Posted on November 14, 2017

Access to language may falter but the imagine can soar.  Anne Basting

Have you heard of TimeSlips?  It is an extraordinary program developed by the equally extraordinary Anne Basting.    Using evocative photographs,  TimeSlips opens storytelling to everyone by replacing the pressure to remember with the freedom to imagine.

Last week, we worked with a small group of delightful people living with memory loss to create such a story.  I think you will agree that their imaginations are definitely soaring.

With profound thanks to Mary Edwards, Mary  Mitchell and Mary Adele, who are pretty extraordinary themselves.



“Double or Nothin’” November 7, 2017 Hugo House

Storytellers: Helene, Kirk, Rafe, Alice

Facilitator: Mary M

Scribe: Mary Adele

Maude and Mabel were married to the same guy.

“At different times… “ says Helene.

“They are in Vegas,” says Rafe.

Rafe said he would tell a story about them…but it is a little dicey!  Hahahahah.


One of the dice is in midair.

When the dice land, they’re going to go, “Bam,” says Alice.

Or maybe they will have a soft landing with a muffled sound.

When the dice land, Maude and Mabel will be happy, because they’re going to win about $1,000 bucks, says Helene.

Rafe says $2,000.


Rafe thinks they are twins!

Maude and Mabel walked by a dress shop and decided to wear special colors. They spent a long time picking out their attire.

The woman in the purple dress wears a ring. Her husband is Saul.

He is at the local pub.


Saul’s glad not to be with them.

Alice says he’s glad they’re doing this because he’s glad they’re visiting and having a good time.

Saul supported them by giving them each $1000 to play with.

They could spend the money anywhere…craps table, slot machines, anywhere.


Mabel and Maude have never been here before.

Their eyes are wide open, and they’re yelling, “Come on, Lady Luck!”

They are twins, but they have different jewelry.

After their win they’re going to a show, to see Celine Dion.


They’re going with Saul, because they want him to pay for everything.

Saul is a rabbi and gives half the money to his place of worship.

He’s a very nice man.

Afterwards, they’ll all get something to eat and then go home.


I think the sister in red left her beer-drinking, boring husband at home,

and she won because she came for the money.

The sisters will split the money:

one’s a saver and one’s a spender.


“Yee haw!”

“Good job!”

“Come on, Lady Luck!”

“Mama needs new shoes!”

Posted in blog


Posted on November 7, 2017


At lunchtime, I would walk into the dining room in Supported Living to make my rounds.  First, always, Evelyn—at 103 she was the empress of the table.  Then Ruby, Jane, Gloria, Sue and last, always, Flora.

Ciao Bella I would say and kiss her on the top of her head.

You are my joy, she would say with a smile that lit up the room.  Then I would carefully massage her slight shoulders.

What a dear, dear woman.

I rarely saw her at one of the painting classes but her appearances were memorable.

There was one class in particular.

Everyone, Flora included, took their places around the table. For each there were small pots of yellow and gold paint. The painting proceeded quietly until the color red was introduced.

Red! That’s a terrible idea! These are completely different colors. They don’t work together! It’s a terrible idea! She looked glumly around the table—clearly disappointed with the poor decision to use red.

And then they introduced blue.

Blue!  She was clearly incredulous. This is worse than red! Horrible, horrible! Don’t use it! she warned. It won’t work! It will ruin your painting. Awful! She sat there shaking her head, staring at me mournfully.

But sometimes they put all four colors on the table at the same time.  That must have been the case for her painting of Fall Leaves on October 6, 2015.

Ciao Bella.  You are my joy!

Posted in blog

Tuesdays with Mom

Posted on October 31, 2017

Every Tuesday about 1:00 pm the screen on my iPhone lights up.  MOM appears in silvery letters.

I scheduled this about five years ago to remind me that her painting class would begin soon.

I should probably remove it but love to see it—that glowing word MOM.  Perhaps it’s a bit ghoulish but I love it.  I feel close to her again.

It also reminds me of how much I loved going to her classes.  First to see what wondrous painting she had created the previous week.  It was also important.

I took her to the class and the timing was tricky.  If I took her too soon she would ask, with some suspicion, What are we doing here?

We’re going to paint, I would say with enthusiasm.

She would look at me in disbelief.  I don’t do this, she would tell me pointedly as she got up and walked away. (She considered painting a childish waste of time.)

I had to time it just as everyone was arriving and sitting down.  Then she was happy to join them.  We’d check out the still life in the middle of the table.  She would sit through the opening remarks though she couldn’t hear a thing, waiting.  As soon as the instructor would put paint on paper, she’d would pick up her brush and begin to hum.  The painting just flowed.

A sunflower

When she was done, she was done—always earlier than the others. She would leave but sometimes she would come back and ask if she could join them.  Two paintings—two versions of the same model.  Sweet.

I’m sure that Mom’s hidden talent only emerged because of dementia.  Her internal censor collapsed releasing what must have always been there.  My niece Anna, a professional artist, would look at Mom enviously.  I wish I could paint like that.

So it’s like Picasso said.  It took me four years to learn to paint like Raphael but a lifetime to paint like a child.

Once I stayed to paint with her and found myself nearly paralyzed with self-conscious doubt.

Mom is so much better that I am, I remember thinking.

Give it time.  One day I expect I too will be able to paint, just like Mom.

Small blessings.



Posted in blog

The Power of Cookies

Posted on October 24, 2017

Ruby, she of the intoxicating Southern twang, Evelyn’s best friend and the only person in Supported Living, aside from Mom, who disliked neck massages.  She was, however, a huge fan of my cookies.

Every Christmas I bake cookies—lots and lots of cookies. No chocolate chip cookies here but Russian tea cakes, hazelnut linzer cookies, biscotti, arcane shortbreads, thumbprints, chocolate madeleines. cardamom crescents, lemon bars, pucklewarts, Spitzpuben, toffee squares, walnut acorn cookies and the most labor intensive of them all and Ruby’s favorite, miniature cream cheese pastry cups with a pecan pie filling.  I find myself in frenzy, unable to stop, using a ridiculous amount of butter and nuts.

About six or seven years ago, I began bringing them to Evelyn and Ruby in Supported Living.  Sharp as tacks, they knew a good thing when they saw or tasted one…or two or three.

When Evelyn was 103, she experienced a spate of ill-health.

Well, she declared.  I’m 103. It’s time for me to die. 

She settled back to await the end, receiving a train of friends and family saying goodbye.

Me?  Evelyn, I think it’s time I baked you some cookies.

I brought her a big plate of cookies, which she politely ate.

Lo and behold. She rallied and was back on her feet in no time.

From that item on, Ruby was convinced that the cookies were the secret to a long life.  Every time I visited, cookies were expected, preferably lots of them and preferably the labor intensive ones.

And when I left I would hear Ruby’s clarion call. Get in the kitchen and start cooking!

Yes ma’am!  Time to start baking.

Posted in blog

Are you sure?

Posted on October 18, 2017

Dear Jane,

You were one of my first adopted mothers in Supported Living.  This was the time of my great awakening to the understanding that you and Mom were members of a generous community, remarkable individuals who cared for one another.  I would arrive at the lunch table with Mom and you would greet us with a luminous smile.  I quickly moved from being a visitor to a member of the family.

I’m not quite sure how the ritual of the neck massages began but I’m pretty sure they started with you.  Most likely I was looking for a way to express how happy I was to see you but you loved them so much that soon nearly everyone, except Mom and Ruby, wanted one as well.

Once, amid groans of pleasure, I began singing Heaven, I’m in Heaven.  You joined right in and by the time I finished going around the table, everyone was singing.

Once you said, You have such happy hands.  I love that.

You are also a fabulous artist. Now and throughout your life.


When I told you that your artwork as going to be in an exhibition you were so pleased.  Then hesitation.  Are you sure?  Yes Jane, I said with a smile.  Several seconds went by.  Are you sure?

Orange Lily

She is isn’t painting these days but even now, when I tell her that her art has brought joy to thousands so looks at me with wonder.

Are you sure?

Yes Jane, I am.



Posted in blog


Posted on October 10, 2017

Kathleen, Mom and Phyllis

Visiting Supported Living at Horizon House is bittersweet these days.  So many of my adopted mothers have passed.  Evelyn, Ruby, Flora, Kathleen, and most recently Gloria and Janet.  But hanging in there is Phyllis, Mom’s neighbor and along with Kathleen, part of Mom’s posse.

When I visited I would find the three of them together.  They would stride along with me, sure that something interesting was just around the corner.  It was the beginning of my realization that people living with dementia weren’t living in isolation but were part of a nurturing community.

Mom, Kathleen, Flora and Phyllis

Phyllis never spoke. She smiled and chuckled and cooed and sometimes it seemed as if she was trying to speak.   I never hear her voice until one day, when Mom and I were singing, she joined in.  What a lovely voice.  As we continued to sing, she began to dance, swaying to the melody and holding out her arms.   We danced and sang together.  Mom watched us with a big smile.

From then on I greeted her with a song.  Usually she just smiled but if I kept singing, she would be right there with me.

Phyllis was also a member of the art class and she had a definite style.

This is her painting of a vase of pink tulips.

or these cloths

or a cluster of ribbons

Once and once only did that change.  The model on the table was a lighted candle.

Ah silent Phyllis…she shimmers in song and light.

Posted in blog

Gloria Kinney

Posted on October 4, 2017

Gloria Kinney, one of the dearest, sunniest, emotionally generous souls I have ever known, died last week.

She was one of my adopted mothers in Supported Living—a community of women living with memory loss who supported and cared about one another.

When I visited Mom, I would always give neck massages to the ladies at the lunch table.  Gloria loved them.

“I’m melting,” she would say as she wriggled in her chair.

But as much as she loved them, she loved watching her friend’s enjoyment just as much.

“Don’t say no!” she would tell them.

“Look at her smile,” she would say gleaming with pleasure.”

And she gave me the best compliment I have ever received.

“Do you tuck your wings in a handkerchief when you’re not here?”

I loved her paintings as well.  Filled with whimsy, skill and love of life.  Just like her.

Rest in peace.


Posted in blog

Rafe Schwimmer – Artist

Posted on September 25, 2017

Rafe and Paula Schwimmer are a remarkable couple.  Rafe is a perfectly delightful man who lives with Early Onset Alzheimer’s.  Paula is an equally delightful woman, determined that Rafe lives with fulfillment and takes an active role in the life of his family and his community.

The first time I met him, I told him how much I loved his artwork.  He gleamed with pride.  “We could run away together,” he whispered.  Once, looking at one of his paintings, I saw a duck.  He gently corrected me, “It’s a heart.”  And so it was.

Now their son Eli has created a wonderful account of his father’s journey as an artist.

Two years ago, my dad was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 63. He had to stop working and driving, and socializing became increasingly difficult. It took time, but my mom eventually found a creative aging program in our area and convinced my dad to try some painting and drawing classes. The images in this gallery are some my favorites.

Art has given my dad an opportunity to express some of the things that are hard to talk about or put into words. When I look at his pictures, I see his emotions come through the on the page – his energy, curiosity, sense of humor, and sometimes his sadness, confusion or fear. (side note – this is his interpretation of one of the dancing balloon guys.

Creative aging classes have made a huge difference for my dad’s mental health. Not only do they give him an outlet to express himself, but they keep his brain focused and engaged.

The creative aging programs have also helped with the feelings of isolation that are often felt by people with memory loss. My dad now has a safe space where he can meet people who understand what he’s going through. He told me that this is a drawing of someone from one of his art classes.

He really likes eyes. That’s his thing. There’s usually at least one eye-like object in every one of his drawings, and he usually starts his drawings from the eye and works outward. I see about 8 eyes in this picture.

Colors everywhere. Pastels are my dad’s go-to medium. He’s also a big fan of bright colors and wavy lines.

 This is his latest drawing. After I scanned it in, I asked my dad if I had it upside down. He said, “That’s what I like about art. It doesn’t need an up or down. It can be however you want to see it.”

Absolutely gorgeous.

Thank you Rafe, Paula and Eli.

Posted in blog

Staying connected

Posted on September 19, 2017

Summer flowers

Recently I had had some disturbing conversations with some very good friends.  They were discussing their discomfort with a mother or father experiencing dementia. Equally disturbing, I was unable to give them comfort or hope and if not hope, at least a reason to continue to try.

Her mind is gone

There is no one there 

I never see her because she doesn’t know me

Time for her to die.

Or only a sad, stoic face.

I tried to remember when I felt like that. It wasn’t that long ago and it’s how I was raised.  Walk away and don’t look back.  These are lives of no real value.

So what changed?

Of course for me it was when Mom began to paint.  Mom’s paintings and those of her companions in Supported Living were undeniable and delightful evidence that I was wrong.  True, her memory and her ability to communicate verbally were ebbing but her imagination was not only intact but soaring.

It was me who changed.  The art was so fascinating – especially when she began transforming everyday objects into things of wonder – fanciful, mischievous and occasionally downright scary.  Plus everything was perfectly symmetrical and tended to have a face.  I finally grasped the idea the through the art, she was communicating ideas and emotions she couldn’t express any other way.


So I replaced sadness and denial with joy.  I stopped trying to get her to “come back” but instead became a member of her new family.

But what about my friends?  The art was one way. But it can be anything you can share – that you enjoy doing together.

Music – singing songs together – playing the music of their youth.  Dad loved Hawaiian music; they courted to Paul Whiteman and his band.  Games – playing catch with stuffed animals, playing a game (with Mom it was Scrabble), making something into a game.  If she asks you the same question over and over and over, make up a story.  It can be anything – a touch, a smile.

The important thing is to let go, live in the moment and have fun. Stay connected.

I don’t mean to imply that living with Alzheimer’s is rosy.  It’s not. But I tell you truthfully, I am not as afraid of the disease as much as I am afraid of living as one of the feared and forgotten, without a supportive social environment, without friends, without opportunities for creative expression, dismissed as an empty shell.

We are blessed to live in Seattle.  It’s a dementia friendly city in which people living with memory loss and dementia are increasingly welcomed as valuable members of the community, encouraged to live with fulfillment and love.



Posted in blog

Food for Thought

Posted on September 12, 2017


11 Chefs, 13 recipes—from Jacques Pepin’s White Bean and Sardine Toasts to Thierry Rautureau’s Baked Washington Apple. Each is accompanied by an exhilarating painting of the main ingredient created by an equally vibrant person living with dementia.

The price is $15.00 plus tax and shipping. Net proceeds will support The Art of Alzheimer’s exhibitions and programs celebrating the power of creative expression to empower and enrich the lives of people living with dementia and memory loss.

To order yours, visit

Feel free to contact me with any questions at

Thank you and Bon Appetit!

Posted in blog, News