Category Archives: Creativity

Bringing Home the Gravy

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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

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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 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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An Inside Look at Creative Aging

We are huddled on the floor, concentrating on our assignment. Each of us has shared an important saying or proverb that impacted our lives and now we are turning those six sayings into a song. We have a daunting five minutes to accomplish this creative task. However, we also have songwriter and musician Vanessa Torres from Lifesongs to guide us. After we’ve shared our sayings, Vanessa instantly comes up with a theme–These Are Things That I’ve Learned. Our song centers around that chorus, with each of us weaving in our personal sayings.

In the other three corners of the room, groups are collaborating, turning their sayings into spoken word, dramatic movement, and theatrical improv. Our facilitator, Susan Pearlstein, Founder Emeritus for the National Center for Creative Aging in Washington, DC, and the Founder of Elders Share the Arts in New York City, calls us back to the circle and each group performs their piece. In mere minutes, we have learned something important about each person, we have created an artistic work with people we’re just getting to know, and we have appreciated the power of creating something together.

This was an exhilarating beginning to the third annual NCCA conference on creative aging.

These are things I that learned at the conference:

imagesEvery person is inherently creative. Of course, I knew this. But it is so lovely to be reminded in so many ways. It is so lovely to be invited more deeply into your own creativity through song, dance, theater games, art, movement, and brainstorming. It’s inspiring to be in a room where so many are expressively at ease with their creative spirits.

Here are some insights from conference luminaries. Some are not attributed because I was so raptly listening I didn’t write everything down!

“Creativity is a moment when we look at the ordinary, but see the extraordinary.”

“Art is for everyone. It’s not a frivolous add-on. It’s a vital part of life. Everyone is creative. Dream and dispel the myth that ‘I can’t do art.’ Aging has been treated like it’s all gray but it’s really expansive colors.”  Remarks of Jane Chu, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Sept 25th, 2016.  Click here to enjoy a video of the Chairman

“Feeling useful is a human right.”

“Fifty percent of our elders feel lonely.” Vice Mayor Karsten Klein, The Hague

“By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation, reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how great it is to be alive.” Dave Isay, founder of

StoryCorps, via Eddie Gonzalez

“Bringing what is inside to the outside; it is important to do this as we age.” Mary Luehrsen, National Association of Music Merchants

“Creativity is the connective tissue that we use to build community across diverse differences.” Anne Basting, TimeSlips, ™ Recipient of a 2016 MacArthur Genius Grant

“Instructors need people living with dementia as co-teachers to transform educational goals. “ Dr. Elizabeth Lokon, Opening Minds Through Art

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John Killick (right) and Gary Glazner celebrating the power of poetry

 

John Killick, poet, author and innovator in creativity and dementia, heard this wisdom one day while visiting a memory care community:

“Words of comfort are free, but very necessary.”

“I love it when you hold out your hand and water pours from it.”

“If you don’t ask for the moon, you don’t even get a piece of cheese.”

“You have to introduce yourself or else it all goes brittle.”

“Life is the slackness, the film and the veil.”

“Every time I look for home, I find you.”

John says, “This tells me that people with dementia are really creative and all we have to do is listen and be enriched.

This is just a soupçon of things that I learned. I wish I could have talked to every person at the conference. I wish I could have listened full on to their stories, to their sayings and proverbs, to the things that they knew and the things they had learned. Which is one reason I hope to return to the conference next year.

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 Best Rx: Smiles

img_3262-2I’ve met a lot of doctors whom I admire, due to their intelligence, listening skills, willingness to collaborate, and their ability to have the occasional hearty laugh. Recently Veronica Kaninska, Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, introduced me to a Doc I instantly fell in love with.

I went on rounds with Veronica and Dr. Moody, who often works with people who are living with dementia. I was so impressed with his knowledge of each individual and the warm way he offered his services. His first patient lit up when he and Veronica strolled toward her.

“How are you today?” he asked in a friendly avuncular voice. “Dr. Moody is here to check your mood. Are you feeling happy?”

“Yes, Dr. Moody, I’m happy now that you’re here.”

“Let me check your smile.”

She smiled broadly and Dr. Moody nodded approvingly.

“Let me see your eyes.”

She widened her eyes.

“Good. Your eyes are sparkling. I hope you keep your happy mood all day.”

“I will Dr. Moody, I will.”

We continued with Dr. Moody checking on some more patients. Each one enjoyed his company and he promised to come again and check on their moods.

After rounds, Veronica slid Dr. Moody off her arm and hung him near another popular puppet, Froggie, who she also uses for therapeutic purposes.

“People who are living with dementia often feel very comfortable communicating with puppets,” Veronica says.

I wondered if Dr. Moody was open to new patients and Veronica assured me he was.

Click here to meet the good doctor. img_3325-1

“Puppets break down barriers,” Veronica says. “They have no religion, no gender, and no judgment. People living with dementia often feel comfortable confiding in a puppet.”

In a space of three to five minutes, I saw Veronica and Dr. M transform the energy of the people they visited. I asked Veronica to share a few tips for using puppets.

Click here to learn more. 

If you’d like to know more about Veronica and her work, read her chapter in Connecting in the Land of Dementia.

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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Five Creative Tips for Meaningful Engagement

 

Each person I interviewed for Connecting in the Land of Dementia inspired me with something meaningful and unique. I wanted to share a few of their ideas with you.

Before I do, here’s a question: What does the song FrimFram Sauce, the recipe for Johnny Marzimagesetti, and cooking have to do with creativity and dementia? Join us Sunday October 9th at 1:30 at the Kansas City Plaza Library to find out!  RSVP 816-701-3407

The Often Hidden Poetic Potential

“Value what people with dementia are saying, write it down, tape record it, affirm them when they say interesting or beautiful things because that’s their personality showing through in a new way,” says John Killick, internationally acclaimed poet, workshop leader, and author of  Communication And The Care Of People With Dementia.

Even though he’s been orchestrating workshops for years, John is still amazed at the strength of the imaginative spirit and at the quality of the poetry.

images-1“Creativity is essential to people with dementia,” John believes. “It bypasses the intellect, provides valuable experiences, and enhances their sense of personhood.”

 

 

Making Art Soothes and Engages

“Research is now recognizing how making art soothes, and engages people with dementia,” says Shelley Klammer, artist, therapist and the author of the e-book How to Start An Art Program for the Elderly. “Imagery often expresses what words cannot. A pre-drawn structure allows an anxious painter to relax into the process. Painting familiar subject matter can help a person with dementia settle into a pleasurable, meditative state.”

Uncovering and Celebrating Creativity

“Our basic instincts include discovery and invention, and thus creativity,” says John Zeisel, PhD, author of  I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care. “These abilities are hard-wired and people living with dementia can still draw on these skills. They are often exceptionally perceptive, increasingly creative, and have high emotional intelligence. It’s our job to uncover and embrace their abilities so they maintain dignity, independence, and self-respect.”

The Delight of Going to Cultural Activities and Viewing Art imgres

“Looking at art and making observations gives people living with dementia a chance to exercise their imagination and creativity,” says Susan Shifrin, PhD, director, ARTZ Philadelphia. “Many people with dementia have a heightened sensitivity and openness to art, even if they had no previous artistic aptitude.”

“Going to cultural activities offers people a sense of normalcy and gives them a date to put on their calendars,” says Teri Miller, with the Alzheimer’s Association Houston & Southeast Texas Chapter. Teri has witnessed the power of creativity and the arts. As the Early Stage Program Manager she says. “When people living with dementia go with friends or care partners, they have an experience to discuss. Even people who say, ‘Oh, I don’t care for museums,’ usually have a great time.”

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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Shall We Dance?

img_3196Normally, I do not like being the center of attention. But when Sebastian Tomkowski asked me to dance the merengue, I said yes. Actually, my first reply was, “I can’t dance.” But Sebastian assured me he would guide me, literally, every step of the way.

Sebastian is one of the dancers working with Rhythm Breaks Cares (RBC), a non-profit that specializes in bringing the energy and joy of ballroom dance to people who are living with dementia.  We were lucky to experience one of RBC’s sessions in a New York City care facility.

When everyone was gathered in a circle, Stine Moen, one of RBC’s founders, put on some Frank Sinatra tunes. Instantly, one woman danced her way into the room.  Her movements were graceful and stylish. When Sebastian invited her to waltz, she readily accepted.

Stine asked a seated women if she’d like to dance. The woman said, “I have this walker and I can’t dance with it.”

“You can,” Stine assured her. “You can use your walker and you and I can dance together.”

The woman demurred and sat swaying to the music. But when Stand by Me started playing, she hoisted herself to her feet, grabbed the walker, and began moving rhythmically around the room.

stine-2Two men sat in the circle, seemingly not registering the music. When Stine asked if they’d like to dance, one man held out his hand. Stine took his hand and let him guide the movements, while she made fancy arm gestures that looked as though they were waltzing in an elegant ballroom.Click here for dancing ideas.

One woman sat stock still, but sang along when the song “Fever” played.

“I used to be a singer and my husband played the piano,” she told me, when I sat beside her. “But I don’t remember the words.” She then proceeded to croon along with “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

The energy from the music and movement seemed to engage everyone. Even a man who seemed immobile, his mouth tight, his hands clenched up near his face, gradually softened his expression and lowered his hands to his lap.As for me, I reveled in the experience, dancing with the residents or smiling and moving our hands in time to the music. And of course, I loved my once-in-a-lifetime merengue experience.

 

I asked Stine to offer a few tips for care partners who wanted more movement in their lives.

Here are her suggestions.

“We always start with the music.” says Stine. “That sets the tone.”

Once the music is playing, if possible, make eye contact. Then smile and hold out a hand. Move in ways appropriate to your partner’s abilities.  

Celebrate every movement. Even swaying your arms together to the music is a form of dance.

“It’s not about getting the steps right,” Stine says. “It’s about connecting through music and movement.”

Want to learn more about the power of dance? Visit the RBC website. Good news—RBC offers training for qualified dancers, so they can bring this exciting program to their own communities.

Click here for additional tips from Stine.

Click here for tips from Sebastian.

Read more about creative programs in Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together.  Order your copy from your favorite independent or online bookstore.

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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