Category Archives: art

What’s Your Title?

books for writing

 

FDR in wheelchair

 

Van Gogh's chair

One of the “thinking activities” I used before my mother’s dementia worsened was to take her out for a ride in the sunshine and play the TITLE GAME.  We’d choose objects or something we saw along the way—as an example here, I’m using pictures of chairs—and we’d take turns creating a title for a poem or story that might be written about it.

For instance, the picture above of FDR in a wheelchair might inspire a title for a children’s story, while the picture of Van Gogh’s chair might end up with a title about the person who had sat there posing for a painting.  If Mom was reluctant, I would ask questions like  “But what if–?” and soon she was laughing and creating all kinds of titles…to earn her the prize of an ice cream cone at the Dairy Queen. (Bribery was an honorable technique if it inspired her  to participate.)

I once read a journaling prompt about the importance of “thinking in titles” as an exercise in discovering what you really think or feel about something.   Supposedly, if you keep a diary or a journal, when you write a TITLE  about that day’s entry before you begin writing, it will direct the details and give the entry a focus and insight you might otherwise overlook.

Think about books that began with one title but after revisions and rethinking, the final copy ended up with a very different title.  For instance, Jacqueline Susann’s book THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS began as THEY DON’T BUILD STATUES TO BUSINESSMEN.   John Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN was first titled SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED.   1984 by George Orwell was originally titled THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE, and William Faulkner’s THE SOUND AND THE FURY began as TWILIGHT (and it didn’t even have vampires and werewolves).

Imagine you have one minute to create a title for a book or story about your life, or a novel about the year something unusual or life-changing happened. One minute is all it takes, and you’ll win a Dairy Queen ice cream cone…or something you really want. What would your title be?

chair tee-shirt simplify

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Filed under art, Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, writing exercises

THE WONDERS OF A #2 PENCIL

December, 1917, Uncle Sam eats Cream of Wheat ~ picture by Grace Shipley

Uncle Sam eats Cream of Wheat ~ picture drawn by Grace Shipley for the contest

 

 

 

Grace, 1917

 

In December of 1917, Grace Shipley opened her art book of 10×12” drawing paper and sharpened her pencil with a pocket knife. She took out a special gum eraser she kept in the pencil box because when she corrected mistakes she didn’t want smudges.

Grace had learned of a Cream of Wheat contest for art entries that would inspire frugal good eating during WWI. According to her sister Myrtle, all their brown paper sacks become practice scraps as Grace sketched one idea after another, smiling and humming as she put pencil to paper before breakfast, in between chores, and until she went to bed at night.

She titled her picture “Preparedness,” and it was one of the winners. The prize was a year’s supply of Cream of Wheat, though no one remembers now exactly how many boxes that was. Grace was featured in the local newspaper, followed by congratulation notes from friends and strangers, and she was a guest at a women’s art luncheon. As the story goes, she used the back of her program to doodle a drawing of the speaker’s fancy hat.

What is it about putting pencil to paper, crayons to coloring books, or chalk to sidewalks that helps us hum, smile, and live outside ourselves? I never knew my grandmother, Grace Shipley Shepherd, who died of meningitis when my father was very young, but I know from others—and I’ve often felt it myself—that putting pencil to paper, to draw or to write, is a gift for and from the heart.

mind's eye & pencil

Canadian artist Robert Genn wrote that “A drawing a day keeps the cobwebs away.”   Just for fun, and to clarify your thinking and sharpen hand-eye coordination, try this exercise in “blind contour drawing.”

Place the point of your pencil on a blank paper. Look intently at some simple object beyond the paper, and without once lifting your pencil or looking down at your work, re-create the image. This will help you stay focused on the present moment, and while you discipline yourself to ignore your progress, you will also learn to release expectations . Mindfulness groups refer to this as “Zen drawing.”

Enjoy this activity.  Shake your head and loosen the cobwebs. Use a crayon or a marker if it will make you feel more like a playful child. And it’s okay if you smile and hum as you draw.

Grace (right, age 6) with her sisters.

Grace (right, age 6) with her sisters.

 

Grace's great-great-granddaughter at age 6, learning to play softball.  But she loves to draw, too.

Grace’s great-great-granddaughter, Grace Elizabeth, age 6, learning to play softball. But she loves to draw, too.

 

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Filed under art, art projects, Contest winners, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations

GET IT IN WRITING

Charlie Brown, of PEANUTS fame.  (book picture from Wikipedia; all other pictures by Marylin Warner)

Charlie Brown, of PEANUTS fame. (book picture from Wikipedia; all other pictures by Marylin Warner)

Stamps make mailed cards and letters extra special and come in an amazing assortment of choices.

Stamps make mailed cards and letters extra special and come in an amazing assortment of choices.

 

 

 

Charlie Brown was the star character of the popular comic strip by Charles Schultz, PEANUTS, which began in 1950. Charlie Brown’s wishful thinking about being noticed by the little red-haired girl began a theme of love disappointments that lasted for more than five decades.   This is one of his most often quoted cartoon lines: “There must be millions of people all over the world who never get any love letters…I could be their leader.”

Charlie Brown didn’t want a phone call, a signature-only Valentine card, an email, a text or a twitter; he wanted a letter. Actor Keanu Reeves said this about a letter’s importance. “Letters are something from you. It’s a different kind of intention than writing an e-mail.”

Letters can be saved, to be read again and again. Greeting cards that arrive in the mail—especially with personal messages written inside—can be displayed on a bedside table or a shelf, reminders that someone, some-where still thinks of you and cares enough to stay in touch. Visit a nursing home, an assisted living, a hospital room or the home of an invalid to see how treasured the cards and letters are by those who receive them.

Valentine’s Day is still more than a week away. Plenty of time to buy a Valentine card, a greeting card of any kind, or even just write, type or print a letter to someone. One of my favorite quotes about happiness (attributed to numerous writers, including Joseph Addison) is this: “The grand essentials of happiness in this life are something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to.”

For lonely, ill, or older neighbors, family and friends, or those who are getting forgetful or suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, I would change the last grand essential to this: “…a grand essential of happiness is something that shows I’m remembered.”

To be remembered is a treasured gift.

She wrote this message in chalk to her Grandpa.

Grace wrote this message in chalk to her Grandpa.

 

Greeting cards can be much appreciated, too, if there's a personal message written inside.

Greeting cards are appreciated, too, if there’s a personal message written inside.

Years ago, when Grace was learning to write cursive, she wrote this for my mom.  Mor-Mor-Mor means mother's mother's mother in Swedish.

Years ago, when Grace was learning to write cursive, she wrote this for my mom. Mor-Mor-Mor means mother’s mother’s mother in Swedish.

Before Gannon could write, he "practiced" with chalk on the fence.

Before Gannon could write, he “practiced” with chalk on the fence.

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Filed under art, Different kinds of homes, friends, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, Special days in February, special quotations

The Nose Knows

My mother's nose at 23. (All photos and copies property of Marylin Warner)

My mother’s nose at 23.
(All photos and copies property of Marylin Warner)

 

Mom's nose at 93, smelling an Easter lily...and remembering how she used to take lilies to shut-ins at Easter.

Mom’s nose at 93, smelling an Easter lily…and remembering how she used to take lilies to shut-ins at Easter.

 

Recently, the research into Alzheimer’s and dementia has focused on the connection between the sense of smell and memory. This is nothing new.

Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and association are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.”

And in the 1950s, conservationist and author Rachel Carson agreed. “For the sense of smell, almost more than any other, has the power to recall memories, and it is a pity that we use it so little.”

Six years ago, I read an article about stimulating memory by baking popular foods. To test it, I bought a roll of frozen gingerbread dough and made cookies in the oven in my mom’s kitchen in her assisted living apartment. As they baked, she awoke from her nap in her recliner. And as she enjoyed her cookies, she smiled and asked me if her mother was there. As it turned out, her mother—my grandmother, who had died many years earlier—had baked gingerbread for Mom, and the scent of the cookies had started Mom telling me some stories.

It you have a family member or a friend who struggles with Alzheimer’s or dementia, I recommend you try the power of scent to encourage their memories. Food, flowers, colognes and strong scents like lemons and vinegar are a good start, but you might be surprised how gasoline and turpentine—just a little bit on a paper towel—will also nudge awake memories, especially in men.

Do you remember the expression, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”?

Comedienne Chris Farley has a scent-adjustment on that: “In the land of the skunks, he who has half a nose is king.”

I’ll add this. “In the land of Alzheimer’s and dementia, favorite scents might be the best guides to help locate memories.” It’s not a joke; I hope you’ll try it.

But this is a joke, and I just couldn’t resist including Robert Byrne’s humorous rewrite of the moccasin adage: “Until you walk a mile in another man’s moccasins, you can’t imagine the smell.”    

Even my granddaughter Grace's Picasso-style portrait of me knew the importance of a nose.

Even my granddaughter Grace’s Picasso-style portrait of me knew the importance of a nose.  It just isn’t my nose… 

Eeew...what's that smell?

Eeew…what’s that smell?

 

Even when our Maggie had trouble hearing, nothing got past her sense of smell.

Even when our Maggie had trouble hearing, nothing got past her sense of smell.

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Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, making a difference, special quotations

What We Leave Behind

(Pictures taken at Rolling Hills Zoo by Marylin Warner.)

(All pictures are by Marylin Warner unless otherwise identified.)

 

 

African message stick

house on the plains

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1937, the term “time capsules” became popular. The purpose was to bury and preserve items that would be a future communication, to be opened at a specific date.

There are numerous time capsules around the world that wait to be opened. For instance, the National Millennium Time Capsule in Washington, DC, will be opened in 2100. It holds assorted objects from history, including a piece of the Berlin Wall, a Hostess Twinkie, a helmet from WWII, a cell phone, and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet.

But what about the things we leave behind without burying them to be found later?

During this year’s Labor Day Art Festival in Colorado, a rock balancing display—with no support of any kind for the rocks—was held in Fountain Creek. The artists knew this would not be permanent art; they did it for the challenge and the joy of creating.

Rock Balancing in Fountain Creek.  Photo by Jerilee Bennet.

(Rock Balancing in Fountain Creek. Photo by Jerilee Bennet.)

More lasting things we leave behind are memorials to those who have gone on ahead: cemeteries, monuments, statues and dedications of poetry, music and art. In Oklahoma City, at the site of the 1995 bombing, artists created 168 chairs as a beautiful and lasting memorial for those killed, including the 19 young children who died in the day care center.

Some of the chairs at the Oklahoma City  memorial.

On the Kansas plains, lonely cabins hold the spaces where settlers once made their homes.   At the Rolling Hills Zoo near Salina, KS, two African message sticks are preserved along one the paths. We don’t have to know who created any of these things, or exactly when or where, to appreciate the work and beauty that someone left behind.  (pictures above)

Other things left behind are rules, laws and warnings.  In towns wherever brick streets were popular, we can still find bricks with reminders like “Don’t spit on sidewalk”

advice, rules, instructions

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for my grandmother and all she left behind. She was a hardworking, kind, faithful and remarkable woman who, after her husband died, continued to run the farm and raise five children, including my mother. Neither woman would have assembled and buried a time capsule to be opened in the future. All my grandmother’s life, and until my mother’s dementia, they were too busy living in the present, doing what had to be done, facing challenges and embracing joys, and making a difference in the lives of others. Those are their legacies.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” With all that is happening in the world, may we be wise and grateful enough to appreciate the miraculous in common acts of kindness, goodness, love and hope.

My grandmother's five children; my mother is in the middle.

(My grandmother’s five children; my mother is in the middle.)

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Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions, memories for great-grandchildren, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Spiritual connections

Button, Button…

Just a few of the choices. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Need a button?  Here are just a few of the choices. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Primitive men and women made “buttons” from bones, thorns and sinew to hold animal skins together. Greeks and Romans added metal, horns and seashells to the mix, and later used button fasteners to identify royalty and military rank. In 1620, the first Duke of Buckingham had a suit and cloak covered in diamond buttons used only as decoration.

When my grandmother finished passing down clothing from her oldest child to the youngest, before she cut the fabric into quilt-sized pieces, she saved all the buttons. My mother had a wooden box filled with hundreds of buttons of all colors and sizes. She could always find a substitute button to quickly sew onto any piece of clothing, and my first sewing lesson was practicing with buttons and scraps of fabric.  Mom used buttons for other purposes, too.

To teach children to count or learn colors, she’d spread out buttons on the table and let them find 5 yellow or 8 blue or 11 green. To keep her daughter and her friends busy on a rainy afternoon, she let them make bracelets by stringing buttons they chose from the box, or decorate plain picture frames by gluing on designs with the buttons.

Button, button, who’s got the button? Cute as a button. Button your lip. In-y or out-y belly button. Right on the button. Push someone’s button. Buttons come in all expressions as well as numerous sizes, shapes, colors…and memories. November 16 is Button Day. Founded in 1938, the National Button Society celebrates collecting, preserving, trading, displaying and honoring all kinds of buttons.

In his poem “Picture Puzzle Pieces,” Shel Silverstein reminds us to look closely, with open eyes and minds, to appreciate the possibilities of small details. He finds a picture puzzle piece on the sidewalk, soaking in the rain. It could be almost anything, including “…it might be a button of blue on the coat of the woman who lived in the shoe…”

Sometimes it’s the little, simple things that nudge our memories and touch our hearts. Never underestimate the power of a button.

1950s collector "accent" buttons: Mother-of-Pearl, pottery, wood, brass, etc.

1950s collector “accent” buttons: Mother-of-Pearl, pottery, wood, brass, etc.

 

Kids' fun buttons.

Kids’ fun buttons.

5" tall Christmas ornament.

5″ tall Christmas ornament.

 

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Filed under art, autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, kindergarten lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, sewing

ALL THINGS ARE TWO

Osage wall hanging. (All photos taken by Marylin Warner)

Osage wall hanging.

Native American art wall arrangement at Mt. St. Frances. (All photos taken by Marylin Warner)

Native American art wall arrangement at Mt. St. Frances. (All photos taken by Marylin Warner)

Kirby Sattler's posters are popular art at Territory Days. The one on the right may look familiar; it inspired Johnny Depp's costume in THE LONE RANGER.

Kirby Sattler’s posters are popular art in galleries and at Territory Days. The one on the right may look familiar if you recognize Johnny Depp’s costume in THE LONE RANGER.

In the state of Kansas, twelve counties are named for Indian tribes. Depending on which route I take each month when I drive to visit my mother—the interstate and main highways, or the blue highways—I drive through at least four of these counties.

Here are a few samples of my favorite Native American Indian quotes.

~ from Eagle Chief (Letakos-Lesa) Pawnee: “…All things in the world are two. In our minds we are two, good and evil. With our eyes we see two things, the fair and the ugly… We have the right hand that strikes and makes for evil, and we have the left hand full of kindness, near the heart. One foot may lead us to an evil way, the other foot may lead us to a good. So are all things two, all two.”

~ from Mourning Dove Salish (1888-1936): “…Everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence.”

“They are not dead who live in the hearts they leave behind.” ~Tuscarora

“We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.” ~Dakota

“No words are so eloquent as a rattlesnake’s tail.” ~Navajo

“You can’t wake a person who pretends to be asleep.” ~Navajo

“There is no death, only a change of worlds.” ~Pawnee and Shawnee

And this Cherokee quote was in a Kansas Original shop: “When the white man discovered this country, Indians were running it. No taxes, no debt, women did all the work. White man was wrong to think he could improve on a system like this.”

About the time my mother and I tried frying dandelion blossoms, (Fried Dandelions post) we also tried making FRY BREAD, a popular side dish at cafes and food stands serving Indian foods. Here’s the recipe we used:

In a medium bowl, mix together 2 cups flour, 1 T. baking powder, 1 t. seasoning salt or table salt, and 1 cup steaming tap water. Grease your hands with vegetable oil, shape the dough into a ball, and leave in the bowl. Cover with a towel and set in a warm place for at least 30 minutes. Setting the bowl in a sunny place works extra well.

Heat vegetable oil at least 1 inch deep in a fry pan or electric skillet (around 375 degrees). Make a ball of dough a little smaller than a golf ball and flatten in your greased hand until it’s about the size of a large cookie. Poke a small hole in the center with your finger and carefully lay the dough in the hot oil. Let dough fry to a gold brown before turning it over and frying the other side. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Fry Bread has two uses.  You can put meat, cheese, chopped tomatoes, onions and lettuce on Fry Bread for a main dish.  Or you can do what Mom and I did:  spread it with butter and sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar for a dessert.

September 25 is NATIVE AMERICAN DAY. That gives you plenty of time to make your Fry Bread, appreciate Indian art, look for interesting quotes, and maybe even read Hal Borland’s book, WHEN THE LEGENDS DIE, or Dee Brown’s BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE. Both books will make you want to wear a t-shirt that says “INDIAN LIVES MATTER”

sunflowers

Kansas' twelve counties named for Indian tribes.

Kansas’ twelve counties named for Indian tribes.

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Filed under art, Cooking With Mom, Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, Indian Lives Matter, just doing the best we can, life questions, recipes, special quotations, Spiritual connections