Category Archives: lessons about life

A MISTAKE?

Akey and Letta ~ my maternal grandparents.

Akey and Letta ~ my maternal grandparents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Metal toy wagon, left in tree branches, approx. 1924. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

Metal toy wagon, left in tree branches, circa 1924. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

This happened many decades before I was born, but since I have the tangible proof now, it’s my story to tell. My grandfather called it “a child’s mistake,” but I have trouble thinking of it as any kind of mistake. After all, a mistake is an error, a blunder or oversight, a slip-up or inaccuracy, and I see it as an astounding legacy…a true memory maker.

Supposedly, six-year-old Mary Elizabeth (my mother, who is 96 now) and her siblings were playing by the barn when their mother, my grandmother, came out to pick corn from the family garden. She called for the children to come and help. They had been playing with toys—little metal wagons, carved wooden animals, bent forks and spoons—and Mary E. was scooting one of the metal wagons in the grass. When her mother called them to help, Mary E. looked around for a place to put her wagon, maybe so she could play with it again later. She chose one of the trees nearby.

Standing on tiptoe, she tucked the wagon in a “v” of two branches, pushing it in tight so it wouldn’t fall. Then she ran to help with shucking ears of corn. One thing led to another, and maybe she forgot about her hidden wagon. No one knows for sure.

Years later, my grandfather was cutting down overgrown trees. To his surprise, he found branches grown around the little metal wagon, locking it in place and making it a permanent part of the tree. He carefully cut above and below the wagon, sanded the edges of the wood, and painted the entire piece with leftover paint in the barn.

This wagon-in-the-tree-branch is one of my favorite keepsakes. To me it is not a mistake but a gift, a child’s creative attempt to store a toy, and nature’s way of making it a piece of art. My mother doesn’t recognize it, and telling her the story might make her smile, but she wouldn’t realize it is her story. But as I hold the little wagon, I can close my eyes and imagine my mother as a little girl standing on tiptoe and reaching for the branch.

Rudyard Kipling wrote, “I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards.”   If Mom could remember this story, I think she would definitely cherish it as something other than a mistake. Look at the treasure we have now, ninety years after siblings played in the Missouri sunshine.

Maybe her brothers Sam and Ira saw what she did that day. If so, they maybe nudged each other and did what Napoleon once advised, “Never interrupt your enemy (or your sister) when he (or she) is making a mistake.”   Or maybe, without realizing it, they proved author Brandon Mull’s statement: “Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.” As far as we can tell, neither of the boys imitated their sister and tried doing the same thing with other toys.

I choose to agree more with author Rita Mae Brown: “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” I hold the little wagon-in-the-wood and say it was Mary Elizabeth using good judgment—without realizing it at the time—and leaving a charming keepsake for her daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandchildren. This was not a mistake, but a gift she didn’t realize she was creating.

It’s a good lesson to consider: what we do today may outlive us and affect others in ways we cannot even imagine.  Thanks, Mom.

 

With llamas--as with kisses--spit happens, but that doesn't make it a mistake.  Not a gift, necessarily, but not a mistake.  (Sorry, but I couldn't resist.)

With llamas–as with kisses–spit happens, but that doesn’t make it a mistake. Not a gift, necessarily, but also not a mistake. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I love this picture.)

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Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, special quotations

With A CAPITAL “A”

 

cap A for Alzheimers

  

Tinseltown Theaters poster, Colorado Springs

Tinseltown Theaters poster, Colorado Springs

 

The movie begins with action. Apes on a hunt. Hundreds of apes lying in wait, hunting for food. Surviving after most of the world’s humans have been killed by the deadly Simian Flu. But the simians didn’t cause this futuristic plague. The humans did, when they injected apes with a test antidote to stop Alzheimer’s, the disease they feared would eventually destroy civilization.

No movie spoiler alert necessary. This information is revealed in the first few minutes of the movie DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The desperate attempt to control Alzheimer’s was quickly overshadowed by science-run-amuck, creating a deadly flu that left two separate societies struggling to survive—humans and apes—and the apes are worthy opponents.  The movie is an interesting take on good vs. evil, and the lines that blur in every war.

Alzheimer’s has always been capitalized because it’s named for the German neurologist who first identified it, Alois Alzheimer.  Now it’s become a BIG capital A, and not just because it’s the seed for destruction in a sci-fi action/thriller film. The reality is this: in the United States, every 67 seconds someone develops Alzheimer’s; five million live with it now, and it’s the 6th leading cause of death. The statistics in countries throughout the world are similar. Alzheimer’s is an equal opportunity disease.

My dad died of Alzheimer’s, and my mother suffers with advanced dementia, so when I misplace my keys in the refrigerator* or confuse the passwords of my bank account with my PayPal account, I experience a moment of panic. I also read articles and refer often to www.alz.org for current research and information.

I know the basics about a heart-healthy diet also being brain-healthy:  eat more veggies and fresh fruits, especially berries;  foods with omega-3 fatty acids are important (salmon, mackerel and tuna, etc.);  a daily glass of red wine or purple grape juice will help protect brain cells;  controlled blood pressure lowers risks of heart disease, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s;  activities and interactions with friends and family make for a happier heart and a healthier mind.

Walk for Alzheimer's T-shirt logo.

And, of course, every day we should walk, exercise, sing, breathe deeply, and keep moving. Coffee is good; cigarettes are bad. Crossword puzzles, hobbies, and word or number games are excellent.

My parents scored high in all of the above, except for two. Living in land-locked Missouri and Kansas, they didn’t eat as much salmon and other omega-3 fatty acids as they should have. They also didn’t drink coffee; they loved the smell and served it often to guests, but their stomachs did much better with hot tea. They were active, intelligent, well-read and socially involved until Dad was 81 and Mom was 90, so it’s probably not a big deal about the fish or coffee, but who knows?

It’s not often that I do a blog on Alzheimer’s and dementia numbers and specifics.  I’d rather share stories so my grandchildren will know that Alzheimer’s and dementia could not erase their great-grandparents’ wonderful lives. Through shared and treasured memories, we keep alive those we love.

This once-in-a-blue-moon information post about Alzheimer’s and dementia is a reminder that the disease is much more than a plot point for a movie. We’re all at risk, and we’re all in this together. Please share any additional information or suggestions you have.

* FYI ~ my doctor told me that misplacing your keys in the refrigerator is not a sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia, but probably more an indicator that you’re hurrying or have a lot to do. It is a concern, however, if you find your keys in the refrigerator…and aren’t sure what they are or what they’re for.

 

1949 family photo of Mary and Ray Shepherd, baby daughter Marylin and son David .  Even then I was trying to talk.

1949 family photo of Mary and Ray Shepherd, baby daughter Marylin and son David . Even then I was trying to talk.

 

1999 ~ Mom, Dad, my brother David and I pose for a Thanksgiving picture at  my daughter Molly's home before Dad's Alzheimer's. (picture by Jim Warner)

1999 ~ Mom, Dad, my brother David and I pose for a Thanksgiving picture at my daughter Molly’s home before Dad’s Alzheimer’s was identified. (picture by Jim Warner)

 

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

Celebrate LEON Day, U.F.O.s, and Super Strength

 

Our dog Maggie in reindeer antlers, getting ready to celebrate LEON Day.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Our dog Maggie in reindeer antlers, the perfect attire for celebrating LEON Day. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Making S'mores, a perfect way to celebrate Camping Month AND the First Day of summer!

Making S’mores, a perfect way to celebrate Camping Month AND the First Day of summer!

 

Toothbrushes (invented in 1498) are now the best way to clean teeth after S'mores.

Toothbrushes (invented in 1498) are the best way to clean teeth after S’mores.

Not to put too much emphasis on last week’s book titles containing the word POO, but did you know that June is Potty Training Awareness Month? (Just pointing out a theme connection.) Now, moving along to new topics…

June is CAMPING MONTH, GREAT OUTDOORS MONTH, and ICE TEA MONTH. It all fits together as this Saturday, June 21, is officially the FIRST DAY OF SUMMER. Tuesday, June 24, is U.F. O. Day if you want to dig out old Roswell videos or watch the INDEPENDENCE DAY movie. And if you grill out and chomp down on picnic foods as you discuss U.F.O. sightings, it’s a good thing that the next day, June 25, is the anniversary of the day the toothbrush was invented (in 1498).

June 25 is also LEON Day. If you were born on June 25, your sign is LEO, but that’s not the same as LEON Day. LEON is NOEL spelled backwards, and June 25 is six months until Christmas. If you want to celebrate an early half-way-to-Christmas party and share the holiday spirit, next Wednesday is your day.

June 30 is the birthday of the Superman Action Comic Cover (1938), although the birthday of Clark Kent is debated as being either June 18 or February 20. Feel free to celebrate all three dates by protecting the innocent and fighting bad guys.

Christopher Reeve, who played the modern role of the Superman superhero, became a quadriplegic after being thrown from a horse. He lobbied on behalf of people with spinal- cord injuries until his death at the age of 52.

Reeve once described the superhero role this way:   “What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and maturity to use the power wisely…”

With all that’s happening throughout the world, we’re in need of true heroes right now, those who have power but also the wisdom and maturity to use the power wisely.

There are many special June days to enjoy next week. If you want to celebrate the qualities Christopher Reeve saw in Superman, here’s a recipe for cookies to munch on as you consider all the qualities of true heroes.  This recipe originally came from the book SUPERMAN, SERIAL TO CEREAL by Gary Grossman.   ENJOY!

Superman Cookies

~ Cream ¼ lb. butter together with ½ c. sugar and blend in 1 beaten egg

~ Blend in 1 ½ c. flour, ½ c. at a time

~ Add ½ t. baking soda dissolved in a tablespoon of hot water

~ Add ½ c. coarsely grated sweet chocolate (or ½ c. choc. chips) and 1 c. corn flakes

~ Drop by teaspoon on greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 min.

Drink a glass of milk and eat your cookies; flex your muscles and vow to be strong, powerful…and wise!

superman emblem

The cover of Christopher Reeve's book, STILL ME.

The cover of Christopher Reeve’s book,   STILL ME.

 

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

THE THINGS WE MAKE

Make a cairn and mark your trail.   (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Make a cairn and mark your trail. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

Decorate your fence; make a display of things you love.

Decorate your fence; make a display of things you love.

Make an effort to catch your own dinner.

Make an effort to catch your own dinner.

 

Make a scene trying to scamper away from a camera.

Make a scene trying to scamper away from a camera.

Years ago, long before my dad’s Alzheimer’s and my mom’s dementia, for her birthday I took Mom to a weekend writing conference on the campus of Bethel College in North Newton, KS. We shared a dorm room, ate in the student union, attended workshops in fiction and nonfiction writing, and had a wonderful time.

Mom met a charming lady who was writing an unusual article. While others were writing about surviving loss, rebuilding after financial ruin, getting their kids off drugs, or keeping their faith during hard times…this lady was writing “How To Make Your Bed While You’re Still In It.” She shared the rough draft with us, and it was short, simple and fun. The next morning in our dorm room, Mom scooted to the head of her bed, pulled the sheet up and smoothed it, then pulled up the bedspread, etc., and made the bed while she was still in it…kind of. We never heard if the lady published the article, but we had fun practicing the steps and helping her figure out how to clarify the directions.

Remembering that adventure, this week I began a list of things we make: make a bed; make a scene; make a wish; make a statement; make a difference; make a baby; make a deal; make a mountain out of a mole hill; make a promise; make a choice; make a mistake; make matters worse; make a commitment; make an enemy; make a friend.

The summer before I turned 15, I accepted a job babysitting 5 little boys from the ages of four to nine, every weekday from 7:30am to 5:45pm. I fixed their meals, broke up their fights, bandaged their knees, and walked them to and from baseball and swimming lessons. On the third day of my job, the middle boy left the gate open and their dog got out and was hit by a car. I wrapped the bleeding dog in a towel and carried it to the vet’s office with 5 young brothers in tow, crying and running beside me, tugging at the towel.

That day I’d had enough and wanted to quit. My dad told me I needed to keep my word. He said, “You may not like this job, but the choice you make to stay with it or walk away will tell you who you are.” I ended up staying with it that summer, surviving low points like digging the hole for a doggie funeral, scrubbing crayon drawings off the dining room wall, and nursing a whiney little boy through an ear infection. That job taught me more about hard work—and myself—than I ever could have imagined.

Making a bed while you’re still in it, and making a decision to finish a job you don’t like are two examples of things we make. Feel free to make a comment and add to the list!

Make a big deal out of a child's success!

Make a big deal out of a child’s success!

 

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Filed under art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Kansas, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, writing exercises

WHAT’S YOUR 10% PLAN?

Non nobis solum nati sumus.  ~Cicero    (Not for ourselves alone are we born.)   Pictures by Marylin Warner.

Non nobis solum nati sumus. ~Cicero (Not for ourselves alone are we born.) Pictures by Marylin Warner.

10% HAPPIER

 

Who hears music feels his solitude peopled at once. ~ Robert Browning

Who hears music feels his solitude peopled at once.
~ Robert Browning

The Earth Laughs in Flowers.  ~ Emerson (Especially when the flowers fill the little boots worn by your grandchildren.)

The Earth Laughs in Flowers. ~ Emerson
(Especially when the flowers fill the little boots worn by your grandchildren.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those of you who watch Good Morning America may have seen it when Dan Harris, Nightline anchor, had a panic attack on camera and couldn’t continue.  Instead of ruining him, the crisis set him on a new path.  10% HAPPIER is his touching, hilarious, skeptical and profound book that shares his journey to rewire his thinking.

Harris’ book helped him deal with stress and have at least 10% more happiness in his life, and that’s nothing to scoff at, if you think about it. What would be your plan for 10% more happiness?

Before her dementia, I know how my mother would have answered. I once overheard her in the kitchen trying to encourage an unhappy friend. Mom was baking, and as they drank tea and talked, Mom asked the woman what things made her happy. I’ll never forget the cynical reply: “Do you think I’d be sad if I knew how to make myself happy? How do I know what might make me happy?”

Things got quiet. Mom was kneading bread dough. I heard her pound on the dough and say, “Well, at least try doing things and see if you stumble on something that makes you happy.” I peeked around the corner to see Mom move the dough bowl over in front of her friend and say, “Punch around on the dough for awhile and see if you feel better.” It didn’t take long until I heard them both pounding away and laughing.

Any time I want to feel/think/be happier, I go for laughter. I agree with writer Anne Lamott: “Laughter is carbonated happiness.”   And I know for sure that in church, in meetings and other ‘serious’ situations, whenever I try to suppress laughter, the worse it becomes. I’m not a big fan of Woody Allen, but he and I agree on one thing: “I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.”

So I take my cues from my mother: I try doing things to see what makes me happy. Even with the dementia, when a caregiver put a straw in Mom’s chocolate milk to help her drink it, Mom did something…she blew bubbles.   When I was growing up and got moody and mopey, I soon found myself doing something:  helping Mom in the garden, taking the dog on a walk, hanging up laundry in the sunshine, or going to the library to find a good book.

Or baking bread. Pounding the hell out of bread dough didn’t always make for the best loaf, but it got me pushing, pulling, breathing deep, and working out my feelings.

My happiest suggestion to add laughter to your life is this: become a snake charmer. Miss Harper Lee (not the author, but a darling, funny golden retriever) teaches you how in just a few pictures. Do yourself a favor and click on her link: http://thek9harperlee.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/its-official-im-a-snake-charmer/

If you have personal helpful hints for 10% more happiness—or any degree of increased happiness–please share them. Life is hard, and we’re all trying to do the best we can! And don’t misunderstand; there are times when we need more help than pounding bread or blowing bubbles in our milk. When that happens, we should support and applaud each other for getting the help we need.

This past week readers lost an inspiring and wonderful writer, Maya Angelou.   Her legacy will be celebrated for generations to come.

Many times I taught I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS in my high school English classes.  Each time it became obvious which students felt caged in their lives, and there were many who felt that way.  Angelou’s words made a profound difference in their growth.

She’ll be remembered for many things she said and wrote, but this quote by Maya Angelou is one of my favorites: “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.”

Maya Angelou  (photo by Gerald Herbert/ AP photo)

Maya Angelou
(photo by Gerald Herbert/ AP photo)

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, Ralph Waldo Emerson, special quotations, Uncategorized

What is your ONE WORD?

 

If you can't pronounce a word, it's probably not the right one to make Your Word.  (Picture by Marylin Warner)

If you can’t pronounce a word, it’s probably not the right one to make Your Word. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

 

 

Sign it, sing it, paint it, think it ~ it's your One Word.

Sign it, sing it, paint it, think it ~ it’s your One Word.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.” ~ Mark Twain (aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

Several months ago, I wrote a post titled “Ten Words.” It included a contest for short-short-short stories of no more than ten words. In this post, I’m asking you to think about only one word—your ONE WORD—but you don’t have to enter it in a contest.

Before her dementia, my mother was the master of one-word comments and questions. With slight variations in her facial expressions, she made her point very well. “Why?” was more than a question; it was a warning to rethink an action or an attitude. “Wait” conveyed her philosophy: patience was a virtue; she had faith enough to wait and trust how things would work out.  My mother’s one-word statements or questions were a perfect example of Shakespeare’s writing advice: “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.”

I used to keep a list of one-word book titles: JAWS, 1984, REBECCA, ATONEMENT, IT. I also enjoyed one-word lines that “said it all” in movies: “Plastics.” (THE GRADUATE); “Stella!” (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE); “Rosebud.” (CITIZEN KANE); “Freedom!” (BRAVEHEART); and “Adrian!” (ROCKY).

Regardless of how you feel about football or the Super Bowl, one NFL quarterback has renewed the interest in “One Worders.” Bronco Peyton Manning has been using his one word shouted at the line of scrimmage– “Omaha”–for years, and he plans to stick with it. Granted, the Broncos lost this year’s Super Bowl, but the Nebraska town (Manning has never lived there) named its zoo’s new-born penguin “Peyton,” and a local ice cream parlor named a new flavor “Omaha, Omaha,” to go with the orange-vanilla mixed with blue malt balls…Bronco colors. The Omaha Chamber of Commerce presented Manning with a $70,000 check for his foundation for at-risk children.

What is your ONE WORD? What is one word you believe in, hope for, use as motivation…or use only because it means something to you, and you don’t tell others why you use it? Physician and writer Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanging; it is the skin of a living thought…”

Years ago, I was volunteering at the Episcopal Women’s Thrift Shop and came across a hand-stitched, framed sampler that someone had discarded to be sold in the shop. No one else seemed to like it–or maybe they didn’t understand it–but the word spoke directly to me. It became my One Word nudge, inspirational reminder and personal challenge: YAGOTTAWANNA

What’s your One Word?  Or, what is the word you once used but then gave it up?

My ONE WORD choice.  (Picture by Marylin Warner)

My ONE WORD choice. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

Omaha, Nebraska  (Smithsonian's Arial America shot)

Omaha, Nebraska (Smithsonian’s Arial America shot)

 

Peyton Manning (Google photo)

Peyton Manning (Google photo)

 

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

SHARED LESSONS: Harpists and Writers

 

"See" your words.  Write on paper, in the sand, on a computer...doodle, draw, dream. Switch hands and see what new thoughts appear.

“See” your words. Write them on paper, in the sand, on a computer…doodle, draw, paint, dream. Switch hands and see what new thoughts appear.

 

 

Practice!  Practice!  Keep practicing!  Move around; change locations, but do your work.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Practice! Practice! Keep practicing! Move around; change locations, but do your work. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

What’s the definition of an optimist? ~ A harpist with a tuner.

How long does it take to tune a harp? ~ That’s a hard one. Nobody knows yet.

How many harp players does it take to change a light bulb? ~ 5: one to handle the bulb, and the others to debate which is the best hand position to use.

The members of the Colorado Celtic Harp Society we met at the writing retreat at the Franciscan Center had a delightful sense of humor.  But the truth is, those jokes also apply to writers.  A writer who dreams of writing the Great American Novel is also an optimist, even if the dream becomes a nightmare.  How long does it take writers to write the perfect novel? ~ Nobody knows yet.   And as far as changing a light bulb, writers are always arguing about the right and wrong way to write, edit, submit and publish.

Here are two jokes that aren’t interchangeable: (If it weren’t for the dementia, my mother would love these!) ~ Why are harps like elderly parents? ~ Both are unyielding and hard to get in and out of cars.   And this one for writers: Did you hear the one about the pregnant writer who began yelling, “Couldn’t! Wouldn’t Shouldn’t! Didn’t! Can’t! ~ she was having contractions.

The weekend writing retreat was filled with writing, thinking, drawing, painting, and responding to the harpists playing nearby.  At the harp recital on Saturday evening, there was a great deal of laughter woven in with beautiful music, and that’s one of the lessons that was repeated throughout the weekend:  Creative endeavors require discipline, hard work, and commitment.  There are also difficulties and disappointments along the way, so make the most of every opportunity to renew yourself with the gifts of laughter and shared camaraderie.

For other lesson reminders from the weekend, read the messages written below the pictures.

And for those of you who asked for a writing prompt, here is one to get the pen moving and the ideas flowing: What is one thing you’ve lost that you hope will not be found?

Take a chance ~ When it's dark, don't be afraid ~ just try your wings ~ and you can catch your star.

“Take a chance ~ When it’s dark, don’t be afraid ~ just try your wings ~ and you can catch your star.” (message on ceramic plate c)Irene’99)

                                                                                    

Accept the solitary work required to reach your goal and make your dream a reality; learn to find your own way.

Accept the solitary work required to reach your goal and make your dream a reality; learn to enjoy your own journey.

Painting on the dorm wall of the former convent; oil by Sister Carmillia. The lesson? Share your visions and talents.

Painting on the dorm wall of the former convent; oil by Sister Carmillia. The lesson? Share your visions and talents.

It's never too late to expand your creativity and pursue a new project. Art begets art!

It’s never too late to expand your creativity and pursue a new project. Art begets art!

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Filed under art, celebrations, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren

SERENDIPITY

 

Celtic harpists played in the building on the left while writers worked in the building on the right. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Celtic harpists played in the building on the left while writers worked in the building on the right. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Between the two buildings, a perfect place for morning coffee, thinking and planning.

Between the two buildings, a perfect place for morning coffee, thinking and planning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...and the deer enjoyed grazing in the cool, quiet morning light...

…and the deer enjoyed grazing in the cool, quiet morning light…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serendipity is a “pleasant surprise” or “fortuitous happenstance.” The word was first coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole whose Three Princes of Serendip were always making unintentional, surprising discoveries. More recent examples of serendipity include Alexander Fleming’s 1925 discovery of penicillin, Percy Spencer’s 1945 invention of the microwave oven…and my writing retreat at the Colorado Franciscan Center on May 2-4, 2014.

A good writing retreat is equal parts inspired writing and retreat from distractions. There is no better place to stay than in the calm, private, former convent rooms within a stone lodge in the deer-roaming, bird-chirping foothills of Mt. St. Francis. No televisions or traffic, but spacious, calm areas for writing as well as guided drawing and painting. Plus delicious meals served with great conversation: http://www.franciscanretreatcenter.org/

But what if, on the same weekend and in the same lodge, the Colorado Celtic Harp Society was having its retreat, too, and—here comes true serendipity—on the final night of both retreats, what if the groups were so supportive of each other that the harpists read aloud writers’ poems and children’s stories, accompanied by harp music?

During the weekend, our writing group was given an amazing hour-long experience and additional sessions of “singing bowls” by Ann Martin, MileHighHealingVibe.com   (For basic information and history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singing_bowl ). I had never even heard of this incredibly creative, restorative and centering experience, so this was another gift of serendipity for me.

In future posts I’ll be sharing some of the writing, drawing and painting prompts from the retreat, as well as words of wisdom I gleaned during meals, while walking the trails, and as we laughed and shared healthy doses of a writer’s best medicine: chocolate.

Two days after the retreat ended, Jim and I drove from Colorado to Kansas. For an early Mother’s Day, I took a glass bowl of budding tulips to my mother, along with stories of the retreat, music of the singing bowls, a fresh mango, and a bar of Dove chocolate. Mostly she just wanted bites of the mango, and of course, the writer’s best medicine—chocolate—so I knew she was doing pretty well.

This is my favorite quote about writing, chocolate, and making sweet plans about dying: “Now she and I sit together in her room and eat chocolate, and I tell her that in a very long time when we both go to heaven, we should try to get chairs next to each other, close to the dessert table.” ~ Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

In his 1998 book Armadillo, William Boyd coined an antonym for serendipity. Boyd’s term, zembianity, is “an unpleasant surprise, an unhappy and unlucky discovery.”

As for me—and I think I speak for my mother as well—we don’t need any zembianity. We choose serendipity, especially if it includes a surprising amount of chocolate.

 

Preserved TB house on grounds.  1909-1947, over 12,000 TB patients stayed in Colorado TB houses to breathe in the high altitude's dry air and healing properties.

Preserved TB house on grounds. 1909-1947, over 12,000 TB patients stayed in Colorado TB houses to breathe in the high altitude’s dry air and healing properties.

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

Harpists practice for their Saturday night recital.

Harpists practice for their Saturday night recital.

 

1945 statue of St. Francis near the entrance to the Franciscan Center.

1945 statue of St. Francis near the entrance to the Franciscan Center.

Trail leading to the cemetery.

Trail leading to the cemetery.

 

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

SET IN STONE

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

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

 

Unidentified marker in cemetery in  Abilene, KS.

Unidentified marker in cemetery in Abilene, KS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now this is majestic stone work!  Buena Vista, CO

Now this is majestic stone work! Buena Vista, CO

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

HOSPITAL BLUES

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My disposable creation: "Hands That Help"

My disposable creation:
“Helping Hands”

 

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