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

SHARED LESSONS: Harpists and Writers

 

"See" your words.  Write on paper, in the sand, on a computer...doodle, draw, dream. Switch hands and see what new thoughts appear.

“See” your words. Write them on paper, in the sand, on a computer…doodle, draw, paint, dream. Switch hands and see what new thoughts appear.

 

 

Practice!  Practice!  Keep practicing!  Move around; change locations, but do your work.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Practice! Practice! Keep practicing! Move around; change locations, but do your work. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

What’s the definition of an optimist? ~ A harpist with a tuner.

How long does it take to tune a harp? ~ That’s a hard one. Nobody knows yet.

How many harp players does it take to change a light bulb? ~ 5: one to handle the bulb, and the others to debate which is the best hand position to use.

The members of the Colorado Celtic Harp Society we met at the writing retreat at the Franciscan Center had a delightful sense of humor.  But the truth is, those jokes also apply to writers.  A writer who dreams of writing the Great American Novel is also an optimist, even if the dream becomes a nightmare.  How long does it take writers to write the perfect novel? ~ Nobody knows yet.   And as far as changing a light bulb, writers are always arguing about the right and wrong way to write, edit, submit and publish.

Here are two jokes that aren’t interchangeable: (If it weren’t for the dementia, my mother would love these!) ~ Why are harps like elderly parents? ~ Both are unyielding and hard to get in and out of cars.   And this one for writers: Did you hear the one about the pregnant writer who began yelling, “Couldn’t! Wouldn’t Shouldn’t! Didn’t! Can’t! ~ she was having contractions.

The weekend writing retreat was filled with writing, thinking, drawing, painting, and responding to the harpists playing nearby.  At the harp recital on Saturday evening, there was a great deal of laughter woven in with beautiful music, and that’s one of the lessons that was repeated throughout the weekend:  Creative endeavors require discipline, hard work, and commitment.  There are also difficulties and disappointments along the way, so make the most of every opportunity to renew yourself with the gifts of laughter and shared camaraderie.

For other lesson reminders from the weekend, read the messages written below the pictures.

And for those of you who asked for a writing prompt, here is one to get the pen moving and the ideas flowing: What is one thing you’ve lost that you hope will not be found?

Take a chance ~ When it's dark, don't be afraid ~ just try your wings ~ and you can catch your star.

“Take a chance ~ When it’s dark, don’t be afraid ~ just try your wings ~ and you can catch your star.” (message on ceramic plate c)Irene’99)

                                                                                    

Accept the solitary work required to reach your goal and make your dream a reality; learn to find your own way.

Accept the solitary work required to reach your goal and make your dream a reality; learn to enjoy your own journey.

Painting on the dorm wall of the former convent; oil by Sister Carmillia. The lesson? Share your visions and talents.

Painting on the dorm wall of the former convent; oil by Sister Carmillia. The lesson? Share your visions and talents.

It's never too late to expand your creativity and pursue a new project. Art begets art!

It’s never too late to expand your creativity and pursue a new project. Art begets art!

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

SERENDIPITY

 

Celtic harpists played in the building on the left while writers worked in the building on the right. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Celtic harpists played in the building on the left while writers worked in the building on the right. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Between the two buildings, a perfect place for morning coffee, thinking and planning.

Between the two buildings, a perfect place for morning coffee, thinking and planning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...and the deer enjoyed grazing in the cool, quiet morning light...

…and the deer enjoyed grazing in the cool, quiet morning light…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serendipity is a “pleasant surprise” or “fortuitous happenstance.” The word was first coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole whose Three Princes of Serendip were always making unintentional, surprising discoveries. More recent examples of serendipity include Alexander Fleming’s 1925 discovery of penicillin, Percy Spencer’s 1945 invention of the microwave oven…and my writing retreat at the Colorado Franciscan Center on May 2-4, 2014.

A good writing retreat is equal parts inspired writing and retreat from distractions. There is no better place to stay than in the calm, private, former convent rooms within a stone lodge in the deer-roaming, bird-chirping foothills of Mt. St. Francis. No televisions or traffic, but spacious, calm areas for writing as well as guided drawing and painting. Plus delicious meals served with great conversation: http://www.franciscanretreatcenter.org/

But what if, on the same weekend and in the same lodge, the Colorado Celtic Harp Society was having its retreat, too, and—here comes true serendipity—on the final night of both retreats, what if the groups were so supportive of each other that the harpists read aloud writers’ poems and children’s stories, accompanied by harp music?

During the weekend, our writing group was given an amazing hour-long experience and additional sessions of “singing bowls” by Ann Martin, MileHighHealingVibe.com   (For basic information and history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singing_bowl ). I had never even heard of this incredibly creative, restorative and centering experience, so this was another gift of serendipity for me.

In future posts I’ll be sharing some of the writing, drawing and painting prompts from the retreat, as well as words of wisdom I gleaned during meals, while walking the trails, and as we laughed and shared healthy doses of a writer’s best medicine: chocolate.

Two days after the retreat ended, Jim and I drove from Colorado to Kansas. For an early Mother’s Day, I took a glass bowl of budding tulips to my mother, along with stories of the retreat, music of the singing bowls, a fresh mango, and a bar of Dove chocolate. Mostly she just wanted bites of the mango, and of course, the writer’s best medicine—chocolate—so I knew she was doing pretty well.

This is my favorite quote about writing, chocolate, and making sweet plans about dying: “Now she and I sit together in her room and eat chocolate, and I tell her that in a very long time when we both go to heaven, we should try to get chairs next to each other, close to the dessert table.” ~ Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

In his 1998 book Armadillo, William Boyd coined an antonym for serendipity. Boyd’s term, zembianity, is “an unpleasant surprise, an unhappy and unlucky discovery.”

As for me—and I think I speak for my mother as well—we don’t need any zembianity. We choose serendipity, especially if it includes a surprising amount of chocolate.

 

Preserved TB house on grounds.  1909-1947, over 12,000 TB patients stayed in Colorado TB houses to breathe in the high altitude's dry air and healing properties.

Preserved TB house on grounds. 1909-1947, over 12,000 TB patients stayed in Colorado TB houses to breathe in the high altitude’s dry air and healing properties.

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

Harpists practice for their Saturday night recital.

Harpists practice for their Saturday night recital.

 

1945 statue of St. Francis near the entrance to the Franciscan Center.

1945 statue of St. Francis near the entrance to the Franciscan Center.

Trail leading to the cemetery.

Trail leading to the cemetery.

 

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Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for, writing

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

Deliver Your Message…In Just A Few Words

Wall decor messages. Thanks to The Dive Diner in Colorado Springs.

Wall decor messages. Thanks to The Dive Diner in Colorado Springs.

 

 

 

sarcasm served

Years ago, after I taught a writers’ workshop called “Write Short: Greeting Cards, Posters and Bumper Stickers,” I shared some of the samples with my mother. This was long before dementia began confusing her, and she was still writing poems and short stories.

She hadn’t realized that the words on T-shirts, posters and bumper stickers were often written by freelance writers who were actually paid for their words, and she decided to practice writing a few. I gave her two basic prompts—“SMILE…” and “Speak softly…”—and asked what she would write to finish each thought.

Those of you who have gotten to know my mom through this blog probably aren’t surprised to read these “finished thoughts”:

SMILING ISN’T ENOUGH…BUT IT’S A GOOD START   – and -

SPEAK SOFTLY AND KEEP A SENSE OF HUMOR

We weren’t entirely sure if these were originals—creativity floats all around us, and writers sometimes aren’t sure where ideas come from—but we had a good time putting pen to paper and turning creativity loose by writing mini-messages. Anything that makes us stop…think…and write is very good exercise.

If you want to practice writing what you think, feel, believe or want to protest in a few words, pretend you’re writing bumper stickers, aka “traveling messages.” They’re an excellent way to practice conveying long ideas in short phrases.

Here are examples of messages I’ve read on the bumper stickers of cars, trucks and vans. “My Dog Is Smarter Than Your Honors Student” ~ “Keep Your Doctor…Change Your Senator” ~ “Stop Texting and Drive” ~ “Warning: Driver Is Painting Her Nails…Her Toenails” ~ “Warning: In The Event of the Rapture, This Vehicle Will Be UnManned” ~ “If You Can Read This, Thank A Teacher” ~ and, “The Golden Rule Is Still Worth Its Weight In Gold.”   Beneath short, seemingly simple bumper sticker messages are religious beliefs, philosophies, observations, and protests or endorsements.

If you’re interested in creating and selling messages, photography, or art (digital and physical), check out contests and information at http://www.hallmarkcontest.com/

Guidelines for submitting rhymed/unrhymed card messages at Blue Mountain Arts: http://www.sps.com/greetingcards/writers_guidelines.htm

 

The basics in life.

The basics in life.

The back of a Cheerios box. (photographs by Marylin Warner)

The back of a Cheerios box.
(photographs by Marylin Warner)

 

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Filed under art, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, paying writing opportunities, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

ORAL HYGIENE: A Poem by Mary Shepherd

You don't have to brush all your teeth--just the ones you want to keep.  (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

You don’t have to brush all your teeth–just the ones you want to keep. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

 

To be safe, keep extras on hand.  Remember, possession is 9/10 of the law...

To be safe, keep extra supplies on hand. Remember, possession is 9/10 of the law…(or something like that?)

 

Dear Nic,

Grandma’s favorite stories—and poems—have been about her grandchildren. She loved the cute things you all did and the sweet things you said. Almost three decades ago, you made everyone laugh with what we like to call your “Oral Hygiene” incident that Grandma later wrote about in a poem:

Mom and Dad were traveling—

A three-year-old grandson so dear

Was staying with Grandpa and Grandma,

Making their world bright with cheer.

 

“Where is your toothbrush?” asked Grandma,

After getting him ready for bed.

“I think it’s down at my house,”

The smiling little boy said.

 

So Nic and Grandpa went walking

The next day, down to his home,

And soon Nic was brushing merrily;

His mouth was covered with foam.

 

“That’s a very large brush,” said Grandma.

“Are you sure it belongs to you?”

Nic gave her a great big bubbly grin;

His answer was simple and true.

 

With his feet perched on the nearby stool,

And his smiling mouth dripping foam:

“It used to be Dad’s, but it’s mine now;

I just brought it here from home.”

(~a poem about her grandson Nic, by Mary Shepherd)

Grandma’s teeth are cracking and breaking now. It seems to be the normal progression of things for someone who is almost 96. She eats less food and it’s softer, and everything she drinks is served with a straw. But true to form, according to her caregiver Tammy, last week Grandma used the straw to blow bubbles in her milk! Inside the frail little grandma with advanced dementia, there’s still a hint of the happy playfulness she used to share with her grandchildren.

Molly and her little cousin Nic ~ she wanted him to be her little brother.

Molly and her little cousin Nic ~ she wanted him to be her little brother.

 

Fritz, Nic and Molly at Grandpa and Grandma's house.

Fritz, Nic and Molly at Grandpa and Grandma’s house.

Ray and Mary's grandchildren: Andrew, Molly and Nic (1990)

Ray and Mary’s grandchildren: Andrew, Molly and Nic (1990)

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, lessons for great-grandchildren