Dino Dig Birthday Cake

There is probably no boy on earth who enjoys the pleasures of a birthday celebration more than Henry. He loves birthdays almost as much as he loves squirrels!(And that’s sayin’ a LOT!)

Henry’s birthday always begins in his uber-creative mind a few months before the actual date arrives the week of Thanksgiving. Somewhere around the beginning of the school year, Henry told me he knew what he wanted his birthday cake theme to be this year. The conversation happened after church one Sunday at Culver’s where we usually take my daughter and her family for lunch. As we waited for our meal to arrive at our table, Henry sidled up to me for a chat. As he described the cake he envisioned, he enthusiastically gushed words like ‘Velociraptor’ and something about ‘Indominus Rex’ and other Jurassic World dinosaur-ish lingo. Henry had obviously set his heart on a cake that looked like a “paleontological dig site”—he wanted me to make the cake and said he would help decorate it.

So began my Pinterest search for ideas and inspiration. There was no shortage of ideas. I knew right away that I wanted to figure out a way to make dinosaur bones for the dig site. This educational site offered some freebie coloring sheets, so I chose two dinosaur skeletons from their site and resized them to fit on his cake. I laid a sheet of wax paper over the printed dinosaurs, then melted some cake decorating white chocolate candy melts, put the melted white chocolate in a Ziplock® baggie, then cut a hole in the tip of the bag to create a frosting bag and traced the outline of the dinosaurs to create the bones for the dig site. I also had enough white chocolate left to write out Henry’s name and the number 12. I let the designs set for a day to harden up nicely before peeling them off the wax paper and gently placing them on the cake. (I actually made two sets…just in case there was breakage.)

Meanwhile, I baked the Schultz family’s favorite chocolate cake recipe in a 9×13 baking pan.

Meanwhile, I baked the Schultz family’s favorite chocolate cake recipe in a 9″x13″ baking pan. I also made a half-batch of another chocolate cake recipe in an 8″x8″ baking pan for a second half-layer. The first cake is super-dark and very moist; the second layer is less chocolate-y, and a little more dense and less fragile. I frosted the entire cake with my daughter’s favorite recipe for cream cheese chocolate frosting. I kept my frosting job a little rough and dirty looking – after all, it is a dig-site.

Cream Cheese Chocolate Frosting Recipe

1 stick butter, softened

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

1/2 c. cocoa powder

4 1/2 c. powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 Tbsp. milk (I used a little more)

Here’s the frosted cake with the white chocolate elements in place.

I found some chocolate-filled cookie wafer tubes at our local Dollar Store, cut the tubes to various lengths, then added them to the edges of the second layer to resemble a retaining wall. The cookie crumbs were saved to be scattered here and there like clumps of dirt.

On Saturday morning, Henry arrived excitedly carrying a little treasure box of Lego Minifigs and other cake-topper elements for his dig site. Henry and his big brother Charlie worked together at putting frosting grass on the top layer of the dig site.

I dug through my box of ribbons and found an orange one to use as a rope to cordon off the dig site. The fence posts would be the 12 birthday candles. Charlie helped construct and place the fence around the dig site. Henry finished the decorating by placing his Lego creations wherever he felt it was best.

The birthday boy was happy. Very happy. Over-joyed, really.

We had to light those candles and blow them out, of course!

I fully realize that Henry is on the threshold of becoming a teenager and there will come a year when he will no longer request a decorated cake from his Grandma Cindie. That year isn’t this year, so I will bask in the joy and blessing of this happy birthday boy and his cake.


A few more pics of the fun details Henry added to his paleontological dig site birthday cake:

A-Z Caregiving Tips (M)

Written with love and great admiration for all those who are caring for a loved one who is facing Alzheimer’s or any other diagnosis that spells memory loss. I write from my experience of caring for my sweet mother in her later years with Alzheimer’s.

Here’s the next in a series of posts inspired by A-Z Caregiving Tips (pictured below). A diagnosis of cognitive impairment or memory loss presents caregiving challenges, each as varied as the person experiencing it. Alzheimer’s was the diagnosis that spelled memory loss for my sweet mom. You can read my previous posts for my tips on A – L. It seems I have a lot to say about “M,” so I will focus on that for this week.

Make new ways I can be of service to others

Mom was a nurse. A dedicated and amazing nurse. Even after she retired from her long career in nursing, she still practiced nursing in an unofficial way as she came alongside family and friends as they went through their physical trials in life. She was dad’s constant companion whenever he faced any of his cancers and surgeries. She served her friends as the requisite driver and responsible party when those friends faced day surgeries of various types. If someone was hospitalized, she was almost always one of the first visitors. Several of her friends had her come along to their surgeon’s or oncologist’s office when they were going to receive their scary diagnosis. Mom knew just the right questions to ask and how to help her friends through the difficult days ahead.

The time came when Mom was the patient with symptoms of short-term memory loss. I’m sure she knew something was amiss long before I started noticing memory blips. Who knows how many years she wrestled with that knowledge alone? Based upon dated notes and lists I found here and there, I would say for a few years.

Although Mom forgot many things, the experiences of her lifetime still served as a guide in her daily interactions. Even after mom moved in with me and then later into assisted living memory care, I routinely saw the nurse in mom present when she’d notice someone wasn’t feeling well and then do her best to make sure they were cared for appropriately.

She usually couldn’t remember she was my mom, but I saw the loving mother in her displayed in the way she cared for dolls.

It was like a special window into her past which allowed me the privilege of seeing what she may have been like when she mothered me as a baby. (Mom and me in this photo.)

Let me share just a few photos of her doing things which made her feel useful during her years spent living with dementia.

I’m thinking now of a resident at the assisted living memory care home where my mom lived for her last 14 months of life. June was usually the first one up every morning. She took very seriously her job of raising the window shades at the start of the day. The staff would then present her with a large basket filled with freshly laundered clothing protectors (bibs) and towels. June took great pride in folding them.

My mom would do the same thing when she was living with us for a few years. She loved to fold laundry, especially when it was warm out of the dryer. The warmth felt good on her arthritic hands. She would also dry dishes for us. Her legs were unsteady, so I would set her up with everything she needed at her place at the kitchen table. Mom had also been into gardening, so I would occasionally try to get her outdoors to help me. She especially enjoyed deadheading and cutting back spent foliage. Her specialty, however, was sweeping. She couldn’t stand to see even one leaf on the deck or porch, so we’d arm her with a broom and she’d happily sweep for quite some time.

I can’t talk about this subject without thinking of Heather, an amazing blogger I follow who cared for her sweet mother too. Heather’s mum, Margaret, had been an artist, so Heather would play to her mum’s interests and strengths by creating art therapy projects for her to work on throughout the day. They even opened an Etsy shop in order to sell some of her ‘Made by Mum’ projects, donating a portion of their profit to the Alzheimer’s Society. Heather’s amazing website Creative Carer is filled with photos and tutorials, a link to her very helpful and inspiring blog, and oodles of practical ideas for caregivers who desire to keep their loved one meaningfully engaged.

Laugh – Five Minute Friday

One word prompt sent to a community of bloggers. Five minutes to write about it. Unedited. Don’t think too hard…just write. The Five Minute Friday word prompt this week is LAUGH. Ready, set, go!


I heard my dad laugh this week. It took me by great surprise, because dad went to his heavenly home in 2008. But, there it was – that familiar laugh. It started with an under the breath “heh-heh-heh” that morphed to a jolly, tummy-jiggling chuckle, and ended with a loud, throw your head back, “Ha!”

It happened when I was paying my brother a visit in the nursing home where he resides. I usually stop by after work and bring him a home-baked cookie and his favorite peach ice-tea. He doesn’t talk much, but he’s always glad to see me.

Brother & Sister

There’s a nice comfy chair in the corner of Brad’s room right next to his bed. I plop my work-weary self in the chair, kick off my shoes and prop my feet up on the edge of his bed, then sit with him for a few minutes to watch whatever he’s watching on the television. It’s usually an episode of Blue Bloods, but on this day it was a funny movie. It was during that tv-watching moment when I distinctly heard my dad laugh.

Dad taking a ‘selfie’ long before it was a thing.

My brother laughs just like dad!

Five Helpful Purchases for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver

I find it helpful when people take the time to share what they like about various products that I’m thinking about purchasing. I hope this reblog will be helpful for a fellow caregiver seeking to make purchases which will help them on their caregiving journey.

Barefoot Lily Lady

I’m on the other side of caregiving now and am looking back on that experience and wanting to share a few of the most helpful purchases my husband and I made to assist us as we provided care for my mother.

  1. Mattress Protection and plenty of bedding – nearly every person who struggles with memory loss will come to the point where incontinence is a fact of life. One of the best purchases I made was this mattress cover. We had a hospital bed, so purchased a Twin XL. This particular cover actually was waterproof and saved our mattress from certain ruin over and over again. It completely covered the mattress — trust me, this is important. I only needed to wipe it down with a disinfectant spray, but it also washed up nicely in the washing machine on warm. I would give it a tumble drying on air-dry…

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A-Z Caregiving Tips (J, K & L)

I write from my experience of caring for my sweet mother in her later years with Alzheimer’s. I hope that what I write will be an encouragement to those who are caring for someone they love.

Before you read this post, you might want read the A-Z Caregiving Tips (pictured below) which inspired me to write about my own experience related to these tips.

A diagnosis of cognitive impairment or memory loss presents caregiving challenges, each as varied as the person experiencing it. Alzheimer’s was the diagnosis that spelled memory loss for my sweet mom. I have already presented my experience with tips A – I, so let’s move right on to my take on J, K & L.

J just redirect me pleasantly if I keep repeating myself.

When memory loss becomes apparent to family and friends, it’s the repetition of stories which oftentimes raises the warning flag that something is amiss. Mom had several stories that would frequently replay. There was one she would tell about why she loves ice cream. Other repetitious stories related to how she acquired some of the items she owned, including three blue flowerpots and a purple tablecloth. I loved each of the stories and, as I mentioned in my last post, now I wish I had recorded her telling them.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with telling family stories around the dinner table. We all do it. It’s one of the best parts of gathering around the table for a shared meal. But, when the same story keeps looping during the same meal, that’s when things get a little tricky. It’s easy to hurt our loved ones by saying, “You already told me that a hundred times, Mom!” We’re tempted to roll our eyes and inwardly groan, “Oh no! Here we go again.”

That is where the art of pleasant redirection comes into play. In the world of dementia caregiving, there are many opportunities to practice this act of gently helping a forgetful loved one refocus their attention on something else.

My granddaughter provided one of the best examples of gentle redirection that I have ever seen. My mom found my to-do list on the kitchen table. Thinking it was her own list, mom kept reading the list over and over again, worrying about getting it all done. Violet (who was probably 12 years old at the time) brought a photo album to the table and sat next to her great-grandmother. In one stealth move, Violet opened the photo album and placed it in front of her GGma as she simultaneously slid the list away from view. Then she started paging through the album and talking about the photos. My Mom’s worries melted away and she was immediately engaged in this new direction of thought.

In fact, photo albums and picture books are one of the greatest tools in the toolbox of dementia redirection.

Sometimes, mom would ask the same question repeatedly. One such question had to do with her finances–something she couldn’t handle on her own anymore, but continued to worry about. My husband handled her finances for her and greatly helped alleviate this worry by creating a single page monthly statement which listed all of her financial bottom-line numbers in one place. Mom could read this over and over to her heart’s content. [I explained more about this in Alzheimer’s and Money Worries, which may be of help to anyone going through this stage with a loved one.] If mom was having a fretful moment about money, we could hand her this statement, which we kept on a clipboard. She would sit and read (and re-read) it for a very long while and would often comment about how helpful it was to her.

K Know that closing my eyes may be me trying to find my words.

Word finding is one of the earlier struggles I noticed in my mom’s journey with Alzheimer’s. It’s a problem I am wrestling with these days too. I have noticed that when I am struggling to figure out which word I want to use during a conversation, my family and friends will often provide the word for me during my long pause. Most of the time I appreciate the help; other times it just deepens my awareness and the inkling I have that my later years of life are headed in the same direction of memory loss that my mom experienced.

In fact, photo albums and picture books are one of the greatest tools in the toolbox of dementia redirection.

I don’t remember mom closing her eyes when she was trying to think of what she was going to say–at least not in the earlier stages. I remember that she would avert her eyes upwards and away, as if she was searching the corners of her mind for what she wanted to say. I do this too. I have also noticed something in my own pause to search for the words. By the time I’m ready to add my words to table talk conversation, the direction of the conversation has moved on to something else. It’s frustrating, but it reminds me of something important when engaging in conversation with my memory-challenged friends at my workplace. Don’t be in such a rush–wait for them to answer.

L Listen with me to music and dance tunes.

Mom would rather sit quietly and read a book or magazine than dance or listen to music. It’s not that mom didn’t like music; rather, her hearing deficit made listening to music more than a little bit challenging. While this point doesn’t apply much to my mom, it does bring to mind my work place. I work as a baker in an assisted living memory care home and am sometimes surprised by the music being played in the background for our residents. Sometimes I think the music chosen reflects the preference of the caregiver on duty, rather than the tastes of the generation being served.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that the radio or television in our care home is oftentimes playing too softly. The younger folks who work as the caregivers don’t seem to take into account the need for extra volume in this older population. Nor do we pay enough attention to what is being broadcast on the television in our common spaces. It’s much better, for instance, to choose a classic movie from the era in which these folks lived, rather than a talk show featuring four women arguing their views. Better (in my opinion) to choose a nature show over a scary, blood and guts movie.

Don’t get me wrong–our care home is fantastic and is blessed with a number of great caregivers. But, there is one caregiver who I find to be absolutely delightful. She will put on music the residents love and engage in a little song and dance. She’ll even make up her own tune or sing a familiar jingle, even if she’s just passing through the room on her way to her next task. If they’re having an exercise class, she’ll join in and spread her own brand of love, laughter, song and encouragement. Marnie makes the residents smile (and me too).

The world of memory care caregivers needs more Marnies.

A-Z Caregiving Tips (H & I)

Now that she is no longer here to tell her stories, how I wish I had recorded her voice as she reminisced about her life, and how I wish I had written down those stories she shared. Her stories were part of my life’s story too.

Before you read my post, you might want to take a peek below and read the list of A-Z Caregiving Tips which inspired me to share my own experience related to these tips.

A diagnosis of cognitive impairment or memory loss presents caregiving challenges, each as varied as the person experiencing it. Alzheimer’s was the diagnosis that spelled memory loss for my sweet mom. I have already presented my experience with tips A – G, so let me jump right in where I left off.

H Hear my stories from long ago attentively.

I treasure the rocking chair my husband bought for me in celebration of the birth of our first child. When I walk past it, I sometimes run my hand across the back of the chair and give it a gentle nudge to rock. Sweet memories of rocking my children to sleep or to soothe their tears come to the forefront of my memory. Funny thing is, as often as I rocked my babies, I don’t remember when the last time was that I rocked them. That’s because it happened when I didn’t see it coming.

Photo albums sometimes prompted some of mom’s many stories–some true, some a confabulated combination of true events and a good imagination.

Similarly, there came a time when my sweet mother told each of her oft-repeated stories from her childhood for the last time. It was so easy to tune them out over time because I had heard them so many times. I find grace in knowing that I really was tired and trying to juggle too many things, but oh how I now wish I had taken more time to listen with my heart. Now that she is no longer here to tell her stories, how I wish I had recorded her voice as she reminisced about her life, and how I wish I had written down more of the stories she shared. Her stories were part of my life’s story too.

I Invite me along on community and church gatherings.

Just as the stories our loved ones tell will one day come to an end, so too will their desire to be social. I’m so glad I carved out time to take my mother on a few road-trips “home” to visit her family in West Virginia and Ohio.

Only God knows the measure of our days.

Even though she was in the early stages of memory loss, traveling with her wasn’t easy, but the effort was rewarded many times over as I observed her quiet joy as she spent time with her family (and mine).

Mom was a woman of faith who served the Lord with gladness as long as she was able. The day did come in the fall of 2015 when, for safety sake, I needed to take her car away (I didn’t earn any popularity awards with that decision). Mom’s need for fellowship with her church family was still strong, so I’m thankful for Mom’s friend Jean, who would take mom to church with her whenever Mom was willing and ready. Mom’s ability to measure time and take cues from what was written on her calendar gradually disappeared late in 2015. Sadly, when Mom’s ability to remember the names of even her closest friends diminished, so too did her desire to attend church. Her “last day” attending church happened when we weren’t expecting it either.

Love this picture of mom saying, “Say CHEESE!”

While mom no longer had the desire to go places, I noticed there was still a glimmer of joy when people would come to visit. I soon discovered that the most loving thing I could do for her was to invite family and friends in. Just a few at a time, so as not to overwhelm her.

Mom enjoyed the times when all three of us kids were able to be with her. She didn’t remember the visit for long, and it would usually tucker her out, but the momentary joy was worth the extra effort of finagling Brad’s wheelchair into the house.

Her church family was fantastic – she loved the visits from her pastors and friends who would stop by. Her eyes would light up when her grandchildren (and especially her great-grandchildren) would come for a visit. One granddaughter would bring dinner and her family every Sunday night. One grandson came every chance he could, bringing his girls with him. All of the visiting grands and great-grands would spend time doing whatever she enjoyed: coloring, sorting colorful buttons, working a puzzle a half-dozen times, and such. My sister Vivian would come every other weekend or so to help me out, sometimes bringing her youngest son. Mom dearly loved her family, even if she didn’t always comprehend that we were her family.

My encouragement to fellow caregivers is to make sure you make room for family and friends as often as you can.

We rarely know when time spent with a loved one is the last time. Last times happen in life when we aren’t looking. Only God knows the measure of our days.

In Praise of Activity Directors

During the month of November, many people like to take a little bit more notice of the things for which they are thankful. The older I get, the “things” on the list grow fewer and the “people to be thankful for” on the list grows longer and longer. Today, I’m feeling a wave of praise and thanksgiving wash over me as I think about one special person.

Can you see the joy in mom’s face as she responds to the accordion music?

It was probably 2019, but it seems not so very long ago, when I arrived at BeeHive for a visit and lunch with my sweet momma. As I stepped into the door of the home, I spied my mom seated in a circle with her friends at BeeHive. Judging by all of the pool noodles and the balloon in the middle of the circle, BeeHive’s gregarious activity director had just finished leading a group chair exercise session. The residents, faces still flushed with joy, were listening as Kathleen continued on with an exercise of the mind, asking them to finish phrases like:

  • Practice what you ________.
  • Better late than ________.
  • Laughter is the best _________.
  • A woman’s work ___ _______ _____.
  • Birds of a feather _______ _______.

The residents seemed to enjoy this activity very much, but it was easy to see that mom’s participation level was very limited. Marked hearing loss and seriously impaired cognitive ability made it almost impossible for mom to participate in a meaningful way. But, I noticed one thing that was very special – it was the way mom was looking at Kathleen. There was love and admiration in momma’s eyes.

Very few activities captured mom’s attention for long, but Kathleen patiently encouraged her to try. If mom would wander away or was otherwise not engaged in the activity itself, Kathleen did her best to draw mom into the circle and strived to include her in the camaraderie of her fellow residents as an observer.

Kathleen leading a fun activity (mom is on her right)

Kathleen’s strong voice always carried an endearing lilt of cheerfulness to my mom’s hard of hearing ears. It’s difficult to say how much mom actually heard, or understood, but mom could read the joy and encouragement on Kathleen’s face.

Mom playing Bingo!

I will be forever grateful for Kathleen’s part in making my mom’s final leg of her journey toward her heavenly home a more pleasant one. Now that I’m baking a few days a week at BeeHive, it’s such an honor to be able to continue to witness Kathleen fill our assisted living memory care home with buzz and excitement. She now works alongside a sweet cohort in all things fun named Julia. Whether they are painting fingernails, calling out Bingo, playing cards, leading in chair exercises, making a beautiful art project, or decorating (and eating) delicious cupcakes, they make such a nice team in bringing a few moments of joy and a whole lot more buzz to the hive.

Watering Can Memories

For several years now, this little watering can has held various succulents from my garden. I bought this little watering can around 17 years ago for my first grandbaby. My mind’s eye sees Violet, dressed in her pink ballerina tutu, carrying this pint-sized watering can around and joyfully watering my flowers…and rocks…and me.

One by one, each granddaughter took her turn as a toddler helping me water the garden using this watering can. Mia, then Noelle, each dressed in various Disney princess dresses, liked to use their budding culinary skills while they watered. They’d take the bucket of water I provided for watering can refills and add handfuls of their special ingredients: leaves, twigs, grass, and dirt, of course. Together they would create imaginary “salads” and “soups” for grandma and grandpa to enjoy. Then along came the stairstep grandsons, Charlie, Henry and George, who gravitated toward using squirt-guns over watering cans to get the job of watering plants (and each other) done.

Though the sun has faded the paint and the grandkids have all outgrown using it, I can’t part with the memories.

I Spy Pie in the Pantry

There are benefits to cleaning out the pantry…

I’m not quite sure why, but a “clean out the pantry” whim hit me today. Armed with cleaning rags and my spray bottle filled with vinegar water, I spritzed and wiped dust and the sticky whatever-that-was off of the shelves. Jams and jellies tucked here and there got moved to the same proximity, as did an amazing collection of salad dressing bottles. Good thing we really enjoy salads at our house. A couple of savory items had migrated over to the sweet (baking) side of the pantry, so they were sent back to their own side. I checked things for for their “best if used by” dates and organized things by date with the oldest in the front. As I sorted and rearranged, I discovered a few slightly past-dated canned goods.

I won’t tell you how old the can of pumpkin was (lest you worry about me), but we now have a pumpkin pie cooling on the countertop!

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