Taking Care of Yourself

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. 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 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

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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What They Don’t tell You About Dementia: A Guest Post by Laurie Scherrer

Laurie Scherrer is a light in the universe. I met her on the radio, when she co-hosted the ground-breaking program Alzheimer’s Speaks, with Lori La Bey. I was instantly inspired by Laurie’s warmth, honesty, humor, and insights. Each time I talk to her, I have fun and I learn from her. Recently, I asked her, “How can I support you in the wonderful advocacy work you are doing?” Laurie answered, “You can repost this blog, What They Don’t Tell You about Dementia.”

Laurie’s post is not just inspiring: it could be life-changing for someone who is newly diagnosed with dementia. After reading it, you’ll want to subscribe to Laurie’s blog. 

What They Don’t tell You About Dementia: by Laurie Scherrer, DementiaDaze.com 

When I was diagnosed with dementia (Early On-Set Alzheimer’s and Frontotemporal Degeneration) the doctors told me and my husband:

  1. My working days were over
  2. I needed to “Get my affairs in order and see an attorney”
  3. The time would come when I wouldn’t recognize my loved ones
  4. For any additional information we should go to the Alzheimer’s Association Website
  5. I may experience “sun-downing” in the late afternoons
  6. Come back in six months to see how rapidly you have progressed

What the doctors SHOULD have told us:

  1. There are many things that can aggravate or enhance the confusion and agitation that comes with dementia. With observation and patience, you may be able to recognize what triggers these symptoms. For example noise, stress, over-stimulation or lack of sleep. These triggers are not the same for everyone.
  2. Once you recognize the triggers you may be able to find ways to lessen their impact. For example, use earplugs when in a store or restaurant to reduce the noise, keep gatherings small to avoid over-stimulation, and when needed take an afternoon nap.
  3. The more independence you give up and allow other people to take care of – the more dependent you will become on others. Change your thought process from “I can’t do this anymore” to “How can I accomplish this task (what changes or modifications can we make to assist me).”
  4. On days when you are using a lot of cognitive reserve your symptoms may be strong (usually in the afternoon). This is your brain saying it is tired and needs a break.  Try listening to some music or taking a nap.
  5. It is OK to take some time to grieve for your losses and accept that life will change. Most people need to experience this after diagnosis and again as their abilities change. In addition to grief, you may experience shock, anger, denial and sadness. These are normal reactions that can help you come to terms with your disease and hopefully help you to move on.
  6. Get involved with others with dementia as much as possible. There are a number of groups that offer video chats with other people living with dementia so you can socialize, ask questions and encourage each other.  dementiamentors.org offers a mentor program so you can have weekly chats with someone living with dementia.
  7. Stay active and socialize with old friends and new. Once you curl up into yourself it is hard to get out.  Enjoy life, friends, family and activities for as long as you can.
  8. Build your passion to fight back! Sometimes it is the passion within us that drives us to continue fighting.  Get involved in advocacy work to educate about dementia. Contact Dementia Action Alliance at daanow.org to get started.
  9. You will have good moments when you feel “normal” and think you should go back to work and you will have bad moments when the world is a fog (dementia daze zone). You may feel confused and disoriented and find it difficult to think.  There will be times when nothing seems to make sense and you can’t remember how to do things and then the fog will go away (at least for awhile).  It’s OK to admit you are having a bad day.
  10. Dementia is more than memory loss. You may experience problems with your balance, lights flickering in your eyes, hallucinations, develop fears, or smell things that aren’t really there. Don’t be frightened, keep track of any changes or strange feelings to see how often they occur
  11. Dementia can progress fast, but in most cases it is a long slow progression. You may want to keep your affairs in order, but by implementing changes and strategies you will be able to overcome many obstacles and live a beneficial and happy life for some time.

Since I’m sure your doctor said about the same thing as mine, I hope you find this helpful.  Now go enjoy life – Live, Love and figure out how to make adjustments to over come your obstacles.

My motto is: I don’t want just to survive – – I want to live and thrive!

Love & Laughter,

Laurie

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 His Voice and His Skills:  Mike Belleville’s Tips for Living Well with Dementia

“Here’s some medication,” the neurologist told Mike Belleville. “See you in six months.” The doctor stood up to leave, but Mike just sat there, exhausted from months of struggle and confusion, worn ragged from all the tests and consultations. For months, Mike, age 52, had been “hiding under a rock.” His mind wasn’t working right and he worried he’d make a mistake, so he withdrew from his busy life. Now, he was numbed by the diagnosis he’d just received; younger onset Alzheimer’s.

Those three words seemed insurmountable.

“My wife and I had no connection to support services and we had no idea what to do next,” Mike says. “We felt so alone.”

Without his job as a Senior Telecommunications Technician at Verizon, his community volunteer projects, and his hobby of photography, Mike sank into a depression. After several months, his wife found a program at their Alzheimer’s Association that focused on finding a purpose and living well with dementia.

“From meeting others who had the diagnosis, I realized, I can still enjoy, do, and learn,” Mike says. “But more importantly, I realized that I have a voice. I want to use that voice for as long as I can.”

Speaking Up

Even though he had no experience with public speaking, Mike plunged in and became an outspoken advocate, visiting Washington D.C., and speaking at a number of dementia forums.

“Somehow, I was comfortable discussing dementia,” he says. “Even when I was interviewed in front of 1300 people, I felt like I was sitting in a coffee shop, talking to a friend.”

He joined the advisory board of the Dementia Action Alliance and expanded his speaking and advocacy work.

Cooking Up New Skills

Mike was frustrated that he could no longer contribute financially to his household. So he searched for ways he could help around the house. He volunteered to do laundry and soon learned he did not “know when to fold ‘em.” Then he made a discovery: he could combine his desire to learn, his creative curiosity, his love of technology, and his desire to help through the joys of cooking.

Prior to dementia, hamburgers and hot dogs comprised Mike’s culinary repertoire: he could grill with the best of them.

“Thank goodness for Pinterest and YouTube,” Mike says. He searches for recipes on-line, then scans YouTube for a demonstration video, which he watches several times. He uses an App called Paprika, so he has the recipe in front of him. Then, Gordon Ramsey style, he lines up all his ingredients.

“Through trial and error, I learned to put away each ingredient after I added it in,” Mike says. “That way, nothing gets used more than once.”When his wife returns from work, they put the dish on the stove and cook the rest of the meal together.

“She’s very appreciative of my new talents and I’m happy to be exercising my brain and nourishing our family,” Mike says.

Putting Purpose to Technology

Early on, Mike volunteered at a local senior center, starting a technology group called, Mike’s Google Gals. Once a week, he helped people with their phones, tablets and computers. When he and his family moved, he volunteered to host a free Tech Corner on Dementia Action Alliance’s website, offering his problem solving skills as needed. He helps people get on line so they can participate in a vibrant virtual community.

“I get just as much out of this as I put into it,” Mike says. “The more I stay active, the better I am.”

Mike and his wife share an electronic calendar, so she can support him with his schedule. His vibrating smart watch offers reminders of meetings and appointments.

“Because I’m wearing the watch, I don’t have to worry about misplacing it and missing a text or an email,” Mike says.

Mike envisions home automation devices extending beyond moderating lights and temperature.

“I have an issue with anxiety,” Mike says. “I would like a wearable devise that automatically detects my anxiety. As I become more stressed, the device could turn on my TV, which would be tuned into a soothing video of my wife talking to me.  Or it could turn on a calming musical playlist.”

Mike also envisions sensors that would alert his wife if he turns on the stove or walks out the front door. He would like to help develop these types of products.

Recipe for Living Well with Dementia

Mike views living with dementia as his new career.

“I’m using the same skills I honed in my earlier career,” he says.

His prescription for living well includes staying socially engaged, finding a purpose, and helping others.

At first, Mike saw his diagnosis as the end, but now he’s busy living. He has the Alzheimer’s logo tattooed on his arm with the motto, “Live life today.”

 

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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 Transferring Skills and Adapting Purpose: Wisdom from Paulan Gordon

As Director of Operations for a national call center, Paulan Gordon’s work required an intense travel schedule, detailed project management skills, and a rigorous adherence to industry standards. So when she started feeling confused, she attributed the struggles to stress. Some days, she felt so overwhelmed that she locked herself in her office and called her husband to come pick her up early.

She was asked to step down from her position. Initially, the loss of her career was both financially and emotionally staggering.  Suddenly, she had no purpose, no income, and no peer group. She had to reinvent her life.

In 2012, at the age of 57, Paulan was diagnosed with vascular dementia. After a period of uncertainty, Paulan began using her interpersonal, communication, and management skills and volunteering as a mentor and a dementia advocate.

“I’ve learned there’s a lot more to life than success in business,” she says.

Building Friendships

When she was working, Paulan was so busy she didn’t have time to build friendships. Now, through her mentoring, she has developed deep connections with others who are living with dementia.

“The relationships you create within the walls of dementia are so intimate,” Paulan says. “People talk very openly about their personal problems and challenges. I feel enriched, being part of these conversations and having such close friends.”

Her work as a dementia mentor has also given Paulan a sense of purpose.

“I work with four people and all of them appreciate my phone calls and my caring. That appreciation boosts my spirits,” she says.

Through her mentoring and advocacy work, she’s met doctors, lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs, and others who have applied their intelligence and skills to living successfully with dementia.

Speaking out for Adaptation

When Paulan gave business speeches, her hands grew clammy and her mouth dry. She battled nervousness and worried about getting facts wrong and making errors.

“Now, I don’t get very nervous,” she says. “I’m speaking from my heart about things close to me, so I can’t make a mistake. Plus, I’m motivated: I want to help others and I want people to understand the truth about dementia.”

 

Letting Go of Difficulty

“You’ve asked me that question five times already,” Paulan’s husband says.

“Then it must be really important,” she answers.

Paulan is happy she can laugh at trying situations. She has let go of things she can no longer do. She stopped driving because spatial relationships were difficult for her.  Paulan knows she’s forgetful and sometimes repeats herself. Her husband and family take that repetition in their stride.  She’s also trained her family not to interrupt her when she’s talking, because she can easily lose track of what she was saying.

“My husband doesn’t call attention to my deficits and I forget I have them,” she says.

Proactively, he reminds her about meetings and appointments. She uses a big planner and makes detailed notes, including instructions on how to sign onto the internet, and notes on various conversations.

Changing Reading and Money

Paulan is constantly using her creativity to solve problems. She was an avid reader, but her memory retention has diminished and understanding complicated novels with dozens of characters became a challenge.

“If I put down a book, I can’t remember what happened at the beginning,” she says. “Although there is an upside to the situation: I could save money reading the same books over and over again.”

She temporarily put down her tomes and started reading short stories and magazines. This allowed her to continue her beloved hobby without so much frustration.

She also worked around her reduced mathematical abilities. When she shops, she hands the cashier an extra dollar, so she doesn’t get overwhelmed by counting out coins.

“I hope people are honest when they give me change,” she says.

Stirring up her Spirits

“I don’t worry about dying” she says. “I basically feel positive.”

Many people have a distorted view of dementia. With her speaking and writing, Paulan helps people understand the truths of the disease.

“I like sharing ways to support friends and loved ones who are living with dementia,” she says. “This information helps prevent decline and dramatically increases the well being of both care partners and people living with dementia.”

Meanwhile, Paulan’s advocacy and mentoring work has filled her life with depth, friendships, creativity, and purpose.

To learn more from Paulan, order her book:

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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7 Tips for Reducing Caregiver Isolation

Some years ago, when my mom was diagnosed with dementia, I didn’t know anyone else who was going through this journey. I felt very alone, even though I had a beautiful network of friends. I turned to writing to help me make sense of the situation. Eventually, I gathered the courage to share my personal essays with others, often through simply reading my stories aloud to friends and family. Being able to share my thoughts and feelings on this deeply meaningful dementia experience was so therapeutic, and it inspired me to reach out to other caregivers. Through my years as a family caregiver and through interviewing dozens of caregivers and experts in the field of dementia, I gleaned these 7 tips for reducing caregiver isolation.

Listening

When my friend Karen asked me to tell her more about my mom’s life, I was thrilled. I had been so immersed in my caregiving responsibilities, I had forgotten Mom’s fascinating adventures as a nurse in WWII, her worldwide travels, and more. Simply asking questions about the person who is living with dementia and listening avidly to the stories is a gift to the caregiver.

Visiting

“Your mother is so interesting,” my friend Jane said. Jane had offered to simply come to my house and have a short visit with me and Mom.  My mother was going through a period of repetition and I had heard her tale of the natural hot springs in Iceland at least 113 times. But watching Jane lean forward, ask cogent questions, and smile at Mom allowed me to appreciate Mom’s stories in a new way. These were cornerstones in my mother’s life and Jane’s interest reminded me what treasures they were.

Enriching

Mom had been a vibrant movie-goer, an avid opera lover, and an ardent museum enthusiast. But when she could no longer go out, I loved it when people offered to bring arts, culture, and the occasional dog, to us. Studies show that even indirect contact with animals reduces stress. Visits from small dogs and cuddly babies boosted both our spirits and helped us feel connected with our community.

Bringing over an art book and gazing at favorite painters together invited out the creative spirit and were a catalyst for open-ended conversation. Singing and playing music with others stirred up positive memories and filled us with happiness and well-being.

Exercising

So often, caregivers forget the power of fresh air and exercise. They forget the joy of sunshine and trees.  When they don’t have the steam to set out on their own, offering to take them on a stroll, a run, to a yoga class, or just to sit on a bench in a park, can offer moments of connection and renewal.

Noticing 

“What can I do for you?” my life-partner often asked. Frequently, I was so overwhelmed I had no answer. So he asked me concrete questions. “Do you need any errands run?” “Would you like me to make dinner?” “Are there phone calls I can help you make? Grocery shopping I can do?” Offering to do simple tasks helped me understand I did not have to soldier through this alone. Help was all around me and one of my spiritual journeys was learning how to receive it.


Inviting

It’s not always easy to stay connected with friends who are living with dementia and their caregivers, but it is so worth it. Even when my mother felt lost at social gatherings, she still enjoyed the energy of being around empathetic friends. Even when she didn’t understand every speck of conversation, she relished being around others and meeting new people. So did my father and so did I. Having friends reach out with invitations reminded us we were still part of our community.

Asking

Sometimes we don’t know what to say to our friends who are caregivers for those living with dementia. We don’t know what to do. Then it’s time to simply state the truth and tell them, “I want to be there for you, to understand what you’re going through. I want to support you, and I don’t quite know how to do it. Can you guide me?”
Chances are the answer will be a warm hug and a resounding, “Yes.”

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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Chocolate Boosts Brain Health!

As the daughter of someone who lived with dementia, I do a lot of things to boost my brain health. I try to walk 10,000 steps a day, along with other exercise. I eat blueberries and broccoli. I do squats, try to memorize a few words of Spanish, and think about taking harmonica lessons. I try new things, laugh often, and practice drawing. But a recent study revealed that I was intuitively doing something else that was cheering on my brain, something I hadn’t even counted. Just in time for Halloween, it turns out Chocolate Boosts Brain Health!

I recently encountered a fascinating study on the Harvard Health website, and was intrigued when I read this headline: Cocoa: a sweet treat for the brain

 

Imagine being in Italy and contributing to scientific research by drinking a luscious dark cocoa drink every day for eight weeks. Then imagine feeling even more lucid, vibrant, and healthy after that experience. That is the essence of the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in December 2014, with this flavorful title: Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects. (Note: It turns out some of the “elderly” subjects are as young as 61, an age some of us may argue is merely “middle-age.”)

A Chocolate Boost Makes Your Brain Boast

I am also in love with this Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS), of 968 people that includes these mouth-watering assertions:

All cognitive scores were significantly higher in those who consumed chocolate at least once per week, than in those who never/rarely consumed chocolate.

“More frequent chocolate consumption was significantly associated with better performance on the Global Composite score, Visual-Spatial Memory and Organization, Working Memory, Scanning and Tracking, Abstract Reasoning, and the Mini-Mental State Examination,” said the research team, which included scientists from the University of Maine.

More Delicious Cocoa-flavored News

And another study from Loma Linda University, states:

“Dark chocolate, which is 70 percent cacao, is a major source of flavonoids –- powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components that are known to be beneficial to cardiovascular health. The California team’s initial studies at Loma Linda University have shown that absorbed cacao flavonoids penetrate and accumulate in regions of the brain associated with learning and memory.”

“We are tremendously excited about what these findings could potentially mean for brain health,” said Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, who led the team. “This may open the door for potential restorative uses for individuals with memory/recall or dementia and aging-related issues.”

Never Forget To Boost Your Brain

I now have a remedy for those days when I’m too tired to exercise, too busy for a crossword, too cranky for a brain game. Or for when I simply forget. On those days, I’ll simply treat myself to a taste of the dark side. And hope it leads me towards the light.

Want to learn more?

http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/study-confirms-brain-and-memory-benefits-from-dark-chocolate/

http://www.sciencedirect.com

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cocoa

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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Let’s Go to the Movies: A Dementia-Friendly Series

“Let’s go to the movies,” my dad often said to my mom. My parents would have loved our Movies and Memories series, now starting its second year.  We are excited to announce our partnership with the Kansas City Boys Choir and the Kansas City Girls Choir this season. Some of their outstanding performers will be joining us at each event.

Already, the series is making a difference in a variety of ways. Additional libraries in Missouri and other states are interested in implementing the program. And our library is so committed to becoming more dementia-friendly that it is having special training for its staff, courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association — Heart of America Chapter. Please share this invitation with those who would enjoy it. And if you’re in the Kansas City area, please join us. It’s free and open to all. Let’s go to this movie series!

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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Boost Energy with Savvy Smoothies

Ever wish you could have an instant jolt of muscle and energy like Popeye did when he gulped down his can of vitamin-rich spinach? I asked renowned cookbook writer and fiction author Judith Fertig for some easy and healthy ways for us all to boost energy with savvy smoothies.  Judith agreed to share a few of her favorite quick, refreshing, nutritious, and delicious recipes.

Secrets for Succulent Smoothies, From Judith Fertig

Smoothies can be a caregiver’s caregiver. These blended drinks offer big nutrition in a small package, can be made in minutes, and make us feel like we’re doing something good for ourselves.

Smoothie recipes are like blueprints—they’re meant to be changed to follow what’s fresh, what’s in season, or what we feel like drinking. Berries, greens, melon, tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, celery, carrots and stone fruits like peaches and mangoes add antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. A tablespoon or two of healthy fats such as milled flax seeds, hemp or nut butter can add richness to the flavor, while providing omega-3 fatty acids necessary for complete nutrition. For the finale, add a touch of sweetness from fruits, maple syrup, agave nectar or stevia, or fresh lemon or lime juice.

 

The best way to mix a smoothie is to start with either a liquid or an ingredient with a thicker consistency, like yogurt, placed in a blender or high-powered smoothie mixer. Next, add the desired fruits or vegetables and flavorings. It’s better to start on a slower speed while holding down the lid tightly. Once everything is blended, increase the speed to high to achieve a more velvety texture. If the smoothie is too thin, add more frozen fruit or ice.

Smooth-fleshed fruits like mangoes, bananas, ripe peaches and nectarines blend more easily to a silky finish than do fresh berries. Tender, baby greens such as spinach, kale or chard virtually disappear within a smoothie; if using mature, rather than baby greens, cut out the stems unless the blender or mixer is extremely powerful.

Blending enough ingredients for two smoothies can yield a leftover serving to store in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator. To reactivate the full taste later, just turn over the jar and give it a good shake to re-blend the ingredients.

Brilliant Green Smoothie

 

Yields 2 servings

2 cups water

4 cups baby spinach

2 cups chopped butter lettuce, escarole, or romaine

1 large banana, cut into chunks

The juice of a lemon

Combine the water, spinach, lettuce, and banana and blend using low to high speeds until smooth. Add lemon juice and blend again.

Peachy Watermelon

Yields 2 servings

2-3 cups watermelon, seeded

1 cup low-fat vanilla-flavored dairy or coconut yogurt

1 cup frozen strawberries

1 fresh peach, peeled, pitted, cut into chunks and frozen

Combine all ingredients and blend from low to high speed until smooth.

Cool as a Cucumber Smoothie

Yields 2 servings

1 cup apple juice

1 cup sliced sweet apple

¼ cup applesauce

½ cup sliced carrots

½ cup cucumber, peeled and sliced

2 cups ice

Dash of nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)

Combine all ingredients and blend from low to high speed until smooth.

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Sometimes after I eat something truly healthy, such as s savvy smoothie, I develop a craving for something darkly chocolate. If you have such cravings, you’ll want to buy Judith’s cookbook Bake Happy. And if you crave something delicious to read, try her fiction series, The Cake Therapist and The Memory of Lemon.

For more great gourmet ideas, visit her website: www.alfrescofoodandlifestyle.blogspot.com/

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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They Yearned for Freedom

I often think of my grandparents, each of whom bravely made his and her way to America. They sought opportunity and they yearned for freedom. Freedom to be safe from persecution, freedom to practice their religion, freedom from stigma,  freedom to be their own true selves. The same things we all want. Here’s to living our dreams and to helping others live their dreams.

When I was growing up, in the 1950s, the Fourth of July was a true day of freedom. We had a huge family picnic at our relative’s house. The festivities included a swimming pool and was held in a neighborhood without fences, which meant we kids could run breathlessly through the yards, chasing each other, playing tag, baseball and hide ‘n seek.

But first, we politely greeted our relatives. Then our aunt said, “How about a drink?” to my parents. And “Kids, there’s sodas in the cooler.” Dad wanted Scotch on the rocks and Mom asked for gin and vermouth. Mom joined the women who were arranging the food on long picnic tables and Dad hung out with the men, who were grilling burgers and dogs.

That’s when the freedom began. My younger brother Dan and I, normally allowed to drink only juice and milk, eagerly surveyed the array of icy sodas and we both chose Grape Nehi.

Quickly we were swept into a game of tag. Some of the kids were already wet from swimming and others still wore shorts. Underneath our clothes, Dan and I had on our bathing suits and were ready to leap into the pool and get immersed in a game of Marco Polo.

The adults were busy with drinks and conversations and no one admonished us to be quieter, slower, or more polite. We were a band of glowing energy, sweating with the joy of freedom and racing to escape being IT. We were a burst of independence, throwing off our shorts and t-shirts and cannonballing into the pool, shrieking, splashing, and laughing.

After several hours, the women beckoned us over. We dropped onto the lawn and ate ravenously off drooping white paper plates loaded with baked beans, hot dogs, corn, cole slaw, and potato chips. Then we spit watermelon seeds at each other. Finally, we sated ourselves with rich chocolate cake.

By then, the fireflies flickered and glowed. My uncle handed out sparklers without even warning us to be careful. Those dangerous sulphury sparks thrilled us. We raced about, a sparkler in each hand, writing our names on the sky, streaking across the dewy grass, leaving a trail of smoldering light behind us.

At the end of the evening, my uncle set up the fireworks. We sat on blankets, this time with our families. We were smudged, sweaty, and stained with watermelon juice and dirt. I leaned against Mom and my brother snuggled next to Dad. As the fireworks spurted up into the sky, we pressed our hands against our ears, the noise and brilliant layers of light bursting around us.

“God bless America,” my father said.

“America,” the adults echoed, their voices hushed and reverent.

Only later, when I was older, did I realize the significance of the holiday: my relatives were all first generation Americans—and on that day, among others, they were grateful their parents had escaped the tyranny and religious persecution of Poland, Russia, and Hungary and had come to this welcoming land.

But that night, I was simply worn out from my own childlike version of independence. Dan and I leaned against our parents, fighting our tiredness, and let the sounds of freedom ring us to sleep.

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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Four Fine Ways to Keep Remembrances Blooming

How do you celebrate Mother’s Day  or Father’s Day when your parents are no longer living? As the day approaches, I think of my parents and look for ways to keep remembrances blooming. During the years, I’ve explored ways to feel close with my mother, father, and other loved ones who have passed on. Here are four of the actions that keep me connected.

Dress to Connect

When I feel lonely for Mom, I like to put on her black blouse emblazoned with silver sequins. When Mom wore this blouse, it signified she was going someplace elegant.  She accompanied it with a long black skirt and high heels. When I put on my ordinary black slacks and black tennis shoes, I imagine my mother shaking her head. “Don’t you have any better shoes, dear?” My mother prods me from beyond the grave, intoning,  “A little lipstick would be nice.” Here’s the lovely part of our post-death ritual: instead of bristling at her grooming suggestions, I see how she wished the best for me and fondly remember her love of dressing up.

Feed your Memories

I still love to eat and share my parents’ favorite foods. My brother, who has untold culinary abilities, has mastered Mom’s butterscotch brownies and he has improved on her chocolate chip cookie recipe. He often bakes those for family gatherings and sometimes even mails me a box of nostalgic homemade treats.  As for my dad, he particularly liked Planter’s Deluxe Nut Mix. He adored the cashews, but he didn’t want to spend the money to upgrade to all cashews. He preferred to pick out the deliciously rare morsels, leaving behind a plethora of peanuts, almonds, and hazelnuts. In his honor, I often buy a can of mixed nuts. Did you know that memorial cashews have no calories?

Tell their Stories

We all have heirloom family stories that anchor us in our history. My father liked to talk about his growing up days in the Canal Zone, in Colon, Panama.  My mother favored her time serving as an Army nurse in Iceland during World War II. These were the stories of my growing up years and I think of them every time someone talks about Iceland, Panama, the Canal, or WWII. I have written some of them down so I won’t forget them. When I tell one of my parents’ stories, I feel they are in the room, leaning forward, smiling, and listening with delight. I like to share these tales at family gatherings and I like to tell them to friends. I also like to invite other people’s legendary stories.

Continue the Conversation

Sometimes I go on a solitary walk and talk to my mother. She loved birds and I point out the robins, cardinals, and sparrows on the route. I also tell her about my grandchildren, my work, and I discuss any dilemmas I’m struggling with.  My father loved being in the water and I often commune with Dad when I’m swimming backstroke. I tell him entertaining things that are going on and talk to him about my dreams and big ideas. My parents are still good listeners and I picture them nodding proudly and cheering me on.

A version of this article originally appeared on MariaShriver.com

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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