Category Archives: memories for great-grandchildren


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.


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


My mom, 1918,  the baby before two more siblings followed.

My mom, Mary Elizabeth, 1918, the baby before two more siblings followed.


Mom in 1949, holding their baby daughter, while  Dad holds their son.

Mom in 1949, holding their baby daughter, while Dad holds their son.

Last week’s topic was “Secrets of Success.”

This week’s topic is “How To Turn Disappointments Into Celebrations.”

Many years ago, a college acquaintance had a strange solution for any disappointment she faced: she made herself feel better by finding someone who was more disappointed and miserable than she was. For instance, when her boyfriend back home dumped her, she cheered up when she found someone else whose fiancé made a big deal of publicly ending their engagement on campus. She called this strategy “Being Glad You’re Not THAT Miserable,” and it seemed to work for her.

My birthday is at the end of this month…and it’s a BIG milestone birthday. Although I know my husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren will do something special, I also know my mother will not remember my birthday. Because of her dementia, she rarely remembers who I am any more or sometimes even where she is.  But it’s still sad that for the past seven years she’s had no memory of days that used to mean so much to her, including the day I was born.

Using the technique of my college acquaintance, I found these birthday disappointments of others: Paulina Porizkova was fired by “America’s Next Top Model” on her birthday, and actress Evan Rachel Wood said, “I’ll never forget my 24th birthday when my tooth got punched out…”   But the one that made me choke back tears was by actress/model/singer Amy Weber: “I lost twins at 14 weeks, and I had to have a D&C on my birthday.” 

I’ve never been good at feeling better because someone else felt worse.  The college acquaintance’s strategy didn’t work for me then, and it doesn’t work for me now. 

But I have found a way of creating my own happiness as I celebrate my birthday with my mother. When I drive to Kansas to visit her each month, I take along foods she might enjoy, fresh flowers or a plant. When I visit her each September, I take a cake or cupcakes. And candles. Sometimes ice cream, too.   And I sing “Happy Birthday to US” and light the candles (just a few candles…we don’t want a bon fire.)

Mom still enjoys blowing out candles, and she sometimes wants me to light them again so she can blow them out a second time. It’s our shared celebration—I’m the birthday girl; she’s the mother who gave birth to me—and at some point during my visit I tell her a story from when I was a child and she did something sweet, funny, poignant or wonderful. Usually she’ll smile and say something like, “That’s nice. Do I know her?”   She doesn’t know “her,” but I do.

Dementia prevents Mom from remembering when my birthday is or even who I am. Reality confirms that the woman who wanted so much to be a mother, and who suffered four miscarriages before she had her two children, went on to have three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. All of us are here because she didn’t give up or bury her disappointments by finding other women who had even worse pains and more sadness.

So for my birthday again this year, we’ll celebrate the line of life. We’ll eat cake, blow out candles, smile and celebrate all the lives and loves that dementia cannot erase.   Happy Birth Day To Us.

1978 ~ Marylin holds her daughter Molly, Mary's granddaughter.

1978 ~ Marylin and her daughter Molly, Mary’s granddaughter.


2005 ~ Molly holds portrait of Dad's mother as a  toddler for her own toddlers, Mary's great-grandchildren.

2005 ~ Molly holds portrait of her grandpa’s mother as a toddler for her own children, Mary and Ray’s great-grandchildren.


Filed under birthday celebrations, birthdays, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

CHAIRS: True Memory Makers

Colorful "Picasso" chairs by our daughter Molly.  (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

Colorful “Picasso” chairs by our daughter Molly. (all pictures by Marylin Warner)


Retro-Kitchen step-chair, a perfect reminder of my mother's kitchen.

Retro-Kitchen step-chair, a perfect reminder of my mother’s kitchen.

A print of VanGogh's "Chair" in hallway of my mother's assisted living.

A print of VanGogh’s “Chair” in hallway of my mother’s assisted living.

The first chairs were probably flat rocks large enough for cave men to sit on, and high enough to lean against. As civilization evolved, so did chairs: royalty sat on thrones; polio victims traveled in wheel chairs; babies were lulled to sleep in rocking chairs and rode more safely in car seats: convicted killers were sometimes executed in electric chairs.

My mother’s interior design choices were a combination of practical, functional, comfortable and attractive. The upholstered furniture in our home was purchased from stores. Many of the casual tables, wooden chairs, bookcases and blanket chests were inherited or bought at unfinished wood or consignment furniture shops, and then Mom sanded, stained or painted them. I’d find her in the garage, humming in time to her brush strokes that created a colorful desk chair for her writing desk. When I was thirteen, Mom and I bought an old foot stool that I stained, and then together we wove a new cover across the frame.

Our family tradition of chair creations continued this year. For our anniversary gift, our daughter Molly painted metal lawn chairs bright yellow. Her children, big Picasso fans, drew our “portraits,” and Molly painted them on the chairs. On the seats she painted Picasso quotes: “Everything you can imagine is real” and “It takes a long time to grow young.” Even our porch chairs show how much fun restoring and painting can be.

Years after Mom gave a young mother the high chair my brother and I used, her metal kitchen step-chair doubled as a high chair for her grandchildren and any young visitors who stayed for meals. Mom moved the step-chair close to the table, set the child on the padded seat, and safely tied the little one in place with dish towels. My favorite birthday present last year was a red retro-model of Mom’s black step-chair that Jim found in a quaint hardware store in Abilene, KS. Visiting friends see this chair, laugh, and share stories they remember from their parents’ or grandparents’ kitchens. As author Stephen King wrote: “You can’t deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants.”

Mom’s favorite chairs now are her lounger where she spends most of her waking hours, and dad’s old wheelchair that transports her to the flower garden on nice days. She no longer uses the rocking chair where she used to sing to babies, or the chair that was large enough she could sit with both her great-grandchildren and read to them. Because of her dementia she does not remember these times, but the children do. For them, these chairs are memory makers.

Mom in the wheelchair that was Dad's, out to enjoy the flowers.

2012 ~ Mom in the wheelchair that was Dad’s, out to enjoy the flowers.

Mom reading to her great-grandchildren in 2007.

Mom reading to her great-grandchildren in 2007.


Mom in her lounge chair, wrapped in a quilt made by her mother.

Mom in her lounge chair, 2013, wrapped in a quilt made by her mother.


Filed under Abilene Kansas, art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for


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.



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:

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)



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)



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

The Doors We Open and Close

1800s log home with door covers in case of attack.

1800s log home with door covers in case of attack.

Modern Santa Fe-style door with glass art panels.

Modern Santa Fe-style door with glass art panels.

"Santa Fe Door #1"--oil painting by E.W. Strother. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

“Santa Fe Door #1″–oil painting by E.W. Strother. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)



Entrance door with gate and pergola.

Entrance door with gate and pergola.







When I visited my parents in Kansas during my dad’s last years with Alzheimer’s, I always took my mother out for a ride. Sometimes we shopped for special foods or things they needed. Other times we just started driving to see where the road took us.

We both loved houses. Not big fancy houses, but regular family houses, or old rambling houses. And we especially liked doors. As years went by and Mom started showing serious signs of dementia, I created the “Guess what’s behind the door” game. Here’s how it worked.

I’d drive along a street or around a neighborhood, and Mom was supposed to be looking for a house door that caught her attention. Sometimes I had to remind her what she was looking for; other times she’d get excited and say, “There! That one!”

I’d slow down and we’d both take a good look at the door she’d chosen. Then I’d give her a prompt and say: “When you open that door and go inside, what is the first thing you see?” (or hear? ~ or smell? ~ or feel? -~ or even taste?) Then as we drove on, we’d create a story based on how she answered the question. And always–always!–after we played this game, she was hungry and wanted an ice cream cone. (Thinking is hard work, you know.)

Through the years I’ve learned that Alzheimer’s and dementia closes many mental doors, but sometimes I can put my foot in the way before a door closes completely, and I can connect a memory or an idea with my mother. As Flora Whittemore (1890-1993) wrote: “The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.” There is probably no truer statement for those who suffer with Alzheimer’s or dementia…and also for the rest of us, too.

Try the door game. Choose one of the doors on this post and imagine opening it. Create a first response for each of the senses. Your answers will lead you to a story genre–horror or romance or mystery or sci-fi or adventure, etc.–and even if you don’t want to write anything, your creative juices will be flowing! Or maybe you’ll be like my mother and just crave an ice cream cone. And that’s okay, too.

In addition to Flora Whittemore’s wise words, here are some of my other favorites about DOORS:

“Sometimes you don’t know when you’re taking the first step through a door until you’re already inside.” ~ Ann Voskamp, author of ONE THOUSAND GIFTS

“Every now and then one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door and serves as a stepping stone to other things.” ~ Artist Pablo Picasso

And from Dejan Stojanovic, poet and journalist from Kosovo: “He tries to find the exit from himself, but there is no door.”

Doors on a supposedly condemned building.

Doors on a supposedly condemned building.


Screened-in porch entrance door.

Screened-in porch entrance door.


Rockledge Ranch farm house.

Rockledge Ranch farm house, Colorado Springs.











Filed under Abilene Kansas, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for great-grandchildren, writing exercises



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”



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