Category Archives: memories for great-grandchildren

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.

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

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

KEEPING THE CHICKEN IN PERSPECTIVE

Norman Rockwell's "Marbles Champion" ~ if you think girls can't do certain things, you need to change a second look.

Norman Rockwell’s “Marbles Champion” ~ if you think girls can’t compete with boys, you need to rethink that.

Rockwell's "Big Decision" ~ the catcher has a different point of view than the coach

Rockwell’s “Big Decision” ~ the catcher has a different point of view than the coach. Below, the perspective from the “High Board” is different than from the side of the pool.

High board

“Running around like a chicken with its head cut off” isn’t just a simile for a frantically busy person. It’s also an actual description.

When I was eleven years old, a farmer knew that my mother had been raised on a farm, and as a gift he delivered to our house a fresh chicken for our dinner.  It was a very fresh chicken.  Still alive.

In our back yard, he quickly balanced the chicken on a board, lifted an ax and cut off the chicken’s head. The chicken body ran like crazy.  We had a tall picket fence enclosing our big back yard. It was painted white. By the time the chicken dropped, there were very few pickets that didn’t have streaks, smears or spatters of blood. (You can thank me for not having pictures of this.)

The farmer used our garden hose to spray the fence while my mother plucked and cleaned out the chicken. That night our family had fresh fried chicken for dinner, but I didn’t eat any of it. The fence still had faint stains, and my mind still saw the running chicken.  It was a long time before I realized what my mother tried to help me see: the chicken incident, like many things in life, was a matter of perspective.  To her, it was a generous gesture from a farmer bringing fresh chicken to a former farm woman who was probably tired of store-bought frozen chicken.  I couldn’t understand how my mother, who wouldn’t let me see THE BLOB movie, let me watch a chicken run with its head off.

Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”  And C.G. Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”  I doubt they were referring to chickens, but possibly they were encouraging us to understand ourselves through our perspectives.

The quote I think applies most to Mom’s perspective about things that were thrown her way in life is by J.M. Barrie: “Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.”  My mother had the amazing ability to appreciate people and their good intentions, even if they caused her to change her plans or do more work.

Even before my father’s Alzheimer’s and then her own dementia, my mother was not a naïve Pollyanna. She was an intelligent, perceptive, strong-thinking realist who stood firm when necessary. She was also a good listener with a kind heart and open hands to help others. And she knew how to keep life’s chickens in perspective.

*     *    *    *   *

Tracy Karner has a superb post on CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), effective for changing a number of problems by establishing a more hopeful perspective.

http://tracyleekarner.com/2014/03/07/c-is-for-cbt-living-well-despite-everything/

A replica of vanGogh's "Three Sunflowers in a Vase" on an easel.

A replica of van Gogh’s “Three Sunflowers in a Vase” on an easel.

My husband Jim is 6'2"--and he is walking the path to the 80' tall art replica in Goodland, KS. (which should also give you a new perspective of the importance of art in small Kansas towns) These photographs by Marylin Warner

My husband Jim is 6’2″–and he is walking the path to the 80 ft. tall art replica in Goodland, Kansas (which should also give you a new perspective on the importance of art in small Kansas towns) These photographs by Marylin Warner

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Filed under art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Henry David Thoreau, Kansas, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations

SUNRISE or SUNSET?

Colorado sunrise. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Colorado sunrise. (Picture by Jim Warner)

Kansas sunset.

Kansas Sunset   (Picture by Marylin Warner)                             

Years ago, when my dad was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, during my visits Mom and I sometimes left him with his caregiver and promised to bring him a treat from wherever we went on our ride. It was always a difficult transition for Mom, leaving him behind, so on one visit I brought along a distraction, a CD of songs from Broadway’s most popular musicals.

As I drove along the swath of Ozarks terrain cutting through our part of Kansas, one of our favorites from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF began to play: “Sunrise, Sunset.”  During the refrain—“…sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days…seedlings turn over night to sun flowers, blossoming even as we gaze…”—the Kansas sun set in a blaze of orange and gold and red. I pulled off the highway and stopped to enjoy it.  In Colorado, the mountains are beautifully majestic, but they cut off the view of stunning sunsets.

As we watched the colors, I asked Mom which she enjoyed more, sunrise or sunset. Those of you who know my mother via my stories about her on this blog, what would you guess was her answer?  Before her dementia, on summer mornings she was up with the sunrise to work in her gardens before the heat, and she would pause to breathe deeply and welcome the beautiful possibilities of the day.  Also before the dementia, at sunset she’d watch the glow through her kitchen window or rest in her chair, tablet on her lap, and write lines of poetry or stories about the events and inspirations from the day.  So which do you think she enjoyed more, the sunrise or the sunset?

At my mother's assisted living ~ we know the driver of this car is partial to gorgeous sunsets!

At my mother’s assisted living ~ we know the driver of this car is partial to gorgeous sunsets!

Aubades are songs sung to the rising sun and poems written upon awakening at dawn. My mother kept a notebook of  her aubades, poems of early morning. But she was also a fan of Ann Landers, who wrote in one of her columns, “A happy marriage has the tranquility of a lovely sunset.” Based on my dad’s struggles with Alzheimer’s, I guessed Mom’s loyalty to their marriage would choose sunsets as her answer.

She thought for a while and then finally said that her favorite time of day was noon. If the sun was going to be out, it would be at noon, and she liked the energy it gave her to get done whatever had to be done.

Sunrise. Sunset. Noon.  As Abraham Lincoln wrote: “The best thing about the future is it comes one day at a time.”  And more recently, author of A CHILD CALLED ‘IT’, Dave Pelzer wrote: “At the end of the day you still have to face yourself.” 

Those were the lessons I learned from my mother’s answer that day: We take life one day at a time, and the best we can do is live that day the best we can.

Kansas farm land ~ I'm so sick of winter and I had to use this picture of warm, sunny days...

Kansas farm land ~ I’m so sick of winter, I had to use this picture of a warm, sunny day…

1921 ~ Mom with her brother in the sandbox on the farm, enjoying the sunny day.

1921 ~ Mom with her brother in the sandbox on the farm, enjoying the sunny day in Plattsburg, Missouri

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Filed under Abilene Kansas, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations

TEN WORDS

Write in chalk on a fence, in crayon on lined paper... let go and write! It's only 10 words. (Photographs by Marylin Warner)

Write in chalk on a fence, in crayon on lined paper… let go and write! It’s only 10 words. (Photographs by Marylin Warner)

The cover page of the private book I put together of Mary Shepherd's poems, stories and essays.

The cover page of the private book I put together of my mother’s poems, stories, illustrations, and essays.

Dear Mom,

When Dad was in the last years of Alzheimer’s, remember how I used to search for very short writing contests that would help us “keep the pen moving” during that hard time?  I remember finding a flash fiction contest—a story or poem of no more than 200 words—and since I was coming to visit you several weeks later, when I told you about it over the phone, we agreed to each have an entry ready for the contest when I arrived.

I wrote an odd dream-like story—it was 199 words, counting the title–and you wrote several Haiku poems on one topic and called it a narrative Haiku; your word total was something like 87 words. Neither of us entered the contest, but we had great fun reading our writing attempts to each other.  At your suggestion, we even “illustrated” our stories with colored pencils and crayons, which was really a hoot.

Sometimes that’s what writing is: accepting a challenge or pursuing an idea, doing the writing and rewriting, meeting a deadline, and then celebrating the process alone or with a fellow writer. You and I celebrated by going to the White Grill and laughing over coconut cream pie…and we also brought back pieces for Dad and his caregiver, even though they hadn’t written anything.  We were feeling generous.

Even though you like to have me read to you, Mom, you’re not interested in writing any more. But I still perk up every time I find a short-word-count writing contest with no entry fee and a great prize for the winner.  And guess what I found last week?  A 10-word writing contest!  Really!  How hard can it be, writing ten words? (Not easy, actually. They have to be the right words, but come on, step up to the plate, batters!)

I love the premise.  Supposedly, Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing a short story of fewer than ten words. His was only six words:  For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

When I taught my Writing To Publish classes for high school seniors, I assigned them to write their own six-to-ten word short stories.  Some really loved the challenge. Others hated it.

Love it or hate it, it’s a creative mind-boggling, teeth gritting, writing activity.  It’s a challenge.

Gotham Writers is again offering its 10-word short story contest.  Last year’s winner was Ingrid Bohnenkamp of Springfield, MO.:  The city burned. Alice lit up, watched. She’d quit later.  One of the finalists I really enjoyed was by Dan Moreau of Chicago: The inmate always called, wrote back, easily her best boyfriend.

The entries are submitted online by May 5, 2014, so you don’t even have to pay postage. There’s also no entry fee.  Only one entry per person.  For full details and prize:

http://www.writingclasses.com/ContestPages/10W.php

What do you think, Mom, will any of our friends enter the contest? I hope so.  It’s not like they have anything to lose, and there is a lot to gain. If they do the work and meet their deadline, they can go out and treat themselves—and maybe their friends who also entered—to coconut cream pie!

"10 words" ~ written in Colorado snow.  It's been a long winter... ;)

“10 words” ~ written in Colorado snow. It’s been a long winter…

Ten Words?  That's the number of fingers on two hands. Count'em. You can write ten words?

Ten Words? That’s the number of fingers on two hands. Count’em. You can write ten words!

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, Mary Shepherd's poetry, memories for great-grandchildren, writing exercises

WHAT WE LEARN WHILE WE WAIT

Penny, the visiting dog who waddles in for pats. (Photographs by Marylin Warner)

Penny, the visiting dog who waddles in for pats. (Photographs by Marylin Warner)

All we need love & a dog

Mom and I hold her great-granddaughter Grace's Flat Stanley project.

Mom and I hold her great-granddaughter Grace’s Flat Stanley project.

I’ve been asked, many times, exactly what it is I do when I visit my mother each month.  From my house in Colorado to her assisted living apartment in Kansas, it’s a round-trip drive of 1,300 miles.  English poet George Herbert wrote, “Every mile is two in winter,” and between November and March, I brace myself for bad roads.

In Colorado I’m busy with friends and family, writing and editing, organizations and activities, and taking hikes with my husband and our dog, as well as being open to all kinds of plans and adventures.  In Kansas, within limits, Mom and I might eat the foods I bring, take walks outside in nice weather (I walk and she rides in the wheelchair), watch television and “play beauty shop.”  She will ask questions, sometimes the same ones again and again, including asking if I’m someone she knows, which is the nature of dementia.  I also know that we’ll sit quietly together in the living room while she naps.  In other words, I spend a lot of time waiting.

Before you nod off or retch in your shoes at this Dickens-type dreary scenario, let me say this: I’ve also found that while I wait, I learn. A lot. Seriously. And I always leave a little smarter than I arrived.

For instance, because I have time to read magazines and newspapers and flip through the channels on my mother’s television, I learn information I never would have had time for on a regular, busy day.  Some of what I learn is a little strange. Like the article about the wife who donated one of her kidneys to save her husband’s life…and now she wants it back. It seems he was mighty grateful at first, but now he’s having an affair, and she’d like to give the kidney to someone who deserves it.  Anyone want to debate that issue?

There are also happy lessons, reminders of  “the kindness of strangers.”  There is always some quiet, kind, unexpected gesture from one of the caregivers that reminds me that the little things make a big difference. And then there’s the man who visits the residents and brings his little dog Penny to waddle in for pats and smiles. Or the friends who’ve sent me amazing links that finally I have time to watch: this Tchaikovsky Flashwaltz at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem is the most stunning example of  “the kindness of strangers” I’ve ever seen. Please, do yourself a favor and invest two minutes…you’ll be astounded:   http://safeshare.tv/w/OXHZUxUXXN

I also glean all kinds of health information from the magazines stacked in the mail room. Seriously, I now know the most important times to drink water to be healthy:   2 glasses of water after waking up helps activate internal organs             ~ 1 glass of water 30 minutes before a meal  helps digestion  ~ 1 glass of water before taking a bath/shower regulates blood pressure  ~ 1 glass of water before going to bed helps you avoid a stroke or heart attack.    Yea! for H2O!!!

Mostly, though, each month I’m reminded of basic truths:  1) Our mothers were right ~ a smile does make all the difference;  2) When we pause to visit with someone who is sitting alone or has nowhere to go, it’s a very good thing for both of us;  3) Slowing down, taking time to wait and think, to watch and listen and learn, is actually a gift.

February is the shortest month of the year.  No matter where we live, no matter what our age or health or economic status, for all of us there are only twenty-eight days this month.  If you have an opportunity to sit with an elderly relative or friend who knows who you are–or doesn’t even know who she is–who is healing from surgery or just hoping for a visitor, I encourage you to welcome the opportunity. You may have to sit quietly for a while and wait, but there’s a good chance you will learn something important.

Leave it to the Brits to have fun!  The Little Tikes for kids (on right) is now for adults, too. I learned that they're windowless, have seat belts, and can go up to 70 miles per hour!

Leave it to the Brits to have fun! The Little Tikes for kids (on right) is now for adults, too. I learned that they’re windowless, have seat belts, and can go up to 70 miles per hour!

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Filed under Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, friends, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, Special days in February

HOPE SMILES

A good daily reminder for the new year. (These two photographs by Marylin Warner)

A good daily reminder for the new year. (These two photographs by Marylin Warner)

Remember: "Good things come to those who work while they're waiting."

Remember: Good things come to those who wait…and especially to those who also keep working while they wait. (Or, to thank Judy Berman for this comment: “Good things come to those who hustle while they wait.” Thank you, Judy!)

Dear Mom,

It’s almost that time again, to sit down with pencil and paper and write a few New Year’s Resolutions. (Always use a pencil, so you can erase and make changes, right?)

You weren’t a big fan of resolutions. If I asked what your resolution was, you would say something like, “Each day I want to make things a little bit better,” or  “Every day I will think good thoughts about —–, or say a prayer for ——,” or “Every day I’ll be thankful for that day.”  The closest thing I found  to a quote about resolutions was when I was cleaning out closets after I moved you and Dad to your assisted living apartment and I came across an index card where you’d written this:  “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier…’ ” ~ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. And below that you’d written Yes, Hope really does smile.”

In addition to the messages under the pictures, here are three of my favorite hopeful messages for the new year.  Our blog friends are welcome to add their resolutions or favorite quotes, too.

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

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

Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.”   ~Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

This year, tell your own story, leave your own mark. (Canyonlands Natl. Park. Navajo Tse'Hone--"Rock That Tells A Story") Photograph by Jim Warner

This year, tell your own story, leave your own mark. (Canyonlands Natl. Park. ~Navajo Tse’Hone–”Rock That Tells A Story”) Photograph by Jim Warner

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