Category Archives: autumn lessons

THE NORWAY OF THE YEAR

The national flag of Norway, adopted July, 1821

The national flag of Norway, adopted July, 1821

 

 

 

Red November leaves clinging to tree.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Red leaves clinging to tree. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Have you ever noticed the grim way some writers describe the month of November?  

Joseph Addison wrote this: “The gloomy months of November, when people of England hang and drown themselves.” (I double checked, and the word “months” is indeed plural, as if November seems to go on and on, which might explain the hanging and drowning, or maybe it refers to Addison’s interpretation over many years. Whichever it is, I apologize to the people of England; remember, I am only the messenger.)

Emily Dickinson describes November this way: “November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.”  (I used to teach Dickinson in my English classes, and I don’t recall her writing that July is the Sahara of the year, or making any other month/place comparisons…only November.)

My mother’s writing is not well known–and at this point in her dementia, even she doesn’t recognize her own words when I read them aloud to her–but I’d like to share with you a few of her descriptions of November.  I found these typed and handwritten examples stored in her writing box. 

The windblown sleet darts ~ Like tiny ice bullets ~ Against my window pane. 

Wee button noses ~ Beneath eyes of wide wonder   ~ Smudge frosty windows.

And these last two, titled 1 and 2, were followed by a question: which one is better?  If you have a preference or comment, I’ll read them to Mom during my next trip to Kansas…and remind her again that these are her words and Haikus.

#1: Spruce draped in snow-fall ~ Stand silent cold sentinels ~ Against threat’ning skies.

#2: Trees clothed in snow-fall ~ Are strong sentinels guarding ~ Against steel grey skies.

Both of my parents thought that each day had its own beauty, and each month had its own importance and possibility. For my mother, summer months were for planting and gardening; fall and winter months were for knitting and baking; spring months were for hoping and watching new growth. She believed every season was a gift, and all the seasons deserved heartfelt anticipation…and at least a few words of notice and appreciation penned in her notebooks.

 

Fall clouds on the Kansas horizon

Fall clouds on the Kansas horizon

Maggie on fall hike in Brown's Park, Abilene, KS

Maggie on fall hike in Brown’s Park, Abilene, KS

November picture of Colorado's Pikes Peak

November picture of Colorado’s Pikes Peak

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, Mary Shepherd's poetry, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

moon between trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hand-painted pumpkins greet visitors at the entrance to Mom's assisted living. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Hand-painted pumpkins greet visitors at the entrance to Mom’s assisted living. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Erma Bombeck was one of my mother’s favorite humor writers.   Not only was she a good writer, but her books and columns also contained real life truths.   I remember Mom laughing, and then she would read aloud the excerpt and say something like, “I know just how she feels!”

This Bombeck quote perfectly describes my mother:  “A grandmother pretends she doesn’t know who you are on Halloween.”   Mom was the perfect, appreciative audience for her costumed grandchildren…and all children.

Seven years ago, these were the types of trick or treaters Mom enjoyed most--her great-grandchildren!

Seven years ago, these were the types of trick or treaters Mom enjoyed most–her sweet great-grandchildren!

 

 

When Mom opened the front door and greeted the young neighborhood kids chirping “Trick or Treat,” she pretended not to know any of them. “Oh my, who is this pirate on my porch?” she might say.   Or, “What a scary ghost you are!” and “I didn’t know we had a real princess living nearby!”   The children would giggle and hold out their sacks, and most of them said, “Thank you” for the goodies she gave to them.   It was a happy time.

 

 

Then, as years went by, Mom and Dad started forgetting names and faces—and not just when children were in Halloween costumes—so they began leaving a bowl of candy on the patio table (and eventually they even forgot to do that).   They would turn off the porch lights and the indoor lights, lock the doors and go to bed early. Halloween was no longer fun for them; it was too confusing.

There is a traditional Scottish saying about Halloween that is also a prayer: “From ghoulies and ghosties ~ And long-legged beasties ~ And things that go bump in the night ~ Good Lord, deliver us!”

Based on my own experiences with my parents—and as a prayer for all of us—I’ll add this:   “From confusion and fear and forgotten memories ~ From the losses and sorrows of Alzheimer’s and dementia ~ And from scary things that go bump in the night ~ Good Lord, deliver us!”

 

Farmers harvest a HUGE smile for Halloween.

Farmers harvest a HUGE smile for Halloween.

Our daughter Molly made these Halloween "teeth" treats for her kids' class rooms: apples slices with peanut butter holding the marshmallow teeth.

Our daughter Molly made these Halloween “teeth” treats for her kids’ class rooms: apples slices with peanut butter holding the marshmallow teeth.

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WANT A HEARTBEAT AT YOUR FEET?

Before Alzheimer's took over, my dad loved to have talks with Fritz, who ran to meet him at the back door.  Fritz was from the Humane Society.

Before Alzheimer’s took over, my dad loved to have talks with Fritz, who ran to meet him at the back door. Fritz was from the Humane Society.

 

Our dog Maggie, a special member of our family for the past 12 years. Our police officer son-in-law found her in an abandoned yard. (Photo by Jim Warner)

Our dog Maggie, a special member of our family for the past 12 years. Our police officer son-in-law found her in an abandoned yard. (Photo by Jim Warner)

When we were growing up, my brother and I had numerous pets: rabbits, seahorses, an alligator for a short time, white mice, a parakeet, and eight dogs (one at a time). We never had kittens or a cat, but that was because my brother was allergic to them (I thought we should give up my brother so I could have a kitten, but my parents outvoted me.)

Five of our dogs were from the Humane Society, and our first dog when we moved to Fort Scott, when I was 3 and my brother was almost 5, was a dog that had been left behind by the people who rented the house before we did. Rather than shoo her off, of course Mom fed and took care of her. A month later Smokey had a litter of puppies, and when they were old enough, my mother put a sign on the gate of our fence: “Puppies, 5 cents each. To good homes only”  

We came home from church the next Sunday, and the gate was open.  A note on the back porch was weighed down with a rock and a dime. “We have a good home. We took the last puppy. You can keep the extra nickel. Thank you.”

October is “Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.”   This post is not a Public Service Announcement, but I can honestly attest to the joy of having dogs as members of our family. We also love cats; as soon as I had my own home, we began adding wonderful cats to our clan as well, but that’s another post.

October is also “National Popcorn Popping Month,” but a previous post was about microwave popcorn setting off fire alarms in my mother’s assisted living facility, so we’ve already covered that topic. It is also “Cookie Month,” so to play fair, I’ve included a picture of some October-themed cookies. But for the rest of you who might need a nudge for dog adoptions, here are some personal testimonies:

By writer Edith Wharton: “My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.”

 “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” ~ Will Rogers

 “The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.” ~ Andy Rooney

And Rita Rudner said, “I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult.” 

If you want to meet new people and have a heated discussion, you can get a bumper sticker like the one we saw on a truck in the parking lot of the dog park: “MY MIXED BREED DOG IS SMARTER THAN YOUR HONOR STUDENT”

October is also SARCASTIC MONTH, but you might want to use sarcasm carefully…

To be fair, October is also "Cookie Month" ~ so here are some samples.

To be fair, October is also “Cookie Month” ~ so here are some samples.

Our daughter's family adopted Duchess, a wonderful German Shepherd, from a soldier leaving Ft. Riley.

Our daughter’s family adopted Duchess, a wonderful German Shepherd, from a soldier leaving Ft. Riley.

Our granddaughter Grace reading to Maggie.

Our granddaughter Grace reading to Maggie.

 

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations

SOUND THE ALARMS!

We take fires very seriously in Colorado after the devastating Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, and the 2013 Black Forest Fire (in picture)

We take fires very seriously in Colorado after the devastating Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, and the 2013 Black Forest Fire (in picture)

 

The closing lines of last week’s blog will begin this week’s post: ~ Sing a song of seasons! ~ Something bright in All! ~ Flowers in the summer, ~ Fires in the fall!

Last week’s post focused on poetry, the book of children’s poems I read aloud to Mom as she snuggled under her covers one night. Despite her dementia, Mom responded to the poems, making comments and asking to hear more. It was a surprising, happy time.

This week the focus in on the four words—Fires in the fall!—because of something that happened in Mom’s assisted living that same night…before I read her the poems.

The alarms went off. Everywhere, blaring throughout the entire assisted living facility, both floors, all four hallways. Steel safety doors automatically slammed shut, closing off all the hallways, and the alarms kept screeching. Caregivers ran to evaluate the situation. I stayed with Mom in her apartment, putting on her shoes, helping her into the wheelchair and tucking her afghan around her, waiting to learn which exit I should use to take her to safety. In the hallway outside her apartment, other more mobile and self-reliant seniors peeked out their doors and waited anxiously in the hall to learn what to do next.

Finally the alarms stopped. The steel doors opened, and caregivers hurried back to the apartments. The halls were thick with whiffs of smoke and the pungent smell of burned …popcorn? Really, burned popcorn.   Bags of microwave popcorn had been accidentally set on fire in a 90-year-old resident’s apartment microwave when he pushed the wrong numbers. Supposedly, the numbers were way off; the bags caught fire and blew the door open on the microwave.

Mom sat in the wheelchair, watching caregivers hurrying around, running back and forth past our open door. She looked up at me and asked, “Well, are we going to go now?” She was ready for us to take a walk.

The Roman philosopher Seneca said this: “There are more things to alarm us than to harm us, and we suffer more often in apprehension than reality.”   My mom’s personal philosophy has always been to not suffer or worry in advance, but to stay calmly busy with other things until there was an actual danger that demanded a specific response. She could have been a poster girl for the 1939 British motivational poster in preparation for WWII: “Keep Calm & Carry On.”

Life can be very difficult. Losing the love of your life to Alzheimer’s; losing your own clarity of time and place to dementia; giving up your home and independence; outliving most of your family and friends; thinking you’re getting ready to go for a wheelchair ride, only to have that ended by fire alarms…and you don’t even get any popcorn.

October 9 is Fire Prevention Day. I’m informing you early, so you can prepare in advance to prevent fires…and to make the most of whatever difficulties and disappointments you might face. Keep Calm and Read Poetry. Popcorn is optional, especially if you’re not sure how to use a microwave.

calm duck on water

moon between trees

Based on the 1939 British motivational poster in preparation for WWII.

Based on the 1939 British motivational poster in preparation for WWII.

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations

UNFORGOTTEN TIMES

orange autumn leaves

lemons in bowl

For this month’s visit with my mother, I had loaded the abridged version of A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES on my Kindle. I didn’t expect her to follow the details—her dementia has blurred much of her understanding of anything she hears—but I hoped she might enjoy the sounds, the rhythms and flow of poetry. So when she was tucked in her bed, ready to go to sleep, I pulled the rocking chair up close. With the only light coming from a small lamp nearby, I began to read.

I ended up reading aloud all the poems to her. Her eyes would close and I’d think she was asleep. But when I’d stop reading, she’d say to read more. Then she began responding to some of the poems. For instance, “To My Mother” was one of the little poems in public domain, no author cited. She asked me to read it twice.

You, too, my mother, read my rhymes ~   For love of unforgotten times, ~ And you may chance to hear once more ~ The little feet along the floor.

Mom smiled and nodded, agreeing children ran to be read to, because they loved to hear words.  Her responses to the poems were a delightful surprise.  It was the most specifically responsive I’d seen her in a long time.

This is the last full week of September, World Alzheimer’s Month, and also One-on-One Month.  If you have someone in your life who suffers with dementia or Alzheimer’s and doesn’t respond to other things you’ve tried, I recommend you try some One-On-One time reading aloud simple or familiar children’s poems. September is also Self-Improvement Month, and I have no doubt that reading aloud poetry to my mother by lamp light certainly improved me.

September 26 is Johnny Appleseed Day. (Isn’t September a fascinating month?) In fourth grade I did a report on pioneer and nurseryman John Chapman (1774-1845), who made it his mission to plant apple seeds throughout numerous states. I was so impressed by his efforts that I passed out sections of apples to the other students so they could save the seeds and imitate him.  (One of the boys swallowed his seeds to see if he could grow a tree in his stomach. Some things are wasted on 4th graders, I guess.  We all hoped leaves would grow out of his ears.)

Anyway, John Chapman’s vision is even more important this month during the epidemic of a fast moving viral respiratory infection that is hospitalizing children across the country. There is no immunization or miracle drug, but two doctors from the CDC stated that the acid in lemons and the pectin in apples appear to be helpful in deterring the illness.

And finally, September 21-27 is World Reflexology Week. Oh, if only Mom could shake the dementia, she could teach us about the pressure points on hands and feet to release stress, diminish pain, treat sinus infections, and improve energy.  You can Google reflexology for resources and diagrams to get started.

Enjoy this last full week of September. Another of the poems I read to my mother was “Autumn Fires,” about burning leaves. She had me read it aloud twice, and the final lines had her smiling: …The red fire blazes, ~ The grey smoke towers, ~ Sing a song of seasons! ~ Something bright in All! ~ Flowers in the summer, ~ Fires in the fall!   

acupressure feet

acupressure hands

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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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