THE NORWAY OF THE YEAR

The national flag of Norway, adopted July, 1821

The national flag of Norway, adopted July, 1821

 

 

 

Red November leaves clinging to tree.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Red leaves clinging to tree. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Have you ever noticed the grim way some writers describe the month of November?  

Joseph Addison wrote this: “The gloomy months of November, when people of England hang and drown themselves.” (I double checked, and the word “months” is indeed plural, as if November seems to go on and on, which might explain the hanging and drowning, or maybe it refers to Addison’s interpretation over many years. Whichever it is, I apologize to the people of England; remember, I am only the messenger.)

Emily Dickinson describes November this way: “November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.”  (I used to teach Dickinson in my English classes, and I don’t recall her writing that July is the Sahara of the year, or making any other month/place comparisons…only November.)

My mother’s writing is not well known–and at this point in her dementia, even she doesn’t recognize her own words when I read them aloud to her–but I’d like to share with you a few of her descriptions of November.  I found these typed and handwritten examples stored in her writing box. 

The windblown sleet darts ~ Like tiny ice bullets ~ Against my window pane. 

Wee button noses ~ Beneath eyes of wide wonder   ~ Smudge frosty windows.

And these last two, titled 1 and 2, were followed by a question: which one is better?  If you have a preference or comment, I’ll read them to Mom during my next trip to Kansas…and remind her again that these are her words and Haikus.

#1: Spruce draped in snow-fall ~ Stand silent cold sentinels ~ Against threat’ning skies.

#2: Trees clothed in snow-fall ~ Are strong sentinels guarding ~ Against steel grey skies.

Both of my parents thought that each day had its own beauty, and each month had its own importance and possibility. For my mother, summer months were for planting and gardening; fall and winter months were for knitting and baking; spring months were for hoping and watching new growth. She believed every season was a gift, and all the seasons deserved heartfelt anticipation…and at least a few words of notice and appreciation penned in her notebooks.

 

Fall clouds on the Kansas horizon

Fall clouds on the Kansas horizon

Maggie on fall hike in Brown's Park, Abilene, KS

Maggie on fall hike in Brown’s Park, Abilene, KS

November picture of Colorado's Pikes Peak

November picture of Colorado’s Pikes Peak

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, Mary Shepherd's poetry, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

moon between trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hand-painted pumpkins greet visitors at the entrance to Mom's assisted living. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Hand-painted pumpkins greet visitors at the entrance to Mom’s assisted living. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Erma Bombeck was one of my mother’s favorite humor writers.   Not only was she a good writer, but her books and columns also contained real life truths.   I remember Mom laughing, and then she would read aloud the excerpt and say something like, “I know just how she feels!”

This Bombeck quote perfectly describes my mother:  “A grandmother pretends she doesn’t know who you are on Halloween.”   Mom was the perfect, appreciative audience for her costumed grandchildren…and all children.

Seven years ago, these were the types of trick or treaters Mom enjoyed most--her great-grandchildren!

Seven years ago, these were the types of trick or treaters Mom enjoyed most–her sweet great-grandchildren!

 

 

When Mom opened the front door and greeted the young neighborhood kids chirping “Trick or Treat,” she pretended not to know any of them. “Oh my, who is this pirate on my porch?” she might say.   Or, “What a scary ghost you are!” and “I didn’t know we had a real princess living nearby!”   The children would giggle and hold out their sacks, and most of them said, “Thank you” for the goodies she gave to them.   It was a happy time.

 

 

Then, as years went by, Mom and Dad started forgetting names and faces—and not just when children were in Halloween costumes—so they began leaving a bowl of candy on the patio table (and eventually they even forgot to do that).   They would turn off the porch lights and the indoor lights, lock the doors and go to bed early. Halloween was no longer fun for them; it was too confusing.

There is a traditional Scottish saying about Halloween that is also a prayer: “From ghoulies and ghosties ~ And long-legged beasties ~ And things that go bump in the night ~ Good Lord, deliver us!”

Based on my own experiences with my parents—and as a prayer for all of us—I’ll add this:   “From confusion and fear and forgotten memories ~ From the losses and sorrows of Alzheimer’s and dementia ~ And from scary things that go bump in the night ~ Good Lord, deliver us!”

 

Farmers harvest a HUGE smile for Halloween.

Farmers harvest a HUGE smile for Halloween.

Our daughter Molly made these Halloween "teeth" treats for her kids' class rooms: apples slices with peanut butter holding the marshmallow teeth.

Our daughter Molly made these Halloween “teeth” treats for her kids’ class rooms: apples slices with peanut butter holding the marshmallow teeth.

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

MUSICAL SPOONS

wooden spoons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

old piano

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

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

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

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

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

cup and plate and knife embroidery

 

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

WANT A HEARTBEAT AT YOUR FEET?

Before Alzheimer's took over, my dad loved to have talks with Fritz, who ran to meet him at the back door.  Fritz was from the Humane Society.

Before Alzheimer’s took over, my dad loved to have talks with Fritz, who ran to meet him at the back door. Fritz was from the Humane Society.

 

Our dog Maggie, a special member of our family for the past 12 years. Our police officer son-in-law found her in an abandoned yard. (Photo by Jim Warner)

Our dog Maggie, a special member of our family for the past 12 years. Our police officer son-in-law found her in an abandoned yard. (Photo by Jim Warner)

When we were growing up, my brother and I had numerous pets: rabbits, seahorses, an alligator for a short time, white mice, a parakeet, and eight dogs (one at a time). We never had kittens or a cat, but that was because my brother was allergic to them (I thought we should give up my brother so I could have a kitten, but my parents outvoted me.)

Five of our dogs were from the Humane Society, and our first dog when we moved to Fort Scott, when I was 3 and my brother was almost 5, was a dog that had been left behind by the people who rented the house before we did. Rather than shoo her off, of course Mom fed and took care of her. A month later Smokey had a litter of puppies, and when they were old enough, my mother put a sign on the gate of our fence: “Puppies, 5 cents each. To good homes only”  

We came home from church the next Sunday, and the gate was open.  A note on the back porch was weighed down with a rock and a dime. “We have a good home. We took the last puppy. You can keep the extra nickel. Thank you.”

October is “Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.”   This post is not a Public Service Announcement, but I can honestly attest to the joy of having dogs as members of our family. We also love cats; as soon as I had my own home, we began adding wonderful cats to our clan as well, but that’s another post.

October is also “National Popcorn Popping Month,” but a previous post was about microwave popcorn setting off fire alarms in my mother’s assisted living facility, so we’ve already covered that topic. It is also “Cookie Month,” so to play fair, I’ve included a picture of some October-themed cookies. But for the rest of you who might need a nudge for dog adoptions, here are some personal testimonies:

By writer Edith Wharton: “My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.”

 “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” ~ Will Rogers

 “The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.” ~ Andy Rooney

And Rita Rudner said, “I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult.” 

If you want to meet new people and have a heated discussion, you can get a bumper sticker like the one we saw on a truck in the parking lot of the dog park: “MY MIXED BREED DOG IS SMARTER THAN YOUR HONOR STUDENT”

October is also SARCASTIC MONTH, but you might want to use sarcasm carefully…

To be fair, October is also "Cookie Month" ~ so here are some samples.

To be fair, October is also “Cookie Month” ~ so here are some samples.

Our daughter's family adopted Duchess, a wonderful German Shepherd, from a soldier leaving Ft. Riley.

Our daughter’s family adopted Duchess, a wonderful German Shepherd, from a soldier leaving Ft. Riley.

Our granddaughter Grace reading to Maggie.

Our granddaughter Grace reading to Maggie.

 

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

MEMORY DOORS

In front of a house in Colorado Springs.  Open the door and take a book or leave a book to share. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

In front of a house in Colorado Springs. Open the door and take a book or leave a book to share. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

Inviting doorway into the children's room of an quaint shop in Abilene, Kansas. Walk through the doorway for exciting new ideas.

Inviting doorway into the children’s room of an quaint shop in Abilene, Kansas. Walk through the doorway for exciting new ideas.

Actor John Barrymore once wrote, “Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.”  Sometimes, however, doors can cause less pleasant results.  According to both Professor Gabriel Radvansky and an article in the QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, doors and doorways can separate episodes of activity and cause confusion and forgetfulness. 

What this means is that all of us, whether we have mostly clear thoughts or worry that we might be next to suffer with Alzheimer’s or dementia, probably find ourselves forgetting things.

For instance, have you ever hurried out the door in the morning, and suddenly you can’t remember the two things on your “to do” list you planned to take care of on your way to work?  Or do you sometimes walk from one room to another to get something, and once you get there you’ve forgotten what it is?

There are several studies on event boundaries, but here’s my favorite solution to this kind of forgetfulness problem:  go back through the door to the place you were when you made the plan about what to do or to get. Stop, take a breath, and when you recall the detail, repeat it to yourself, and then walk back through the door and go on your way.  Do this with a sense of humor, not an exaggerated sense of dread that you might be losing your memory.

I did not know of memory event boundaries when my dad was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, but I realize now that it was one of his coping skills.  Sometimes he would walk out of his office to put on his hat and go somewhere, then suddenly stop. He’d look away, hesitant, and then he’d go back into his office. This might have been to escape the embarrassment of forgetting, but often after a brief pause, he would walk back out of his office again, smiling and ready to do what he’d planned. By going back through the doorway, he had remembered what he wanted to do.

If you haven’t visited www.fatbottomfiftiesgetfierce.com yet, I suggest you treat yourself to a terrific blog. One humorous post is about “Quinbloits”—things that only someone over 50 will understand.   My favorite Quinbloit is this: ROOMEMBER: to find yourself standing in the middle of a room trying to remember what you went in there to get. There you have it: if you suffer from a ROOMEMBER, now you know to leave the room to help yourself remember.

As the daughter of a father who died of Alzheimer’s and a mother who suffers with severe dementia, I would never make light of any aspect of forgetfulness or memory loss.  But I also don’t want to cause undue worries by dwelling on natural lapses of memory.  As my primary care physician explained to me, finding your keys where you left them in the refrigerator doesn’t mean you should worry you have Alzheimer’s. But if you find your keys in the refrigerator and don’t know what they are or what to do with them, then we need to talk.

Close up of main door of burnt out building in picture below. Going in and out of this door may bring back memories of a better time before the fire.

Close up of main door of burnt out building in picture below. Going in and out of this door may bring back memories of a better time before the fire, but it’s not a safe suggestion based on the damage from the fire.

 

View of burnt out doors and windows of church/theater in Abilene, Ks.

View of burnt out doors and windows of church/theater in Abilene, Ks.

 

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

SOUND THE ALARMS!

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.

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

UNFORGOTTEN TIMES

orange autumn leaves

lemons in bowl

For this month’s visit with my mother, I had loaded the abridged version of A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES on my Kindle. I didn’t expect her to follow the details—her dementia has blurred much of her understanding of anything she hears—but I hoped she might enjoy the sounds, the rhythms and flow of poetry. So when she was tucked in her bed, ready to go to sleep, I pulled the rocking chair up close. With the only light coming from a small lamp nearby, I began to read.

I ended up reading aloud all the poems to her. Her eyes would close and I’d think she was asleep. But when I’d stop reading, she’d say to read more. Then she began responding to some of the poems. For instance, “To My Mother” was one of the little poems in public domain, no author cited. She asked me to read it twice.

You, too, my mother, read my rhymes ~   For love of unforgotten times, ~ And you may chance to hear once more ~ The little feet along the floor.

Mom smiled and nodded, agreeing children ran to be read to, because they loved to hear words.  Her responses to the poems were a delightful surprise.  It was the most specifically responsive I’d seen her in a long time.

This is the last full week of September, World Alzheimer’s Month, and also One-on-One Month.  If you have someone in your life who suffers with dementia or Alzheimer’s and doesn’t respond to other things you’ve tried, I recommend you try some One-On-One time reading aloud simple or familiar children’s poems. September is also Self-Improvement Month, and I have no doubt that reading aloud poetry to my mother by lamp light certainly improved me.

September 26 is Johnny Appleseed Day. (Isn’t September a fascinating month?) In fourth grade I did a report on pioneer and nurseryman John Chapman (1774-1845), who made it his mission to plant apple seeds throughout numerous states. I was so impressed by his efforts that I passed out sections of apples to the other students so they could save the seeds and imitate him.  (One of the boys swallowed his seeds to see if he could grow a tree in his stomach. Some things are wasted on 4th graders, I guess.  We all hoped leaves would grow out of his ears.)

Anyway, John Chapman’s vision is even more important this month during the epidemic of a fast moving viral respiratory infection that is hospitalizing children across the country. There is no immunization or miracle drug, but two doctors from the CDC stated that the acid in lemons and the pectin in apples appear to be helpful in deterring the illness.

And finally, September 21-27 is World Reflexology Week. Oh, if only Mom could shake the dementia, she could teach us about the pressure points on hands and feet to release stress, diminish pain, treat sinus infections, and improve energy.  You can Google reflexology for resources and diagrams to get started.

Enjoy this last full week of September. Another of the poems I read to my mother was “Autumn Fires,” about burning leaves. She had me read it aloud twice, and the final lines had her smiling: …The red fire blazes, ~ The grey smoke towers, ~ Sing a song of seasons! ~ Something bright in All! ~ Flowers in the summer, ~ Fires in the fall!   

acupressure feet

acupressure hands

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference