Virtual dementia tour

Sometimes I get to go on some really interesting adventures, thanks to my reporter’s gig at the newspaper. (And sometimes I just sit at my desk wondering what it would be like to have a normal job with normal hours that lets you see the sun.) I had such an experience last week, when I scheduled a “virtual dementia tour.”

One of our local assisted living centers is hosting free virtual dementia tours soon, so my editor asked me to write a first-person account of what such a tour is like. I had no idea what to expect going in. I knew the ins and outs of the event, but I decided not to research the actual “tour” part because I wanted to go into it like a person off the street would.


Forget folding socks — matching them was hard enough.

Uh, and also I didn’t have time. 😉

The assisted living center had two of its employees take the “tour” with me, and we assembled in a staging room, where we were handed a box of supplies that would aid the simulation: Glasses to mimic macular degeneration, textured shoe inserts to make walking difficult, earphones and an iPod for a constant stream of background noise, and two pairs of gloves — one plastic, one mitten-like, with one of those turned purposely inside out — to restrict coordination. (This was a “worst case scenario” situation.) We got ourselves ready, and I already was noticing a problem — not only could I not see, but walking on those inserts (I was wearing sandals with no socks) was going to be a major problem.

We made our way carefully down the hall, and then they lined us up in front of another room. One of the “tour” leaders started talking to me — and it wasn’t until she was halfway through that I realized she was giving me a set of instructions for what I was supposed to do inside. I was first in line, so I heard the other two women’s instructions as well, even though I was trying to tune them out. I tried to repeat my list to myself, but I couldn’t. The noise in my ears made it impossible to think, and my feet were hurting to the point of distraction.

And then they let us into the room.

It was dark. I couldn’t find a light switch and gave up trying to find one. I wandered a bit trying to get my bearings, but didn’t really want to walk much, given how painful it was. I saw a notepad by the TV and did my first task — drawing and labeling my family. The gloves made it hard to grip the pen, but I’m not an artist anyway, so whatever. Done!

I sat on the bed before a pile of laundry and started sorting and folding six pairs of socks. I couldn’t see very well, and I couldn’t get a good grip on the socks, but I managed.

Task done, I tried to think about what I was supposed to do next. Any time one of us stopped moving, one of the leaders would tell us how many tasks we had left to do. One of the women asked for help, but the leader just repeated she had to finish her tasks. (They’d warned us ahead of time they would offer no help.) I went to the closet, found a belt on the top shelf (good thing I’m 6-feet or I might not have seen it) and thought about my instructions: Thread the belt though pant-loops. Did they mean my pants? I was wearing a dress, so that was going to be awkward. But I found a pair of pants hanging in the closet — not hard, there were only four items in there — and took that whole ordeal back to the bed to get to work. Anytime I could sit down and get off my aching feet, I did it.

That done, I was rather at a loss as to what to do next. We each had five tasks, and I’d done three. One of the leaders kept telling me I had three more tasks to do, which made no sense since I’d done three. I finally gave up and sat on the bed to wait it out. By my calculations, I’d been in the room for a half an hour. I was frustrated and anxious, and knew I’d let everyone down.

And then it was over.

Getting debriefed was interesting. They told me completing two tasks was actually pretty good — which compelled me to correct them with a patient, no, I did three, and they were like, uh, yeah, that first one you did was actually someone else’s task. 


Then they asked how long we thought we’d been in there. “Forever” was the consensus, but it had only been nine minutes.

Did we remember they’d told us there was a list of each task group in the room that we could have looked at? No, none of us did. Why didn’t we turn on the lights? I couldn’t find the switch, I said. Why didn’t you open the curtain? she asked.

Because that hadn’t occurred to me, to be honest. Light was about the farthest thing from my mind.

What I took away from this is that when dealing with someone with memory loss, giving clear, one-item directions is the way to go. And you can’t change the person, you can only change yourself and the environment — turn on the lights, be positive and affirming, keep it simple. Introduce yourself even if this person has known you forever. Don’t compare what they used to be able to do with what they can do now.

Anyway, should you have the opportunity to take such a “tour,” I highly recommend it. (This is a national program.) My empathy level and understanding now is so much higher. I wish I’d have known all of this when my Grammie M. was showing signs of memory loss — she’d get so frustrated, and I didn’t know how to help her.

I don’t know what this has to do with minimalism or zero waste, you guys, but I felt compelled to share. In retrospect, the sparsely-decorated room and limited personal items probably helped us — had I just walked around and took note of what was there, I may have been able to figure out better what my tasks were. But wow, it’s hard to think when you hurt and you can’t see and you can’t concentrate because it’s so noisy …

Thoughts, feelings, insights to share with the group?

Maintenance: Can you see this font?

UPDATED: I just changed the font to what appears, on my computer, to be darker and easier to read. Is this true for you too? And isn’t technology fun?

I received an email this morning, noting that the font I’m using here makes it difficult to read posts. I’m just taking an informal poll — who’s having the same issue? Is it the font or the color of the font?

Thank you!

Dancing queen

You can’t hear him, but Eric is cursing me right now for getting that ABBA song stuck in his head with my title. 🙂

Hey, so last weekend was prom, and my darling oldest child, who graduates from high school in less than a month (no no no no) asked if I would take my big girl camera, meet her and her friends somewhere, and take everyone’s photos.

Well, of course I would!

Roughly 20 showed up. Um, their group, and then a splinter group. Hey, whatever, bring it. They had a 6:45 p.m. dinner reservation at the golf course, so we met at 6 p.m. (they were late, being teenagers). It was pouring. Like, where’s the ark? kind of rain. There was a covered area and I thought that maybe I could angle the lens so they’d have a nice background while being sheltered, but lo and behold, we had a major prom miracle — the rain let up, and by the end of the session, the sun was actually shining. It was freezing, but bright.

I took a group photo (difficult due to the size) and then photos of the girls (lots) and boys (few), and then couple shots, and then friend shots, and then a lot of posed “awkward” shots that apparently are all the rage with this Instagram generation.

It was super fun and I got to rewrite part of my own prom story, which was basically terrible. Having kids is really starting to pay off.

I was home and had just started editing the images when I got a text from Abby: Put the photos — side note: I took approximately 300 — on Facebook now! 

Well, all righty then. So basically they were looking at their prom photos while still at prom.

Kids these days.

So all that is just to say that it was great seeing Abby and her friends so happy, I was pleased to be of service, and that Eric and I managed not to embarrass anyone with our presence. We’re calling it a win.

And my favorite photo of the night:


When your oldest requests a prom photo with your youngest.

Minimalism and heirlooms

A special hello to my Simple Year friends — wow, my stats here took a jump when y’all came onboard 😉 — and a big thank you, too. That’s the one downside to Kerry’s amazing year-long blogging project: Having to say goodbye to everyone. Selfishly, it’s a relief not to have to.


So last week, I reposted a story about Johanna’s First Communion dress and the pushback I got by merely mentioning that I planned to donate it afterwards. I should probably preface this by explaining that A) We were still pretty new to minimalism at that point and our parents had no idea what we were talking about, and 2) Everyone is, five years later, so incredibly supportive of our minimalist and zero waste lifestyle that I truly feel a bit terrible to be rehashing the past. Family support is not something we’re lacking by any means. But I wanted to share the post just because it was a good snapshot of where we were at the beginning — how it’s hard to get everyone on the same page at first.

Our friend Roberta (hi, Roberta!) posed a question at the end of that post, and, when I found myself three paragraphs in on my answer, decided it needed it’s own space. So here we are.

First, the question:

How do you balance the desire for continuity with the past with things that are not important?

And my longwinded answer that may or may not even be on topic:

Heirlooms have never been plentiful in my family. I don’t think much survived from any of my great-grandparents, let alone anyone older than that. Well, lots of kids and not a lot of money for stuff. So I perhaps look at heirlooms differently — we don’t have them, so I don’t have to worry about it. I don’t miss what I don’t have.

Actually, it was when Grandma G sold their house and moved into assisted living that I realized I truly am a minimalist. I just found this post that I wrote on Pointless Ramble in 2015 that says it better than I am managing to today (trust me, I’ve gone through like 10 drafts):

Now that my grandfather has passed away and my grandmother is in assisted living, the monumental task of cleaning out their house to get it ready for sale is upon us.

Well, upon my mother and her siblings, really, at least for the time being. Mom’s already said the project is beyond them and they’ll need “the next generation” soon. Which is cool. I’m more than happy to help.

Anyway, they’ve been going through my grandparents’ basement and unearthing all manner of thing, all of which has to be claimed, donated, recycled or trashed.

I keep getting texts from my mother (hi Mom!) asking if I want this or that, and I generally say no. Because you know what I want? My grandfather. I don’t care about this stuff at all.

But my noes seem to just encourage the Aunts to try harder to find me something. (Mom understands, and that is a gift. Thank you, Mommy!) Well, maybe they’ll feel better since I said yes to this tiny pitcher yesterday:


Pitcher aside, the last thing I said no to was a clock that my Grandma M brought Grandma G back from a trip to Germany. (Fun fact: I am half German, thanks to my grandmothers, even though none of my names indicate that.) Apparently Grammie carried it on her lap the entire return trip so it wouldn’t get damaged, and the Aunts think that memory alone should make me want it.

But again, you know what I want? My Grammie M. And that clock is not my grandma.

It’s kind of hard to explain … although maybe it isn’t: Stuff isn’t the person I’m missing. Stuff is just stuff. I have my memories, and yes, I have a few mementos from those whom I’ve lost. But I don’t need their things to remind me of them. They’re always with me. Seeing a clock, or whatever … it’s meaningless, really. It’s just a thing.

Maybe you’re thinking I should be taking this stuff for my girls, for when they’re older. And yes, I could. Except I would just be saddling them with emotional baggage. They have their own memories of my grandparents. They don’t need stuff to remind them that my Grandma — and my Grandpa, for that matter — loved them.

And neither do I.

Here’s the thing, though: My world is very word-based, so that’s what I want — the stories about my relatives. I think it’s fascinating, what they went through. My great-grandmother came over on a boat from Austria when she was 4 (Johanna is named after her mother, which is a big hit at family reunions). I have a great-great-grandfather who made his way from Quebec to Massachusetts, and finally to Minnesota. And a great-times-however-many grandfather who stole a horse back from the Army after the Army helped itself to his horses during the Civil War. (Guess that’s why the dude high-tailed it to Washington State soon after. Too bad he died of pneumonia a month after he got there.)

And my mother, bless her, helped her parents write their autobiographies — it was a personal project of hers for many years — so I have bound books in their own words that are filled with stories. She’s now working on her own. This is the kind of thing that I just love. If I had to part with those books … I guess I can kind of imagine how someone would feel if they had to part with an object that reminded them of a loved one or had been passed down through the generations. It would be hard.

But in general … I’m not really big on stuff anyway (thanks, minimalism!), so it’s not a challenge to balance memories with things. So maybe it’s not even fair that I’m trying to answer the question in the first place — I haven’t had to make any really hard decisions. All I’ve had to say is “no.”

So let’s open it up — anyone else want to take a crack at this quandary?

Repost: Iced coffee with vanilla syrup

Trisha’s Note: Today I finish up my year on The Simple Year blog, and I’m feeling a little emotional about it — it’s been a very intense zero waste project. So to simutanously celebrate / wash away my sorrows, here’s a post detailing how to make iced coffee and vanilla syrup. Apparently this is my fourth year on the bandwagon. P.S. Just last night I added a cinnamon stick to the syrup to see what would happen. Huh, who knew I was such a genius? P.P.S. Any idea how many I can drink before it just gets pathetic?

Confession: I’m sort of addicted to Pinterest. And by “sort of addicted,” I mean “I check it like six times a day.” This is slightly hilarious and kind of unexplainable because I cannot take anything on there very seriously. Half of the pins are for things that are completely unattainable and the other half are crafts (or “craps,” as Johanna used to say, which is way more accurate). I guess I just like seeing what crazy junk people are pinning. I like a good laugh, as well as self-righteous snorting.

But anyway, last summer this pin from The Pioneer Woman blog was making the rounds:


Pioneer Woman Perfect Iced Coffee

Perfect. Iced. Coffee. Really, what about this isn’t a win? So I pinned it. And then forgot about it. And then when I remembered again it was winter.

I’ve been going through an iced coffee phase lately, though, and those things are starting to add up. So I’m all like, hey, didn’t I pin something like this once? and then I scrolled through my recipe board and yep, sure enough, sometimes my optimism pays off.

Scanning the blog, I quickly deduced that Ree’s recipe calls for one pound of ground coffee and two gallons of water. Let me repeat that: TWO GALLONS OF WATER. While I have no doubt that my family of four could put away two gallons of coffee-infused awesome, I don’t have anything that would actually hold that amount, both in the soaking and in the storing. So I adapted it, if you can call it that, because: You’re just soaking coffee grounds in water all day. This isn’t rocket science, people.

The Trisha Way: 1/4 pound of ground coffee, 2 quarts water, stirred up in my biggest pot. Then I added a little more water to rinse the coffee grounds from the side, which immediately went back up the side as soon as I moved the pot. Whatever, just let the coffee be for at least eight hours. I went more like 10, I think, I don’t know, details are boring. It’s the concept anyway, not the amounts.

I don’t own cheesecloth, so I put a couple layers of paper towel in my mesh colander to separate the grounds from the liquid gold. (UPDATE: Now I use an old kitchen towel.) This worked quite well. I put the liquid gold in a couple quart jars and capped them off and stuck them in the coldest part of my refrigerator.

Because if I’m going to go big, I’m going to go BIG, I did a quick search for homemade vanilla coffee syrup, and thank you, Google, I found one from Paula Deen. Iced coffee with a shot of vanilla? That’s like my favorite thing ever.

Since this was my first time to the dance with this recipe, I halved it. I like to know what I’m getting into before I make a commitment, you know? What I learned is that I should have just made the full amount because at the rate my family is going, it’s not going to last probably two days.

The Trisha Way: 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 cups water, all stirred up over medium heat for like 10 minutes until it gets syrupy, and then 2 tablespoons homemade vanilla extract when it’s cooled down, put into another quart jar because apparently that’s all I own. (Update: Now I use a repurposed Pendleton whiskey bottle because why would I not?)

Putting it all together: Fill a glass with ice, add liquid gold/chilled coffee base half-way up the glass, then add milk the rest of the way up the glass, and then, of course, add vanilla syrup to taste. Stir that puppy up and be ever so pleased with yourself.

I’m serious, people: Aside from the cleaning recipes I gleaned online, this is the best thing the Internet has ever done for me, period. Abby is ever so impressed with me, and even Eric announced he could drink that all day — and he’s not a coffee person. Johanna, who IS my coffee person, took a drink and then promptly forgot about it. Huh. I CANNOT WAIT to take this into work with me today. It’s like I have a coffee house in my kitchen.

Repeat, repeat, repeat, all summer long. Hooray! I love when something works out better than expected!

Repost: Knowing “my people”

Trisha’s Note: I am THIS CLOSE to finishing my Simple Year project — this is my last week — and once I do, I’ll have more time to write here. For now, here’s a repost of a blog I wrote in March 2014 about minimalism and the people who we keep in our lives.

I follow a few minimalism et al blogs, and a recent post by Kandice at The Simple Year really struck a cord with me. She wrote about relationship decluttering and knowing your people: How minimalism–and life–helps clarify who you want to spend your time with, sometimes because things change (or don’t change) and sometimes because you were mistaken about who your people really are.

It was that last part that got me. I have made that mistake a time or two, trusting in a friendship / relationship that wasn’t really real. Here’s what Kandice wrote about that:

And then there are those who you thought were one of your people until the shit hits the fan and you look around and they have disappeared. And that sucks. Because it stings. You mourn the loss. You might feel duped and embarrassed. But, really, it’s a gift. With a giant red bow.

It does sting! I do mourn the loss! I totally feel duped and embarrassed! And it IS a gift!

It’s a gift because I know who my people are. Some people have always been my people: My parents, my grandparents, my Aunt Ann. Some people have been my people since we became friends as teenagers, like Mara and Shannon. Some people treated me as family the minute I started dating Eric, like my favorite in-laws and my sisters-in-law Debbie and Elaine. There are also a host of others who I count as my people because they are my friends and I enjoy being around them. Sometimes you just need someone to laugh with.

P.S. Eric isn’t on that list because he’s a list unto himself. He’s mine, I’m his, the end. 🙂

Anyway, here’s the thing: I have come to really appreciate my people, to not take these relationships for granted, to understand what an amazing gift it is when the people you love love you back.

You can’t win them all. And that’s okay. You can’t demand that someone be your people–they are or they aren’t; it’s given freely or not at all. Sometimes you mistakenly believe someone is your people only to learn otherwise. Sucks. But who cares? The people I’ve been mistaken in–that’s a much smaller list than the people I claim as mine. I really like this paragraph of Kandice’s:

One of the results of my advanced years is that I no longer have a filter and my patience is limited. And you know what? My people still love me. And while this may sound callous, I’m no longer interested in investing time, energy, resources, whatever, to relationships that are one-sided. Knowing where to invest your very limited resources is a good thing.

It’s interesting to me how it’s generally looked upon as desirable to downsize and declutter your possessions, but not people. I felt like that at one time too, but now I’m thinking maybe it’s healthy. It’s not that I no longer care about the people who have discarded me… it’s more that, knowing they do not care for me, I’m giving myself permission to turn instead to healthier relationships. It’s a total bummer to work and work and work at a relationship that’s one-sided. You can work forever and still be at Square One, or you can choose to spend that energy on someone who actually wants to be around you.

So here’s to knowing my people. Here’s to appreciating my people! Here’s to lunch dates and emails and phone calls and care packages and even just exchanging pleasantries at work.

Repost: Dissension in the ranks

Trisha’s Note: I am THIS CLOSE to finishing my Simple Year project — this is my last week — and once I do, I’ll have more time to write here. For now, here’s a repost of a blog I wrote in May 2013 regarding a First Communion dress and my willingness to part with it … and those around me not understanding why. The interesting part of all of this is that, in the years since, both my mother and mother-in-law have been very, very supportive of our efforts. Sometimes it just takes time.

I ran into a bit of a minimalistic quandary this weekend. Totally unintentionally, and totally my fault because if I’d have just kept my big mouth shut, no one would have been the wiser.

Ah, well.

Johanna made her First Communion on Sunday, and we had a barbecue for her afterwards. Tangent: The weather went from upper 80s and beautiful to low 70s and humid and cloudy, but it didn’t rain, so we’re calling it a win. Another tangent: Johanna hates dresses, and it took quite a bit of bribery to get her into the thing (she didn’t have to wear socks, she didn’t have to let Abby do her hair, she could take it off the minute we got home from church), but she looked adorable and made it through the whole ordeal fairly gracefully. Another win.

She was FEELING IT. Not.

Anyway, so we’re down in the church basement afterwards for a little reception, and I made a comment about how Johanna’s dress was headed to the church rummage sale in June now that both she and Abby were finished with it.

And all hell broke loose.

My mother-in-law was horrified that I would even think about it. Naturally I’d want to save it for Abby’s daughter! It’s an heirloom! SHE would save it if I didn’t want to!

Then my mother got into the act. Of course I’d want to save it. My sister-in-law Debbie casually mentioned that she had saved her daughter’s dress (irony: Keshia has one boy and another boy on the way).

No one could get why I would possibly want to get rid of this dress, except for Eric and my brother-in-law Greg, who was like, I am pro this plan.

It completely caught me off guard. I was honestly not expecting anyone to feel any kind of emotional attachment to a dress that we bought off the sale rack at J.C. Penney in 2007 for like $16 (it was quite a sale), and only kept because be had another little girl (even if she was two at the time) who would be able to wear it in the relatively near future.

So I found myself in a bad guy role for mentioning it. I finally calmed everyone down by agreeing to give it to my mother to pass along to my cousin’s daughter, who will be making her First Communion in a couple of years. Never mind that she’s a tiny little thing and this dress was purchased for my giant children, if that makes y’all feel better, fine. I think my mother-in-law was still kind of horrified that “the next generation” would not get a chance to wear this dress, but she had the good grace to let it drop.

But look: Why would I save a dress “for future generations?” Styles change and white fabric turns yellow with age. The girls you bank on having end up being boys. Time and energy go down the drain each time you look at the thing hanging uselessly in the closet or move it around or clean it again. This seems especially silly when there is a little girl out there, RIGHT NOW, who could use it. When it’s still in style and still pure white.

My future grandkids, if I end up with grandkids, don’t have to live up to my expectations on their special day. You wear what makes you feel good, future grandkids, and your grandfather and I will do the same. You’re welcome.

In the grand scheme of things, letting go of this dress is a cake walk. I have let go of a lot of things during the past year’s minimalism crusade, and I don’t even remember what most of them were. I used to keep things because I might need them later, or because they were expensive, or because they were gifts. I’m finding that I rarely need anything I’ve kept aside, that the money is already spent, and that keeping something from guilt isn’t a good reason at all. The less I own, the better I feel. And bonus perk, it took me about ten minutes this morning to get the house straightened up after the party (and no, no disposables) because we don’t have much to deal with.

It’s a pretty damn awesome feeling.