Category Archives: experiments


Tiger lilies growing wild. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Tiger lilies growing wild.
(All photos by Marylin Warner)

Taking a fresh air break with Mom.

Taking a fresh air break with Mom.

Dear Mom,

Remember how much time I used to spend getting ready for camp or packing for a family trip to visit Dad’s family in California? You paired off socks, matched outfits, and ID-ed everything with my initials. I packed and repacked books, games, art projects, camera and film, notebooks and pens, and packages of red licorice rope candy.

Now when I drive from Colorado to Kansas to visit you, it’s simpler. I make sure my Kindle and digital camera are charged, pack only the things I know I’ll need, and start driving. I have several favorite places along the way where I can pick up meals and tempting desserts that are much, much better than licorice ropes.

There are also other things I do to prepare before I arrive at your door. Maybe some of these will help other caregivers and frequent visitors of parents with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and maybe they’ll share ideas to add to my list.

Here are my five basic preparations for a successful visit:

Decide in advance that laughter will be the go-to response in tense situations.  Not laughter at the person, but at the situation. Things happen, messes need to be cleaned up–sometimes again and again–stress can be high. But if my response is to laugh and say, “Oh, this reminds me of when I was a kid. Remember the time when I…?” it’s surprising how the mood lifts and we enjoy each other’s company.

Chew gum.  I once read an article about hundreds of gum chewers and non-gum chewers who were studied for stress.  Those who chewed gum while doing repetitive jobs–without choking or dropping gum on the assembly line, of course–showed significantly less stress.  You no longer chew gum, Mom, but I do when I’m with you…sugarless bubble gum.  It’s harder to blow bubbles, but I remember once when I blew a huge bubble. You looked over, smiled and reached out. I leaned forward and you had great fun popping the bubble with your finger. In that moment you were involved and entertained, and we shared the added bonus of laughter.

Improve the environment.  We have several green plants growing by your front window, Mom, but nothing perks up the feeling of your living room like fresh flowers. You were once an avid vegetable gardener, but you also grew lilies, lilacs, roses, daisies and many varieties of flowering bushes. Now, whenever I bring a bouquet of garden flowers or a blooming plant from the grocery store, you brighten up and respond to the colors and scents. Once I brought a gingerbread mix that could be baked in the microwave, and you enjoyed the smell of warm gingerbread as much as the taste. Microwave popcorn’s popping sound and buttery scent make you smile every time.

Be prepared TO DO something.  Since I spend the night each time I visit you, we have extra time, so I arrive with several things we can do.  We paint your fingernails, sometimes alternating colors; I wrap up a pair of brightly patterned socks for you to enjoy twice… once when you unwrap the package, and then again when I put the socks on your feet; I bring several colorful postcards, and you can decide who will receive them and what you want me to write on each card.  The activities aren’t costly or complicated, just a fun diversion.

Walk…several times.  Caregivers who are able to take frequent walks do better and have less stress.  When I’m with you, Mom, I am your caregiver, so you and I take our walks together. You have a walker, but I’m glad we kept Dad’s old wheelchair. On nice days I take you outside to see the flowers or feed the ducks. On not-so-nice days we stay inside and make an adventure of rolling along the hallways, greeting people we see, stopping at the bookshelves loaded with books to borrow, or enjoying the framed pictures throughout the facility.  We keep moving for as long as we can, and that helps.


Louis Pasteur wrote: “Chance favours the prepared mind.”

Shakespeare wrote: “All things are ready, if our minds be so.”

And the motto of the Boys Scouts of America is “BE PREPARED.”

In dealing with loved ones who have Alzheimer’s or dementia, we can do only the best we can do at any given moment. Some of my best plans fail miserably, while others succeed amazingly, but only for one visit.  If any of these suggestions help you, I’m glad. If you’ll share your ideas with me, I’d be ever so grateful.

ducks in pond IMG_2021


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


I require rescue

Help poster

Dear Mom,

Years ago, for your birthday I took you to a writers’ conference. We were walking around before the first session, checking out the bookstore and getting cold drinks. Posted on a wall was a hand written announcement about an upcoming workshop titled “Comming Soon…How To Improve Your Writting.” Yes, coming and writing were misspelled. And it’s was misused for its, plus some other mistakes.  You were so embarrassed for whoever had made the poster. I agreed, but I also didn’t want to point it out in front of others.  So we waited, standing in front of it and blocking the mistakes. Finally a lady came by and asked if we had questions. When we learned it was her poster, we quietly pointed out the errors so she could correct them. You even offered to help.

She laughed. It had been a prop, and we were the only ones who responded.  We received our choices of journals from the bookstore. The title of her speech later was “Why Are Writers Afraid to Help Each Other?”

You could have given that speech, Mom. One of the many things I learned from you is that helping someone else succeed does not take away from our own success. I watched you help children work on their spelling, teens write essays, peers work on poems and short stories.  You could write beautiful passages, but you were also practical and succinct when that was called for. If you were stranded on an island (see above) you definitely would have used stones to write the short, clear, effective message–HELP–and then gone in search of firewood and food.

April is National Poetry Month. Last week you shared your poem, “In God We Trust,” with our blog friends.  Next week, on April 10th is Encourage A Young Writer Day. If you were still able, you’d be the first one offering to help.  But since you aren’t able, maybe some of the rest of us will step up in your place!

I love you, Mom.


Long message posted below a stop sign.

Long message posted below a stop sign.

Gannon makes words.

Gannon makes words.

"So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads."by Dr Seuss (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
by Dr Seuss (all pictures by Marylin Warner)


Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, writing, writing exercises


Santa Ana ~ Patron of Grandmothers and Mother-Child Relations.

Santa Ana ~ Patron of Grandmothers and Mother-Child Relations.

Happy sledding day.  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Happy sledding day. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Dear Mom,

When Jim and I came to visit you last week, Kansas and Colorado were both getting hit hard with the “Rocky” snowstorms that closed interstates and schools, and knocked out power in many places. But in Fort Scott we stayed warm and cozy, fixed an assortment of foods and enjoyed being together.  We knew March was just around the corner.

Every day on the calendar has at least one special day identified with it.  St. Patrick’s Day is two weeks away, but leading up to the Green Beer Day are four special, unusual days that I really like:

Today, March 3rd, is I Want You to be Happy Day, aka Unselfish Day. On this day, the goal is for everyone to do something to make someone else happy. And if you want to go for the gold—do it anonymously!  This would be a natural for you, Mom. Years ago, a local store had a sale on boxed “Thinking of You” cards, ten for a dollar. We bought a box, and during the next month we sent anonymous cards to ten people who were alone or having a hard time. We wrote notes inside the cards, saying something specifically nice about the person…and signed each card: A Friend Who Appreciates You.

Monday, March 4th, is Holy Experiment Day. This is a perfect time to pray for someone to feel better, to get a job, to have a safe day. Pray for a child who is unhappy or a family who has just moved to a new place, or a stranger who seems to need a prayer. Imagine the aura of all those anonymous prayers floating around the world on March 4th.

Saturday, March 9th, is Panic Day.  Or, as some prefer, Don’t Panic Day.  It’s not until the end of next week, so you have plenty of time to prepare.  Googling Panic Attacks brings up an overwhelming amount of advice, much of it involving medications, counseling or costly techniques.   is a 7-minute free, self-contained video with a practical technique: “How To Stop Panic Attacks-#1 Tip”

And finally, next Sunday, March 10th is Middle Name Pride Day.  This blog has previously discussed our feelings about our names, but this day is different. Middle names are legal identifiers; John Smith may be very common, but John Hiram Smith won’t be so easily confused. Also, do you know WHY you received your middle name? Was it for an ancestor? Has it become your nickname? On March 10th find a reason to appreciate your middle name. (This is very different than Name Yourself Day, which is in April.)

March is here, Mom. February’s “Rocky” snowstorm is past, and next month is April, with signs of Spring. If I were going to send you an anonymous card on March 3rd, I’d tell you how wonderful you are, how many nice things you’ve done for others, and how you’ve made the world a better place.   I love you.   Marylin


Last walk after snowstorm.

Last walk after snowstorm.

our snowman






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


A February reminder.

A February reminder, with thanks to Hobby Lobby.

Indoor bulbs, beginning in January.

Indoor bulbs, beginning in January.

Indoor tulips, February 1st.It's time to blossom!

Indoor tulips, February 1st, bloom where they were planted.

Dear Mom,

I remember you once said resolutions shouldn’t be made on New Year’s Day. You also said it made more sense to have just one resolution to focus on, instead of making a list. You were right, Mom, on both counts. Of the sixteen friends I’ve polled, only one is still trying–off and on–to keep her resolutions. All the others quit trying in January, and two laughingly admitted they gave up the first week.  I had some resolutions in mind, but I didn’t make a commitment.

Driving home after visiting you recently, I was listening to a radio talk show. A psychologist recited these facts about making and keeping resolutions: first, decide on only one resolution; and second, make the resolution in February. You can think about it, she said; you can make plans and prepare, but don’t begin it until February.

I would add another detail I learned in a psychology class many years ago. Any habit can be broken–or any action can become a habit–in 30 days. Consecutive days, no exceptions; if you miss a day, the next day starts over as Day One. Thirty days of NOT doing something will break a habit. Thirty days of DOING something will make it a habit.

Hmm…make just one resolution, and start it now, in February. Anyone else up for trying this? Our motto can be “Hey You, Get Busy!”

Okay, Mom, here’s something else you always used to tell me. If you make a mistake, correct it. Fix it, make it right.

Sigh. I admit I made a mistake, and now I need to fix it. Remember my blog last week? I was cheering for the Ravens to win the Super Bowl because of the English teacher-connection to Baltimore, Edgar Allan Poe and his poem “The Raven.” There was a second reason, too, and that’s where I made the mistake.

During the game I watched the two Harbaugh brothers: John, coach of the Ravens, and Jim, coach of the 49ers. Lots of rough-and-tumble on the field, and I was cheering for the Ravens. But as I watched the game, I found myself relating more to Jim. His angry, loud challenges, his passionate rants against the refs and bad plays. I kept thinking (silently) that I was more like Jim, but he’s the older brother, and in my family I’m the younger sibling, so it didn’t make sense. Later I rechecked my notes, and–oh, no!–Jim Harbaugh, coach of the 49ers, is the younger sibling after all.

Mea culpa, My Bad, and I apologize. I really do. From now on–hey, especially during the next 30 consecutive days so it’ll become a habit!–I will double check all information before I repeat it or use it as a point in this blog. To paraphrase Poe’s poem: …quoth the raven, Nevermore…will I fail to check the facts.

Wow, Mom, you’re doing it again. Memories of the lessons you taught me years ago are still teaching me today. Thank you.

Tree Lady says, "Get Busy!"

Tree Lady says, “Get Busy!” (photos by Marylin Warner)


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, memories for great-grandchildren


happiness and tranquility




Dear Mom,

This time of year reminds me of the New Year’s Resolution “trade” we did one year when I was growing up. You made my resolution: “Marylin will REALLY clean up her room, even under the bed.” I made your resolution: “Mom will see that a clean room isn’t the most important thing.”  We laughed and decided it was a pretty good experiment.

At this stage in my adult life, I have three favorite quotes about New Year’s Resolutions:

“I hope that this year to come, you make mistakes…Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes…Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do It. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” ~Neil Gaiman

“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” ~Brad Paisley

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language – And next year’s words await another voice.”  ~T.S. Eliot

When you and Dad moved out of your house and into your care apartment, I saved boxes of your notebooks, Grandma’s recipes, and files of writing submissions and records. Tucked in a file of newspaper articles and columns you’d kept over the years, there was an envelope filled with faded, fragile newspaper clippings. One was a New Year’s Resolution by Ann Landers. There wasn’t a date or newspaper header, so I didn’t know if it had been written by Ann Landers herself, or by Eppie Lederer or Ruth Crowley, who wrote the column for many years.  But it was an excellent New Year’s Resolution, one definitely worth sharing:

“Let this coming year be better than all the others. Vow to do some of the things you’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t find the time. Call up a forgotten friend. Drop an old grudge, and replace it with some pleasant memories. Vow not to make a promise you don’t think you can keep. Walk tall, and smile more. You’ll look 10 years younger. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I love you.’ Say it again. They are the sweetest words in the world.”

You could have written this advice, Mom. Instead, you lived it, along with many other wonderful actions, and that has made the difference in many other lives.  Thank you.

For all of us:  2012 has been a year of joys and sorrows. Individually and collectively we have celebrated life, faced fears, and grieved losses.  On the eve of 2013, may we embrace the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson: “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

"Be Glad of Life" pillow sampler (photos by Marylin Warner)

“Be Glad of Life” pillow sampler (photos by Marylin Warner)




Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for

LEFT? or RIGHT? (and we’re not talking politics)

The left hands of six good friends and very talented writers. Can you tell which ones are right-handed or ambidextrous?

Dear Mom,

I remember first grade, proudly holding my hand up TWICE in answer to the teacher’s two questions. First question: “How many of you are right handed?” (We were 5 and 6 year olds, it was the first day of school, and she had to explain the question to some of the students.) In answer, I held up my right hand, as did many of the others. Then she asked, “How many of you are left handed?” I paused a second and then held up my left hand.

The teacher gave me an irritated oh-no-here-we-go look. But after I showed her I could print my name with my right hand AND my left hand, she tapped my right hand with a ruler and said, “From now on, beginning in this classroom, you will use this hand.”

At home I continued to use both hands, but at school I avoided the ruler and joined the majority of right-handed students. Maybe it bothered me more than I realized. In 5th grade I began “mirror writing”—even in cursive—writing from right to left. I could write it quickly, and anyone could easily read it by holding the paper up to a mirror, but the teacher wasn’t impressed, so I stopped doing it at school.

Well Mom, guess what tomorrow, Monday, August 13th is?  It’s International Left-Handers’ Day!  In honor of those good old “confused about which hand to use” days, here are some statistics. About 90% of the population is right-handed, so that leaves 10% left-handed (but maybe some were actually ambidextrous and lumped into the big group against their wills). And speaking of ambidextrous, there’s an unproved medical theory that difficult or stressful births often happen among babies who grow up to be left-handed or ambidextrous. But the AMA doesn’t endorse it. Just as most religions do not accept the ancient superstition that left-handers were more prone to evil and are either weaker or stronger on both sides of the body than right-handers.

Eight of our presidents have been left-handed, most recently George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. On a Qwerty (standard) keyboard, 3,000 words can be typed with only the left hand; 56% of the touch-typing keystrokes are made with the left hand. In fencing, about half of the participants are left handed.

What I really want to say to you on August 13 is Thanks, Mom.  At home I could always use whichever hand I wanted. When I was learning to knit, you taught me the basic stitches, but you also took me to a left-handed knitter to learn, and then you let me choose. And when I did mirror writing, you were irritated only because I’d actually written a sentence on the mirror…with your lipstick. After I cleaned it off, you had me write on paper, and you complimented me, saying I was creative and talented.

Years later, a teacher myself, in a classroom of high school students I’d sometimes quickly write information on the board in mirror-writing. The students who could read it without hesitation would nod and smile, but most of the others had to squint and  figure it out. No one felt bad. It was okay either way. You had taught me that.

It was just one of the many things you taught by example, Mom, and I thank you.

I’ll be coming from Colorado to visit you in Kansas soon, and together we’ll celebrate International Left-Hander’s Day a few days late. I’ll bring the lipstick, we’ll write on the mirror, and then we’ll celebrate with cookies.   Love you, Mom.   Marylin

With my mom and Flat Grace (hand-colored by mom’s great-grandaughter, Grace)



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, teachers, teaching, writing

THE HAIRCUT ~ guest blogger, Jan Cooper Magee







Hi Mary,

Do you remember me,  Jan Cooper, (you always called me Julianne). As I look back on my childhood, I realize that growing up on Marblecrest Terrace in Fort Scott was a great place to be a child. Many memories come flooding back as I write this note to you.

I remember my childhood days when Marylin and I were together every minute.  Going “up town” was an event that was at the top our list for fun things to do.  I recall one afternoon with much clarity!  I was at your house playing and you announced that you’d be going to town soon.  Of course, Marylin and I wanted to go.  I was a little puzzled when you looked at me and said that you didn’t think you could take ME with you.  I’m sure I asked: “Why not?”  To my disappointment you told me that you just couldn’t’ take me with you because my hair just didn’t look very nice.  But, thank goodness, you had a solution to that problem.  You would simply give me a haircut before we left and then I would look just fine for our afternoon adventure to town.

Getting my hair cut was not one of my favorite things to do and I’m sure I’d been fussing about it for some time.  I didn’t (and still don’t) have a headful of beautiful, thick hair and I never really knew how my haircut would turn out.   I agreed, reluctantly, I’m sure, and said you could cut my hair.   Mary, you were very talented at many things, but as I remember cutting hair was not one of your more accomplished talents.  After a snip here and a snip there you made a little girl happy and I had a new summer hairdo.  You know, I don’t even remember if we ever got to town!  Sometime later as I was reminiscing about that afternoon I found out that you and my mother (Julia Cooper) had planned that haircut! I’m sure it wasn’t the worst haircut I ever received but I’m also quite sure it was much better that going to the local barber, Johnny Dobbins, who usually gave me my “beginning of the summer trim”.

I wish I could give you a big hug right now but I now live in Arkansas.  I have two children and six grandchildren. Thanks for being a part of my childhood.    Love you, “Julianne”


As a reminder, Mom, Jan’s dad was Dr.C. M. Cooper, our family dentist.  He also pierced my ears–with your permission–when I just “had” to have pierced ears and you didn’t want me using a needle and a potato. And just for the record: I thought you gave Jan a really good…well, it was an okay haircut. Better than my haircut at the time, which kind of looked like you put a bowl on my head and trimmed around it.


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, friends, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, neighbors

VODKA, One of the Spices of Life

Oh, Mom, you’re going to get a chuckle out of this.

Did you know that, according to recent articles, there are all kinds of uses for VODKA, other than drinking it, of course?

Vodka can remove a price tag or a sticker that won’t peel off. It can also clean mold off a shower curtain and prevent the mold from reappearing. And get this, vodka is also a room deodorizer! Mix it with equal parts water and spray it in the air, and voila! the vodka supposedly freshens the air.

Remember one of the uses for vodka you discovered in the early 80s? You read an article that said to add a teaspoon of chili pepper or hot sauce to four tablespoons of vodka and mix well. Then rub it gently–very gently–into the scalp where hair was thinning. The warm combination supposedly stimulated hair regrowth.

Molly was only three or four, and we were visiting you in Ft. Scott when you showed me your concoction. We always have fun with your experiments, and this time was no different. Dad was our volunteer that evening (he kind of volunteered), and in addition to rubbing a couple of places on his scalp, I also massaged the vodka-pepper mix around his sinus spots that were aching. You know, if a little bit is good, a lot has to be better.

The next morning as we were all dressing to go to church, I went to put in my contact lenses, and guess what? The residual was still on my fingertips! I was howling at the heat and pain in my eyes, and you and Molly tried to help with cold wash clothes and splashing water. Then, when you looked closely at Dad, he had a red rash where the mixture had been rubbed into his skin.

We all survived, and it made a funny story once I could see again and Dad’s skin cleared up. But I remember you emptied the vodka down the drain because, well, the experiment was over, right? I can tell you this now, Mom, I really could have used a vodka tonic then, and you wasted a perfectly good bottle. Or if we’d known then what we know now, we could have at least cleaned the shower curtain.

Ah, the memories–and the laughter–we’ve shared, Mom. The spices of life.

Thank you.  Love, Marylin                                                                        


Filed under experiments, lessons about life, memories for grandchildren