Play Your Strong Suit


typewriter w: 4 hands



Picture this: the day after school lets out for the summer, a twelve-year-old daughter whines and complains she has nothing to do. The mother takes an envelope out of her purse. It’s filled with clippings from newspapers and magazines, and handwritten notes on scraps of papers. “Here it is,” she says, waving a piece of newsprint. “We’ll do this!”

The “this” is a contest looking for the best original Helpful Hint; the postmarked deadline is that very day, and the first prize is $50. She smoothes the rumpled newsprint on the kitchen table and says, “I’ll enter if you will.” And then as her daughter sits there moaning, the mother pours them glasses of tea and opens a tray of ice from the freezer. As she adds ice to the glasses, one cube falls onto the table.

The daughter looks at the cube and sighs. “I’ll try doing it, but only until that ice cube melts. And then I’ll quit and do something else.”

By the middle of the afternoon the ice cube has long been water on the table, and the girl and her mother are laughing and taking turns at the typewriter. The mother’s entry is about keeping an envelope full of contest opportunities so that whenever she needs something fun or different to try, the envelope holds the answer.

The daughter’s entry is called “Before The Ice Melts,” and it’s a simple timer. Before an ice cube melts, any boring, must-do responsibility or chore must be accomplished. Or if a babysitter wants to keep rowdy kids in line, all they have to do is sit at a table with an ice cube on a napkin in the center and do their homework or read a book or work on something without talking…but only until it melts.

The mother and daughter are both excited and telling jokes as they finish typing their entries (the daughter can only two-finger hunt-and-peck type, so it takes awhile), and then they fold their entries and put them in envelopes. They have twenty minutes to get to the post office, so while the daughter gets the stamps, the mother goes to get the entry information and address.

The rumpled square from the newspaper is gone! They search everywhere—the kitchen counters and drawers, under the table, in the typewriter room and even the bathroom—as the clock ticks.   The post office closes, and they still haven’t found it.

“Thanks, Mom,” the daughter thinks more than fifty years later, “for losing the address and ruining my chance to write the Great Ice Cube Initiative and become famous.”

But she smiles as she thinks this, wishing her wonderful, idea-rich mother had somehow sidestepped dementia and could laugh with her now as they watch ice cubes melt and talk about all the fun ideas they created together.

what deadline

ice cube on plate



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for, writing, writing exercises

44 responses to “THE ICE INITIATIVE

  1. juliabarrett

    Such an amazing inventive idea! You and your mother– I see you there at the table. I too wish Alzheimer’s had passed her by. But I am so grateful you have these memories. And I’m grateful you had such a mother.

    • I’m grateful for her, too, Julia. When I woke up this morning, suddenly this story came to mind, so when I sat down to write the post I put an ice cube on a plate as my timer. There still was a little piece of ice left when I finished, and I wished I could call Mom and we’d laugh on the phone about it.

  2. Oh, Marylin, this was a wonderful, heartfelt post. It wasn’t at all chilly, but it did make me sad for you to think your mom can no longer share your happy moments together. So very glad you have a supportive family at home and out here in blog-o-sphere. Hugs ❤

  3. What a wonderful memory this is, Marylin. I can picture the two of you pounding away on that typewriter. Have you tried this with your grandchildren?

    • Not yet, Jill, but we will. When I remember all the things I learned to do with my mother–and then adjusted them to use with my daughter–I make even more adjustments and try them with my grandchildren. It’s so much fun, but oh how I wish my mom’s mind would clear up for awhile so we could tell her all the stories of “personal history repeating itself” that now include here great-grandchildren.

  4. My friend Joanne, from Katherine’s Daughter shared your blog.
    Oh good golly am I glad she did.
    I enjoy your writing, it was a pleasure to spend some time with you.
    I sort of felt like to girls on a swing and you were telling a story.
    Thanks oodles for making my afternoon better.
    I will be back.

  5. What a great memory and a wonderful thing to do with your mom. If I ever said I was bored, mom would give me a chore to do. I soon learned to keep my mouth shut. I usually had a book to read anyway. I recall reading my book while ironing and burning the item I was ironing. Thankfully, we laugh about those things now.

    • I love it, Darlene…you reading a book while ironing! 🙂
      The closest I got to that was trying to read the last chapter of a mystery as I was also supposed to set the table with the good china and silver because we were having company for dinner. I was so distracted that some settings had double spoons but not forks, etc. I was scurrying around correcting things, which was much easier than correcting burn marks. We book lovers are dangerous people! 😉

  6. Beautiful, Marylin, so very beautiful! Thank you for sharing that heart warming story. I loved every word you typed! XO

  7. Best story ever! I love the insight into what makes a child’s mind tick and a mother’s heart sing. The photos are spot on too.

    Your charming tale reminded me of those old aluminum ice cube trays. Mother used to fill them with garden mint tea and then dislodge the frozen cubes pulling away on the handle. Ah!

    • That’s exactly the kind of ice cube tray she used back then, Marian! The next refrigerator they bought, many years later, had an ice maker, but Mom still filled a few of the new and improved Rubber Maid ice cube trays just in case. 🙂

  8. I am so glad you are keeping these heartwarming memories alive and most of all sharing them with us. Thank you, we do have the same dishes.

    • The Franciscan “Desert Rose” dishes were my Aunt Louise’s favorites for almost 25 years before I inherited them, Gerlinde, and then they became my favorites. When I wanted to photograph an ice cube for this post, of course I chose them.
      I’m so glad you enjoyed this story. 🙂

  9. Carol

    Wonderful! What precious times you had with your mom.

    • Oh, Carol, it’s so good to hear from you. Colorado’s loss is California’s gain. 🙂 I remember the good care you gave your mother, and how much you enjoyed her company. As you know, that’s how I feel about my mom, too. ❤

  10. I love this ice cube initiative. I’m going to use it with my reluctant pupils. Thanks Marylin for this inspiration through such a touching story xx

    • I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Jenny. The first time I used the ice cube initiative in a class, it was the learning center where every little extra added to the students’ interest. However, I’ll give you this hint: use a middle-or-small-size ice cube instead of a regular full sized cube. The big one takes almost the full class period to melt, and the students get discouraged, which defeats the purpose. 😉

  11. What a beautiful post, Marylin. It’s nostalgic, bittersweet, and funny. I can so imagine the scene, and I, too, wish you could share the memory with your mother.

  12. Your mother’s creativity is just astounding! Both ideas were so clever, but that ice cube one is super original. I wish I had known about it when rearing my boys. I think you should put these ideas with others in a book about mothering…it could help new mothers for sure.

  13. Jane Sturgeon

    Marylin, your sharing of a lovely childhood memory brought tears to my eyes. What a cracking idea and the memory of this is in your Mum’s heart. ❤ I wake up with writing ideas too and I guess the trick is to get them down on paper before we get sidetracked! Much love flowing to you ❤ xX

    • Oh, Jane, I hope the memory of it is tucked away somewhere in my mother’s mind or heart. I think it would make her laugh, remembering our challenge to both enter the Helpful Hints contest.
      Much love flowing back to you! ❤

  14. Jim

    An envelope full of clipped-out opportunities and good intentions! What better place to keep it than in one’s purse. Never know when you’ll have time to do one of them. Or have need to occupy a child. Meantime the collection just keeps building up for that rainy day. 🙂

    Reminds me of something my mom did. She collected dessert recipes in a box for when she hosted bridge club.. The last time I saw the box Mom must have had a couple hundred clipped-out recipes in there. Mostly Mom would serve store-bought desserts while the box accumulated more and more well-intentioned but untried recipes. However, there were a few times when i would be the guinea pig for a recipe’s trial run. A cascade of compliments were in order when a recipe tasted good and actually looked like the recipe’s picture. But my fondest memory is laughing with Mom when a frothy-green, minty dessert with fruit in it didn’t set-up like it was supposed to, so we ate it with spoons like soup! 🙂

    • Your mom had so many cookbooks stored on top of her refrigerator, Jim! She loved cookbooks–to read, not to fix the recipes–but when she served special dishes, they usually were catered or fresh from the deli.
      Both of our mothers were interested and interesting collectors who dreamed of cooking or writing and entering contests, and all of those details kept them busy, content and interested in things. Here’s a toast to both of our moms, honey! ❤ ❤ ❤

  15. Now I am forever thankful for this. I think you have just raised ice cubes to the status of ‘a important renewable resource’.

    Good shtufffs, For me, my ice cube with my mother was fishing. And fishing is never about fishing now.

    • I should put that on my list of achievements, Calvin: I raised ice cubes to the status of important renewable resource. Thank you; I love it! 😉

      • Oops. I hit the wrong button.
        Also, Calvin, I found your comment about “your ice cube with your mother was fishing, and fishing is never about fishing now” to be touching. It’s how I felt about ice cubes after remembering our Helpful Hints contest fiasco that was a wonderful day together.

  16. I actually don’t know how to adequately express my thoughts about this post Marylin because I am so moved not only by what I read in black and white, but also between the lines of your beautifully written story. You invited us in to your childhood home, tapping away at the typewriter, laughing and writing beside your mom and carried us away, decades later, to the deep longing in your heart as you sit beside your mom today. As before, I want only to give you a great big hug and tell you that the Great Ice Cube Initiative won the day because you are writing about it and sharing it with us today 🙂 ❤

    • Sherri, you are a treasure in my life. From across the ocean, your kind, caring and thoughtful and supportive interpretations mean more to me than you imagine. Thank you so much, dear Sherri. I feel the hugs! ❤ ❤ 🙂

  17. Certainly a great way for getting things done quickly. Superb idea!

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