they wanted to learn more. During our short time together, talking about dementia with teens, we discussed:

  • How it might feel for people who are living with dementia
  • Stigma and stereotypes
  • Creativity and dementia
  • Becoming an advocate

Here are a few excerpts from our lively conversation: 

How many of you have ever misplaced something? How did you feel when you couldn’t find it?

How many of you have ever forgotten what you were going to say? 

Have any of you ever overslept, woken up in a panic, and not known what day it was?

Those kinds of issues happen to most of us, at least occasionally. 

But imagine how you would feel if they started happening all the time. You kept misplacing your cell phone, your homework, your library books. You couldn’t remember your address or your teacher’s name.  What if you raised your hand to answer a question at school and the words you were going to say just disappeared. Or they came out all jumbled up? What if it happened so often that you started to worry about talking and became more and more quiet?

These are a few of the things that people who are living with dementia have to cope with.

With most illnesses, people cluster around and want to help you. But some people with memory loss actually lose their friends. We know dementia is not contagious, so why would people shy away?

People are scared when their friends and family members start changing. They’re worried they won’t know what to say or how to communicate. They’re worried about making a mistake. But the only mistake is abandoning a person you care about.

Lots of people are working together to make life better for those who are living with dementia. And some are those are people who are living with dementia. They say, “Nothing about us without us,” which means, “Don’t make plans about our lives without consulting us.” 

How you can be an advocate

  • Watch your language. Don’t use the words victim or sufferer with Alzheimer’s or dementia. These are strong and courageous people dealing with a brain disease.  
  • Look for opportunities to spend time with people who are living with dementia.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t know what to say. Look at the person. If they’re in a wheelchair or chair, bend or kneel so you can have eye contact. 
  • Try to find a quiet place to talk and listen. Some people are overwhelmed by too much noise.
  • Remember to slow down because some people need extra time to answer questions.
  • Seek ways to connect through arts and imagination, including music, drawing, cooking, gardening, and flower arranging.

Click here to experience part of the conversation 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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