Self-Care In The Chaos Of Caregiving

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Today I want to introduce you to June Duncan, the author of the upcoming book The Complete Guide to Caregiving.  It's due for release in 2018 and offers support for friends and family members who have taken on the responsibility of caring for their loved ones. She is also the co-creator of Rise Up for Caregivers as well as the primary caregiver to her 85 year old mother.  Yes, it's all things caregiver and caregiving!  She is here today with a peak into the world of self-care with some handy tip to any new caregivers just touching down in the trenches.  Take a moment to read her words and suggestions and please comment with any thoughts or feedback.  We all recognize the need for more "village" support and therefore we  would love to hear from you on tactics that you feel do and don't work.  Thanks in advance for your participation and thank you June for embarking on the task of creating this much needed resource!

Cue June:


Image courtesy of Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Taking care of the needs of a senior loved one is stressful, and many of us learn the hard way that life needs to be balanced to be healthy and happy.  The good news is that a lot of other people are in the same boat, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone.  It’s vital that you don’t neglect your own health, or you won’t be able to perform well as a caregiver.  You can reach the breaking point if you aren’t careful. 

You’re not alone

Americans are living longer, and as a result, more of us are providing supportive care to elderly family and friends than ever before.  Mayo Clinic notes that 80 percent of long-term caregiving is performed by informal caregivers.  If you are providing care to an elderly loved one, you are at risk for caregiver stress.  No matter how much you love someone, tending to their needs and watching them decline is a heavy burden.  Many times, the caregiver’s own health suffers, reducing the ability to function in many ways.  Watch for these signs that you could be overdoing it:

●     Moodiness, irritability or angering easily

●     Significant changes in weight

●     Changes in sleep habits

●     Feeling exhausted

●     Feeling overwhelmed or anxious

●     Feeling sad or depressed

●     Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy

●     Frequent headaches, pain or illness

●     Substance abuse; drinking too much or abusing drugs, including prescriptions

Self-care

It’s critical to learn to take care of your own needs and embrace self-care.  Caregiving is demanding.  Without a self-care plan, your mental and physical health can decline.  Make your burden lighter and recognize you are doing it for both yourself and your loved one.

●     Reach out.  Don’t try to do everything yourself.  Ask family members and friends to give you a break.  Think of some options and let your helper pick something to tackle, like taking your senior on an errand or for a walk, or preparing a meal once a week. 

●     Stay connected.  Engage in a support group.  Set aside time to spend with friends, and don’t become isolated.

●     Be realistic.  Make lists and prioritize. Do what you can when you can.

●     Take care of your health.  See your personal physician, and don’t put off your routine exams.  Get enough sleep, eat right and exercise. 

Finding time

You’re probably thinking to yourself that you are already maxed out; how can you squeeze in time for doctor visits, much less exercising?  The AARP offers some great advice on organizing your schedule and realizing these goals.

●     Schedule it.  Make arrangements for respite, whether from an agency or family members.

●     Organize and communicate.  Review schedules and commitments ahead of time with those sharing the caregiving burden.  Make sure there are no gaps in coverage, and that things like appointments are coordinated. 

●     Divide duties.  List responsibilities and delegate who will do what.  Make sure everyone understands who handles insurance issues, who orders prescriptions, and so on.  This eliminates concerns of schedule gaps and of duplicating efforts.

Physical well-being

Exercising is vital to your self-care routine.  According to the professionals at the Mental Health Foundation, we need to keep moving.  Activity is good for your bones, muscles and flexibility, and will also improve your mental health and well-being.  You can be active through household chores, running errands or organized exercise.  It doesn’t take long.  According to the American Psychological Association, “Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.”

A home gym

A small home gym is a practical addition to a caregiver’s lifestyle.  It’s inexpensive, you only need a little elbow room, and you can squeeze in a workout when it’s convenient.  A handful of well-chosen pieces of equipment, like a yoga mat, dumbbells and resistance bands, will put you well on your way to fitness with minimal space, time and money.

Meet your own needs

Without tending to your own needs, your mental and physical health will suffer, and you can’t be as effective in your role.  Develop a self-care plan, get organized, manage your time well and make exercise convenient.  By taking these steps, your life will be more balanced, healthier, and you’ll be a better caregiver.

Author: June Duncan


Ok, now its your turn!  Do you feel your own health suffering?  Do you have a self-care regimen?  Are you meeting your own needs or can you express the obstacles that stand in your way?  Many of these things are easier said than done so it's important we share tips and strategies for tangible ideas that work.  The caregiver community is growing exponentially yet public resources remain scarce.  Truly addressing challenges will only come from the voices living them so lets hear it!  I'll go first.  The best thing I have done for myself within the world of caregiving/self-care was to create a schedule.  It sounds silly in that the idea of creating a schedule is obvious however, personal circumstances warrant personal tailoring for something to stick and sticking is the hard part!  You can read about it here if you are curious but now it's your turn.  Do tell!

Pumpkin Hand Pies With Fresh Whip Cream

First, I just have to say, I have no idea how I came across this song, but it couldn't be more fitting, especially if we are talking about my Dad. I haven't been posting many recipes because the senior I feed is increasingly picky and often refuses to eat what I make.  It's hard to run a food website called "How To Feed A Senior" when your muse snubs the goods. But... not when it comes to pie! Thanksgiving was a feast and the first leftovers to disappear where these little pumpkin hand pies. I'm honestly not surprised given his tendency towards sweets and their hand-held convenience.  As his dementia's been worsening, he's slowly losing his mobility and competency with utensils.

Pumpkin hand pies with fresh whip cream.

Pumpkin hand pies with fresh whip cream.

As for making these pies, just know you have options.  I used this recipe for the dough.  It utilizes cream cheese which compliments pumpkin but also contributed to a soft pastry crust that I knew would be easily eaten. As with many seniors, aging teeth or dentures can be a real deterrent when it comes to food so the softer the better.  You can however use store bought crust if you are short on time or seek out a basic pie crust recipe. Like I said, you have options!

More pumpkin hand pies...

More pumpkin hand pies...

As for the filling... I roasted a Cinderella Pumpkin earlier in the week and wanted to use it up.  You can absolutely use canned pumpkin which might allow you to skip over pre-baking the filling (see below). Using the fresh pumpkin was much too runny in my case and if it's too wet, it will damage the dough.  Don't be afraid to bake the filling first if necessary.

Filling Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • splash of cream

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. (If your filling is thick then you can immediately fill your hand pies. I used fresh pumpkin and the filling was very wet. I pre-baked the filling in mini muffin cups for 15 minutes until the custard solidified and used that as my filling.)
  2. Roll-out your dough and cut out circles with a biscuit cutter if you have one. (I used a pint glass to cut-out circles.)
  3. Roll out each circular cut-out to about 1/8 inch thickness and top one side with some filling.
  4. Wet the outer edges of the dough with a little water, fold over, and seal the edges by pressing down with a fork.
  5. Brush tops with an egg wash and poke a few holes to vent steam in each one.
  6. Bake at 375 degrees F for 20-40 minutes or until the dough becomes a golden brown.
  7. After baking, cool on a rack.

When it comes to the fresh whip cream just add a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a teaspoon of powdered sugar to some heavy whipping cream and whip on high until stiff peaks form.  Then dip the hand pies in it until your hearts content!

How To Cope With Caregiver Guilt

Life is what we make of it, right?  This is what we are told.  That if we push through time with the right amount of vigor, we can achieve our dreams with a full heart and a happy ending.  But rarely do these tales mention entrapment via circumstance.  Seldom do they reflect that choice is usually conditional. 

White Pumpkin Recipe 1: Curry pumpkin soup with barley, fresh tomatoes, scallions, cilantro and coconut milk.

White Pumpkin Recipe 1: Curry pumpkin soup with barley, fresh tomatoes, scallions, cilantro and coconut milk.

As caregivers we are often accustomed to squelched hope and rarely do these stolen dreams leave us clues for reparations.  However, a passage through loss, be it people or dreams, is never short on perspective.  Hindsight hurts for all the things we didn’t see before.  The pain doesn’t stem from whom or what is now gone; it’s a pain from recognizing what we had, and the failure then, to act.  It’s all the missed opportunities we can’t get back, and learning in the now, how to sit with forever. These are the seeds of our guilt and no one else can help us sow them.

White Pumpkin Recipe 2: Pumpkin paratha with cumin seeds and cilantro.

White Pumpkin Recipe 2: Pumpkin paratha with cumin seeds and cilantro.

Caregiver guilt is akin to a wet blanket and industry insiders are quick to call for its disposal. It’s heavy, burdening one’s mental health, and hardly the stuff of optimism that dominates the world of self-care.  But in truth that blanket, wet as it may be, is constructed of fibers, entwined with layers that represent so much more than what most outsiders perceive.  It’s a compass that governs our future selves.  It’s not to be cast off, but rather something to heed, as it provides a rare peek at our unmasked emotion.  It’s the truest reflection of the stranger we keep inside.

Sometimes the only thing that’s different is our perception of what ”is”.  And sometimes the only way to see that is to listen...
White Pumpkin Recipe 3: Warm white pumpkin salad with barley, kale, cilantro, pepitas, and lime.

White Pumpkin Recipe 3: Warm white pumpkin salad with barley, kale, cilantro, pepitas, and lime.

Guilt doesn’t have to imply flawed. It can be embraced for growth even when it doesn’t fit well with the mainstream social construct.  We can’t be afraid to feel guilt’s weights.  We’ve been carrying it around long enough for it to become us. It's in our fiber.  And to quote the song from this previous post: "it's in my honey, it's in my milk".  Why not give it pause and listen to what it’s saying.  There is more to it than just the burden of weight.  It has a message and needs some breathing room to develop it's voice. 

Just breathe… 

Things might begin to look different, even sound different, even when circumstance remains the same.

Tips For Creating A Caregiver Schedule

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Here's the pattern. I wake-up optimistic and end the day collapsed in defeat.  I wake-up every morning like your neighbor's annoying dog, brimming with pep and vim, only to feel that enthusiasm fade into disappointment.  I know, I know... It's annoying to be a morning person but I love the idea of a fresh start and relish the chance to begin again.  Who doesn't love a do-over? 

Mornings are my romance. They embrace that do-over love story but unfortunately, somewhere around noon I start picking fights with the day.  I develop a restlessness and it starts encroaching on my mood, echoing reminders that today is just like yesterday and it will likely end in rout.  True to form, it often does.   Luckily, I've never been good at grudges so come morning, that bad attitude is nothing but a bad dream, until noon, and then here we go again...  It's cyclical. I know this, and yet it's been impossible to break.

We all have habits we're not proud of but habits themselves are telling of something more deeply seeded in our character.  They are these little comfort zones that will never change without effort.  Well, good news! For the past month I can honestly say I have been putting in the effort and I feel a shift.  The failures are still abundant but the cycle has been disrupted.  There is a freshness that's emerging for the first time in years. 

Caregiving (and I imagine parenting) is so all consuming that its immersive nature leaves little room for planning and perspective.  Yet, in order to maintain your own sense of identity, it's absolutely necessary to find an approach that works for you.  There are too many "experts" ready to thrust their opinions and suggestions your way but for advice to feel useful it has to resonate to stick.  Our situations are often much too personal for peripheral advice to feel helpful.  If anything, it complicates things.  It's one more voice in your head suggesting shoulds and shouldn'ts.  It ends up as more noise and ultimately little gets accomplished.

Boom!  Next thing you know it's two years later and your facing those same demons.  That was me until about a month or so ago when I came-up with a plan.  Not just any plan.  My own freakin' plan!  My own, nonsensical sense-making plan to provide a strategy for getting my head above water and my feet out of the mud cause I can't take one more day of slogging through the fact that this role... this unforgiving caregiving job, is what's become of my life!  

So here is what I did.  I spent several weeks prior to plan implementation, just coming up with the pieces.  I took into account the types of tasks necessary for this role as well as personal things I wanted to include but were being neglected.  I compartmentalized them all within the standard Monday- Friday work week with regard to weekends and themed each day. Instead of having one massive to-do list, I actually have seven.  I know that sounds crazy but stay with me.   It's not really seven lists but a single list that I add to and rotate through the week prioritized by theme.  These are the themes: 

Monday- Business/Administrative Tasks

This is the mail, the bills, paperwork, phone calls, etc... All the stuff that's keeping the household afloat. It's the kind of stuff made of modern nightmares. Taking care of business on behalf of another person is an administrative circus. It's time consuming and it's important and it's the last thing I ever want to be doing so I put it right up front so I can get it out of the way and put the dread to bed for the week. I also deal with my own such affairs on this day too. I think of it as a household business day but only for that day. This kind of stuff will bleed over if you let it so don't! Just do it on Mondays and move on.

Tuesday- Education/Research/Learning Tasks

On Tuesday's we go to the library and I check-out books and movies for my dad. These are critical to the success of the other days of the week as they act as excellent pacifiers when I'm preoccupied with other things. Additionally, I designate research type stuff on this day. Things like finding additional senior resources or Youtubing how to fix the dryer, or scowering Pintrest for a new recipe... Those tasks I prioritize on this day because they require some investigating at their essence they're educational. I also make a point of reading the paper on Tuesdays as a way to better understand what is happening in the outside world. Clueing into to what's going on "out there" helps with decision making on the home front. Everything from health care, to the real estate market, to the new fiduciary rules, and the pending tax reform all provide intel on how the "system" works. This is important because the system cannot support the needs that exist in elderly care and it's falling on the shoulders of caregivers and crippling them in the process. As a caregiver, I need to know what's coming. I'm already at the point of adrenal fatigue so the last thing I need is another surprise. It's also increasingly important to understand the severity of this problem to assess your personal strengths and weaknesses. There are many layers to this stuff and I feel you really need to know yourself so you know when to ask for help.

  • My tip here is to play to your strengths and pay for your weaknesses.

Wednesday- Core Activities

It's the center of week so why shouldn't it represent the center of my life? It's all the things I love doing but sacrifice for the sake of excuses. So now, on Wednesdays, all the things I've wanted to do but never seem to prioritize have an official spot in the calendar, smack dab in the middle of everything, right where they belong. For me this consists of spoon carving, bread making, knife sharpening, and other crafty endeavors that reflect my passions and enable me to retain my sense of identity. Caregiving is all consuming and if you don't drive a wedge into it for the sake of the things you love, you will lose yourself. The caregiving world is a vacuum and you must protect what's important.

Thursday- Community/Outreach

Every Thursday I help my dad make a phone call to someone he knows. He can hardly speak in full sentences but he lights up at the sound of a familiar voice which is enough to tell me this activity is a must. We also try and get out of the house. We run small errands. We go to the bank or the hardware store or if the suns not blazing hot, we might stop by a park. This is a chance for us to be out and engaging in the public sphere. It's a day of outside stimulus. It's typically no longer than an hour or two but upon returning he's often tired and takes a nap. I then set about working on other such "community" matters like initiating emails, writing thank you letters, networking/marketing type stuff... It's really nothing too spectacular. I think what gives it meaning is that it's proactive outreach rather than just responding to things. It's also a pretty decent mix of my dad's world and mine and it's actually kinda fun to think about community in this intentional way.

Friday- Clean-out/Downsize

The time will come where I'll one day have to sell our house and the surplus of belongings will have to be dealt with. I can say I have truly turned this place around but still, there is a ton stuff. I've moved enough times prior to living here to know packing-up means you typically can't take everything. So, on Fridays, I try to focus on collecting things to donate, list on Ebay or Offer-up, or just straight-up purge depending. This in truth is time consuming. Taking photos and creating ads for stuff begs to wonder what your time is really worth and I think this question can only be answered by those in the trenches. For me personally, this is a solo mission. If I think too much on what I'm physically doing, I become angry and frustrated that I've succumbed to hawking goods that aren't even my mine! It feels like a burden. But, a little bit one day a week feels manageable and with time, you'll notice improvements.

Saturday- FREE DAY

There is no theme for this day. You can use it however you want. If you didn't manage to tackle something from your list earlier in the week, you can do it on this day, or you can make plans with a friend, or whatever you feel like doing. I don't hold myself to anything on this day. I leave it to desire...

Sunday- Prep Day!

This is for whatever needs to happen to prepare for the coming week. It typically includes getting groceries, cleaning common areas, doing laundry, reviewing the above schedule, and making a big family meal that will provide a day or two of leftovers. It's mostly chores but the kind of stuff that feels like we are off to a strong start. And it's important to feel that! Caregiving often feels defeating so having alignment with positive momentum is important.

Then repeat...

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.
— Maria Robinson

As for implementing this schedule I list things forward.  What I mean is that as new tasks pop into mind, I list them on the most applicable day for the following week.  For example, if I need to pick-up a new prescription for my dad or have the tires rotated on the car, I schedule those things on the next available Thursday because in my mind, those tasks reflect community  engagements.  If I want to try a new recipe or sew some flour sacks, I note it as a Wednesday task where I leave room for the pursuit of craft.  

This themed schedule approach is not a 100% cure-all but it has been a significant game changer for feeling more control when managing responsibilities.  It has worked so well I've even adopted a similar approach for exercise and self-care which I can tell you about some other time if anyone is interested but for now this will have to do.  And I hope it's a concept that might work for others feeling overwhelmed.  The good news is that it's flexible.  You can theme the days in a way that works for you and construct a better sense of fluidity when it comes to "how" you are going to get all the things done.

Good luck and let me know how it goes if you try something like this.  Also, please, please, please let me know of any methods or tips that have helped you structure your caregiving time.  The "how" of it all still feels impossible on some days so any suggestions are much appreciated!

Grieving The Loss Of A Partner

For those of you that have lost a partner... 

Not just any partner.  The partner.  The one that you can't let go of and in many ways you never will.  Cause why would you?  One is one and one only.  Don't let go.  Move along but never let go.  Such tragedies represent life's finest achievements. You won at love...

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Hold tight!

Recipes For Life

It's exhausting to carry a heavy heart and never put it down. You start to wonder what it holds, examining which parts are disposable and unnecessary or even replaceable.  Everything is becoming murky.  Everything feels like a mix of tragedy and destruction in the wake of natural disasters, nuclear threats, terrorism, and politics.  Its never felt like a more important time to rise to the occasion and stand up for what you believe.  But what do you believe? 

We are all hurting.  Circumstances aside, I think it's safe to say there is a collective hurt but now what?!  I've been stewing in my own misfortune long enough to realize there is no rescue committee for your life and if you want to feel better you have to do better.  There is no recipe or instruction book on how to pick-up the pieces. You just start picking them up.  Put things together, create piles, salvage what you can and move on.  There is no greater leader right now than you and there is no better time than now.  Ready?

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PS- This is a green pea curry soup with house croutons and chives, topped with a drizzle of garam masala brown butter.  You don't need a recipe, just initiative. ;)

Cinnamon Rolls

These cinnamon rolls don't exactly represent my dietary belief in "how to feed a senior" but you know... Life is for living!  Items like these gooey cinnamon rolls feed happiness and I think that's just as important as nutrition when it comes to living a good life.  We need to indulge more in simple pleasures.  That's been a real thing for me lately.  Simple pleasures...  I keep an eye out, trying to take note of when I happen upon one and I'm often surprised at their ubiquity.  Sometimes observing one turns into a slew many and I feel a wave of gratitude for this "time" and that doesn't quite fit the stereotype of the caregiver demise.

Caregiving can feel much like purgatory but I'm often taken aback at the moments I catch myself quite content with my baking, gardening, and crafting. I'm frequently bitter at all the moments this experience has stolen from me but its been long enough now that I've come to accept the terms.  There's no going back to the days of what was.  There's only forward. And in this march, I've grown deeper into my hobbies.  This journey is cultivating skills that only come with time and for that I am grateful.

Ingredients

For the rolls:

  • 3 cups flour + more for kneeding
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water

The filling:

  • 1/2 stick of melted butter
  • 3/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp of cinnamon (or even more to taste preference)

The frosting:

  • 1/2 cup of softened cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp softened butter
  • 1/8 cup of powdered sugar (or more or less per taste)
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Combine all the ingredients for the rolls into a large bowl and mix to combine. Add a dusting of extra flour as necessary to absorb moisture and work into a manageble dough ball.
  2. Turn dough ball out onto a floured surface and kneed for about 10 minutes adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.
  3. After the dough is well combined and you are done kneeding, lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in it and give it a swirl so the dough has been lightly oiled. This will keep it from sticking to the bowl later.
  4. Cover the bowl and let rise for about 1 hour or until it's doubled in size.
  5. While the dough rises prep the frosting.
  6. Place all the frosting ingredients in a bowl and combine with a mixer till all ingredients are well incorporated (be careful not to over mix).
  7. In another small bowl combine the brown sugar and cinnamon for the filling and set aside.
  8. When the dough has doubled in size, dump it out onto a floured surface.
  9. Roll it out into a rectangular shape roughly 1/2 inch thick.
  10. Drizzle the melted butter on top and brush it to cover the top leaving an inch on all sides.
  11. Sprinkle the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture evenly over the buttered area.
  12. Starting with a long side, roll the dough up into a long dough snake (Dough snake? Is that a thing?).
  13. Cut the dough into 2 inch pieces, discarding the two end pieces that lack the filling.
  14. Place the rolls cut-sides up into a buttered pan, nestling them next to eachother but leaving room for them to rise more.
  15. Cover and let rest for about 30 minutes
  16. Meanwhile begin preheating the oven to 375 F degree.
  17. After 30 minutes and the rolls have swollen in size, place in the oven and bake for 30-35ish minutes until the tops turn golden brown and the inside tempurature reaches 160 degrees F.
  18. After baking scoop spoonfuls of the frosting on top while the rolls are hot.
  19. Wait a few minutes and let the frosting melt a little then spread it around the tops in sheer decadence.
  20. Next, give most of these away so you don't die from a binge eating bender... ;)

A Twig's Life

I have a pretty big stick pile.

Leaf litter is slowly starting to accumulate around the house because I have "ideas".  I have lots of ideas...  Like any good hoarder, I see potential in scraps and find myself defending their storage.  As long as I do something with them, then they amount to more than trash matter, right? Or that's what I tell myself.  The truth is, I have a vision and that vision is generously being fostered by the fine folks at Knoll Farm where I am proud to announce I've been awarded a Better Selves Fellowship spot this August!  I am beyond excited!!!!!

My fingers are crossed that I make it to this Vermont refuge.  You never know the challenges when it comes to dementia caregiving, and deciding now that I will attend, will ultimately be determined in the hours, maybe even in the minutes before my departure.  But for fun, lets just go with it and assume I am going.  I am going!!! 

The fellowship is a nurtured self study of sorts.  Everyone attending will be on their own journey yet together, as a community, we will help each other achieve our goals.  My goal will be spoon related but more specifically I want to focus on carving.  And I don't just mean technique, although, I do hope to acquire new skills.  I want dive deeper into the other aspects of carving like knife care and sharpening but also the spiritual side.  I want to explore the intention, the meditation... 

There is something healing in the process of making a tool with your own hands.

I've long thought carving was meditative.  There is something healing in the process of making a tool with your own hands.  It's a placeholder for empowerment, slowly revealing that applied effort produces results and that ultimately, you can in fact do whatever you set your mind to.  It's so easy to surrender to hopelessness but the act of carving always provides a renewed perspective.  With each shaving you are reminded that you're closer than you think, a small echo in your head, akin to a mantra, tells you "keep going".  

As the shape begins to reveal itself, so do all the metaphors.  The "handle" usually appears first.  It's the comfort zone in skill development but then you get to the "neck" and the "bowl".  As with any neck, it's fragile.  You must maneuver delicately or risk breaking it, and I'm reminded of the similarities between these moments and life.  You go on thinking you have a "handle" on things only to realize at some point, your burdens are nearing a breaking point.  It (or you) might snap under the stress without care.  It's a reminder to nurture sensitive areas, a case not to neglect self-care... Then you get to the "bowl".  Perhaps you jump around while carving the spoon but I find the bowl to be one of that last areas of attack.  My students often avoid it till the end.  There is a different technique involved and it requires a different knife but non-the-less it's a critical component to making a spoon a spoon.  It's actually the single most identifiable trait of the spoon yet on the carver's journey, it's often left to the end.  

It's always an interesting pause at this point.  Questions arise as to what things we are avoiding in life?  What single task, if just accomplished, would make a considerable impact in how our days are lived?  What techniques or tools are missing so you can move beyond this block? Wait. Are we talking mental block or block of wood?  It's hard to keep up with the narratives...

I wish I could explain better the thoughts I have on this whole topic.  It's hard to write about carving and a general summery feels impossible.  I have so much to say but can't seem to organized the words for a reader and partly I think the words escape me because so much feeling is at play.  So much is left unsaid here and it's a huge part of why I will do whatever it takes to get to the Knoll Farm refuge and participate in the Better Selves Fellowship.  I know something there is waiting for me.  The mantra keeps telling me "just come"...

 

 

Dark House

I can only speak for myself when I say that the desire to produce anything personal, at this point stems from the utter frustration of maintaining a life that prioritizes other people's priorities.  Nothing feels like it's for myself. I spend my days picking-up the crumbs of a life in regression and hope it amounts to something meaningful.  I'm not sure that even makes sense but you know what? NOTHING MAKES SENSE!

Can you feel my rage?!  I am angry!!!  I am angry that every single day I spend an absorbent amount of time cleaning-up after my dad, understanding his insurance, watching his "shows", paying his bills, and running his errands.  These things are not for me!  Just like your office job is likely not for you.  But the grudge here is that you get to go home after your crappy day to a house that you keep for you, upholding your lifestyle, consuming your preference in media, enjoying your version of downtime...  Well, there is no down time here.  Not in the way that bodes well for sanity.  The stress fractures are everywhere and the cracks are slowly giving way...

 

 

Survivorship

It's been two years now...

en·dur·ance

inˈd(y)o͝orəns,enˈd(y)o͝orəns/

noun

  1. the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way. "she was close to the limit of her endurance" synonyms: toleration, tolerance, sufferance, forbearance, patience, acceptance, resignation, stoicism

adjective

  1. denoting or relating to a race or other sporting event that takes place over a long distance or otherwise demands great physical stamina. "the annual 24-hour endurance race"
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You Are A Survivor

The bits of you that are broken, the bits of you that are damaged, do not see them that way.
Instead see them as slowly being filled with beautiful experiences and truths you have learned from the damage, the equivalent of lacquered gold.
I want you to remember you are not a broken thing. Instead, you are a human full of incredible and wonderful experience, made of the same things swords and diamonds are made of.
You are a survivor, my darling, and I salute you for everything you have been through, and for making the universe so proud, so very proud of what you have become.
~ Nakita Gill

Cream Of Asparagus Soup

First you have to set the mood with this sound track I provided for you below. I suggest cracking a window and letting a fresh breeze roll in.  It's officially spring and we're all probably long over due for a deep breath and an even longer exhale.

Ok, now you can dive into this recipe...

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 3 shallots chopped
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 lb asparagus, ends trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces, reserving 1 stalk for garnishing
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp toasted walnuts, chopped
  • croutons (optional)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a heavy pot melt the butter.
  2. Saute the shallots with the thyme until they soften and begin to brown.
  3. Add the stock a little at a time, and mix it well.
  4. Then add the asparagus and bring the pot to low simmer.
  5. When the pot starts to simmer add the lemon juice (This will help retain the bright green color of the asparagus as it cooks).
  6. Simmer for about 10 minutes or so until the asparagus have softened and then blend with an emersion blender (or carefully in a blender after its cooled) until smooth.
  7. Stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve and garnish with croutons, walnuts, asparagus, etc. You have creative license here!

My dad pretty much runs the show around here and I'm getting quite the education on all forms of classic entertainment.  Dean Martin has risen to the top!  Mr. Martin and  some good ol' Andy Griffith...  Two guys I had no idea were after my own heart!

 

 

Let's Build A Dream

Complete this sentence: "When I grow old I...".

It's common to hear "When I grow-up I..." but when was the last time you heard someone talk about their desires for old age. When was the last time you looked far enough into the future so you could see past retirement. I want to know about that version of you. More importantly I want to know more about that version of myself. So, instead of some goals for 2017 I'm setting them for 2047. Let's tack on 30 years and make a daydream for that person. 

When I grow old I'll have long white hair like my mom did. I will live in a rural, small cabin with a small footprint with my love who looks as handsome as the day we met even with the wrinkles. I will be a master gardener and a bee keeper. I will be able to get up off the ground without help and still split my own wood for the oven. The house will smell of fresh bread and the hours will pass with hobbies and craft that reflect a skill that can only be acquired with practice and time. I will have learned patience. I'll be both flexible and strong for my age. I won't be on any medications and I will cook for my friends. I'll take outdoor showers, make up my own sacred rituals, and connect more to the earth than ever before as it will await to receive me in rest.

Cheers!

Clementine + Walnut Tea Cake With Honey

Just this...

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp clementine zest
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/8 cup heavy cream
  • 3 round slices of clementine
  • 1/8 cup juice from clementine
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease a bread pan and lay your clementine rings in the bottom
  3. Take two bowls and in one add all the wet ingredients and in the other add the dry. Mix both sepretly then combine.
  4. Carefully pour the batter into the bread pan (so as not to shift the rings) and bake for roughly 50 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  5. When finished baking, carefully remove the bread and cool on a cooling rack.
  6. Once cooled you can slice the dome off the "top" and invert the loaf so it rests easily with the celementine rings on full display.

Rainbow Beet Tartine

Open-face rainbow beet tartine with whipped ricotta cheese, watercress, toasted walnuts and honey.

Open-face rainbow beet tartine with whipped ricotta cheese, watercress, toasted walnuts and honey.

I am not sure why but lately, all I want is a lush veggie sandwich. This is rare. I'm not much into sandwiches. Unless of-course it's a breakfast version, in which case, I want them all! 

My sandwich aversion comes from a combination of generic fillers and bad bread. They tend to be boring and I want to be dazzled by a sandwich! I want it to feel glamorously indulgent with fun ingredients that go above the call of Subway. Is this too much to ask?!!  And since my generation is becoming the "sandwich generation," a worthy sandwich is a must! According to google, here is the definition:

Sand·wich gen·er·a·tion
noun
  1. a generation of people, typically in their thirties or forties, responsible for bringing up their own children and for the care of their aging parents.

Since I personally don't have children I am going to keep this sandy open-faced but you do what you have to do to make it right for you!  Get yourself some bread and start building a good lunch.  Surely, you're gonna need it to get through the next few years.

Tartines with the crust cut off for my old man. 

Tartines with the crust cut off for my old man. 

Ingredients

•1 slice of artisan bread
•4 beets, a combination of 2 gold and 2 red
•1/4 cup loosely packed watercress
•1 tsp softened butter
•1/4 cup ricotta cheese
•2 tbsp of heavy whipping cream
•1/8 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
•1 tsp honey
•1/4 tsp fresh thyme
•pinch of smoked sea salt (or any salt)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oved to 425 degrees F.
  2. Remove any greens and clean the beets. Place in a baking dish and cover with foil.
  3. Roast beets for 35-40 minutes tossing them occasionally in the pan. (It's this mixing of the juices that bring out the rainbow coloring.)
  4. Prick the beets to test for doneness. Let cool completely then peel to remove the skins.
  5. While the beets cool, whip the ricotta and heaving whipping cream with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. store in trhe fridge till ready to use.
  6. Butter the bread and griddle both sides in a skillet.
  7. Spread a small dab of the riccota mix on the bread and then lay down the watercress. (A small amount will help keep the greens in place.)
  8. Next you can really add that ricotta. I scooped it out with a spoon and flattened it some.
  9. Slice the golden beets and places the slices on top of the ricotta.
  10. Drizzle with a little honey.
  11. Add the toasted walnuts and a little fresh thyme and sea salt and it's ready to eat!
Toppings: honey, thyme, smoked sea salt, and whipped ricotta

Toppings: honey, thyme, smoked sea salt, and whipped ricotta

PS- I made that spoon! Mahogany. My first since being in FL.

PS- I made that spoon! Mahogany. My first since being in FL.

* The End.

3 Cheese Frittata With Cauliflower And Mushrooms

3 Cheese frittata with cauliflower and mushrooms.

3 Cheese frittata with cauliflower and mushrooms.

It seems like it has been weeks now since my dad has eaten anything other than bananas, ice cream, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. His teeth are so sensitive that no matter what I make, he's not interested and with each passing day I worry about his declining weight and lack of nutrition.  I have been searching recipes high and low.  Soups, purees, etc... He's just losing interest in eating and I'm losing confidence in my cooking.  Insert this frittata and together we both stumble a few steps forward.

Slice of nutrition.

Slice of nutrition.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped
  • 6 eggs
  • 4 crimini mushrooms, medium diced
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 3 tbsp chopped chives
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp oil or butter (or more if needed)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Position an oven rack in the center of the overn and preheat to 357 degrees F.
  2. Place the caulifower in a pot covered with water and boil for 4 to 5 minutes until it's soft but holds its form. Then strain and pat dry.
  3. While the caulifower is boiling, stir together the eggs, milk, mustard, and paprika in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Next, stir in all the ricotta and chives.
  5. Add half of the parmesan and mozzarella and mix well to thoroughly combine.
  6. On the stove-top, heat an oven-proof pan on medium-high and add the oil or butter.
  7. Saute the mushrooms until they brown and release their liquid.
  8. Add the cauliflower, to the mushrooms and continue to saute.
  9. Allow the cauliflower to brown, then add the egg mixture, patting down the cauliflower so it's evenly distributed without stiring up the bottom.
  10. Scatter the left-over parmesan and mozzarella cheese over top and place in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the center is set.
  11. Let cool for 2-3 minutes before slicing into wedges.

Finally we have a food breakthrough.  Hopefully there are a lot more recipes to come!

Recipe For Self-Care

Ingredients for a self-care scrub: coconut, rose petals, and Himalayan salt.

Ingredients for a self-care scrub: coconut, rose petals, and Himalayan salt.

Long story short, I need therapy.  And I need it in any form I can get it.  It could be clinical but right now I would welcome any and all forms. Massage, retail, physical, medicinal, smudge stick? They all could work.  Since my mom's abrupt passing, my life has been spinning so fast that I can't seem to tell up from down or right from wrong.  It's all a jumble of voices telling me all the things I should do.  There is no shortage of advice for the grieving but you know what the grieving should do?  Freaking grieve! Ugh, hilarious!!!  I laugh at my own suggestion because a month consumed in the end-of-life aftermath would prove that only a naive person would think our culture allows room for mourning.  No.  There is no room for that so I warn you not to get your hopes up.  Any space you create for yourself in loss is merely a distraction from our cultural demands of filing paperwork, paying lawyers, fighting probate and navigating the system.

Job creation is code for bureaucratic paperwork.

I used to think the system was flawed and we were a family falling through the cracks but that's not the case.   The system is not flawed.  It's fixed and I realize now that I wasn't a pawn being puppeteered by the masters but rather, I was (and remain) a cog, diligently filing the paperwork and stroking the flame of "progress".  At a later date I might go into more detail about these things but in effort to stay on topic I'll quickly say this; job creation is code for bureaucratic paperwork. If you are curious to understand what I mean watch this Ted Talk.  Our situations are different but exactly the same and at this point I struggle with defeat.

See what I mean?  There is a darkness here and I live with it daily.  It's not grief. I wish I had room for grief but I am so consumed with a bitter disgust for the way the world works that I feel I need a complete cleanse of the mind, body, and spirit.  My thoughts are bitter, I feel like crap, and my spirit...  Like I said... Defeat.  To crush the souls of the living I am sure steals magic from the world.  One by one, I can feel the world becoming a dangerous place as those like me take there position alongside the army of the raged.  It's an army of those who feel burned and irrationally waiting to strike, given the opportunity. It's not a good place.  

Therapy.

Therapy.

So, what's the fix? I'm going to try swimming.  For the month of September I am going to practice with the city's master's swim club which is an adult swim program that holds practices daily with a coach. I am hoping I can swim the rage right out of myself and get back to a more forgiving person I am comfortable being.  I am only saying this here for accountability because these days it's hard to hold myself to anything other than pajamas. 

Magic.

Magic.

I'm also putting faith into all the other magic the world is gonna throw my way. The awesome folks at the Jewelry Studio of Wellfleet sent me an amethyst necklace, symbolic of healing and comfort for the grieving.  What they probably didn't realize was amethyst was my mom's birthstone and purple was her favorite color.  Right now it's so much more than a necklace.  It's a shroud to treat the wounds of a broken heart.  

Magician's hands.

Magician's hands.

My mom and I, we were just getting started.  Her hands were harbingers with talent and creativity that was unmatched, even against Alzheimer's. For the first time in a long while I felt traction for "promise".  I was embracing the role of caregiver. Re-branding it even... I started to feel the potential and together, I imagined us making great things.  I was just finishing up the foundation when she was stolen from us, a loss that feels like insult to injury.  It's been a raw deal these last few years...  I'm bitter and things are dark but what would you expect after being repeatedly shown that wounds don't heal, they only grow deeper.

Depression is ok to visit but not a good place to live. Thus begins the journey of moving on.  Last night was a new moon which is said to usher in new energy. I'm ready.  I look forward to clarity and hopefully the calm it could bring. I am anxious for some stillness and a twinkle of light...

TLDR: Plan your days by the light of the moon as the sun will never wait for you to catch your breath.

UPDATE 9/21/16: I've been cross posting the details of this journey on Instagram @ashleylook1 under #selfcarerepair.

The How & Why Of Spring Rolls

spring rolls

Why?

Because they are easy, nutritious, and a good "group" activity.  Assuming you are looking out for a loved one and have lingering time on your hands, why not head to the kitchen and gussy up some spring rolls? 

1. They are easy.

I'm always looking for activities that stand to benefit both my mom and I and this one holds-up.  I prepare everything in advance (although depending on the needs of supervision, prep might be something you could delegate) and then the two of us can sit down at the table and roll away.  When going through the motions side by side, my mom, whom has Alzheimer's, can easy follow along. 

2. They are nutritious.

Unfortunately, my mom often can't always eat them due to dysphagia, or complications related to swallowing but anyone without such concerns can go ahead and binge eat their way to good health.  I know that might sound like a tease but you have to remember that we are feeding more than one mouth in this house.  My father's vascular dementia is taking a toll on some of his motor skills like hand eye coordination, so using utensils can be challenging for him.  At least with the spring rolls he can pick them up with his hands and have at them.  It's one of the few ways he can eat "salad".  It's also a fun way to eat vegetables.  I mean, who doesn't love finger foods?

3. They are a good "group" activity.

It can be hard to make time for senior engagement when chores abound but these spring rolls are like a twofer! Getting the ingredients prepped and sitting down at the table and working on them is a surprising win when it comes to time management. We'll have boatloads of healthy snacks and the activity alone is enough to help me feel like we are sharing quality time together.  All too often it's easy to slip into allowing passive entertainment occupy my parents time, which serves no good for any of us.  They are unquestionably bored and under-stimulated (which I personally find to be a triggers for Sundowning) and I face issues of guilt and frustration knowing I haven't contributed meaning to their day.  So, anything I can do that challenges them in new ways proves fruitful regardless of nutrition.

Rice papers

Rice papers

How?

Yes, I know I should have started with "how" but oh well... 

  • First and foremost, find some rice papers!  They are typically found in the international section of your grocery store.
Preparation organization

Preparation organization

  • Prep whatever you want to put in the rolls.  I typically go for a mix of greens, some herbs, crunchy things like carrots, cucumbers, and peppers, and some kind of protein like crushed nuts, hard boiled eggs, chopped cocktail shrimp or chicken. Use your imagination.  You have endless options, just remember that whatever you decide to use needs to fit in the wrappers so cut accordingly.
Spring roll steps.

Spring roll steps.

  • Next you're ready to start rolling.  In a medium sized skillet add some warm tap water and place it by your rolling work station.  Working with one rice paper at a time, soak each wrapper in the water until it's completely soft and filmy.  
  • Lay the soft wrapper out on a clean surface and add your filling in the middle.
  • Fold in the sides first and then the bottom section and roll it right up.
  • Dip them in your favorite dressing and enjoy!  We used a store bought peanut sauce but I think any standard dressing could work too.

 I would suggest making all the spring rolls before eating.  Stopping to taste really derails productivity.  You can also store any leftovers in the fridge for a few days.  There's nothing like having a little power snack to get you through the chaos.  The caregiver struggle is real so make sure you're all fueled up! 

Creamy Chicken & Mushroom Soup Recipe

Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Soup

Yes, it's officially summer and soup might not be your go-to meal but most the seniors I know have poor circulation and are frequently cold.  It's also being suggested according to this article that the thermoregulation of body temperature might be a therapeutic treatment for Alzheimer's disease.  Say-what?! This takes comfort food to a whole new level, and what's more comforting than a bowl of soup?  It's also loaded with nutrients and soft on the teeth which is an every growing concern that I am realizing plagues the senior demographic right up there with high blood pressure and dramas with Medicaid.  Some things I cannot fix but I can fix soup. So... Creamy chicken and mushroom for all my favorite seniors this week!

The ultimate care package.

The ultimate care package.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 1/2cups Cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/8 cup chopped parsley (and a little more for a fresh garnish)
  • 1 sprig rosemary

Directions

  1. Place the chicken breast in a pot and cover with water. Slowly heat on medium till they are cooked through.
  2. While the chicken is cooking prep the carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms and garlic.
  3. In a heavy pot melt the butter. Add the diced carrots, onion, and celery and stir to coat them evenly in the butter.
  4. Sautee for several minutes until the vegetables soften and then add the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme.
  5. Cook for several more minutes until the mushrooms begin to release their juices, then add the flour.
  6. Stir constantly incorporating the flour and loosening any bits starting to stick to the bottom.
  7. Slowly add in the chicken stock and mix well. This will deglaze the bottom of the pan and help add flavor.
  8. Add the bay leaves and allow the soup to heat into a low simmer.
  9. While the soup is heating, carefully remove the chicken breat and place in a large bowl or cutting board. With two forks carfully pull apart the chicken until shredded into small pieces.
  10. Carefully add the shredded chicken and the parsley to the soup pot and continue cooking until the carrots are soft.
  11. Once cooked through, remove from heat and stir in the half and half and add the rosemary sprig.
  12. Return to the heat and warm the soup through but avoid boiling.
  13. Once warm, you can serve it immediatly remembering to remove the bay leaves and avoiding the infusing rosemary sprig (which can be discarded before storing any leftovers).
  14. Enjoy, hopefully with a friend!