Category Archives: autumn lessons

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

One Night, One Day, One Month

Photos by Marylin Warner

(Photos by Marylin Warner)

 

SUPER S

 

 

 

 

 

Comedienne Rita Rudner once quipped, “All my life, my parents said, ‘Never take candy from strangers.’ And then they dressed me up and said, ‘Now go beg for it.”

Halloween. When we dress up to be someone else and go trick’o’treating. One night, the last night of October, is about dressing up, playing pranks, and getting goodies.

 church window  All Saint’s Day on November 1st, and All Soul’s Day on November 2nd are for honoring saintly people of the past and praying for the souls of those who’ve gone before us. In churches and cemeteries and homes, these days are for remembering others.

November 2nd is also one day for us to think about our own lives…and how we want to be remembered after we die. Nov. 2nd is PLAN YOUR EPITAPH DAY.

angel marker

During the early stages of my mother’s dementia, we took long drives together when I visited her each month. I’ve written about the ways we created story and poem ideas during those rides, but there’s something else we did. We sometimes visited cemeteries. On nice days we’d walk in the sunshine at one of the local cemeteries, read tombstones and pay our respects. One tombstone was my mother’s favorite, and mine as well.

It’s a wide, marble, double headstone: the wife’s full name and dates of birth and death are on side of the carved heart; the husband’s full name and dates are on the other. The husband outlived his wife by many years. On the back of the marble headstone are two carved hearts intertwined. Below are two girls’ first and middle names, but only one date ~ the same date of death as their mother’s death. Below the girls’ names is this epitaph: “They took their first breaths with God.” At this headstone we paused and prayed for the mother who died with her still-born daughters, and the father who lost them all.

Planning our epitaphs isn’t about deciding what will be set in stone after we die. It’s one day when we think how we want to be remembered, and in doing so, consider how we’re living our lives.

The entire month of November is LIFEWRITING MONTH. This is the month to take notes, to write essays, stories, poems (or paint pictures and organize photographs) of our lives or the lives of those we love, and events, people and places we want to remember.

If these November Days seem heavy-handed, realize that it’s also PICTURE BOOK MONTH, NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH, PEANUT BUTTER LOVERS MONTH, and NATIONAL SLEEP COMFORT MONTH. That’s just to name a few; there are many other choices. Depending where you live, the month of November might be a darker, colder month when trees lose their leaves and it’s more likely to sleet or snow than to rain, but it’s certainly not a month with nothing to do.

Computer, typewriter, pencil and paper, crayons or chalk: look at all the November writing activities.

Computer, typewriter, pencil and paper, crayons or chalk: look at all the November Days to express yourself.

 

 

 

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Spiritual connections, writing

Improve Your BOO I.Q.

Creepy cupcakes will make your teeth a delightful orange. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Creepy cupcakes will make your teeth a delightful orange. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

 

 

Cafes like Bon Ton's in Colorado Springs get in full swing for Halloween.

Cafes like Bon Ton’s in Colorado Springs get in full swing for Halloween.

The staff at my mom's assisted living facility go all out with decorating pumpkins.

The staff at my mom’s assisted living facility go all out with decorating pumpkins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The good news is you still have a week to get into the Halloween spirit. The even better news is this post will help you become prepared in case you’re ever a contestant on television JEOPARDY or playing Trivial Pursuit with friends!

Beyond the usual costume choices and vandalism facts of Halloween, here are five lesser-known Halloween details: First, if you’re looking for love, be prepared on October 31st. According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, games like bobbing for apples and sharing special sweets and chocolate candies can predict future romances and compatibility.

Second: Halloween is the 6th most popular American card-giving holiday, with an estimated 20 million cards sent each year. Christmas is the 1st with 1.5 billion cards. Take a guess what the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th are. Here’s a hint: successful bobbing for applies and sharing special sweets could led to most of them.

Third: In 1950 in Philadelphia, trick’o’treaters traded a sweet tooth for a sweet action.  Instead of going from door-to-door for candy, they collected spare change to make a change in the lives of mothers and children in developing countries. UNICEF was created in the United Nations, and after Philadelphia it soon spread across the country via schools, youth groups and churches.

Fourth: According to statistics from the Dept. of Agriculture, the number of pumpkins bought for baking cookies, pies and puddings for Thanksgiving comes in behind the number of pumpkins bought to carve for Halloween. Spooky wins over tasty.

And fifth: Got leftovers after Halloween night? Dark and milk chocolate can last up to two years if stored in a dry, odor-free place, and unopened packages of candy corn can last at least nine months. Careful planning can keep you Halloween happy for quite awhile.

My parents used to Ooo and Aaah over the neighbor children who showed up in costume on Halloween night. Mom always bought bags of Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers, and Almond Mounds. During their last Halloween at home they gave out candy to early Trick’o’Treaters, the very young pirates, princesses and little ghosts. Then they ran out of candy, so they turned off the porch light and went to bed. Many months later when I cleaned out their house, there were many bags of candy bars stored in the cabinet with the laundry supplies. They looked like they were still edible, so the 5th detail must be right.

You don't have to wear a costume or paint your face at Halloween ~ dress up your feet!

You don’t have to wear a costume or paint your face at Halloween ~ dress up your feet!

These will always be my favorite Halloween costumes!

These will always be my favorite Halloween costumes!

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Filed under art projects, autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for great-grandchildren, neighbors, October glory

BULLY BULLY

Maybe this WWII poster was in the inspiration for Mother A???

Maybe this WWII poster was in the inspiration for Mother A???

 

 

A dance...or a fight?  Art illustration from a Musical Baby segment.

A dance…or a fight? Art illustration from a Musical Baby segment.

 

 

 

After visiting my mom this month, I decided not to take the return interstate route, but to drive the blue highways. When you need time to yourself, with the peace of clear skies above open pastures and farm land, nothing beats taking the low-traffic back roads on a clear September day.   It was exactly what I needed…until I turned on the radio.   I skipped the big stations and talk-radio commentaries all revving up for that evening’s Republican debates, and then I  found a small station covering a recent story on bullying. Real life, multi-level bullying. Without revealing names or the location, here’s the story.

Mom A picked up her 3rd-grade daughter after school.  Child A was carrying her books, and when her mother asked where the girl’s backpack was, the answer was a sad whisper: it was stolen out of her locker, probably by Child B,  who had taken Child A’s lunch the day before. The girl had gone to the principal—Child B’s uncle—but didn’t have any real proof.

The mother made a quick U-turn, drove back to the school and parked at an angle in front of the school bus. Child B quickly got onto the bus when she saw Child A’s mother jump out of the car. Mom A grabbed Child B, pulled her off the bus and told her daughter to take charge and teach the bully a lesson. She even held Child B so Child A could hit and slap the girl to make her tell where the backpack was.

Child B’s older brother cursed loudly, got off the bus and jumped in to break it up.  Mother A grabbed the boy and began swinging him around.   He got so upset his asthma flared up and the kids on the bus alternately cheered for angry Mother A and wheezing Boy B.  The bus driver honked the horn but stayed in the bus to control the other students. The school resource officer—a policeman assigned to the school—did not intervene but called for backup because he wasn’t objective. His wife was Mother A.

The talk-show host on the little radio station told this all in a dramatic theatrical voice, and then he paused. Finally he said: “The lines are open, folks. Give us a call and tell us who are the bullies in this scenario, and what should be their punishment?”

If you called in to the station that day, how would you have answered his questions?

I’ll share some of the audiences’ personal, emotional, legal and professional responses in the comment section later this week.   I listened to a surprising assortment of answers until I drove out of the station’s airwaves and everything became staticky.  Gone was my calm, relaxed travel, to say the least.

September is Self-Improvement Month, Superior Relationships Month, and National Pediculosis Month. I couldn’t resist including the last one; Head Lice Prevention and Treatment are important issues, and certainly safer than discussing Bullying Run Amuck.

Some families prefer not to weigh in on this issue unless they can hide behind disguises like these mustaches.

Some of you might prefer not to weigh in on this issue unless you can hide behind disguises like these mustaches and be anonymous.    ;)

 

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, Kansas, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, memories for grandchildren

PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD

Wow! And now they taste good, even with O trans fat!

Wow! And the new ones still taste good, even with O trans fat!

Write the words, THEN eat.

Spell the words, THEN eat.

Macaroni isn’t just for eating; it’s also for learning.  In college, I was a tutor for a third-grade boy who had trouble with spelling. When traditional flash cards didn’t help, I bought a bag of alphabet macaroni and spread them out on the table. I’d say the word, and he’d spell it by putting together the letters of macaroni. It took longer than spelling them out loud or writing them on paper, but there was something about the tactile approach, the “feel” of the letters that helped him learn and remember.

Several years ago, when my mother’s dementia was in the middle stage and she still responded to sensory stimuli, I  tried alphabet cookies. I’d spread them out on the table, and together we’d try to create cookie words and sentences with the letters.  She would participate for more than an hour at a time, probably because she also ate the letters she thought she didn’t need.  It was a fun activity to share, and she was notably more alert and happy afterwards.

September is WORLD ALZHEIMER’S MONTH. Every day there seems to be new studies, new results, new trial drugs, etc., about the best way to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia.  My dad died of Alzheimer’s and my mom has very advanced dementia, so I try to stay current, but sometimes it’s overwhelming.  One of the goals of my blog is to share the things that have helped one or both of my parents, at least temporarily. The overall most successful lesson I’ve learned is this: Make the most of sensory details.

Here are a few suggestions:  play CDs of music and songs they might remember; gently rub vanilla-scented lotion on their hands as you share a memory of a holiday or something you used to do together; bake cookies (frozen dough is great when sprinkled with cinnamon before baking); share popcorn as you watch a familiar TV program, or assemble a child-sized puzzle together.  If you have other suggestions, please share them with us.

World Alzheimer’s Month is not a tribute to the disease, but a reminder that it’s a very real international threat. It’s also a reminder to do what we can to help those who suffer with the disease, and a nudge to do the best we can to help ourselves remain alert.   So it’s okay to play with your food this month, especially if it’s alphabet food that will keep you thinking…and laughing!

Fragrant flowers cheer the spirits and trigger memories.

Fragrant flowers cheer the spirits and trigger memories.

What's your cookie word IQ? The bottom two are dictionary words; the top one will be in the new dictionary.

What’s your cookie word IQ? The bottom two are dictionary words; the top one will be in the new dictionary.

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren

THE NORWAY OF THE YEAR

The national flag of Norway, adopted July, 1821

The national flag of Norway, adopted July, 1821

 

 

 

Red November leaves clinging to tree.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Red leaves clinging to tree. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Have you ever noticed the grim way some writers describe the month of November?  

Joseph Addison wrote this: “The gloomy months of November, when people of England hang and drown themselves.” (I double checked, and the word “months” is indeed plural, as if November seems to go on and on, which might explain the hanging and drowning, or maybe it refers to Addison’s interpretation over many years. Whichever it is, I apologize to the people of England; remember, I am only the messenger.)

Emily Dickinson describes November this way: “November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.”  (I used to teach Dickinson in my English classes, and I don’t recall her writing that July is the Sahara of the year, or making any other month/place comparisons…only November.)

My mother’s writing is not well known–and at this point in her dementia, even she doesn’t recognize her own words when I read them aloud to her–but I’d like to share with you a few of her descriptions of November.  I found these typed and handwritten examples stored in her writing box. 

The windblown sleet darts ~ Like tiny ice bullets ~ Against my window pane. 

Wee button noses ~ Beneath eyes of wide wonder   ~ Smudge frosty windows.

And these last two, titled 1 and 2, were followed by a question: which one is better?  If you have a preference or comment, I’ll read them to Mom during my next trip to Kansas…and remind her again that these are her words and Haikus.

#1: Spruce draped in snow-fall ~ Stand silent cold sentinels ~ Against threat’ning skies.

#2: Trees clothed in snow-fall ~ Are strong sentinels guarding ~ Against steel grey skies.

Both of my parents thought that each day had its own beauty, and each month had its own importance and possibility. For my mother, summer months were for planting and gardening; fall and winter months were for knitting and baking; spring months were for hoping and watching new growth. She believed every season was a gift, and all the seasons deserved heartfelt anticipation…and at least a few words of notice and appreciation penned in her notebooks.

 

Fall clouds on the Kansas horizon

Fall clouds on the Kansas horizon

Maggie on fall hike in Brown's Park, Abilene, KS

Maggie on fall hike in Brown’s Park, Abilene, KS

November picture of Colorado's Pikes Peak

November picture of Colorado’s Pikes Peak

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, Mary Shepherd's poetry, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

moon between trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hand-painted pumpkins greet visitors at the entrance to Mom's assisted living. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Hand-painted pumpkins greet visitors at the entrance to Mom’s assisted living. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Erma Bombeck was one of my mother’s favorite humor writers.   Not only was she a good writer, but her books and columns also contained real life truths.   I remember Mom laughing, and then she would read aloud the excerpt and say something like, “I know just how she feels!”

This Bombeck quote perfectly describes my mother:  “A grandmother pretends she doesn’t know who you are on Halloween.”   Mom was the perfect, appreciative audience for her costumed grandchildren…and all children.

Seven years ago, these were the types of trick or treaters Mom enjoyed most--her great-grandchildren!

Seven years ago, these were the types of trick or treaters Mom enjoyed most–her sweet great-grandchildren!

 

 

When Mom opened the front door and greeted the young neighborhood kids chirping “Trick or Treat,” she pretended not to know any of them. “Oh my, who is this pirate on my porch?” she might say.   Or, “What a scary ghost you are!” and “I didn’t know we had a real princess living nearby!”   The children would giggle and hold out their sacks, and most of them said, “Thank you” for the goodies she gave to them.   It was a happy time.

 

 

Then, as years went by, Mom and Dad started forgetting names and faces—and not just when children were in Halloween costumes—so they began leaving a bowl of candy on the patio table (and eventually they even forgot to do that).   They would turn off the porch lights and the indoor lights, lock the doors and go to bed early. Halloween was no longer fun for them; it was too confusing.

There is a traditional Scottish saying about Halloween that is also a prayer: “From ghoulies and ghosties ~ And long-legged beasties ~ And things that go bump in the night ~ Good Lord, deliver us!”

Based on my own experiences with my parents—and as a prayer for all of us—I’ll add this:   “From confusion and fear and forgotten memories ~ From the losses and sorrows of Alzheimer’s and dementia ~ And from scary things that go bump in the night ~ Good Lord, deliver us!”

 

Farmers harvest a HUGE smile for Halloween.

Farmers harvest a HUGE smile for Halloween.

Our daughter Molly made these Halloween "teeth" treats for her kids' class rooms: apples slices with peanut butter holding the marshmallow teeth.

Our daughter Molly made these Halloween “teeth” treats for her kids’ class rooms: apples slices with peanut butter holding the marshmallow teeth.

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, October glory, special quotations