ORAL HYGIENE: A Poem by Mary Shepherd

You don't have to brush all your teeth--just the ones you want to keep.  (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

You don’t have to brush all your teeth–just the ones you want to keep. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

 

To be safe, keep extras on hand.  Remember, possession is 9/10 of the law...

To be safe, keep extra supplies on hand. Remember, possession is 9/10 of the law…(or something like that?)

 

Dear Nic,

Grandma’s favorite stories—and poems—have been about her grandchildren. She loved the cute things you all did and the sweet things you said. Almost three decades ago, you made everyone laugh with what we like to call your “Oral Hygiene” incident that Grandma later wrote about in a poem:

Mom and Dad were traveling—

A three-year-old grandson so dear

Was staying with Grandpa and Grandma,

Making their world bright with cheer.

 

“Where is your toothbrush?” asked Grandma,

After getting him ready for bed.

“I think it’s down at my house,”

The smiling little boy said.

 

So Nic and Grandpa went walking

The next day, down to his home,

And soon Nic was brushing merrily;

His mouth was covered with foam.

 

“That’s a very large brush,” said Grandma.

“Are you sure it belongs to you?”

Nic gave her a great big bubbly grin;

His answer was simple and true.

 

With his feet perched on the nearby stool,

And his smiling mouth dripping foam:

“It used to be Dad’s, but it’s mine now;

I just brought it here from home.”

(~a poem about her grandson Nic, by Mary Shepherd)

Grandma’s teeth are cracking and breaking now. It seems to be the normal progression of things for someone who is almost 96. She eats less food and it’s softer, and everything she drinks is served with a straw. But true to form, according to her caregiver Tammy, last week Grandma used the straw to blow bubbles in her milk! Inside the frail little grandma with advanced dementia, there’s still a hint of the happy playfulness she used to share with her grandchildren.

Molly and her little cousin Nic ~ she wanted him to be her little brother.

Molly and her little cousin Nic ~ she wanted him to be her little brother.

 

Fritz, Nic and Molly at Grandpa and Grandma's house.

Fritz, Nic and Molly at Grandpa and Grandma’s house.

Ray and Mary's grandchildren: Andrew, Molly and Nic (1990)

Ray and Mary’s grandchildren: Andrew, Molly and Nic (1990)

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, lessons for great-grandchildren

WHEN TO PLANT…AND WHEN TO WRITE FOR A CONTEST

The FARMER'S ALMANAC is full of interesting information. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

The FARMER’S ALMANAC is full of interesting information. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

Colorado weather makes it a good idea to wait until after Mother's Day to plant.

Colorado weather makes it a good idea to wait until after Mother’s Day to plant.

 

If you get impatient for color, you can hand baskets of artificial flowers in your trees.

If you get impatient for color, you can hang baskets of artificial flowers in your trees.

When you spend several days sitting in a hospital room, you look for interesting reading material. I found the 2014 OLD FARMER’S ALMANAC. Talk about an education!

If you’re interested in the weather forecasts for 16 regions of the United States (with apologies to our non-American friends), or information about the sun, moon, stars, and planets, or articles on beeswax candles and natural pest control, The Almanac is your go-to publication.

Here’s some quaint gardening advice reprinted from 1892 folklore.

1)    To make a plant grow, spit into the hole you have dug for it.

2)    Never plant anything on the 31st of any month.

3)    Plant corn after the first woodpecker appears.

4)    Flax will grow tall if you show it your buttocks.

5)    It’s time to plant corn when your wife comes to bed naked.

At our Colorado Springs altitude of 6,100 feet, it’s risky to plant anything before Mother’s Day…even if you show the crop your buttocks or come to bed naked. If you decide you’d rather go fishing, here’s how to know if it’s a good time: watch cows. If they’re up feeding, fishing is good. If they’re down resting, don’t bother.

If the folklore printed in the Almanac isn’t strange enough for you, maybe this writing contest will do the trick. THE WRITER MAGAZINE and Gotham Writers Workshops are sponsoring a “Tell It Strange” Essay & Story Contest.

Annie Proulx won the Pulitzer Prize for THE SHIPPING NEWS, and wrote other highly successful novels, including CLOSE RANGE and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Writers should respond to one of Proulx’s quotes, using it as a prompt to get you motivated.

“We’re all strange inside. We learn how to disguise our differences as we grow up.” ~ this is from THE SHIPPING NEWS.   “There’s something wrong with everybody and it’s up to you to know what you can handle.” is from CLOSE RANGE.

If either of these prompts inspires a strange story or essay idea, the contest deadline is May 31, 2014. Prizes are $1,000, $500, $250. You can submit online, and WRITERS FROM EVERYWHERE are invited to submit, as long as you’re not affiliates of THE WRITER or GOTHAM WRITERS. 1,000 words max.   For full details go to

http://www.writingclasses.com/ContestPages/strange.php

Spitting in holes might be great planting practice. Writing contests are definitely great writing practice. You can enter the contest; you can write for the contest but instead of entering it, submit it to an anthology, a magazine, an online publication. Making yourself think, plan, write, edit and meet the deadline is excellent writing discipline. Can’t think of a “strange” writing idea? Really? Go back and read #4 and #5 above. Or just pay attention to what’s going on around you. The world is strange enough to give you plenty of writing ideas.

Cover of my favorite writing journal.

Cover of my favorite writing journal.

Write on a computer, on a tablet, on a typewriter...but write!

Write on a computer, on a tablet, on a typewriter…but write!

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, gardening, writing, writing contest with cash prizes

SET IN STONE

Statue of child with basket on stone bench.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Statue of child with basket on stone bench. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

Unidentified marker in cemetery in  Abilene, KS.

Unidentified marker in cemetery in Abilene, KS.

April has two “special” days I don’t enjoy. First, I’m not a huge fan of April Fools Day and all the pranks that tumble in, once after another. But that’s behind us now. So, are you ready for tomorrow’s special day? Drum roll, please…

Sunday, April 6th is “PLAN YOUR EPITAPH DAY “

The flower of the day is Snow Crocus, and the recipe of the day is Lima Beans in Sour Cream (cook beans, drain, add salt, pepper and sour cream to taste.) Ohboy.

If you’re planning your own epitaph or an epitaph for someone else and need suggestions, here are some ideas taken from the words others have had set in stone:

“Murdered by a traitor and a coward whose name is not worthy to appear here.” ~ Jesse James’ mother, Zerelda, chose this inscription for Jesse’s tombstone.

“The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” ~ Thornton Wilder’s choice

“She did it the hard way.” ~ on tombstone of actress Bette Davis

“The best is yet to come.” ~ Frank Sinatra’s choice for his tombstone

~ in a Maryland cemetery: “Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.” 

“Here lies W.C. Fields. I’d rather be living in Philadelphia.” ~ W.C. Fields’ epitaph

“3.141592653589793238462643338327950” ~ on Dutch Mathematician Ludolph vanCeulan’s tombstone. In 1610, at age 70, vanCeulan was the first to calculate the value of pi in 35 digits.

“Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.” ~ epitaph for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

~ on tombstone of twin infants buried together in Fort Scott National Cemetery: “They took their first breaths with God” (Their father was in the military; he and their mother are buried next to the infants.)

Whether or not you plan to have an epitaph, “Plan Your Epitaph Day” is a reminder to make your own final plans now instead of leaving them for others to handle later.

In closing, I thank you all for your kind comments and emails last week. My mother has been moved back to her apartment and is receiving excellent care and helpful medications. Mom does not have to plan her epitaph. She and my dad have a shared tombstone, and whenever the time comes she’ll be buried in the plot next to his. Their epitaph has already been set in the stone: BEST FRIENDS FOREVER

Unfinished lighthouse, set at the edge of a field in Brown's Park, Abilene, KS

Unfinished lighthouse, stones set in concrete, waits at the edge of a field in Brown’s Park, Abilene, KS

Now this is majestic stone work!  Buena Vista, CO

Now this is majestic stone work! Buena Vista, CO

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, special days in April

HOSPITAL BLUES

 

Choose your size, S-XL, and use only once.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Choose your size, S-XL, and use only once. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

On February 1st, I wrote a post—“What We Learn While We Wait”—about the things I learn when I visit my mother each month and spend much of my time just sitting with her while she naps. This is Part 2 of that lesson. Now I sit with Mom in her hospital room. This is our new journey together; there are new lessons…and decisions to make. This emergency will pass, but there will be others, and I need to be prepared.

At Mom’s apartment, I’m surrounded by pictures, books and keepsakes, all of them familiar because I chose them to bring from their house to make the move here for my parents easier and more comfortable. Here in Mom’s hospital room there are no pictures on the wall, and though I’m not unfamiliar with computers and IV lines and bags and procedures, they are unfamiliar in the context of connecting them to my mother.

I look around and choose one thing to observe, to focus on and learn about, and I choose the wall opposite me, with the small, medium, large and extra large nitrile exam gloves.

All sizes, to fit all the hands of those who help my mother, the confused 95-year-old lady who has already pulled one IV line out of her arm, and whose “rolling” veins made a new line very difficult. To take blood for the most recent test, the experienced phlebotomist finally had to take it from her foot, and I had to hold Mom’s leg still and have her count aloud with me to calm her cries while the vials filled.

This is a difficult time, so as I study the blue latex-free, single-use medical gloves, I begin to think of other gloves. White cotton gloves, some with little pearl side buttons, the kind of go-to-church-or-weddings-or funerals-white gloves ladies used to wear, back in the time when they also wore hats and high heels and hose with seams.

When the styles relaxed, my mother didn’t throw her gloves away—actually, she rarely threw anything away—but found a new use for them.  When she went out to her garden to pick fresh tomatoes, beans, zucchini, carrots and lettuce for dinner, she put on a pair of her gloves to keep grass stains off her hands. On Saturday nights, when she polished her nails for church the next day, she washed and dried her hands carefully and then applied Vaseline or—get this—Crisco, coating her fingers and hands, and then she slept wearing a clean pair of cotton gloves to protect the skin-softening concoction. She’d come out in her robe, wearing rollers in her hair and gloves on her hands, and my dad would just grin and shake his head.  Remembering that makes me miss those good old days with both of them, my dad whistling and my mom blinking her eyes at us and laughing.

Now I sit with my mother in her hospital room, and she naps as I study the wall of medical DOP/DEHP-free, powder-free, ambidextrous gloves.  I watch people with their own styles of putting on and removing and disposing the gloves, and memories of my mother’s glove-wearing styles help me connect the dots and make these days in the hospital feel more normal.  Or at least the next step in what will become the next “normal” for us.

At night Mom is safe in her caregiver’s additional care, and I go back to my mother’s assisted living and sleep alone in her apartment. Downstairs in the main room, “Art Is Ageless” voting continues for the many amazing quilts, paintings, sculptures, whittled wood knife sheathes and crocheted dresses, all created by seniors in their 70s, 80s, 90s…and one 103-year old lady.

I’m so inspired that I use the only materials I have available, a pair of blue nitrile exam gloves. I blow them up like balloons, tie the tops and arrange them on the living room floor of my mother’s apartment. I title my creation “Helping Hands,” but it’s not for any contest.  It’s just for me, a way to create something and distract myself after another day at the hospital.

"Art Is Ageless" BEST OF SHOW 2014 quilt by Berniece Buell

“Art Is Ageless” BEST OF SHOW 2014 quilt by Berniece Buell

 

My disposable creation: "Hands That Help"

My disposable creation:
“Helping Hands”

 

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Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, gardening, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, Quilting projects, Things to be thankful for

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

 

Kansas church window... look into the window, and out the "other side" (These two photographs by Marylin Warner)

Kansas church window… look into the window, and out the “other side” (These two photographs by Marylin Warner)

 

 

 

 

 

Stone bridge in winter, Brown's Park, Abilene, KS. The journey is not finished.

Stone bridge in winter, Brown’s Park, Abilene, KS.
The road may be less traveled, but the journey is not finished.

 

Unfinished Business is more than just the title of numerous published fiction and nonfiction books.  It’s also more than what actress Elizabeth Taylor left behind when she died before learning how to cook a hard-boiled egg. (Supposedly, that’s one of the things she wanted to learn to do but never did.)

Here are some other examples of unfinished business:

~ the one thing you always planned to do but never did;

~ the “last words” a person wanted to say before someone died…but waited too long to say them;

~ decades-old unsolved crimes that still gnaw at law enforcement;

~ something you deserved and expected an apology for but didn’t receive…or something you should have apologized or made restitution for, but didn’t;

~ a painful event you never learned the truth about or the reason why it happened: the business that failed; the betrayal by a spouse or a friend; the person who died too young or who took his/her own life;

~ a crime you committed or a wrong you did against someone else…that has never been revealed.

Writer, poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote: “Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night…”  She was writing about a person who is gone, but if you replace the “you” with trust, resolution, justice, or whatever your unfinished business is, her description is still valid.  Unfinished business has a way of continuing to gnaw at us for a very long time.

When I was in junior high school, a man in our town died suddenly in a compromised situation. I heard the expression “he left a lot of unfinished business” and asked my mother what that meant. She said (paraphrased but true to context) that when you die you want to have lived your life without leaving unfinished business, so the people who love and trust you will be left with happy, loving memories instead of bad or hurtful memories.

This post is not about the unfinished business of politicians, countries, world leaders, or missing airplanes in unknown waters.  It’s about us, people who haven’t kept all the promises we’ve made to ourselves and others.  It’s about misplaced dreams and hopes and plans.

The good news is that Tuesday, March 25th, is “Old New Year’s Day” based on the old Orthodox new year. Anyone who missed a chance to make (or keep) a New Year’s Resolution that might finish some unfinished business has a do-over, a second chance.

And if that’s too heavy to consider, Wednesday, March 26th is “Make Up Your Own Holiday.”  It’s up to you how you use it.  As American songwriter and actor Eminem said, “The truth is, you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.”

 

Norman Rockwell's "Secrets"--if you decide to write about your unfinished business, don't leave it where your brother might find it.  Just saying...

Norman Rockwell’s “Secrets”–if you decide to write about your unfinished business, don’t leave it where your brother might find it. Just saying…

Norman Rockwell's "Feeding Time"--unfinished business can sneak up on you if you're not paying attention.

Norman Rockwell’s “Feeding Time”–unfinished business can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention.

 

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Filed under Abilene Kansas, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, special quotations

Mid-March Madness

Are you DUMBSTRUCK? A  Denver Bronco's mask with a Wichita State Shockers T-shirt? Really?  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Are you DUMBSTRUCK? A Denver Bronco’s mask with a Wichita State Shockers T-shirt? Really? (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Instructions for painting van Gogh's swirly landscape. Do what Goodland, KS did and paint your art replica 80 feet high!

Instructions for painting van Gogh’s swirly landscape. Do what Goodland, KS did and paint your art replica 80 feet high! Challenge what your friends think they know about you.

Don’t confuse this post with the March Madness of college championship basketball competitions.  This post is about MID-MARCH Madness, the three strange “special” March day designations that all take place on the same day: March 15th.

Today, Saturday the 15th of March, is on the Roman Calendar as both the first day of Spring…and the “Ides of March.” On this day in history Julius Caesar warned “Beware the Ides of March.”  It was the day he was stabbed by his friend Marcus Brutus. (“Et tu, Brutus?”) It was a lousy first day of Spring for Caesar.

Today is also “Dumbstruck Day.”  According to the description, you should prepare for something so shocking or surprising that you’re dumbstruck, unable to speak.

And finally, March 15th is also “Everything You Think Is Wrong” Day.  Did the Ides of March later influence the other two designations?  If you think about it, on this last day in Julius Caesar’s life, surely everything he thought was one way, actually turned out to be just the opposite. His best friend stabbed him to death, which also would have made Caesar dumbstruck…

To prove wrong what you probably thought you knew—and to make you dumbstruck—see if you can match the real, original names of these people with their later name changes:    (answers at end of post)

___ 1. Albert Brooms  ——————————-A. Hulk Hogan

___ 2. Terry Jean Bollette —————————B. Howard Allen Francis O’Brien

___ 3. Pauline Ester Friedman ———————-C. Albert Einstein

___ 4. Ehrich Weiss———————————–D. Abigail Van Buren –“Dear Abby”

___ 5. Author Anne Rice—————————–E. Harry Houdini

Last week we turned our clocks forward by an hour for Daylight Savings Time.  My mother understood why DST was necessary in war time, and maybe also during the oil embargo to conserve oil. But why the rest of the time, the back and forth, dividing the country?  “Why do we cause all that confusion?” she used to ask.  “There are still only twenty-four hours in a day.”

Oh, how I wish Mom’s dementia would fade away for an hour!  Actually, I often wish that, but especially now, when I’ve found something she would laugh at and enjoy. It would confirm that she wasn’t the only one who thought this was wrong.

This is supposedly a Native American Indian comment: When told the reason for daylight savings time, a wise old Indian said this: “Only the White Man’s Government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket.” 

Don’t be discouraged about the three “down days” of March 15th.  Take heart. Tomorrow, March 16th, is “Everything You Do Is Right” Day.  But, as my mother used to say, “Each day is what you make of it.”

Answers to the Name Game: 1. C,  2. A,  3. D,  4. E,  5. B (really, it’s B–does that dumbfound you?)

Delicious ginger-bear cookie. What if your child wanted to eat 3 or 4 of these? Keep your answer in perspective...

Delicious ginger-bear cookie. What if your child wanted to eat 3 or 4 of these? Keep your answer in perspective…

Keep the size of the cookie in perspective next to a quarter. Hey, at least I didn't use a headless chicken to make the point this week! ;)

Next to a quarter, it’s not a big cookie. Hey, at least I didn’t use a headless chicken to make the point this week!

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, names, Special Days in March, special quotations

KEEPING THE CHICKEN IN PERSPECTIVE

Norman Rockwell's "Marbles Champion" ~ if you think girls can't do certain things, you need to change a second look.

Norman Rockwell’s “Marbles Champion” ~ if you think girls can’t compete with boys, you need to rethink that.

Rockwell's "Big Decision" ~ the catcher has a different point of view than the coach

Rockwell’s “Big Decision” ~ the catcher has a different point of view than the coach. Below, the perspective from the “High Board” is different than from the side of the pool.

High board

“Running around like a chicken with its head cut off” isn’t just a simile for a frantically busy person. It’s also an actual description.

When I was eleven years old, a farmer knew that my mother had been raised on a farm, and as a gift he delivered to our house a fresh chicken for our dinner.  It was a very fresh chicken.  Still alive.

In our back yard, he quickly balanced the chicken on a board, lifted an ax and cut off the chicken’s head. The chicken body ran like crazy.  We had a tall picket fence enclosing our big back yard. It was painted white. By the time the chicken dropped, there were very few pickets that didn’t have streaks, smears or spatters of blood. (You can thank me for not having pictures of this.)

The farmer used our garden hose to spray the fence while my mother plucked and cleaned out the chicken. That night our family had fresh fried chicken for dinner, but I didn’t eat any of it. The fence still had faint stains, and my mind still saw the running chicken.  It was a long time before I realized what my mother tried to help me see: the chicken incident, like many things in life, was a matter of perspective.  To her, it was a generous gesture from a farmer bringing fresh chicken to a former farm woman who was probably tired of store-bought frozen chicken.  I couldn’t understand how my mother, who wouldn’t let me see THE BLOB movie, let me watch a chicken run with its head off.

Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”  And C.G. Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”  I doubt they were referring to chickens, but possibly they were encouraging us to understand ourselves through our perspectives.

The quote I think applies most to Mom’s perspective about things that were thrown her way in life is by J.M. Barrie: “Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.”  My mother had the amazing ability to appreciate people and their good intentions, even if they caused her to change her plans or do more work.

Even before my father’s Alzheimer’s and then her own dementia, my mother was not a naïve Pollyanna. She was an intelligent, perceptive, strong-thinking realist who stood firm when necessary. She was also a good listener with a kind heart and open hands to help others. And she knew how to keep life’s chickens in perspective.

*     *    *    *   *

Tracy Karner has a superb post on CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), effective for changing a number of problems by establishing a more hopeful perspective.

http://tracyleekarner.com/2014/03/07/c-is-for-cbt-living-well-despite-everything/

A replica of vanGogh's "Three Sunflowers in a Vase" on an easel.

A replica of van Gogh’s “Three Sunflowers in a Vase” on an easel.

My husband Jim is 6'2"--and he is walking the path to the 80' tall art replica in Goodland, KS. (which should also give you a new perspective of the importance of art in small Kansas towns) These photographs by Marylin Warner

My husband Jim is 6’2″–and he is walking the path to the 80 ft. tall art replica in Goodland, Kansas (which should also give you a new perspective on the importance of art in small Kansas towns) These photographs by Marylin Warner

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Filed under art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Henry David Thoreau, Kansas, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations