love

An Insider’s Look at True Love: Charlie and Elizabeth’s Story

For years, I interviewed fascinating couples every week for a column in the Kansas City Star. Talking to people who are in love is always inspiring; often couples have to overcome enormous obstacles to bring their relationship into reality. One of my favorite stories stars two friends whose love and cosmic connection shines out from their faces and rings out with their words. Here is an short version of their beautiful story, an insider’s look at true love.

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The coffee date was going better than Charlie, age 60, could have ever imagined. Just a month earlier, his best friend had burst into Charlie’s dark apartment and roused Charlie from his lethargy, saying, “You need to open up these windows and let some light in. You should start dating.”

“Who would go out with a guy who has Early Onset Alzheimer’s?” Charlie asked his friend.

“Maybe you should find out,” his friend replied.

So Charlie Miller pried himself out of his depression and joined eHarmony. And this coffee date with Elizabeth Hack was the result.

 

Elizabeth, age 55, was brilliant, interesting, energetic, curious, and shared many of Charlie’s interests. When she asked Charlie what he liked to do, he mentioned listening to music, attending theater, visiting with friends and volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Elizabeth knew nothing about Alzheimer’s. She asked, “Does someone close to you have the disease?”

“Yes,” Charlie answered. He wanted to say more but the words stuck in his throat. He had never envisioned this casual meeting could possibly turn into a romance. Yet he was already comfortable with Elizabeth and felt their relationship was meant to be.

Over the weeks, they continued seeing each other, meeting at concerts, going to plays, and exploring new restaurants. As their friendship deepened. Charlie knew he had to share his diagnosis with Elizabeth and he worried she wouldn’t be able to accept it.

But before he had a chance to broach the subject, Elizabeth, wanting to learn more about Alzheimer’s and about Charlie’s interests, visited the local Alzheimer’s Association website and noticed a picture of Charlie, as a volunteer and a person who has Alzheimer’s. She was shocked, dismayed, and confused. But she was also in love with Charlie; his diagnosis did not diminish her deep feelings for him.

 

Charlie suggested she meet with his social worker at the Association to learn more about the disease. Elizabeth did that and though the information was daunting, her connection with Charlie was strong and true; she, too, felt they were destined to be together.

They began traveling and made plans to move in together.  In a vineyard restaurant in Napa Valley, Charlie proposed and Elizabeth said Yes. Today, they are living happily, grateful they have found each other

“None of us know what will happen next,” Elizabeth says. “Just the other night, we were at a dinner party. One friend was just released from the hospital after heart surgery, and another friend was facing a hip replacement. I felt concerned for my friends and I felt so lucky that Charlie and I were happy and together. We are dedicated to living with joy and curiosity in the present moment.”   

 

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 Ways to Make Valentine’s Day Special for a Loved One with Dementia

candlelight dinnerMy parents liked to celebrate Valentine’s Day with dinner and dancing.  Years into my mom’s Alzheimer’s journey, my parents’ love hadn’t diminished, but my mom’s capacity for going out to dinner and dancing had drastically decreased. I saw how blue my father was—one more event he had to give up, one more change in the woman he loved—and I searched for alternatives that might cheer him up. Here are five ways to make Valentine’s Day special.

Look for a favorite thing. Seek one simple pleasure your loved one might enjoy. Mom loved potato soup and chocolate and fresh strawberries. These were part of our celebration.

Nurture yourself: include your own favorite thing. Bring yourself into the celebration and include something that makes you happy. I brought foods my father and I both liked as part of our little party.chocolate strawberries

Pick several ways to express your love.  Poetry, music, gifts, flowers, and photo albums—you can use any of these resources as a catalyst to talk about your feelings. Dad and I sang Mom old show tunes and love songs, music she really enjoyed. Mom adored Shakespeare; we had a couple of sonnets on hand.  She and Dad had once created a beautiful flower garden; Dad brought her a single red rose.

Take joy in the simple act of expressing yourself. Being with my mom was a chance to really practice the mythical “unconditional love.” Mom couldn’t tell me she loved me. During one Valentine’s Day celebration, she fell asleep while I was holding her hand and talking sweetly to her. But there was a comfort in expressing my love and I kept on talking.

Celebrate love in all its glorious guises. During their long marriage, my father had walked into a room millions of times and often, Mom had been busy and hadn’t particularly smiled or remarked. But with her dementia came a deep dependency on Dad. When Dad walked into a room, my mother’s face lit up. My father basked in that light. The sparkle in my mother’s eyes was the new, “I love you, darling.”  The light said everything my mother could no longer say.rose

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 Secrets For Making Date Night Great

I caught up with Nettie Harper and Kelly Gilligan, co-founders of Inspired Memory Care, Inc. as they were rushing down the streets of Manhattan, off to consult with a client. I loved hearing the city sounds, horns honking, cars edging past, a lone dog barking, as they shared their five secrets for making date night great. (I have changed the names in this story to protect people’s privacy.)

During my mother’s journey through dementia, my father was always seeking ways to stay connected with her. He would have loved the ideas in this article.

 

Five Secrets For Making Date Night Great!

Margaret slipped on a string of pearls and surveyed herself in the bathroom mirror. Her royal blue silk dress, one that her husband Harold had bought her for their 40th wedding anniversary, still looked good. She fingered her hair nervously and hoped this evening would go well. Their last weekly dinner date had been a disaster. Harold had felt uncomfortable in the restaurant, even though they’d chosen it together. He picked at his food and barely spoke a word. Margaret had to hold back tears as she looked around the brightly lit room and envied all the happy couples and families, laughing, talking, and savoring their food.

Tonight, she vowed, would be different. Tonight, she was prepared, coached by Nettie Harper and Kelly Gilligan of Inspired Memory Care, Inc, in Manhattan, NY.

She’d chosen a quiet restaurant and reserved a cozy corner table, away from the bustle. Harold’s face tightened as they strolled in, but she took his hand and he squeezed hers. After they settled into their seats and ordered their meal, the dreaded silence descended.  She was about to say, “Do you remember the time we took my cousin from England out to dinner…?” but she bit her lip. Harold’s eyes went blank when she prodded him for specific memories.

Instead, Margaret unfolded an article on sailing, one of Harold’s passions, and offered it to him. “Could we read this together?” she asked.  The large print made it easy to see and Harold began reading aloud, weaving in the open-ended questions Nettie and Kelly had written in for them to discuss.

“What does this make you think of?” he read, after a few moments.

“The sea,” Harold said.

Margaret took a turn reading aloud, and Harold leaned forward a little.

“Would you ever go out on such stormy seas?” she asked.

“If I felt strong I might,” Harold said. “I always liked sailing with you.  Remember that time with the snow and the animals? Those big fish?”

Margaret smiled and took Harold’s hand.

“That was our whale watching cruise. I do remember. I really liked the penguins.”

“What did I like?” Harold asked.

“The glaciers,” she said. “And the dancing.”

In their work, Nettie and Kelly often coach care partners like Margaret, offering creative ways to stay connected with loved ones who are living with dementia. Their idea of bringing along an article on one of Harold’s favorite topics transformed the dinner into a time of wonderful sharing. On future date nights, Margaret continued to bring along articles on topics of great interest, as conversation starters.

Nettie and Kelly’s company, Inspired Memory Care, Inc. (IMC), is founded on the belief that older adults, both with and without memory impairment, should have access to life-enriching, esteem-building experiences, sharing their wisdom and pursuing their passions each day.

“We encourage couples and families to commit to rituals and set aside time together, just like you would without a memory impairment,” says Nettie. “Date night is an important part of the week, a chance to do something special and unique.”

“We coach people to ask open-ended questions, such as, ‘Would you rather..’  “Would you ever…’ ‘Tell me more about…’” Kelly says.

“‘Tell me more” is one of the strongest questions you can ask. Frequently words come flooding out.

After posing an open-ended question, they encourage care partners to wait, allow silence, and give people a chance to respond.

“If we jump in and give the answer, we’re taking away the strength of the individual,” they believe.

So what are the five secrets to a successful date night?

  • Bring a conversational catalyst, such as an interesting article to discuss.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Wait lovingly for the answers.
  • Meet people where they are.
  • Celebrate your time together.

Use these five secrets for making date night great and create a meaningful and connective atmosphere — for any couple or family — regardless of cognitive abilities!

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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Expanding My Definition of Love

Love comes in so many magical guises. My journey with people who have Alzheimer’s has expanded and deepened my understanding of love. Here are some insights from others.

shadow hands

My friend Vicki always inspires and teaches me. She has early onset Alzheimer’s and her outlook is an embodiment of grace and spirit. She writes: “I have lost both friends and family members since I have dementia.  Some people are just so uncomfortable that they just cannot bear to see me go down hill.  I have lost a very good friend who just can’t seem to handle it.  I know that these people love me but they do not have the emotional fortitude to see the daily loss.  You will find out who really loves you when you get dementia because these are the people who will be there for you when you need them.”    — Vicki Stoecklin, Kansas City, Mo, retired designer

The True Meaning of Unconditional Love

hafizLinda Fisher is a tireless advocate and a caring person. Her words really move me. “Caring for my husband Jim taught me the true meaning of unconditional love.  I became fiercely protective of him and learned to love him ‘as is’ without looking back on the man he had been or forward to the man he would become. My love for him continued to grow throughout the ten years of his dementia, as he became dependent on me to be his advocate in all aspects.”  —  Linda Fisher, Sedalia, Mo, retired office manager, Central Missouri Electric Coop http://earlyonset.blogspot.com Early Onset Alzheimer’s: My Recollections, Our Memories (2012)

The Full Range of Emotions

Kelly Sheet, founder of the SpunkyCaregiver, offered these deep insights: “I have learned that love transcends any words and appearances. When someone has dementia, love is shared through energy and feeling. You can be vulnerable with people who are living with dementia. And it is a relief to be so open. Day-to-day we are expending energy to protect ourselves from saying too much or too little or the wrong thing. The great gift of loving people with dementia is that you can let go of those ideas, experiment with what a full range of emotions actually feels like. Without being judged, you can laugh spontaneously at some goofy moment, dance with abandon or hold hands with a stranger. Loving people with dementia helps me to feel alive. The hundreds of seniors I have known over the years have really taught me how to love more freely.” — Kelly Sheets, Founder, Sisters, Or, www.TheSpunkyCaregiver.com,dance

Every person teaches us more about love.

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

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Learning about Love through the Dementia Journey

This month, I’ve been asking myself and others, What have you learned about love from your dementia journey?  Here are some of the profound answers:

3 generationsI learned that it is redefined. I loved my mother as my parent, and then learned to love her as a child. And I would not trade that experience for anything.  Pamela J. Van Ahn, Executive Director at Caring Together in Hope, Inc., Atlanta, GA

I have learned that love remains, even as memory fails.  Long after your name is forgotten, there are still frequent glimpses of recognition that are very meaningful.  The Alzheimer’s patient does not become “a different person”.  They are much more “still there” than easily meets the eye.  With Alzheimer’s disease, things that have emotional context are remembered the longest, and love is a strong emotion. Max Wallack, research intern in the Molecular Psychiatry in Aging Laboratory at Boston University School of Medicine, Boston MA.  

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I have learned so many lessons regarding love through my mothers journey with dementia.  Here are just a couple of them. There are multiple levels of unconditional love.  Each one is more precious and runs deeper then the next. “Letting Go” of our need to control is one of the most loving things we can do for a person with dementia and ourselves. Allowing a person with dementia to be in a loving respectful relationship, even if it might be with someone unexpected, is a gift to all and does not mean they love us less. Love runs much deeper than a name. We need to stop quizzing a person with dementia to check if they know and love us.  A name has nothing to do with the bond and connection between two souls.                                                                                                    Lori La Bey, Founder of Alzheimer’s Speaks , St. Paul, Minnesota, www.AlzheimersSpeaks.com  real love

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

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Appreciating the Power of Love

swans“How long have you been together?” the younger couple asked Ron and me.

“Twenty-two years,” we answered.

“Wow!” they said. They’d been in love for seven months and our decades-long romance must have seemed exotic and slightly unbelievable.

“What are the secrets of a good relationship?” they asked. “Please share your wisdom.”

First, Ron and I basked in the idea that two people believed we possessed actual wisdom! Then we shared our insights.

How We Learned about Love

Our insights came from growing as individuals and as a couple during our wonderful long relationship and from earlier relationships that had helped us become our true selves.  We also learned from watching our parents maintain their relationships in the face of dementia.

When Ron’s father Frank was in a memory care unit, Ron’s mom Mollie told her husband, “I love you so much.” Frank replied, “Not as much as I love you!.” lionsThose were some of Frank’s last words and that sentence stayed with Mollie through and beyond her grieving.

During my growing up years, my father was circumspect in declaring his love for Mom. But when she slipped into dementia, Dad showed me what a true romantic he was.  He treated her like he was courting her; he showered Mom with compliments and kisses and frequently he expressed his love for her. Even when she could no longer talk, she still enjoyed her favorite foods—he faithfully fed her sliced strawberries and chocolate candies.

Love Me Tender, Make Me Laugh, Always Have My Back

My parents were my role models and I also learn an enormous amount from the couples I interview every week for the love story column I write for the Kansas City Star Magazine. Here are some of the qualities people most love about their life partners and spouses.

Loves me just as I amlaughing

Takes care of me/Always has my back

Makes me laugh

Shares my values/ Complements me

Works hard/ Is honest and reliable

Always puts other people first/ Always puts me first

Inspires me to be better/ Appreciates me

Love Lights the Way

Some months ago, Oprah had author, visionary and cultural mid-wife Jean Houston on her TV show. “What do you wish people knew?” Oprah asked Jean.

“I wish people knew how powerful love is,” Jean answered.

That was one of the grandest lessons from my journey with my mom through her dementia: the power of love. Her love lasted all her life, far beyond her memory of things and people. Her love was a spark that lit up her life and mine.

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

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A Love Story about Being Braver, Stronger, and Smarter

 “Where there is great love there are always miracles.”  Willa Cather.

I am always looking for wonderful love stories and I found this one when I was visiting the blog of one of my favorite writers, Louise Penny. I went to her site because I had just finished reading her book, A Fatal Grace, and I was feeling withdrawal. Plus, I knew her husband was living with dementia and I thought she might have some insights. She has some deep insights and she has generously given me permission to share them with you.

From Louise Penny:

Michael no longer knows my name.  And now needs help eating.  He can no longer walk on his own, and cannot read, or do puzzles.  He barely speaks.  He sleeps a lot, and I try not to take it personally, as though I am not doing a good job stimulating him.  But, poor guy, when I try to stimulate him, by singing or dancing or finding games that might interest him, he looks at me, smiles.  And falls asleep.

He remains the happiest man I know.  Smiling at everyone.  Reaching out for people’s hands.hands

And people are so very, very kind.  I could never have predicted that when people visit, the first thing they do is go over to Michael, introduce themselves even though he’s known most for years, and chat.  He loves it.

And then he falls asleep.

At bedtime, when he is finally and gratefully horizontal, I whisper in his ear.  Something that came out of a horrific event in 2014, when Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed by a gunman on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa.

As the young man lay dying, men and women ran over to try to help him. One woman, Barbara Winters, knelt beside him and whispered in his ear that he was loved.  That he was a good man and a brave man. She just kept repeating that.

And now, every night, after I turn the light out, I whisper in Michael’s ear that he’s a handsome man.  A kind man.  That he is thoughtful and funny and he makes everyone around him feel special.  I whisper that he is loved, and he is safe.  And then I kiss him good night. And he smiles.

Then I whisper to myself, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”   #

To learn more about Louise Penny and her books and her ideas, please visit https://www.facebook.com/louisepennyauthor

Or subscribe to her newsletter at www.louisepenny.com

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

 

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.

cookies 5cookies 4

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.

One Potato, Two Potato

The next three blogs are dedicated to the holiday season.  This story just appeared in Chicken Soup’s new Merry Christmas book.  Here’s to each of us sharing our light in the world.

The Latke Legacy

“This is not like Mom used to make,” I had to confess. It was my first Chanukah of being the latke lady. My mother’s potato pancakes were crisp, flat, and nicely rounded. The texture was smooth but not mushy and they shone with just a glint of leftover oil. I had been a latke apprentice for years, pressed into service by Mom. I was a key cog in the labor pool, peeling the potatoes, then wearing out my arm rubbing them against the stainless steel grater, using the side with the teardrop shaped holes. My mother must have known that enlisting my help would keep me from pestering her to make potato pancakes for other occasions. Only once a year did these delicious patties grace our table, when we lit the first candles of Chanukah and began the eight-day Festival of Lights. images

My debut latkes were pale and greasy, like something carelessly served in a late night diner. I myself was pale and greasy from the stress of trying to coax the patties into cohesion. First they had drifted apart—too little flour. Then they had turned cliquish, glomming into militant lumps. When I had finally worked through the potato/flour/egg ratio, I bumped into the complex dynamic between potatoes, oil and heat. For three hours I had struggled to create this barely edible token of tradition.

Years passed. Every Chanukah, I faced a different challenge. The oil was too cold, too hot, not enough, too much. The texture was too coarse or too fine. The grated onions were too strong or too weak. The latke mixture was too thin then too thick. Every year, I hoped for pancakes that tasted like Mom’s and got instead grey leaden latkes. My daughters, who peeled and grated potatoes with me, examined my finished product warily, smothering it in the traditional applesauce and often taking only a few bites. I worried that when they grew up, they would forego the holiday tradition and turn to something simpler and more delicious, like frozen hash browns. I felt a sense of failure as a mother and as a tender of the tradition. My mother had shown me how to make the latkes: why couldn’t I measure up and instill the potato pancake protocol in my progeny?

Then my daughter Sarah, fresh from college and a first job, moved back to town and offered to help me prepare the holiday meal. She was a food channel devotee and had already orchestrated several dinner parties, creating the menus and cooking all the courses. She understood the relationship between vegetables, oil and heat.

latke“Mom, I think you need to squeeze more water out of the potato mixture,” she advised. “Maybe you could use a food processor to grate the potatoes. What if you used two pans instead of trying to cram so many into one?”

I stepped back and she stepped forward and under her guidance, we prepared the latkes. As I watched my daughter mastermind the cooking, I realized that tradition could be kept alive in many ways. My daughter was starting the tradition of “doing what you’re good at,” giving me a chance to forget my own culinary challenges and applaud her self-taught abilities.

That Chanukah night, everyone at the table oohed and ahhed at the sight of the latkes. Each one was golden brown and crisp, free of extra oil. I didn’t even have to secretly search and pluck out a “good one,” like I had been forced to do in previous years.

I looked around the table of friends and family and took a bite of my daughter’s latke. My mouth filled with the crunch, flavor and intriguing texture of a of well-fried potato pancake. This was the latke I had been waiting for; just like Mom used to make. Only better. latkes

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

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Setting the Table with Memories

Imagine sitting down for your favorite growing up meal. The sight, taste, and aroma of those hallowed childhood dishes would stir up a cornucopia of delicious memories.

eating in the 50sRecently my friend Elizabeth cooked such a meal for her husband Charlie, who is living with early onset dementia. Charlie grew up in the 1950s, so Elizabeth bought a period cookbook. She and Charlie read through the recipes to see which ones he resonated with.

“I will cook your favorites and we’ll invite a couple of your old friends from high school over for dinner,” she told him.

Elizabeth is a terrific cook and Charlie loved this idea. They analyzed the potential entrees, Beef stroganoff, chicken Cacciatore, meatloaf, but Charlie kept returning to one page: the recipe for Johnny Marzetti Casserole.  johnny marzetti

At first, Elizabeth demurred. As an accomplished cook, she didn’t like the idea of serving guests such a simple meal. But Charlie was persuasive, so she bought ground beef, canned tomatoes, cheese, and elbow macaroni. She cooked up a big pan of Johnny Marzetti, otherwise known as goulash, American Chop Suey, or macaroni and beef.

Charlie and his friends went wild over the food and laughed as they shared memories of school, the neighborhood, their families, and favorite foods. The cookbook, the meal, and the cook were a huge success.

Next on Elizabeth’s list: take pictures of Charlie with his favorite dishes and paste them in a scrapbook along with the recipes.

 

What are some of your favorite childhood meals?

For me, the desserts were most important. I adored cream horns, Mrs. Smith’s Lemon Icebox Pie, and Mom’s brownies and chocolate cake, particularly the icing. We still include Mom’s memorial brownies, courtesy of my brother, Chef Daniel Barnett, at family gatherings.

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