End MUD MONTH In Style

"Bubbles and Bella" ~ www.MyrtleBeachSafari.com

“Bubbles and Bella” ~ http://www.MyrtleBeachSafari.com

1978 ~ Mary Shepherd and her first 2 grandchildren getting ready for a nap; baby on left, Molly, will be the mother of Mary's two great-grandchildren (picture by Maryin Warner)

1978 ~ Mary Shepherd and her first 2 grandchildren getting ready for a nap; baby on left, Molly, will be the mother of Mary’s two great-grandchildren. See first two pictures of post “TEN WORDS” (pictures by Maryin Warner)

Ah, finally, the last week of February!  In Colorado and Kansas, 2014’s “Mud Month” (Old English Solmonath means Mud Month) has been one for the books.  But as my parents always said, “Don’t wish your life away…enjoy every day.”

In the spirit of that wise advice, here are four dates to celebrate the end of February in style!

Today, on February 22 (or any day before the end of the month) celebrate George Washington’s birthday with one or more of his favorite foods: Cream of Peanut Soup; Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Coconut; String Beans w/ fresh Mushrooms.  Or, his favorite breakfast food was Hoe Cakes—basic pancakes made with cornmeal.   (See one public-posted soup recipe at end of post.)

Don’t feel like cooking?  February 27 is No Brainer Day.  This is the perfect day to enjoy tasks or activities that require little or no study, talent or work on your part.  Kick back and laugh, applaud, appreciate or grin at someone else’s efforts.  My favorite (with thanks to Nancy Gibbs)—and I promise you’ll love this—is Bubbles and Bella– http://www.youtube.com/embed/RR0BlQzbOUk?rel=0

End Mud Month with a double-wonderful last day:  February 28 is both Floral Design Day and Public Sleeping Day.  My favorite cheer-the-harshest-winter-day flowers are tulips and lilies.  Both brighten even the snowiest day and make me hopeful for spring.

And on the same day, what says “Good-bye Mud Day” better than Public Sleeping Day?  Conserve your energy (or make a public statement about working too hard); say no to demands and take a nice long nap, even in public if you want (but not while driving, operating machinery, holding a scalpel or a weapon, etc. You get the idea.)

March 1st is just around the corner. You want to be well fed on Washington’s favorite foods ~ happy and encouraged by the antics of Bubbles and Bella ~ inspired by fresh flowers ~ and refreshed by a long nap.  Like every month, March will have challenges of its own, and you’ll want to be prepared!

Red Stargazer Lilies arranged with greenery.

Red Stargazer Lilies arranged with greenery.

Pink tulips growing in glass container. (Flower pictures by Marylin Warner)

Pink tulips growing in glass container. (Flower pictures by Marylin Warner)

David Wallace, Colorado Springs, acting the role of George Washington (Picture by Jim Warner)

David Wallace, Colorado Springs, acting the role of George Washington (Picture by Jim Warner)

1 med. onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 chopped fresh tomatoes and/or sweet red peppers
1/4 c. butter
3 tbsp. flour
2 qts. chicken stock or canned broth
2 c. chunky peanut butter
1 3/4 c. light cream
Saute onion and celery in butter until soft. Stir in flour until well blended. Add chick stock, stirring constantly, and bring to boil. Add peanut butter and cream, stirring to blend thoroughly. Heat, but do not boil. Serve garnished with peanuts if desired.  Serve with cayenne pepper for each person to use as desired.


Filed under birthday celebrations, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, special quotations


Pink and red tulips ~ a touch of spring in winter. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

Pink and red tulips ~ a touch of spring in winter. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

Valentine cupcakes: rich chocolate with white sprinkled icing and strawberry accents--and silver hearts!

Valentine cupcakes: rich chocolate with white sprinkled icing and strawberry accents–and silver hearts!

Hug him and Elmo tells you: "Hugs and kisses" ~ "Elmo loves you!"  and he makes kissing sounds!

Hug him and Elmo tells you: “Hugs and kisses” ~ “Elmo loves you!” and he makes kissing sounds!

Dear Mom,

Imagine a day many years ago, when a substitute filled in for one of the teachers in my elementary school. February 14th was a day of great expectations: home room mothers were bringing in cookies and juice for treats; construction paper hearts adorned the windows; and all the children’s decorated boxes were lined up at the back of the room, filled during the previous days with numerous little cards and greetings from classmates.

Imagine, Mom, how one substitute made sure that no child was disappointed when it was time to read the valentines in the boxes. Who sensed which children might not receive many cards–the shy or lonely ones, those who were often left out of playground games, those whose boxes had very few greetings even on the day before—and who do you think played Cupid?  The night before Valentine’s Day, what if that one special person recruited me to help (I was an “older kid”–in 6th grade, I think), and what if she and I addressed two special cards for each of the children who otherwise might not receive many?

One was store bought, with funny cartoons and cute messages…and a sucker tied to the card with a ribbon. For each of these cards it was my job was to print the student’s name on the envelope with a crayon, and on the card I printed messages like “You are my best secret pal!” or “Happy Valentine’s Day to the nicest boy (or girl) in the class!”  You were the special person, Mom, who gave me the job of being anonymously creative, and I loved it!

The second card was one of the common little folded greetings sold in packs of a dozen at the dime store. Do you remember printing the student’s name on the envelope (writing like a kid), tucking the folded heart inside the envelope, and then adding little candy hearts printed with special messages. Five candies in each envelope! Do you remember how much fun it was to prepare these special valentines?

The next day imagine us arriving early at school. I went with you into the classroom. While you set up materials for the day, I delivered the extra special cards to the boxes that obviously had fewer cards than the others. I had a great time, and I promised not to tell anyone.  Until now. ;)

You don’t remember the wonderful things you’ve done for children, Mom, but this Valentine’s Day story illustrates one way you cared for all children: your own children and grandchildren; children you helped in CASA and taught in Sunday School, in kindergarten classes, and wherever you encountered children of all ages. I remember, Mom, the difference you made day after day, year after year, with your full, kind and loving heart. I write this post so your great-grandchildren will know you better.

John Updike wrote: “We are most alive when we’re in love.”  Which explains why you have lived so long and been so content in spite of the dementia you have now…you’ve always been in love, with life and with children.

Author Martha Atwood said: The Eskimos had 52 nems for snow because it was important to them; there ought to be as many for love."

Author Margaret Atwood said: “The Eskimos had 52 names for snow because it was important to them; there ought to be as many for love.” (Jim, our grandchildren and our dog Maggie loving their hike together in the snow.)


Filed under Abilene Kansas, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons for great-grandchildren, special quotations


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:


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!


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


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!


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


My daughter Molly's ankle tattoo.  (pictures by Marylin Warner)

My daughter Molly’s ankle tattoo. (picture by Marylin Warner)

Their house and former yard of trees after the tornado of 2008.

Their house and former yard filled with trees ~ after the tornado of 2008. Click on picture to see details.

Dear Mom,

You always understood that there’s something inside us that needs to write our words and create our art. After you wrote your children’s stories, even if they were just going to be filed away in a drawer, you also drew or painted illustrations. And sometimes you added music as well, singing songs and humming melodies as you typed the stories and created watercolor pictures.

Author Sylvia Plath wrote, “Wear your heart on your skin in this life,” but one thing you were never tempted to do was get a tattoo.  The only question I ever heard you ask of someone wearing a tattoo was when you smiled at a young man with a multi-colored dragon tattoo and said, “Did it hurt?” He returned the smile and said, “Yeah, kinda, but it was worth it.”

As a writer, I have many favorite words and quotes, but there’s never been a phrase or a symbol I wanted to wear permanently.  I am, however, fascinated by those who do.  In the spirit of last week’s post—asking WHY?—I admit I want to know both the What and the Why of tattoo choices.

One of my favorites is actress Susan Sarandon’s AND AND tattoo.  It means A New Dawn A New Day, and the way I heard her explain it in an interview, it’s a reminder that whatever happens, tomorrow is a new day and a fresh beginning.

Many athletes wear art and numerous messages and symbols. People of all careers and ages whose professions discourage tattoos, wear them on places they cover with professional attire.  Before the dementia, you would smile pleasantly when you saw a heavily tattooed person, but later you’d shake your head and ask  me, “Do you understand why they do that?”

Actually, Mom, in some cases I do.  And if you were free of the dementia and could see your granddaughter’s most recent tattoo, I think you would understand, too.  The WHAT: four hearts—one green, one orange, one pink, one blue—surviving a whirling tornado.  The WHY: the four hearts represent the favorite colors of the four members of their family, symbolizing their love for each other, and gratitude for surviving the devastating tornado that destroyed much of their little town in 2008.

Yes, Mom, I think you would understand the permanent art your granddaughter wears on her ankle. You’d probably want to know if it hurt to get tattooed, but you’d be grateful that her family survived the tornado, and you’d celebrate with them.

Author Jack London wrote, “Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.”

I would add to that: “The same is true of a woman.”

I have some very interesting things in my past, Mom, but I don’t think I’ll get any tattoos. And that’s okay.  I’ll write about them instead, so I can edit, correct and delete…without pain.

Faith tattoo upside down for hope

On People's Court, this 'Faith' tattoo was under attack...

On People’s Court, this ‘Faith’ tattoo was under attack… If you turned it upside down, as in the first picture above, it should read ‘Hope’–but the i and t had a problem. Correcting or erasing a tattoo can be long, hard & expensive.


Filed under Chapman KS, Dementia/Alzheimer's, making a difference, special quotations, Things to be thankful for, writing

The REAL Question

Why would you build a cairn on a hiking trail?  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Why would you build a cairn on a hiking trail? (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

If you suffer from angst, why would you bury a golf club in its very own, actual plot in a cemetery?

If you suffer from angst, why would you bury a golf club in its very own plot in a cemetery?

Dear Mom,

You don’t realize it, but your common sense was often ahead of the times, before theories, debates, studies and research reached the same conclusions.

For instance, when I was growing up, if kids did something wrong, said something hurtful, or got into trouble at school, usually their parents asked these questions: “How did this happen?”~ “What did you do this time?”~ “Who were you with?” or “Who’s idea was this?”  Eventually you would also learn the answers to those questions as well, but your most important question, the one you asked quietly, seriously, and while looking into my eyes was this: “Why?”

You wanted to know why I’d done something, why I’d thought it was appropriate or the only option, and if I’d considered the consequences or the pain it might cause someone else. “Why?” was the question you asked about things I’d done, as well as things I should have done but didn’t do. (In that case, it was “Why not?”—again, with emphasis on the thought process.)

Guess what, Mom?  Your main-question approach has been identified as the essential question in focusing on obstacles or goals, and effectively solving problems or being successful in careers and life. Professor Julia Bayuk’s experiments at Delaware University demonstrated that focusing on the what and the how—without fully grasping the why—can actually work against achieving desired outcomes.

It’s mid-January and individual resolutions may be floundering or forgotten entirely. Maybe there was one word that was missing from the resolution. When we made the resolution or formed a plan for reaching our desires or goals, we probably  knew WHAT we wanted to accomplish and even HOW we planned to do it, sometimes with many specific steps. But if we didn’t fully explore and understand the real and personal WHY it was important and essential in our lives, our true motivation was unclear and we were hobbled at the gate even before the race began. In the Year of the Horse–and any year, actually–that’s an almost guaranteed failure.

Here are some other insights on asking the Right Question:

“What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.” ~ Jonas Salk

“In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” ~Bertrand Russell

“There are no right answers to wrong questions.” ~ Ursula K. LeGuin

“If you really want to know something, also ask WHY?”~ Mary Shepherd, paraphrased

Why do we create?

Why do we create? ~ Why don’t we try to create?

Why do we wait? ~ Why don't we wait?

Why do we wait? ~ Why don’t we wait?

Why do we keep trying after we strike out?

Why do some quit after they strike out, and others who strike out step up to the plate again and again?


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


Gate in winter. Art by Mary Shepherd for her Stubby Mule story.

Gate in winter. Art by Mary Shepherd for her story, “Stubby The Stubborn Missouri Mule”

Gated doorway to Bent's Fort in Colorado. (This photograph by Jim Warner; all others by Marylin Warner)

Gated doorway to Bent’s Fort in Colorado. (This photograph by Jim Warner; all others in this post by Marylin Warner)

For your information, the original Roman year had 10 months. Somewhere around 700 BC, Januarius and Februirus were added.  January’s Latin name, Janus, was for Roman Mythology’s guardian of gates and doorways. With two faces looking in opposite directions, Janus could see both forward and backward, and was protector in time of war.

So far in 2014, no state’s “first baby born” has been named Janus.

However, here are the names of “first babies born” in several states in America:

~ “Brooklyn” was the name of the first baby born in both Colorado and Maryland.  ~”Prantison” was the first baby born in Hawaii, ~ “Dior” in Connecticut, ~“Nash” in Iowa, ~“Layla Rose” in North Dakota, ~“Zane” in Texas, and ~ “Nathyn” in Oregon.   I wonder if the popular baby names in the UK will include one or more of the names of the baby of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge: George Alexander Louis.

In the coming week, one day offers you three “special day” choices.  Monday, January 13th, is “Make Your Dreams Come True Day,” so if you have special dreams and hopes, this is the day to take steps to make them come true. Monday is also the ever-popular “Blame Someone Else Day” (probably no explanation is necessary), and for the “doubting Thomas” cynics, January 13th is also “International Skeptics Day.”

When I visit my mom, I often read aloud the posts I’ve written for “her” blog, and also some of the comments. They don’t really register through her dementia, but she’ll smile and nod, or ask questions like, “Do we know them?”

This next FYI is one I’m very glad my mother doesn’t–and won’t ever–understand.

Last week a video went viral. A 2-year-old toddler in diapers walks around a tipped over chair (in a kitchen probably), learning to curse, cuss and repeat offensive words, phrases and gestures. As many as three adults off camera coach the little boy by saying the words and having him repeat them.  Omaha, Nebraska Child Protective Services placed the boy and three other children in protective custody, not for what the child was being taught, but for additional concerns they had when they went to the house.

As a devoted mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, teacher and CASA volunteer, my mom would have been heart sick to watch this video.

Writer T.F. Hodge said, “ What you do teaches faster, and has a lasting impression, far beyond what you say.”  For music lovers, read again the lyrics of “You Have To Be Carefully Taught” from SOUTH PACIFIC.

In 2014, and every year, we need to remember the message printed at the base of our vehicles’ exterior rear-view mirrors: “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.”   As we look forward to new years and fresh starts, we need to also remember that what we leave behind us–and the good or the bad it does–remains closer than we realize.

"Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear"

“Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear”


Building a good gate is as important as building a good fence. Also, children imitate good things their taught...

Building a good gate is as important as building a good fence. Also, children imitate good things they’re taught…



Filed under Different kinds of homes, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, special quotations