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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Dementia Arts to Draw us Together

September’s Memory Cafe featured a lively team of educators from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Using the arts to draw us together, they  showed us the Chinese art form of painting pictures of bamboo.  About fifty of us gathered in the the library’s spacious lower level. Colorful plastic cloths covered our tables, making it easy to distinguish our drawing paper and painting supplies. All of us eagerly dipped our special bamboo brushes into the ebony paint and made short pushing movements, replicating segments of the plant’s stalk. Then our educators showed us drawings of bamboo foliage and we experimented with wispy thin lines of leaves.

“I’m glad we’re only using black watercolor,” one of the professional care partners told me. “All of us painting with the same color puts us on common ground.”
Our common ground continued as our teacher said, “Now, we’re going to pass out large sheets of paper.” We all oohed and aahed and let our strokes grow larger and more confident. At the end, each person created a design in a small wedge of clay, pressed the clay into a red stamp pad, and adorned the painting with our own personal “signature.”
Of course, all artists need nourishment and we had wonderful treats courtesy of Kansas City Medicine Partners, Kingswood, Partners in Primary Care, and Morningside Place.
Want to explore using arts to draw you together? Here are some tips fromConnecting in the Land of Dementia, inspired by Berna Huebner, co-director of the documentary, I Remember Better When I Paint.
• Try different types of art in different venues to see what resonates with your partner.

• To add extra meaning, connect the artistic activity with something in your partner’s past.

• Invite an intergenerational mixture of artists, from children, grandchildren, art students, and volunteers to join your partner and add encouragement. 

• Create a variety of art-related activities, including visiting galleries or looking at pictures from magazines, as well as painting, drawing or various media. 

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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Czech Mates in Dementia Care: Laughter Yoga in Prague

The table was spread with an array of Czech delicacies: apple strudel, special sandwiches with flowers of ham atop fresh baguettes, a bountiful tray of strawberries, grapes, and apple slices. 

“This is the way we welcome people here in Prague,” said Lucie Hajkova, social worker and coordinator of respite care for the Czech Alzheimer’s Society.

Ron and I were visiting the Gerontological Centre and the Czech Alzheimer’s Society, which are both housed in the same building. The two organizations work together to offer clients everything they need, from psychological counseling, to memory testing, to social work services, to healthcare. We came to learn and to present a laughter yoga session.

We gathered with staff members around the table to learn about the center, which was started in 1997 by Iva Holmerova, MD. along with Hana Janeckova, PhD. Hana was putting together training materials for caregivers when she was contacted by Alzheimer’s Disease International. They wanted to know more about her work and they invited her to an international conference in Jerusalem. That conference was a turning point. Hana left it inspired and determined to help Czech families that were dealing with dementia. She contacted Iva and both saw the need to offer education, diagnosis, support, and care for people living with dementia and their families in the Czech Republic. Today, both centers are flourishing.

We were impressed with the dementia services they offered, which included home care for people who need help with bathing, dressing, eating, exercise or more. The building holds a respite center. When families need renewal time, or when people living with dementia need extra care or healing time, they can stay in respite for up to a month. The Centre also hosts a day program that offers a variety of activities in a homey and comfortable setting, 

Even more impressive than the Society’s services were its staff. Each had a passion for this work, a love for those who are living with dementia, and a compassion for their families.  

We had a wonderful time sharing a laughing session at the day center—our first international facilitation. We sat in a beautiful circle of people living with dementia, staff, family,  and friends. We couldn’t have done it without our translator, Eliska, who captured the energy and essence of what we were saying. And once we all started laughing, we were beyond the constraints of language. Click here to experience a bit of laughter in Prague.

 

 

 

 

Photo Caption: 

Eliska Brouckova, psychologist, consultant/advisor for people with dementia and their care givers

Martina Matlova, Director

Petr Veleta, PhD, dancer, dance therapist

Marketa Splichalova, psychologist, consultant/advisor for people with dementia and their care givers

Eva Jarolimova, PhD, psychologist, consultant for people with dementia and their care givers

Hana Janeckova, PhD, co- founder of the Czech Alzheimer Society, head of governing board of Czech Alzheimer Society, University teacher, researcher

Lucie Hajkova, social worker, coordinator of respite care in homes of people with dementia.

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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Movies and Memories: Traveling the World Without Leaving Kansas City:

“I’ve traveled the world. Our family moved a lot when we were young,” one of our guests told us, at our August Movies and Memories program. She and her husband bent over our world map and stuck stars on some of the many places they’d lived. Another guest sighed when he looked at the map and saw Vietnam. He had served in the military there. A couple talked about living in Berlin when the Wall came down. 

Our Movies and Memories travel films included forays into Paris, Iceland, Capetown, and Seoul. 

“It was relaxing just watching the scenes from Paris,” said Ah’Lee Robinson, director of the Kansas City Boys and Girls Choirs. He and his singers treated us to an inspiring concert, warming us up for the films. 

“Oh dear, now I want to go to Iceland,” another guest said. 

In between clips, we passed around exotic spices for everyone to smell. At the end of the movies and memories adventure, everyone took home a special “Passport” booklet, created by the library’s Emily Cox, so they could record impressions and memories.  To experience the event, click here.

Here are some passport questions to discuss at home:

Share some travel memories.

What is one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever visited?

What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled?

What country has the best food?

How many of the US states have you visited?

Thanks to our wonderful volunteers, Sharon and Julie, who brighten our events by bringing treats, making popcorn, and making everyone feel so at home.

Thanks to Craig Eichelman, State Director, AARP, for helping us spread the word about this program.

We are so grateful for the continuing support from the Kansas City Public Library. They are amazing champions for people who are living with dementia and their care partners. They also provide scholarships for hard-working people whose higher education has been interrupted by life circumstances. Their community programs benefit early readers, job seekers, and people who are new to KC. Ron and I use their books and other services every week!

Please join us for our next adventure — Moana. This movie is so inspiring and great for all ages.

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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Celebrating Great Connectors Throughout the Dementia Journey: Music, Nature, and Laughter

When care partners gather and trade stories and ideas, there’s usually magic afoot. We felt that magic when we met with a group of family and professional care partners to celebrate great connectors throughout the dementia journey. We presented engaging ideas using music, nature, laughter and more.

Lisa Vetter, Director of Healthcare Sales & Marketing,  Santa Marta Senior Living Community, invited us to speak at an event announcing the community’s new care partner support group. The group is led by Jennifer Walker, RN, BSN, Clinical Community Liaison, Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care. Jennifer also facilitates the KC Memory Cafe and she is compassionate, informed, and smart. Most importantly, she has a fantastic sense of humor.

Ron and I shared ways to stay connected through singing and music, looking at works of art together, bringing nature indoors, and laughing. And our audience shared their experiences as well.  

Here’s a story about nature that inspired us.

Marcie took her mom, who was living with dementia, on a fascinating monthly outing: they drove out into the country to look at the full moon. Her mother didn’t talk much anymore, but she loved seeing the night sky and gazing at the magnificent moon. One evening, as the moonlight spread over the car, Mom began singing, When the moon comes over the mountain. Marcie had never heard the song before and her eyes filled with tears at hearing her mom sing so strongly and clearly. 

Here’s a story about the power of familiar music. Karen’s mom was a devout Catholic, living with dementia. Though there were many things she didn’t remember, including her daughter’s name, when she attended Sunday mass, she melodically sang every word of every hymn. 

We loved sharing with this group of dedicated and compassionate care partners, who were all seeking ways to stay connected. 

Here’s an extra tip from Connecting in the Land of Dementia:  When you want to boost energy and lift spirits, add a splash of laughter into your life. Look at a clock and say, “We’re going to laugh for 30 seconds,” and start ha ha ha-ing. Or pretend you’re talking on the phone and hearing a hilarious joke. Or warble out the Ha Ha Chorus by singing the Happy Birthday song in “ha ha ha” syllables. 

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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How Has Television Shaped Our Lives: Insights from Nick Haines, KCPT

How has television shaped our lives? Nick Haines, Executive Producer Public Affairs/News, at KCPT, helped us count the ways at our August Memory Cafe. Fifty people joined us for this witty and illuminating program, including some PBS favorites: Big Bird and the stars of Downton Abbey. Nick began by showing us a few of the 20 most iconic TV clips of our time, including the space landing, Johnny Carson’s farewell show, and the tragedy of 9-11.

Then we moved onto commercials. Does anybody remember when people dressed up to get on an airplane and domestic flights served hot food on real china dishes? How about a young Donald Trump  starring  in a Burger King commercial? The cafe crowed went crazy over  a white-coated MD, starting that he and his colleagues preferred Camel cigarettes. 

Nick had us guess the two most popular non-sports TV events. (Mash and Roots.)  And he set us laughing with tag lines from various products, such as M&M’s, Frosted Flakes, and  Alka Seltzer.   

Nowadays, people watch on so many venues and are often not conversant with the same shows. But during  our cafe, we were all tuned into the enjoyment of sharing laughter, memories, and ideas. Thanks to Nick for his great talk and to KCPT for all the marvelous programming and community work they do.

Click here to experience the Cafe

And thanks to all our teammates and community volunteers.

KCPT is one of the Kansas City Public Library’s many partners in programming. Our library is an amazing champion for people who are living with dementia and their care partners. They also provide scholarships for hard-working people whose higher education has been interrupted by life circumstances. Their programs benefit early readers, job seekers, and people who are new to KC. Ron and I use their books and other services every week!

 

 

 

You don’t need to be artistically inclined to enjoy our next cafe on September 21st. We hope you can join us. 

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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International Insights: Caring in Croatia

Even before Tomislav (Tom) Huić, Vice president of Alzheimer Croatia had a personal involvement with dementia, he was helping the Croatia Alzheimer’s Society with their marketing. As a professional marketer and co-founder of a successful ad agency, he wanted to help the fledgling, all-volunteer non-profit, and he often offered them his professional expertise. Then his mother began having memory issues and Tom became more involved. Today, he is one of the three full-time volunteers who run the 20-year-old agency.

We met with Tom at the Hemingway Bar and Cafe in Zagreb, Croatia, wanting to learn more about ways the society was educating and assisting people across the country and the region. 

“Every year, we offer a professional workshop,” he says. That workshop, plus donations, provides the Association’s only operating money. 

Tom understands the importance of collaboration and education. With a grant from the European Union, he and partners created dementia training materials for nurses. They presented the information to healthcare professionals in parts of Croatia and Slovenia. The programs were well received and he is working on presenting them in other parts of the region. 

Tom also created a partnership with pharmacists in Zagreb. When elders came in to pick up medications, they were invited to take  a short cognition exam. Sixty percent of the participants failed the test and they were given contact information for the Society. But only a handful of those contacted Tom and his team. 

“We still have stigma here,” Tom says. “Plus, many people mistakenly think memory impairment is a natural part of growing older.”

They are collaborating with nursing homes and with governmental health agencies to provide guidelines for memory care beds. 

No money. No budget. Lots of ideas. Too few people and too few finances to implement them. The task ahead of Alzheimer Croatia seems daunting. But Tom and his team are not daunted. They are educating family and professional care partners through a variety of pathways, offering much needed information and support.

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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Dementia Friendly Cafes: Inviting Creativity and Connection

       More than 10 years ago, Jytte Lokvig, PhD, was scanning the internet for additional information about dementia. On one of her Google searches she saw the words “Alzheimer’s Cafe” posted by Dr. Bere Miesen, who founded the first Alzheimer’s cafe in Leiden, the Netherlands in 1997. That phrase electrified her.  She leapt out of her chair, much to the dismay of her cat, who was cozily sleeping across her feet, and declared, “I am going to make that happen in the U.S.!” She’d been working with people who were living with dementia in community settings for some years, orchestrating art, music, craft and other meaningful projects. But she felt something was missing. That something, she realized, was engagement in the community.
        From that inspiration, Jytte created the original U.S. Alzheimer’s Cafe in Santa Fe, NM in 2008. Ten years later, there are more than 300 cafes in the US that invite creativity and connection through dementia friendly cafes.   
       Recently, Ron and I visited Jytte’s cafe.
       “The word cafe denotes relaxation, companionship, a place where someone can go in and out without judgement,” Jytte says.
       The Santa Fe Alzheimer’s Cafe is held in an accessible room in the Children’s Museum. Jytte designed her sessions for a small audience and offers a mixture of art projects, singing, jokes, unusual facts, pleasant conversation, and snacks. 
Empowering people to make choices is an important component of Jytte’s cafe: so many people living with dementia don’t have the opportunity to choose. As people arrived, Jytte invited them to choose from an array of healthy snacks. For the art project, she offered a rock or a plate to paint on. 
       “Would you like a round plate of a square one?” she asked.
She had laid down dark green plastic so people could easily see their white plates against the green background. She squeezed bright acrylic paints into palettes and everyone began painting. One guest painted with her care partner, an activity they often do at home. Another guest instantly incorporated a rock,  her palette,  and her paper plate into a fascinating and colorful montage. Her best friend, Susan, delighted us all by bringing her African Grey Parrot, Cochiti, who perched on her head during the session and happily posed for photos and ate dried goldenberries.       
       While we painted, we talked, about art, our lives, the bird, and movies. We all loved movies and Susan told us that one of their Santa Fe theaters offered care partners and people living with dementia two tickets for the price of one. That is an example of one of the fascinating tidbits we learned at the cafe. (We are going to learn more about that program and see which of our wonderful theaters in KC want to offer that discount.)
       “This intimate setting and small group creates a sense of family,” Jytte told us as we hugged everyone goodbye.
She was right. After only two hours, we felt connected to each of the attendees and we were sorry to have to part.  But we were inspired to return home to Kansas City, with fresh ideas for our Cafe.
To set up a cafe atmosphere for an art project in your own home:
  • Arrange a few snacks.
  • Invite a guest or two, if you wish. This is an intergenerational project. 
  • Put a brightly colored plastic covering on the table.
  • Squeeze some acrylic paint into a palette. Or use tempura or water colors.
  • Offer a choice between two brushes.
  • Offer a choice between two canvases: a cardboard paper plate, a river rock, paper, or other.
  • Relax and let the painting unfold.
  • If your loved ones need a little help, you can paint together. Or you can rest their hand on yours, while you paint to get them used to the movement of the brush.
  • Appreciate the art by commenting on the color, the design, the shapes. Don’t ask them to identify the art: enjoy it as it is. 
  • Weave conversation into your time together. 

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For more information about Jytte and her work, visit :
Want to set up your own cafe? Consider Jytte’s 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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A Stirring Tea Party Brings People Together

It took us an hour to prepare for our festive tea party and we all enjoyed every moment of it. Jennifer Walker, RN, BSN, Clinical Community Liaison, Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care, knows how to throw a party. She brought pastel table cloths, a charming complement of paisley-printed cups and plates, along with tiered cookie holders.  

For the ladies, she offered colorful fascinators (small hats you can clip into your hair) and bright boas. For the men, she had bow ties and top hats. She also brought the ingredients for tea time sandwiches and a variety of cheeses, veggies and meats. Kathi Michaels and Heidi Underwood from Leawood Gardens, and Lainey Berry, from the Law Office of Love & Blomquist, generously provided an array of baked treats, including legendary cookies from McClain’s Bakery and delectable lemon squares. 

Our guest speaker, Emilie Jackson from Emilie’s French Teas, shared information about the international history, social rituals, and health benefits that come with sipping a cup of tea. After her talk, everyone set to work creating cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, with the crusts cut off, of course.  We were able to smell several different teas and each person chose a favorite to savor. The food and drink were delicious but even better were the conversations. Each table got into discussions about tea, coffee, life, and more.  One guest enjoyed a tete a tete in French with Emilie, who is originally from France. 

The gathering was so much fun and so engaging, with all the aromas, tastes, and textures, that none of us wanted to leave.  It took us even longer to clean up after the stirring tea party, because we had to help eat the leftovers!

Click on this link for the inside story on our tea party: Memory Cafe, Tea Party

Here are a few of our favorite tea quotes:

Where there’s tea there’s hope. Arthur Wing Pinero

If you are cold, tea will warm you; if you are too heated, it will cool you; If you are depressed, it will cheer you; If you are excited, it will calm you.  William Ewart Gladstone

I like the pause that tea allows. Waris Ahluwalia

A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water. Eleanor Roosevelt

Please join us for our next cafe when the great Nick Haines brings us the inside story on KC local news. We can’t wait!

Our team, ready for tea

Thanks to our sponsors:

The Kanas City Public Library

The Alzheimer’s Association

The Creativity Connection, Deborah Shouse and Ron Zoglin

Kansas City Hospice and Palliative Care

Arts & Aging KC

KC FilmFest

Prairie Elder Care

The Villages of Jackson Creek Memory Care

Dennis and Carol McCurdy, Community Volunteers

 

Please email Deborah at myinfo@pobox.com if you need additional information.

And, we hope you can join us for our next events.

 

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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One-Minute Tips to Boost Your Happiness

I am thrilled to be a contributor to Chicken Soup’s new book, The Empowered Woman. I’m going to be featured on publisher Amy Newmark’s podcast on May 25, where I talk to her about my “empowered” story and about the dementia journey.  Click here to listen to the podcast.  Amy is very inspiring and I wanted to share some of her One-Minute Tips to Boost Your Happiness,

Speaking of empowered women, Amy Newmark left her high-powered career as a Wall Street analyst to take over the Chicken Soup series. After years of immersing herself in true stories of miracles, lessons learned, and hopes fulfilled, she wrote her own book,Simply Happy. Here are some of her “One-Minute Tips to Boost Your Happiness.”

Amy’s Insights for Care Partners

Counting Blessings Adds Up to Happiness

“The gateway to happiness is counting your blessings,” Amy says. “If you’re not grateful for what is in your life, how can you be happy?”

Scientific studies have proven that people who are actively grateful are happier, healthier, and more productive. Plus, they get along better with family members, colleagues, and others.

“You can easily learn gratitude,” Amy says.

To start, each day jot down three things for which you’re grateful. Strive for three different ideas each day. At the end of the month, you’ll have documented nearly a hundred blessings.

“Writing and speaking your gratefulness changes your perception,” Amy says. “You start looking for good things during the day. You can share your blessings with your partner and encourage him to consider his own.”

Some people drop the blessings into a box, and then read them at the end of the day or the end of the month.

Smiling Serves You

Smile even when you don’t feel like it. Often, when you smile, people smile back. This boosts everyone’s spirits and energy. If they don’t give you a grin, it doesn’t hurt you.

“Your smile will change the way people react to you,” Amy says.

Zipping from Zero to 60 Brings Joy

Set a timer for 60 seconds and zip through a task you’ve been putting off. File the insurance policy that sprawls across the dining room table. Unload the dishwasher. Take your vitamins.

“Doing even one of those tasks every day will lighten your spirits,” Amy says.

Dropping Perfection and Embracing Your Own Abilities

Abandon your pursuit of perfection and strive for your own version of excellence.

“When you try to be perfect, you can’t get a lot done,” Amy says. “For most of us, it’s better to do five things at 90 percent than one thing at 100 percent.”

I love Amy’s final piece of wisdom:

“Treat yourself nicely,” she says. “Use the fragrant soap you save for guests. Indulge in a rich bit of good chocolate or a fresh crisp apple. Put the good sheets you save for company on your own bed.

Give yourself a tiny pleasure every day.”

For more happiness boosts, read Simply Happy. 

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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