Category Archives: autumn lessons

TWO SECRETS OF SUCCESS

4:40 A.M. ~ crescent moon is in upper right section of window

4:40 A.M. ~ crescent moon is in upper right section of window

 

 

 

"The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you.  Don't go back to sleep!" ~ Rumi

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep!” ~ Rumi

 

 

Twenty-four years ago, I took Mom to a one-day workshop on writing nonfiction magazine articles.   The speaker began the session by asking how many specific suggestions participants would include in an article about The —#— Secrets of Success. While many in the group had ideas for five, eight, or even a dozen secrets for success, Mom had two.   1)  Greet each sunrise with a hopeful smile, and   2)  Keep moving.   In her experience, those two pretty much pointed her in the right direction each day.

During one of my trips to visit Mom this summer, I was sleeping in the guest room of her assisted living apartment, and for some reason I woke up at 4:40.  The sunrise was just a thread of light on the horizon.  A crescent moon and a single star glittered in one corner of the view from my window. 

I peeked in on Mom to see if it had awakened her, too. In a different time and place—maybe in the bedroom of her real home, and certainly before losing my dad to Alzheimer’s and now losing much of her own memory to dementia—I think Mom would have smiled as she watched the moon and star on the horizon, then taken a deep breath and gotten out of bed early to welcome the new day.

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you.   Don’t go back to sleep…”   These two beginning lines, my favorites from a longer, well known poem by Sufi poet Rumi, are lines I’m sure would have struck a chord with Mom. For many of her 96 years, her favorite time has been in the quiet early breaths of a new day.  She would use that private time to work in the yard, read and write letters and poetry, pray and sometimes even bake.  Before the dementia took over, it was her first secret of success.

Her second secret of success was short and simple, but essential on many levels: Keep moving.  Regardless of obstacles, set-backs, illness, disappointments or worries, to keep moving meant staying focused on what had to be done, breathing deeply, singing or humming as she worked, and being grateful for the things she learned and noticed along the way.

One beautiful example of someone who kept moving is April Holmes, Paralympic Gold Medalist in the 100-meter dash. April was 27 in 2001 when, as a college track star, she lost her leg from the knee down in a train accident. Instead of giving in or giving up, she kept moving…physically, emotionally, hopefully and with full commitment. Against all odds.

I’m sure my mother had more than just the two secrets of success she used that day for writing practice at the workshop. She was a woman of faith, kindness, creativity and common sense, and she had an amazing capacity for love and trust. I wish now that she’d kept writing on that workshop exercise and written out many more of her success secrets.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and many forms of devastating memory loss plague families, communities and countries everywhere in the world.

But one day this month, Wednesday, September 10th, is “Swap Ideas Day.” This is an excellent opportunity for us to share our favorite Secrets of Success.   Do you remember poignant, funny, strange, or insightful secrets of success from your parents, grandparents, teachers, friends or motivational speakers?

Today, September 6th, is National Writing Date Day.   Make a commitment today to write some of your secrets of success and share them with us!

Bikers racing through Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

Bikers racing through Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

One Secret of Success for competitive cyclists is Mom's #2: Keep Moving.

One Secret of Success for competitive cyclists is Mom’s #2: Keep Moving.

One section of Garden of the Gods. August 4th was Stage 4 of the USA ProChallenge cycling competition. Colorado Springs is 6,035 feet high.

One section of Garden of the Gods. August 4th was Stage 4 of the USA ProChallenge cycling competition. Colorado Springs is 6,035 feet high.

 

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, special quotations, writing exercises

WRITING OUR OWN WORDS

Corn stalks at evening. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Corn stalks at evening. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

 

 

 

 

Snowy Pikes Peak.  These two photos were chosen to fit with Mary Shepherd's Haikus below.

Snowy Pikes Peak. These two photos were chosen to fit with Mary Shepherd’s Haikus below.

Dear Mom,

Last week’s post—“Dancing In The Dark”—received many comments and emails about sleepwalkers who were understood or misunderstood, who were glad they had sleepwalked or wished they hadn’t.

Several years after I fell and cut my leg while sleepwalking, I asked if you were going to write about it in a poem or a story.  When I asked, I don’t know if I hoped you would write about it…or hoped you wouldn’t.

You were sitting at the table, typing and retyping some of the stories and articles you’d written in long hand in your notebook.  You looked at me, smiled and shook your head. “No,” you said. “You should be the one to write about it. It’s your story.”

It took me many years to finally write about that night of dancing in the dark, and you were right. It was my story to tell, in my own time and my own words.

This week, because you can no longer write—nor even remember—your poems, I’ll post them here for you.  I’m just the typist, copying them from pages in your writing folders. The words are yours.

Two Haikus, Two Seasons    (Mary Shepherd, circa 1980)

Little black birds swoop,

Flitting and dancing near earth,

Swarming on corn stalks.

                                                    Whiter than lamb’s wool

                                                     Snow shimmers on mountain peaks

                                                     Buffeted by winds.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next poem is one of my favorites.  Six lines show your love and appreciation of all children.  In your opinion, the common ground among all people is their children. This poem later grew into more writing about children you had met in China.

Common Ground       (Mary Shepherd, circa 1990)

There is common ground among people,

Wherever they are in this big world,

Who gaze into eyes of the children,

No matter the culture or color,

And see there the love of the parents

Who know that their children are priceless. 

November 10 is Forget-Me-Not Day, Mom.  It was originally set up as a special day to remember family and friends who had grown apart or died during the previous year.  On this day and every day, although you have forgotten much of your life and your writing, your family has not forgotten you.

Mary's great-grandson "planting."

Mary’s great-grandson “planting.”

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, writing

DANCING IN THE DARK

 

Colorado Blue Moon, 2013. (All photos by Marylin Warner.)

Colorado Blue Moon, 2013. (All photos by Marylin Warner.)

Picture of "Starry Night" by van Gogh, 1889.

Picture of “Starry Night” by van Gogh, 1889.

Dear Mom,

It was during the night, very late, and the only sound was rain tapping on my bedroom window. I woke up, not because of the rain, but because my leg hurt. When I reached under the sheet, I touched something warm and sticky, and it burned.

I was nine years old, and when I turned on the bedside lamp, I saw the blood.

This would be a cute place to say, Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!  But there was nothing cute about my leg…or my panic. I called out to you.

You took me into the bathroom and carefully cleaned the front of my calf. As you put medicine and band-aids on the wound, you told me a story.

It was about a mother who heard the front door of the house slowly open in the middle of the night. She jumped out of bed and ran down the hall to make sure her daughter was all right, but it was her daughter who had opened the door. The girl walked outside, went down the porch steps, out onto the lawn in her nightgown. She began wandering around, doing a little dance around the trees and plants. She was sleepwalking.

The mother watched to be sure the girl didn’t wander away or go out into the street, but she didn’t want to wake her because she had heard that to wake a sleepwalker could cause more problems than it solved.  Also, though, the mother and her daughter were both sleep talkers, and they were both good people, so the mother didn’t worry too much about the girl sleepwalking.

She silently watched her daughter until lightning crackled in the distance and it began to rain. She softly called out that it was time to come in now. For a minute or so the girl continued to sway in the rain, lifting her face to the splatters. Then she made her way back to the porch. She fell going up the concrete steps, but she didn’t awaken. She got up, walked into the house, into her bedroom and got into her bed. The mother took a Christmas bell from the hall closet and hung it on the door knob of the front door, just in case.

I think of that night now, Mom. You were there for me, calm and unflappable. Reassuring. There were other times I walked in my sleep after that, but it was inside the house, and several times the sound of a Christmas bell ringing on the front door knob woke me. We both continued to talk in our sleep.

Mom, you’re ninety-five years old now, and it’s my turn to be your calm, reassuring presence when I’m visiting you. During the night when you whisper to Grandma or Dad or one of your siblings who’ve all gone on ahead, I listen from the hall and wait. When you finish you will often get out of bed and walk to the bathroom or wander around your apartment, and usually you have no idea where you are or what you’re doing.  Just to be safe, I hang bells from the knob of your apartment’s front door in case you try to wander too far.

As you once told me, we’re both sleep talkers and we’re good people.  Plus, we’re family, and that says it all.

“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home.”  ~Mother Teresa

My mom and her siblings.  (l to r) Sam (father of my cousin Sandee); Ira (father of Beth and Glee); Mary Elizabeth, my mother; Wanda (mother of Karen); and Ruth LaVonne (for current pictures of the girl cousins, go to the post, "Keepers of Memories"

My mom and her siblings. (l to r) Sam (father of my cousin Sandee); Ira (father of Beth and Glee); Mary Elizabeth, my mother; Wanda (mother of Karen); and Ruth LaVonne; (for current pictures of the girl cousins, go to the post, “Keepers of the Memories”)

Abilene, Kansas' Old Town in the evening.

Abilene, Kansas’ Old Town in the evening.

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Filed under art, autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Spiritual connections, Things to be thankful for

YELLING AT TREES

Old Colorado City Library. Knitters prepare the tree for winter. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Old Colorado City Library. Knitters prepare the tree for winter. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Bare trees are ready for winter on eastern plains of Colorado

Bare trees are ready for winter on eastern plains of Colorado

The Tree Lady waits...you'd better not yell at her!

The Tree Lady waits…you’d better not yell at her!

Dear Mom,

You don’t remember any of the essays from Fulghum’s book ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN. I used to read excerpts of his book to you, and one essay made both of us shake our heads and laugh.

Supposedly, if natives in the Solomon Islands needed to cut down a tree that was too large to be felled with an ax, they yelled at it. Woodsmen with special powers crept up on the tree at dawn and screamed at it. Really loud. They did this for thirty days, and after the yelling killed the spirit of the tree, it fell over. (Note: I checked Wickipedia, and this “fact” is still up for debate. In the past, when Solomon Islanders had only very basic tools and no metal for their axes, who knows for sure what they did?)

I remember we wondered who would sneak up on trees and yell at them (other than islanders without axes).  One year in school, my class kept two plants in the classroom for an experiment. We were to ignore or talk mean to one plant, but smile and say nice, encouraging things to the other, and see what happened.  Of course we all know what the lesson was supposed to be, but I don’t remember if our project proved the point or not. I wasn’t the only one who felt sad for the ignored plant, so I think others also would sneak in nice words, encouragement and smiles to help it out. We weren’t good scientists, but we were nice kids.

Now, even though your dementia is very advanced and you often don’t know who I am, who you are or where you are, your basic kind, gentle and sweet personality has remained the same. I can’t imagine you yelling at a tree, a helpless plant, or a person, either. Okay, once, when the neighborhood bully tried to sic his dog on me and you flew out of the house and stopped him. But other than for emergencies, I never heard you yell.

I recently read that actress Reese Witherspoon had this to say this about yelling: “If you are not yelling at your kids, you are not spending enough time with them.”

I think she was probably trying to be funny–and show she was on top of things–but I don’t think you’d agree with her.

You spent a great deal of time with children, Mom, and you showed us by example that we didn’t have to yell, scream, hit, pinch or bite to communicate. I also remember that when I did resort to yelling or screaming, your response was usually to pause, take a deep breath, and send me to my room to think about things and come up with a better plan.

Thanks, Mom, for your example then…and for you example now.    Love, Marylin

_________________________________________________

P.S. to readers:  Tracy Karner is a creative, energetic advocate for building a ‘community’ of bloggers with recipes, travel pieces and terrific photographs.  This week she has featured a short piece about my mom…and Mom’s recipe for “Eggs ala Goldenrod”—which is very good, especially at this time of year!  Stop by!  http://tracyleekarner.com/2013/10/18/its-october-join-our-pumpkin-party/

Abilene KS tree, broken by lightning and wind, not by yelling.

Abilene KS tree, broken by lightning and wind, not by yelling.

Blowing in the wind? Or is someone yelling at it? (Watercolor by Marylin Warner)

Blowing in the wind? Or is someone yelling at it? (Watercolor by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under art, autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren

ALL WE REALLY NEED TO KNOW

Rules adults, children...and politicians should know and follow are in this book.  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Rules adults, children…and politicians should know and follow are in this book. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

 

Kindergarten teacher Mary Shepherd (3rd from left, back row) in 1944

Kindergarten teacher Mary Shepherd (3rd from left, back row) in 1944.  An added note: Beth, my cousin in Georgia–her picture playing the flute is in the post “Keepers of Memories” — and she told me she is the girl second from the left end on the first row! But she wasn’t in my mother’s class! For Beth’s funny story, read her comment at the end of the post.

Dear Mom,

Author and astrophysicist Carl Sagan wrote, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”   Robert Fulghum, a Unitarian minister, simplified what we really need to know in his successful 1988 book, ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things.

The book grew out of  Fulghum’s speech at a primary school celebration where Senator Dan Evans happened to be in the audience. Evans was so moved by the basic truths in the speech that it was eventually read into the Congressional Record.  Major newspapers picked it up, and the rest was history.

Fulghum’s basic premise is that the wise rules needed to develop successful children and adults (and politicians, too, obviously) are found not in hallowed halls…but in sandboxes and on the playgrounds of life.  Here are a few of Fulghum’s short, simple and honest rules: Clean up your own mess…Don’t take things that aren’t yours…Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody…Wash your hands before you eat…Flush.

I bought Fulghum’s book for you when it first came out, Mom. As a former kindergarten teacher, you applauded the basic life truths, and you told me stories from the classroom, from teaching Sunday school and substituting in elementary classrooms…and also funny (and sometimes embarrassing) stories from when David and I were children.

That was many years ago. Now, as you lie in your bed after hip surgery, you don’t remember your stories or the successes you had raising your own children and helping other children. But I remember many of the stories, which is why I write this blog, so your great-grandchildren (and others) will know some of the many good things you did that made a difference.

It’s October now, Mom, and I remember one of your basic rules from this time of year:  When someone has raked a pile of leaves and you jump in it, afterwards be sure you rake it up again.  (Remember how we used to burn our piles of leaves–with you and Dad supervising, of course– and how wonderful the scent was on chilly autumn evenings?)

Here are some of your other “Basic Wisdom” rules I remember:  Eat an apple—or at least some slices—every day… When someone says mean things to you, the best way to get over it is to say nice things to someone else… When you borrow something, return it in better condition than it was… It’s better to take birthday treats for the whole class than to have a full birthday party and invite only some of the class but leave out others.

Mom, thanks to you and Robert Fulghum for teaching us the basic rules that everyone should follow to make the world a better place.

Maybe our blog friends will share some basic rules they learned! 

Ray and Mary's great-grandchildren making their own music.

Ray and Mary’s great-grandchildren making their own music.

Mary and Ray's children, Marylin and David, as young children.

Mary and Ray’s children, Marylin and David.

Chapman, KS elementary students learning team work.  Good job!

Chapman, KS elementary students learning team work. Good job!

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Filed under autumn lessons, Chapman KS, Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, kindergarten lessons about life, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations

THE BIRD THAT FEELS THE LIGHT

I painted this indoor Santa Fe birdhouse and added the bear, the eggs and the angel. It's my favorite. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

I painted this indoor Santa Fe birdhouse and added the bear, the eggs and the angel. It’s my favorite. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

I painted this birdhouse for Jim's mother, to match the colors in her house. Her address, plus !/2, for the bird address. My parents had a similar bird house in their colors.

I painted this birdhouse for Jim’s mother, to match the colors in her house. Her address, plus 1/2, for the bird address. My parents had a similar bird house in their colors.

Dear Mom,

You used to hang sturdy little bird houses in the trees around the yard and from the house eaves.  Outside your kitchen window, you kept a feeder stocked with bird seed.

I think it was your outdoor bird houses that later drew me to making decorative indoor bird houses. I knew the myths about birds flying into a house—an omen of bad luck or impending death—and I knew about ravens, not in football but in Poe’s “quoth the raven, never more.” But I also knew the church song, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free. His eye is on the sparrow, and He watches over me.”

The first bird house I painted for you and Dad was in the colors of your house, with brown shutters on the windows and plants on the steps. Across the front door I painted the numbers 1402 ½–your address plus one-half–an address for the birds.  When I moved you and Dad to Presbyterian Village, we left it hanging on your porch, under the eaves, with grass and yarn inside, a cozy home for the family of birds nested there.

As an English and literature teacher, I taught Langston Hughes’ lines: “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”

Victor Hugo wrote, “The soul has illusions as the bird has wings: it is supported by them.” And Anne Baxter wrote, “It’s best to have failure happen early in life. It wakes up the Phoenix bird in you so you rise from the ashes.”

Now, as you heal from your hip surgery, while you sleep most of the day in your bed or rest in your recliner, you seem to see and dream of other times, and you wait.

And Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.”  I believe you have that kind of faith, Mom. His eye is on the sparrow, and whatever happens, you trust He watches you.

Now THIS bird house would be a bad omen for birds!

Now THIS bird house would be a bad omen for birds!

Enough room for family and friends.

Enough room for family and friends.

Every writer needs a Post Office bird house.

Every writer needs a Post Office bird house.

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Filed under art, art projects, autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Different kinds of homes, lessons about life, Lessons from birds, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Spiritual connections

IF WE WALK FAR ENOUGH…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mom,

I was in third grade when I first saw THE WIZARD OF OZ  movie on television.  I remember being amazed and somewhat frightened by the  Kansas tornado, Dorothy and Toto waking up in a strange world of good witches, bad witches, munchkins, and flying monkeys; a yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City, and three strangers who travel with the girl and become her friends: Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion.

It was years before I actually read L. Frank Baum’s novel and realized the many differences between his book and the movie version. Supposedly, there were over forty, but the surprising one for me as a reader was the difference in Dorothy’s character in Baum’s book. Dorothy was not the movie’s damsel in distress who needed to be rescued. She was a strong, capable young girl who took charge and rescued the situation, herself, and her friends.  “If we walk far enough,” Dorothy assures the others in the book, “we shall sometime come to someplace.”

The someplace they reach is Oz, but the guard blocks their way, saying, “Nobody gets in to see the wizard. Not nobody.”  That doesn’t stop Dorothy. Even though the Wizard turns out to be “a very good man…just a very bad wizard,” Dorothy doesn’t give up.

There have been countless essays written and theories debated about the characters and symbols in THE WIZARD OF OZ.  For instance, what’s more important to pursue, a brain, a heart, or courage? Or, which is the better lesson to learn, how to follow good or how to fight evil?

And finally, once you leave, can you ever really go home again? That’s the question you answered, Mom, by how you’ve lived your life in a spirit of love and acceptance. You saw leaving home as a natural, necessary journey for your children. Things would change and so would we, but of course we could always come home again; a part of our hearts would always be there, and our family would always welcome us back with open arms.

In the book, Dorothy’s slippers are silver; in the movie they are ruby red, but the message matters more than the color. She clicks them and says the magic phrase again and again.  She had the magic answer within her all along: “There’s no place like home.”

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Filed under art, autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, movies, Things to be thankful for