JUST WORDS

Books of words.  Without meaning, they're just "words."  (pictures by Marylin Warner)

Books of words. Without meaning or context, they’re just “words.” (pictures by Marylin Warner)

"Perseverance"

Is perseverance at the top of your list of goals, or nearer the bottom of your list?

 

What does Irish mean to you if you're Italian?

What does Irish mean to you if you’re Italian?

Think about all the words we read, write, see and hear that have general definitions but also a variety of personal meanings and interpretations. Marriage means different things to different people. So does Love, Hate, Innocence, Guilt, etc. Without personal context, words are often just words.

One of my favorite examples is the four-word comment on age by the actor George Burns: “Young. Old. Just words.”  In 1977 Burns starred in the movie OH, GOD! He was 81. For years, he and his wife Gracie Allen did comedy routines and a sit-com together. Gracie died in 1964, 32 years before George died at the age of 100.

My parents had enjoyed the “George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.” When George died in 1996, a tribute to both of them was on television. I remember my parents watching solemnly. Mom said George and Gracie had been apart a long time, and now they’d be together again. My dad said an emotional “Goodnight, Gracie.” Dad’s mother had died of spinal meningitis when he was a very young boy, and her name was Grace. Unfortunately, by the time his great-granddaughter was born in 2003 and Molly named her Grace in honor of Dad’s mother, Alzheimer’s had begun fading his attachment to the word Grace.

Two weeks ago I was with my mother in Kansas, and when we celebrated her early 96th birthday together, I knew the truth of Burns’ quote about young and old being just words.

Because of her dementia, Mom’s concept of now doesn’t mean as much to her as then, especially when the “then” is life as a child growing up on the family farm in Missouri with her brothers and sisters. To her, I am not so much her daughter as I’m “just the nicest girl” who comes to visit. And my brother isn’t her son but usually Sam, who was her brother. And that’s okay. Mom is calm and content with those memories, despite the confusing words that are often used to try to explain things to her.

Satchel Paige was a major league baseball legend in his own lifetime. He asked an important question that we each should answer for ourselves. “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”

Young. Old. Are they just words for you?

Satchel Paige (1906-1982)  (google sportcard via Rich Klein article)

Satchel Paige (1906-1982) (google sportcard via Rich Klein article)

George Burns in the 1977 movie OH, GOD! (wickipedia)

George Burns in the 1977 movie OH, GOD! (wickipedia)

 

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Filed under Different kinds of homes, lessons for great-grandchildren, life questions, special quotations

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

TEMPUS FUGIT

1919 ~ Mary "Ibbith" holding her baby doll.

1920 ~ Mary “Ibbith” holding her baby doll, getting ready to take it for a ride in the baby buggy.

2012 ~ Mary Elizabeth and her daughter (me) holding the Flat Stanley project of her great-granddaughter, Grace.

2012 ~ Mary Elizabeth and her daughter (me) holding the Flat Stanley project of her great-granddaughter, Grace.

2013 ~ Mom rides in her own "buggy" with Marylin pushing so they can go feed the ducks.

2013 ~ Mom rides in her own “buggy” with me pushing so we can go feed the ducks.

2014 ~ Mom and me celebrating her 96th birthday cake.

2014 ~ Mom with me, celebrating her 96th birthday with candles and Boston Cream Pie.

Several years into her dementia, my mother went through a stage when her most frequent question was, “What day is this?” I would answer, saying the day of the week, the date and even the time. She would nod. Then, over and over, she would repeat the question. I would tell her again, and then again, and sometimes I’d finally conclude by reminding her of one of my favorite questions and responses from A.A. Milne’s book, WINNIE-THE-POOH:

“What day is it?” asked Pooh. ~ “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. ~ “Oh, my favorite day!” said Pooh. I would try to imitate Pooh and Piglet, and we would laugh.  Usually it would break the cycle, and we’d go on to other things.

At 96, Mom’s sense of “today” now often goes back to growing up on the farm, or days working with Dad to build the business, or maybe memories of mothering two growing children. For Mom, Tempus Fugit means Time Flies…but in reverse, going back in time.

Last week I drove to Ft. Scott to celebrate an early 96th birthday with Mom. During my days and nights in the apartment with her, I was reminded again that she is blessed with excellent caregivers who are trained, caring, patient and kind.  When Mom blew out the candles on her Boston Cream birthday “cake” (soft and easy to chew), I was very glad Tammy was on duty to join me in oohing and aahing as we opened presents and read cards that Mom never quite realized were hers.

Dr. Seuss wrote, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”   To celebrate the valuable moments during the previous years that have flown by, this post includes pictures of my mom as a toddler clutching her baby doll, followed by 3 pictures from my many months of visits as we celebrate each day as our favorite day.

Tempus fugit, so Carpe diem.   Time flies, so seize the day.  That’s the lesson.

 

Thank you, Tammy, for all the special care you give to my mom.  You're a good friend to both of us.

Thank you, Tammy, for all the special care you give to my mom. You’re a good friend to both of us.

 

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Filed under birthday celebrations, celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

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

superman emblem

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

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

 

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

A BOOK BY ANY OTHER TITLE…

Books ARE often judged by their covers...and their titles.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Books ARE often judged by their covers…and their titles. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

My possible illustration for Michael R. Young's book, MANAGING A DENTAL PRACTICE: THE GENGHIS KHAN WAY

My possible illustration for Michael R. Young’s book, MANAGING A DENTAL PRACTICE: THE GENGHIS KHAN WAY

A possible book cover for REUSING OLD GRAVES: A REPORT ON POPULAR BRITISH ATTITUDES by Douglas Davies and Alastair Shaw

A possible book cover for REUSING OLD GRAVES: A REPORT ON POPULAR BRITISH ATTITUDES by Douglas Davies and Alastair Shaw

 

Ask anyone in my writing groups: titles are my thing. If you’ve written a poem, a short story, a novel or a nonfiction book and need a good title, I’m your go-to girl.

When I was a young child, one of the services of my parents’ car dealership was to personally deliver cars to the buyers in other towns. To pass the time during long drives, here’s one game we played:  my mom or dad would make up a title and have me make up a story to go with the title. Even then, I sensed the difference between a really interesting title and a so-so or boring one. A title like “Three Ways To Make A Ghost Get Out of Your Bedroom” could keep me busy for hours.

With some exceptions, unless you intend fraud or deceit, you can use an existing title for your own book. In other words, you could title your book GONE WITH THE WIND.  Why you’d want to do that is another question, but you could. So sometimes my mom would give me the actual title of a book or story she’d read, and I would do the best I could to make up a new story to go with that title.

To show you the importance of a good title, here are a few examples that might make potential buyers  give a book a second look. HOW TO POO ON A DATE (The Lovers’ Guide to Toilet Etiquette) by Mats and Enzo, COOKING WITH POO (“Poo” is Thai for “Crab”) by Saiyuud Diwong, and COOKING WITH POOH: Yummy Tummy Cookie Cutter Treats by Mousse Works.

Or consider STRIPPING AFTER 25 YEARS by Eleanor Burns. Is that title more interesting than How To Spend Years Creating Quilts With Strips of Fabric? And in 2007, Simon & Schuster printed Big Boom’s self-help book with this title: IF YOU WANT CLOSURE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP, START WITH YOUR LEGS.  Catchy title, but I’m just not sure how long a book it would have to be—sounds like the details could pretty well be covered in a magazine article instead of a book.

There are many one-word book titles: IT, JAWS, SHANE, ULYSSES, LABYRINTH, REBECCA, SIDDHARTHA, ATONEMENT, WICKED, etc. According to book authorities, the longest title in the English language is by Jonathan Edwards, preacher and philosopher in the mid-1700s (his famous sermon is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”) His book title is AN HUMBLE ATTEMPT TO PROMOTE AN EXPLICIT AGREEMENT AND VISIBLE UNION OF GOD’S PEOPLE THRO’S THE WORLD, IN EXTRAORDINARY PRAYER, FOR THE REVIVAL OF RELIGION, AND THE ADVANCEMENT OF CHRIST’S KINGDOM ON EARTH, PURSUANT TO SCRIPTURE PROMISE AND PROPHECIES CONCERNING THE LAST TIME.

Be honest; did you finish reading the entire title?  Hmm…how many readers do you think would have wanted to buy the book?

John Steinbeck said, “The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”   To give ourselves the best odds of actually selling what we write, we should spend some time—and have some fun if we can—with our titles.

With all the book titles that include Poo and Pooh, I just had to add this poster for identifying Poop in the Woods (courtesy of Garden of the Gods, Colorado)

With all the book titles that include Poo and Pooh, I just had to add this poster for identifying Poop in the Woods (courtesy of Garden of the Gods, Colorado)

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Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, Fort Scott Kansas, writing, writing exercises

THE THINGS WE MAKE

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

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

 

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

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

Make an effort to catch your own dinner.

Make an effort to catch your own dinner.

 

Make a scene trying to scamper away from a camera.

Make a scene trying to scamper away from a camera.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

WHAT’S YOUR 10% PLAN?

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

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

10% HAPPIER

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maya Angelou  (photo by Gerald Herbert/ AP photo)

Maya Angelou
(photo by Gerald Herbert/ AP photo)

 

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