Category Archives: Dementia/Alzheimer’s

THE RIGHT WORDS

What words would "Mr. Wonderful" say to impress a woman?

What words would “Mr. Wonderful” say to impress a woman?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful's words?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful’s words?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

In 1871, Lewis Carrolll wrote the nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky.” It begins “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves ~ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe…” It’s a well-known poem, often praised for the flow and sounds of the words, and in every English class there are always some students who swear they understand exactly what Carroll was saying.

Author Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was a prominent novelist, poet and short story writer who was also known for Gobblefunk, his own language. Two examples are “swigpill” (disgusting food), and “splath-winkled” (hurrying about). Despite this special language he scattered through some of his writing, his also wrote this: “Don’t gobblefunk around with words.”

Sometimes words work; sometimes they don’t. All writers know this, and most agree that one place where this is particularly true is when they write dialogue. It either works, or it doesn’t. 

To loosen up the writers in my classes and workshops, I often jumped right into exercises on writing dialogue. My favorite prop was Mr. Wonderful, a 12” doll with a flashy smile, a button-down shirt, khaki pants, and real-tie brown leather shoes. Press the palm of his hand and he said sixteen different phrases—all from the heart—and all as fake as his smile. Two of my favorites were “You know, I think it’s really important that we talk about our relationship,” and “You know, Honey, why don’t you just relax and let me make dinner tonight…and do the dishes.”

It was obvious to both males and females that Mr. Wonderful’s words were stilted and didn’t work.   So the writers were to act as his “coach” and choose any three of his phrases and write what a “real guy” would say. After they’d finished, they were to hand the sheet to another writer who would write what an imaginary Ms. Wonderful would say in response. Everyone relaxed with the dialogue of this fake-to-the-core doll. It was a great way to get started.

Before my mother’s dementia, once when she was visiting I introduced her to Mr. Wonderful. She listened to his phrases and laughed. Then she said that some of the hardest dialogue to write was how children talk, so another exercise for my students could be to write what a young girl or boy would say to Mr. Wonderful, telling him how to dress and what to say. I really liked her idea, and asked if she wanted to try writing some examples.

Mom looked around, shook her head and smiled. In her opinion, the best way to write dialogue was to get comfortable and sit quietly, in a waiting room or a classroom or anywhere adults or children talk and do things. Then listen to what they say, how they pause or move when they say something, if they chatter on and on or speak in short sentences, if they mumble or whine. That’s how you learn to write like people really talk, she said. You listen.

And then she laughed and added that you didn’t want to sit quietly too long. You might fall asleep and then some uppity writer might write about how you sleep with your mouth open or snore.

My mother taught me that getting words right is important, but so is watching and learning. And getting your heart involved, too. As John Bunyan, author of THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, wrote: “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

The same is true in life.

This "borrows" from Keep Calm and Carry On.  Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.

This “borrows” from Keep Calm and Carry On. Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.

 

Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell where the men are.

Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell what happened to the men.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, special quotations, teaching, writing, writing exercises

LESSONS FROM THE EDGE

"Weaver's Dream" ~ the only woven wall art I own. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

“Weaver’s Dream” ~ the only woven wall art I own. (I had to adjust the overall color to show the “mistake”–in reality it’s only slightly different in hue from the rest of the weaving.)

Mom's bird sampler quilt ~ the only quilt she ever made.

Mom’s bird sampler quilt ~ the only quilt she ever made.  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

The 2003 movie/docudrama, EDGE OF AMERICA, is based on the story of a black teacher who is hired to teach English at Three Nations High School in Utah. He’s never been on an Indian reservation, and to make ends meet he agrees to also coach the girls’ unsuccessful basketball team. He is the teacher and the coach, yet he’s the one learning many of the lessons.

One of the most important lessons is about making mistakes, and his biggest one is the demand for perfection. Based on his own experiences, he teaches the girls that out in the real world, their only chance is to first achieve perfection on the basketball court and defeat the prejudice of white players.

The tribal Wise Woman has been weaving rugs all of her life. She says that each is slightly different, leaving openings in the design for growth. This is seen as an imperfection by some, but she believes imperfections are actually spiritual outlets. “Imperfection is beauty,” she says, so in each rug she weaves a mistake…on purpose. Otherwise, “The spirit becomes trapped in perfection…”

EDGE OF AMERICA is an excellent movie; it is also a compelling clash of cultures, philosophies, beliefs and values. I dare say that many of us grew up adhering to the dictionary definition of mistakes: “actions or judgments that are misguided or wrong.” And even Einstein’s well-known comment–“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”–implies that mistakes are necessary in learning, but not desirable for ongoing intentional spiritual outlets. 

My mother’s first quilt was a series of bird patterns. It took her several years as a teen to create twenty blocks of different birds, each hand sewn with a series of basic and combination stitches. It was a training quilt, an introduction to perfecting stitches and developing discipline. When all the blocks were correct—with mistakes carefully taken out and re-stitched until the birds were perfect—then her mother and great aunt helped her piece together the blocks with pink and green accents and borders, and then quilt the design top to a solid pink fabric back.

Years ago I found the quilt neatly folded away among blankets in the closet. It was Mom’s only quilt; when it was finished, she was never interested in doing more than just assisting in others’ projects. It was later that I realized from her comments that the requirements for perfection had dulled her joy of creating. I think she would have agreed with the Wise Woman in EDGE OF AMERICA: “The spirit becomes trapped in perfection.”

I own one hand woven wall hanging. It’s called “Weaver’s Dream” and contains one “mistake.” I have no idea how the weaver accomplished it, but I was assured it was not added on, carefully bleached or altered to look different. It was woven into the pattern…intentionally. The vendor told me the “mistake” had made many buyers choose other wall hangings. I chose “Weaver’s Dream” because of it. It’s a matter of perspective, and although it may be a flaw in my character, perfection has never been my ultimate goal in anything.

Be careful what you wish for.  Personally, I wouldn't waste coins wishing for perfection.

Be careful what you wish for. Personally, I wouldn’t waste coins wishing for perfection.

 

One block from a quilt of "The Flying Windmill" pattern.  Turn it on it's side and it's the Nazi symbol.

One block from a quilt of “The Flying Windmill” pattern. Turn it on its side and it’s the Nazi symbol. It’s a matter of perspective.

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Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Lessons from birds, Quilting projects, sewing, special quotations, Spiritual connections

THIS NOVEMBER, TASTE LIFE TWICE

Bull in front of Kansas barn (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

Bull in front of Kansas barn (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

Consider the possible genres: horror? mystery? romance? true crime? or science fiction?

Consider the possible genres: horror? mystery? romance? true crime? science fiction?

On May 2, I wrote a post about a game Mom and I played during some of my visits when she was still in the early stages of dementia.   As I would drive around town, she’d choose a house and answer the question, “What’s Behind the Door?”    It was intended to encourage her to remember tastes, sounds, smells and feelings. We had a lot of fun with the game, and we usually went for an ice cream cone afterwards.

Several of you have asked if I made up other writing prompts.  Here’s another: “Genre-flecting” (thinking about story ideas based on genre types.)

The purpose with my mother was to use different writing genres to inspire ideas for stories and poems. We talked about various genres–mystery, memoir, western, romance, horror, children’s, fantasy, science fiction, etc.–and also combinations of genres: women’s mainstsream, malice domestic mystery, romantic western, narrative poetry, children’s adventure, etc.

We used buildings as the prompts, and once we chose a place, the next step was to create characters, animals, situations or events that happened there. Since I was driving and she was in the passenger seat, I would cite the genre prompt, she’d think about it, and then she’d create a story or poem idea.   For instance, consider the top picture of the bull in front of the barn. If I asked, “What’s going on here that could make a children’s adventure story?” ~ your answer would be very different than if I asked, “What’s going on here that would make a sci-fi/mystery story?”

For those of us who are not participating in this November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or National Memoir Writing Month, we have another option.  November 14 is both “I Love To Write Day” AND “Loosen Up, Lighten Up Day.”  

Combine them.  Shake your shoulders loose, grab a pen and write.  Choose one of these pictures or use one of your own or from a magazine; consider a genre you especially like to read—or don’t like to read at all—and set a timer.  Write about “What’s going on here?” for 20 min. or an hour, or for half a page or a full page. Write, and see what ideas or memories emerge. 

The wonderful novelist, essayist and short story writer Anais Nin reminds us this about the importance of writing: “We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection…”  

This November—throughout the month, or on the 14th, or any day—write…and taste life twice.   My mother would be the first to tell you it’s okay to treat yourself with an ice cream cone.

old house at pond      

cabin on open plains

tejon st

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Different kinds of homes, lessons about life, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

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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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, October glory, special quotations

MUSICAL SPOONS

wooden spoons

As a special gift when I was born, someone sent my parents a little silver spoon and mug set engraved with my initials.  I don’t remember actually using them. They had to be polished to keep the silver shining, and I was very young when the spoon was seriously damaged after it got caught in the garbage disposal.  I do remember that later we used the silver mug as a water dish for our parakeet because it fit perfectly in his cage, and Chippy saw his reflection and made dent marks all around the edge.

The first spoon I actually used to feed myself–and also to happily fling food with abandon–was wooden. It was a little round-tipped spoon intended to be the dipper in a honey bowl.  Mom said I had the best time banging it on the table and my bowl, and there was no annoying clatter that a metal spoon would have made.  I was the second child, so by then the novelty of cute baby things had been replaced by more practical, easily cleaned and audibly tolerated utensils and gadgets. The wooden spoon became a toy.

My mother was an excellent cook.  For soups, sauces, batters, oatmeal and anything that needed stirring, she preferred to use wooden spoons. She also recycled old wooden spoons for stirring paint, propping up house plants, and marking the rows in her garden.

One undesirable use for wooden spoons was for corporal punishment. This might come as a surprise to those of you who’ve followed this blog and the sweet stories about my mother:  her faith, intelligence, kindness and tenderness…and her love for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Mom was also a practical, common sense lady with a degree in early child development.  Even though she was vehemently opposed to spanking or slapping any child, she saw the thickly diapered bottom of a toddler as the perfect “get your attention” place when we wouldn’t respond to repeated words or gentle hands turning us in the direction we were supposed to go.

David and I were in diapers and plastic pants during much of the same time, toddling and racing about, getting into things, pretending we didn’t hear our mom.  One swat with the wooden spoon on our diapered behinds made enough noise to get our attention.  But strangely, the spoons began to disappear.  Mom said she looked everywhere–under tables and rugs, tucked in drawers and between sofa cushions, even in the trash–but she couldn’t find them.

I was past 3 and David was almost 5 when we moved from Ash Grove, Missouri to Fort Scot, Kansas.  The movers came to load the furniture into the truck, and when they pulled the old upright piano away from the wall, my mother said she gasped.  Behind the piano, back where only little hands could reach, were the five missing wooden spoons.  One of the movers shook his head and asked if she did much cooking at the piano, and Mom laughed so hard that she had to sit down on one of the packing boxes.

old piano

She was still sitting there when we came in from the neighbor’s house and saw her holding the spoons. Mom said we suddenly became timid, nervously looking down at our shoes, up at the ceiling, and anywhere but at her. Finally David asked what she was going to do with the spoons.

She answered that we had become very good listeners and she was proud of us, so from now on we’d only use the spoons for cooking and baking. And when we got to the new house, she was going to bake a batch of oatmeal cookies, and she’d give us each a spoon to help stir the batter.  And that is exactly what she did.

As a mother and a grandmother myself now, I love playing the piano, and I also love oatmeal cookies.  Even though my mom has dementia and doesn’t remember this story of the musical spoons, I sometimes play CDs of piano music for her while we eat cookies and drink chocolate milk…just in case.  You never know when music and cookies will trigger a happy memory.

The cup and the plate maybe ran away with the knife, but my brother and I hid the spoons.  Many years later, Mom's great-grandchildren used these wooden spoons as picture holders in pre-school.

The cup and the plate maybe ran away with the knife, but my brother and I hid the spoons. Many years later, Mom’s great-grandchildren used these wooden spoons as picture holders in pre-school.

cup and plate and knife embroidery

 

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

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