Tag Archives: family

The Ways the Cookies Crumble

cookie invitationI 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…

cookiesThen 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.cookies 2 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. cookies 3Some 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 Santa’s.

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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.

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Here’s to a sweet holiday season!

Deborah

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

 

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Noticing Your Own Shooting Stars: The Creativity of Being a Care Partner

Several years ago, we spent an evening in Zion National Park in Utah looking for shooting stars.

“There’s one,” someone said.star

“I see it!” someone else said.

I saw only the regular stars, which were also gorgeous but not quite as exciting.

“I can’t see any shooting stars,” I finally confessed.

“Here’s how you spot a shooting star,” our friend Ron told me. “You soften and widen your gaze and stare off into the middle distance. You’re looking at everything and nothing. That way you’re open to that sudden flash of light and movement.”

I didn’t see the flash of light from a shooting star that evening, but I did have an idea flash. Looking for shooting stars is like inviting out creativity. You open up your focus, relax, put yourself in receiving daydreaming mode and wait for something marvelous.

Three Tips for Noticing the Stars

For me, the art of being a care partner was an exceedingly creative endeavor. Much of the time was fraught with focus, dedicated to detail. But when I remembered to soften and widen my gaze, I was able to see my mom for the star she was, even when she seemed light years away.

Here are some tips for your own personal “star-gazing:”  star gaze

Sit quietly with the person who has dementia. If appropriate, hold hands.

Let go of  your history and your expectations. Appreciate her just as she is.

Open your mind and heart: be receptive to whatever flashes of light may come your way.

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Tune in to the Benefits of Music: Four Noteworthy Tips

This morning, “My Girl” is playing in my head. Yesterday’s tune was “You are my Sunshine.” Music has always woven through my life, a gift from my father, who in his earlier years, worked as a DJ at various radio stations.

Music often worked its magic with my mother during her Alzheimer’s journey. This short excerpt from my story, Bringing Magic to Life, takes place in a memory care unit.

***stardust2

Rochelle sticks in another tape and soon Stardust is playing.

Mom looks up and I offer her my hand.

“Want to dance?” I ask her.

“What else,” she says, standing up.

My parents have danced to this song many times, my mother coaxing my father onto the dance floor. I hold hands with Mom and move back and forth to the music. She laughs and does the same. I twirl her, and she walks around in a jaunty little circle. For a moment, her energy and charm have returned. I feel like I have found my long-lost mother. …

***

Four Ways to Inspire Melodic Moments

Dr. Glenn Smith, a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist who specializes in Alzheimer’s disease, recently wrote about Alzheimer’s and music in the Mayo Clinic newsletter. (MayoClinic.com)

He writes:

“Limited research suggests that listening to music can benefit people who have Alzheimer’s disease in various ways.senior music

For example, music can:

  • Relieve stress
  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Reduce agitation

Music can also benefit caregivers by reducing anxiety, lightening the mood and providing a way to connect with loved ones who have Alzheimer’s disease — especially those who have difficulty communicating.”

Here are a few of his suggestions:

  • Think about your loved one’s preferences. What kind of music does your loved one enjoy? What music evokes memories of happy times in his or her life? Involve family and friends by asking them to suggest songs or make playlists.
  • Avoid overstimulation. When playing music, eliminate competing noises. Turn off the TV. Set the volume based on your loved one’s hearing ability. Opt for music that isn’t interrupted by commercials, which can cause confusion.
  • Encourage movement. Help your loved one to clap along or tap his or her feet to the beat. If possible, dance with your loved one. senior dance
  • Pay attention to your loved one’s response. If your loved one seems to enjoy particular songs, play them often. If your loved one reacts negatively to a particular song or type of music, choose something else.

To learn more about Dr. Glenn, visit http://www.mayoclinic.org/expert-biographies/glenn-smith-ph-d/BIO-20025110

For more about the benefits of music, read Dr. Glenn’s entire article.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/music-and-alzheimers/AN02184

To see our HERO Project that features music, visit

http://thecreativityconnection.com/html/tuning_in.html

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Let Go and Notice the Answers

For me, part of being a care partner is letting go of worry and control and being open to intuition and flow.  Here is a story from my life where I almost didn’t notice I was “in the flow!” Has this ever happened to you?

Opening to Answerslet go

 “Some people think it’s holding that makes one strong — sometimes it’s letting go.” -Unknown 

Driving to the writer’s conference, my hands were sweating and my throat was tight. I had given workshops before, but I felt very nervous about this one. What if I had nothing to say? What if nobody learned anything? What if they looked at me with bored and indifferent eyes?

As I drove down 55th street, I thought, “You have prepared and you are going to do your best. Now it’s time to ‘let go and let God.’”  I took a deep breath and felt a little better.

Then my inner worrywart boomed, “You could have tried harder, practiced more, done more research. You don’t have one original thing to say.” By the time, I pulled into the parking lot the steering wheel was damp with my sweat.worry

The conference was held in a mid-town church and the lobby was bustling with people.

“Your room is down the stairs and to your right,” the woman in charge told me.

I walked down the stairs and to the right. I saw a bathroom and a coat closet. I  opened one door into a maintenance room, stacked with toilet paper and paper towels, brooms and mops.  Then I noticed another room: tucked into an obscure corner — it was a small chapel. I walked in, taking in the serenity, the rich maroon color of the chairs, the soothing pattern of the stained glass windows. I felt calm and centered in this room.  I tiptoed to the pulpit and stood behind it, like I had something holy to say.stained glass

Then I realized, I was going to be late for my class, Frantically, I retraced my steps, but I couldn’t find any room large enough for a class. I raced upstairs and found the woman again.

“I can’t find my room,” I told her. “There’s only a chapel in that area.”

“That is your room,” she said, “You’re teaching in the chapel.”

I walked back down slowly, smiling all the way.

My prayer, to let go and let God, had been answered in a most concrete way. I had almost been too busy worrying to notice.balloon

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An Alzheimer’s Holiday Blessing

As my mother’s Alzheimer’s progressed, her spiritual openness increased.

This is an excerpt from my book Love in the Land of Dementia that describes Mom’s new way of celebrating the holidays.

**

jingle bellsWe roll back into the facility’s dining room just as the show is ready to start. The singer, Thelda, kicks off her shoes and presses play on the boom box. Above the cheerful sound track, she sings Jingle Bells. She dances across the room with the remnants of ballroom steps. She stops in front of Mom and sings right to her. She gets on her knees, so she can look into Mom’s eyes, and keeps singing. Mom notices her and smiles a little.

Thelda moves on, singing to each of the patients gathered around, so intent on making a connection that she often forgets the words.

“Is it all right for your Mom to come to Christmas holiday events?” the activity director had asked me, when Mom moved into the skilled care portion of the nursing home.

“Yes, I’d like her to go to any activities. She likes the extra energy.”

challahI think Mom would approve of my decision, even though she has never celebrated Christmas. Growing up, her immigrant mother held on to the Jewish spirit of her home, kneading dough for Friday evening challah, observing each holiday and prayer period in her own way. Some orthodox women followed the religious law that commanded a small piece of the dough be burned as an offering to God. My grandmother was poor; she did not believe in burning good food, regardless of tradition. So she sacrificed a portion of the dough to her youngest daughter, my mother Fran. She created a “bread tail,” leftover dough that she baked, then smeared with butter and sprinkled with sugar . When Mom used to talk about her mother, she always mentioned this special treat.

Even when I was growing up, and we were the only Jewish family in our neighborhood, my mother still did not sing Christmas song. She let the holiday rush by her, like a large train, whooshing past and leaving her behind.

Now, I am singing Christmas carols to my Mom for the first time and she is smiling. She has moved beyond the place where the religions are different, beyond the place where she wants to separate the dough and make a sacrifice for tradition. Her new tradition is anyone who can make her smile.Fran

With each song, from White Christmas, to Silver Bells, to Frosty the Snowman, Thelda moves back to Mom, tapping her, acting sillier and sillier. Each time, Mom lifts her head and widens her mouth for a second.

For her finale, Thelda puts on a big red nose and sings Rudolph. When she dances in front of Mom with that scarlet nose, Mom laughs, her face a miracle in pure enjoyment. I laugh too, so delighted to see Mom engaged and absorbed.

Two weeks from now, I will bring a menorah and candles into my mother’s room. My father and I will have a short Chanukah ceremony with Mom. She will pick at the shiny paper covering the Chanukah gelt (chocolate candy disguised as money). She will slump over in her chair. But she will come back to life when she sees me, her only daughter, wearing a big red nose as I light the menorah.menorahHere’s to a meaningful and fun holiday season.

I look forward to connecting with you when I resume blogging in early January.

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