Monthly Archives: November 2015

Bringing Home the Gravy

rockwell thanksgivingThanksgiving changed the year I went vegetarian. I did not mind giving up the tender, moist turkey or the savory oyster-specked stuffing. But giving up the flavorful flow of mushroom-laden gravy was quite another thing. I watched enviously as my family ladled the luscious liquids over their mashed potatoes, turkey and stuffing. As I nibbled dryly on my carrots, green beans and salad, my lower lip protruded. I felt left out and deprived.

My brother, Dan, ever alert to the pouting big sister, came up with a solution.

“Next year I will make special vegetarian gravy just for you,” Dan promised.

Years later, that special vegetarian gravy has become one of my favorite Thanksgiving rituals. I begin fantasizing about it the moment the autumn leaves turn crimson. I know that in mere weeks, my brother and his family will arrive and I will have my yearly boost of family and feasting, highlighted by gravy.

When my brother calls to tell me his travel plans, I write his arrival time and GRAVY on my calendar. The night he comes to town, we make the shopping list together, avidly discussing how many pounds of mushrooms we need for both the carnivore and vegetarian pots of gravy. I relish the early-Wednesday morning trip through the grocery store, where Dan and I and our children carefully select the foods we will be making the next day. We linger in the produce aisle, filling several sacks with gleaming white mushrooms and buying rustling yellow onions. mushrooms

On Thanksgiving Day, Dan and I and other family members spend long, luxurious hours cooking. Dan mans the stove and I manage the slicing and chopping. Together we snap, peal, slice and dice the vegetables that will accessorize the turkey. I take special pleasure in wiping clean and slicing the mushrooms, then bringing my brother the brimming bowlful. When he has nodded his approval, I get out the old copper pot I bought in Germany in the early seventies. This year, Dan is improving his already amazing gravy. With his new immersion blender, he creates a rich base of caramelized onions, whose flavor surpasses that of the lowly vegetable cube. He adds in a little flour, then gentles the mushrooms into the onion broth. When the pot is bubbling with thickening nectar, he says, “Taste this and see what you think.”

I always think the same thing—“Wow, this is great.”

We are in a state of giddy and satisfied exhaustion by the time our guests arrive. We share grateful prayers with everyone and lay out the feast, including plenty of turkey-based gravy for the rest of the family.gravy

Then comes the moment I have been waiting for: I sit down, my own personal pot of gravy poised by my plate. I cover the mashed potatoes, carrots, green beans, and salad with the aromatic concoction and I savor every bite. But more importantly, I savor the bounty, creativity, and love that have gone into this simple dish. Through this gravy, my brother speaks with his hands and his heart, saying: “I care about you and I am going to make sure you are not left out and that you have something fantastic to eat.”

For that and so much more, I am thankful.heart gratitude

…………

And now, if you’d like to bring home this delicious gravy, here’s how:

Dan Barnett’s Chicago Style  Never-Enough-Mushroom Vegetarian Gravy

Ingredients

2 large onions (chopped)

2 pounds (or more) white button mushrooms sliced (can add some portabellas for enhanced flavor)

1 cup of white wine (of lesser quality)

Salt & pepper to taste

Olive oil

Directions

To create the gravy base:

In a four -quart pot, pour a thin layer of olive oil and turn the burner on medium.

Add the onions and sauté for10-15 minutes until they are caramelized (golden brown)

Add water until the pot is about half full.

Simmer slowly for 30 minutes.

Blend the onion water mixture using either an immersion blender or by transferring the mixture to a food processor.

Once you have the gravy base

Add the 2 pounds (or more) of sliced mushrooms, white wine and fill the pot with water until it is 3/4 full.

Simmer for 30 minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper.  images

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Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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Creating Personal Stories from the Care Partner’s Journey 

 

pen and paperMy mother’s Alzheimer’s drove me to write. My writing inspired me to speak.

Over the last years, I have received enormous pleasure from connecting with people all over the world, sharing the stories from Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

 

It All Started with Grief

When I initially realized the depth of my mother’s memory loss, I was shattered with grief.

My initial reaction was:

Visit with mom.

Drive home, wiping tears from my cheeks.

Stumble into the house, walk into a chair or table, and misplace my car keys.

Sit at the dining room table and stare numbly into space.

One day, during the “staring numbly” phase, my partner Ron said, “Are you writing down your feelings?” It was a smart and sensible thing to say; the sort of suggestions I might make to him in a crisis. I was, after all, a writer.

“I don’t feel like writing,” I said.

But his words stayed with me. The next day, I slightly altered my behavior.

Visit with mom.

Drive home, wiping tears from my cheeks

Stumble into the house, walk into a chair or table, and misplace my car keys

Sit at the dining room table and write numbly for 20 minutesimages

 

Pouring my Emotions Out and Inviting Understanding In

I poured out my fears, anger and grief. After doing this for a week,

I began noticing how interesting my visits with Mom were; we were explorers on a wild inner trek.

I started documenting our time together, sometimes even taking notes during my visits. I wrote about the challenges, humor and blessings. I wrote about my conversations with my father, with friends and family and with the aides, the nurses, the social workers. As I wrote, I saw there was much hope, promise and energy in my new world.

As I shared my work with friends and family, I realized I was chronicling my mom’s last years and capturing part of our family history.

 

Putting Your Life on the Page

How do you take a challenging part of your life and bring it to the page?    Here are a few simple tips:

Pour Out Your Feelings  images-1

Give yourself time to feel your emotions, whether it’s through writing, art, music or other. Writing down your feelings helps you understand the depth of what you’re going through. For me, writing helped change my fear into curiosity.

Notice the Details

Write down the particulars, noting simple concrete facts. You are a researcher collecting data.

Uncover the True Story

Look for the universal meaning in your specific experience. How have you changed? How will the reader change through reading your words?

Ask for Feedback

Read the story aloud to someone and see how it sounds. What’s working and what’s missing? Ask colleagues for a professional critique. Think over their advice and decide what is right for you.

 

I was lucky enough to read some of my stories to my mother and father and receive their blessing for my work. Anytime I featured people in a story, I shared it with them to make sure they were comfortable with the material. When they’re comfortable, it’s time to share with friends and a wider audience, if you wish.

 

Here are some writings from other people on this journey. 

51yPgnDrtkL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_ Vicki Tapia’s memoir, Somebody Stole My Iron, details the daily challenges, turbulent emotions, and the many painful decisions involved in caring for her parents. Laced with humor and pathos, reviewers describe the book as “brave,” “honest,” “raw,” “unvarnished,” as well as a “must-read for every Alzheimer’s/dementia patient’s family.” She wrote this story to offer hope to others whose lives have been intimately affected by this disease, to reassure them that they’re not alone.

51fxqMmobmL._AA160_Greg O’Brien’s story isn’t about losing someone else to Alzheimer’s, it is about losing himself. Acting on long-term memory and skill, coupled with well-developed journalistic grit, O’Brien decided to tackle the disease and his imminent decline by writing frankly about the journey. On Pluto is a book about living with Alzheimer’s, not dying with it.”     On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s by Greg O’Brien

Jean Lee’s memoir details her journey caring for both parents who were diagnosed on the same day. It is a WWII love story held together by faith and family.    Alzheimer’s Daughter by Jean Lee  512gVMAe5QL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_

51qzWrMf+gL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Marianne Scuicco describes herself as a writer who happens to be a nurse. She writes this work of fiction based upon her care for the elderly. It’s a tenderly told love story about Jack and Sara, owners of a New England bed and breakfast. Sara develops Alzheimer’s and Jack becomes her caregiver.     Blue Hydrangeas by Marianne Sciucco

Shannon Wiersbitzky writes this work of fiction through the eyes of a young girl, not surprising perhaps, as her author bio notes that her own grandfather had Alzheimer’s. In the story, when thirteen-year-old Delia Burns realizes that her elderly neighbor is beginning to forget, she involves the entire town in saving his memories.    What Flowers Remember by Shannon Wiersbitzky41O6F08LmLL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

 

 

 

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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Six Tips for Surviving the Holiday Season When a Loved One Has Dementia

t-dayNormally, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday, a time our family gathered together at my Kansas City home. But that November, my stomach clenched at the thought of our traditional Thursday evening meal.

My mother had Alzheimer’s and the holiday would be different.  I felt alone but of course I wasn’t: there were 15 million family/friend caregivers helping the five million Americans who have dementia.

I’d been through my initial storm of denial and grief. I felt I’d been coping well with Mom’s diagnosis, focusing on offering my father extra support and trying to flow with Mom’s now spotty memory and personality quirks. But a pre-season sadness invaded me in October and I found myself dreading the alleged festivities. How could we have our usual holiday dinner, take our after dinner walks, play Scrabble and Hearts and Charades without Mom’s participation?  How could we enjoy going to movies and plays when Mom was having trouble focusing and sitting still?  And how would Mom react to the situation: would she feel uncomfortable and out of place? Would Dad feel protective and anxious? And more important, what would we have for dessert! Mom was legendary for her chocolate and butterscotch brownies, date crumbs, and bourbon balls. No store-bought cookies would compare. brownies

As I stewed over the prospect of a depressing Thanksgiving weekend, I remembered the vows I had made: I had promised I would try to stay connected to Mom throughout her Alzheimer’s journey. And I had promised to see the gifts and blessings and fun in the experience.

So I began thinking: if the holiday is going to be different, why not concentrate on making it different in a creative and connective way? Here are some ideas I used to make the holiday work for me.

  • Acknowledge my feelings of loss and grief. I wrote them down and shared them with a few friends. Just expressing myself made me feel stronger.
  • List what I would miss most during the holiday season. My list included cooking with Mom, eating her brownies and rum balls. I asked my brother, who’s a terrific baker, to make some of our favorite sweets and I set up a place in the dining room where Mom could sit next to me while I chopped mushrooms and peeled potatoes.
  • Create an activity to give our holiday a new focus. We created a simple holiday scrapbook called, “The Little Kitchen that Could,” complete with a family photo shoot and a playful script.
  • Appreciate my blessings. We started our Thanksgiving meal by asking everyone to name one thing he or she was grateful for. I continued my gratitude practice throughout the holiday season, either alone or with others via telephone and social media.
  • Take extra good care of myself.  I treated yourself as I would a friend who’d suffered a deep loss.
  • Set up a lifeline. “I’m worried about melting down,” I told my friend. She urged me to call anytime for encouragement and reassurance.

These six steps helped me enjoy my holiday and appreciate my mom just as she was. Our holiday was “different” but it was also wonderful.

gratitude

 

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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Three Tips for Living Large Inside the Box

How can we all stay connected with our creative spirits during the dementia journey?

I’ve been very inspired by people who are connecting both with care partners and with those living with dementia, through artistic and creative duncan donutsexpression. I recently read this blog by Matt Stevens, a designer and illustrator based in Charlottesville, NC. Best known for his MAX100 project, 100 interpretations of the same object (the Nike sneaker). Matt has also worked on identity and branding for clients such as Pinterest, Facebook, Evernote, Dunkin’ Donuts, and the NBA. His thoughts on creativity and repetition seem applicable to the care partner’s journey.

 

How Rules and Repetition Inspire Creativity

For centuries, artists have been exploring the benefits of working with constraints. Bach composed the Goldberg variations — an aria and 30 variations for a harpsichord — in 1741. Picasso created an 11-lithograph series of bull illustrations in 1945. Matt Stevens reinterpreted the same object in his MAX100 project and has serialized a number of his other works as well. Great artists and designers impose constraints to inspire their creativity.

“I noticed how often I create repetition in my work – systems for myself to operate within,” Matt says. “I asked myself: Why do I create this repetition? Why do I love series so much?”

Limitations force you to be inventive and create new paths.

Matt-Stevens-MAX100-galleryWith Matt’s MAX100 project, he focused on a single image — the iconic Nike sneaker — and reinterpreted it 100 times.

The rules were simple: the shoe had to be in the same position on the page (it couldn’t be turned), and it had to be fundamentally changed. It wouldn’t be enough to add patterns around it: he would iterate on the shoe itself, over and over again.

“The idea is to take something, abstract and change it and let the narrow focus of the project give you a sense of freedom as you move through it. How far could I push it? How much could I abstract it?”

For Matt, this exercise led to a successful Kickstarter that turned into a book, client work with Nike themselves, plus an art exhibition in New York. #

From Deborah.

One of the ways I tried to learn from creative limitation was exploring new ways to answers my mom’s repetitive questions. I also experimented with new ways to bring joy and creativity to our time together in the care home. Even though Matt’s tips are targeted towards the artistic community, I find them thought provoking and hope you will too.

Here are a few more ideas from Matt:

No project happens overnight. Your process for setting a project with the right limitations is important.

  1. Define the problem

images-2Choose your subject and your challenge. You may be trying to understand a fellow designer’s technique. You may really just love an icon. You may want to learn a new skill. Define the problem and what you will focus on. The MAX100 project, for instance, started as a project for Matt to learn more about illustration.

  1. Limit your options in solving the problem

images“Limited options provide clarity. And when you get stuck, sometimes the answer is not more; but it’s less.”

Impose a structure and set some rules to explore your concept. What rules will you create by? Create a baseline structure to operate within, whether that’s the medium you are trying to learn, or the logo you are trying to explore.

 

  1. Iterate, explore, learn, repeat

images-1Don’t get stuck on the unknowns. Don’t be afraid to imitate the styles of people you admire as you go, either: these can set off their own series of explorations. Pick those apart and understand how they work. You may start to see the task in new and unexpected ways, and explore anew from there.

Remember that when you get stuck, sometimes the answer is not more, but less.

To learn more about Matt Stevens, visit

hellomattstevens.com/

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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