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A Thanksgiving Love Story: Bringing Home the Gravy

Thanksgiving 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.

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.

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.

…………

And now, if you’d like to create a Thanksgiving love story, bring home this delicious gravy.

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

2 tablespoons of cornstarch

Olive oil

For 5 cups of water, start out with 2 vegetable boullion cubes. Add more if needed.

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.

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 15-20 minutes.

In a small bowl,  put 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.  Pour in a small amount of the broth. Once it’s a smooth paste, pour in more liquid to make it a runny paste. Then pour the mixture slowly back into the gravy while stirring. This will thicken it. You may have to do this a couple of times to achieve the desired thickness.

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

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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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Bring Joy to the Holidays with Dementia Friendly Family Activities

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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Silent Films Inspire Peals of Laughter at KC Movies & Memories

There is something wonderfully connective about watching silent comedies by two of the world’s greats—Charlie Chaplain and Buster Keaton. Those black and white classics make you want to laugh, reminisce, and act a little silly yourself. And when there’s a pianist on hand, punctuating the wit and melodrama, the experience is even more compelling. Those silent films inspired peals of laughter at August’s KC Movies & Memories at the Plaza Library.

First, our guest musician, Kenny Harrison, engaged us in a lively sing-a-long. Then we watched One Week, a Buster Keaton masterpiece. Thomas Cooke is a retired professor of film. He and his wife Deborah spent hours previewing the iconic comedians, picking out three clips just for our program. For anyone who has ever tried to repair or build anything, this short film is a must. Next, Charlie Chaplain entertained us with Oceana Roll. “Charlie’s friends wanted him to do the roll dance every time he dined with them,” Thomas told us. Finally, we were on the edges of our seats with a clip from Modern Times. Note: Roller skate indoors at your own peril. 

Click here to enjoy some moments from this entertaining event.

In between films, we talked about the movies and how we related to them. One of our guests was a carpenter. Others had experiences with home repairs. We all marveled when Thomas told us that Keaton did all his own stunts. 

The movies stayed on our minds for several days. In fact, at dinner two nights later, we tried with Oceana fork dance with cucumbers.  (Where are the dinner rolls when you need them?) It was a lot harder than it looked. 

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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Quixotic Brings Magic and Music to KC Memory Cafe

Will we ever be too old to enjoy balloon animals? we’ve often wondered. After seeing Quixotic bring magic and music to KC Memory Cafe, our answer is a resounding, “No!” Along with 90 other guests, we were on the edge of our chairs, watching balloon maestro David Brenn transform simple balloons into pooches, butterflies, eyeglasses, and flowers. The crowd raised their hands, trying to catch the colorful flying balloons.  They laughed at the little dog that could instantly turn into a poodle and applauded at the balloon jetpack.

The music was mesmerizing, a delightful intertwining of violin and cello notes, accented by a graceful dancer and an enthralling singer. Everyone swayed to the sounds of an Irish jig, hummed along with Fly Me to the Moon and The Girl from Ipanema, and watched the balloons fly during Cheek to Cheek.

Beyond the fantastic talent of the performers was their warmth and caring. They created this low sensory, dementia friendly program and they were so happy to be sharing their gifts with us. And we were totally wowed!

Click here to experience the magic for yourself.

 

And visit Quixotic’s website to learn more about their upcoming public performances. 

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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 Using Nature to Connect with Creativity and Generations: KC Memory Cafe

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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Huzzah! RenFest Stars Present at KC Memory Cafe

A wizard, a peasant, a royal hat maker, and a royal candy maker walked into the Plaza Library. But they were not here to check out books on their respective trades: they were with several other RenFest stars, eager to present at the KC Memory Cafe. 

Mia Moore shared the inside story of getting into her complicated costume as the Renfest character of Molly William, Lady Steward of the Household. First, she slipped on a gauzy white under-blouse with an appealing ruff around the neck. Then, she created a luscious hour-glass shape by putting on a corset. In the olden days, the corsets were made with whale bones. But Mia was ecologically correct and chose industrial cables for hers. A wide brown skirt, made of upholstery materials, was next, followed by a lady’s doublet, with dozens of small fabric covered buttons. Getting all buttoned up took at least ten minutes, and she kept us quite entertained throughout the process. Her final adornment was a jaunty hat.

Click here to get the RenFest inside story.

“It wouldn’t be proper to go around with my hair uncovered. Plus, during the Renaissance, people didn’t bathe that often. Their hair might be dirty and lice-ridden, which the hat kindly covered,” she told us.

As each of the performers shared information about their characters, we could feel their passion for history and for this fascinating time period. 

The wizard assured us, he would never walk about London with his high pointed burlap hat and his quartz-topped staff; for that, he would have been locked up in a mental hospital. Instead, he would have lived in a rural setting and been considered an alchemist. The peasant told us, “The amount of cloth in a middle class woman’s skirt would be enough for me and my family for a year.”  

Cloth was quite valuable and all fabrics were recycled and passed down, mended and amended until they were nothing but scraps. 

How often does a person have a chance to touch an ostrich feather fan or stroke the soft pink velvet of the royal candy maker’s doublet? Our performers walked about the room, greeting individuals, sharing stories about their characters and clothing, and letting us examine their specially made costumes.

It was a glorious experience, rich with history, energy, and imagination.

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 Beat Goes on at KC Memory Cafe

“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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Laughing All the Way: Boosting Health and Happiness 

“When You Laugh, you change, 

and when you change the whole world changes.” 

          -Dr Madan Kataria, MD, Founder Laughter Yoga Movement

 

We were warmly welcomed into a parlor area, reminiscent of an elegantly aging aunt’s apartment. A piano waited patiently along one wall. There was a colorful bowl of fruit and a tempting array of pastries and fruit-infused waters. As we waited, we looked out into an outdoor garden and picnic area.  The 80th Street Residency, a memory care community in Manhattan, created a warm, home-like atmosphere for its residents. Ron and I had come here to offer a laughter yoga class, hoping to boost our participants’ health and happiness. We worked with their activities coordinator, Jackie LaBau.

Here’s what we’ve learned about laughter yoga: often people look, act, and feel differently after they’ve experienced a session. There is a magic about intentionally laughing with a group. The experience of breathing, clapping, engaging in playful imaginings, and of course, laughing, soon softens the spirits. People feel energetic and connected.  Everyone, including staff, residents, and us, leave feeling happier. That’s what happened  in New York,  just as it has every time Ron and I have led laughing sessions.  

Back home in Kansas City, we laughed with the lively people at Jeanne’s Place, CareHaven’s day program for people living with early stage dementia. We have laughed with these wonderful folks before, and now they start giggling when we walk in. 

We also visited Mandy Shoemaker and her team at Prairie Eider Care, our area’s only Eden Alternative homes, and we had fun admiring their outdoor barnyard collection of silky chickens, a potbellied pig, and sassy ducks. Then we settled into their welcoming living areas.  We sat in intergenerational circles with staff, family members, and residents, talking, singing, and laughing.

Dr. Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga, believes that inviting out our childlike energy and acting playfully is vital to living a balanced and healthy life. Plus, it’s tremendous fun. He says: “Laughter Yoga is an aerobic workout that helps uplift your mood within minutes by releasing endorphins from your brain cells. You often remain energized, relaxed, and in good spirits throughout the day. Laughter also makes our immune system stronger, increases oxygen intake, and reduces stress. Plus laughing with others builds a social bond and reduces feelings of isolation.”

In our groups, we created laughter milkshakes, with each person choosing their favorite flavor of ice cream. We looked at each other, waved, and laughed. We had a lot of dog lovers in our groups, so we imagined how a chihuahua would laugh. A member of the nursing team loved large dogs and she helped us to guffaw like a Great Dane. Most of our group loved baseball, so we sang, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” then substituted the words with “Ha Ha “ syllables, otherwise known as the Ha Ha Chorus. That chorus works for any familiar song and tickles your funny bone.

Ron and I learned Laughter Yoga from the amazing Robert Rivest, who is a master trainer and who studied with Dr. Kataria. But you don’t need to be a trained facilitator to bring more laughter into your life.

Quick Tips for Adding Laughter into the Day

•Look at the clock and laugh for one minute.

•When driving, laugh during red lights.

•When working out, pick a couple of exercises, such as squats and curls, and laugh while you’re doing them. (Want to get others laughing? Do this at the gym!)

•Use the “ha ha chorus” to bring giggles into your life. Take any song and substitute “ha ha ha’s” for the words. This works well in the shower, car, on walks and more.

Want to laugh more? 

Visit laughteryoga.org and robertrivest.com 

Contact Deborah Shouse and Ron Zoglin: 816-361-7878  Email myinfo@pobox.com Website: DemeniaJourney.org

If you are part of a memory care community in the KC area and you’d like to gift your residents with laughter, feel free to reach out to us 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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Some Enchanted Beautiful Morning: Movies & Memories Celebrates Inclusion

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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