Category Archives: Books and book titles

FUR A BETTER TOMORROW

Sue Halpern's book is filled with lessons in the good life from an unlikely teacher--it's touching reality therapy.

Sue Halpern’s book is filled with “lessons in the good life from an unlikely teacher”–and is filled with examples of touching, funny reality therapy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

keep-calm-hug-a-cute-puppy

 

 

 

On Tuesday, November 8th—regardless of which presidential candidate they voted for—most Americans thought that at least the chaos of the long campaign would finally be over.  But the truth is, although the election ended, the hard feelings, stress and worries continued.

This post is a day earlier than usual because I felt the need to share what some are doing to reduce that stress and anxiety right now.  The title is a hint.  The  solution is not anti-anxiety drugs, alcoholic concoctions to numb emotions, or the Hot Line number for a counselor who will help callers sort out their anger and stress.   It’s fur.   Really.

Borrowing from the original “Keep Calm And Carry On” of our friends across the ocean, the current American version is  “Keep CALM AND HUG A PUPPY.”   This is not just for children looking for comfort and a way to de-stress.   It’s for adults in Washington, D.C.  and everywhere.

Dogs to the therapy rescue on Capitol Hill (Fox News)

Dogs to the de-stressing rescue of staffers on Capitol Hill (Fox News)

two-dogs-on-capitol-hill

 

 

In addition to hugging a friendly dog, being open to laughter is also highly recommended.   Dana Perino, former Colorado resident and now author and political commentator on Fox News, combines humor and dogs in this example:

Mug shots of both the guilty dog walker...and the guilty dog.  :)

Mug shots of both the guilty dog walker…and the guilty dog~~off leash.   🙂

This post is not meant to over-simplify the legitimate difficulties, dangers and fears ahead.  It’s a reminder that laughter is indeed sometimes the best medicine, and feeling a dog’s heart beat as it cuddles against you is also at least worth a try to put things in perspective.

Please share other suggestions on how to lighten a heavy situation.  We need all the help we can get.

 

Advertisement

51 Comments

Filed under autumn lessons, Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, lessons about life

For The Young, The Old, and Everyone In Between

imagine

 

 

 

Ten years ago, her great-grandchildren enjoyed the music of the words she read aloud to them.

Ten years ago, her great-grandchildren enjoyed the music of the words she read aloud to them.

Reading aloud to a dog is good for both the reader and the pet.

Reading aloud to a dog is good for both the reader and the pet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the time I was very young, I remember my mother reading aloud poems, stories and interesting quotes that invited my comments.   There was something strong, warm and sweet in the sound of her voice, and the words set me on a path of loving tall tales and short stories.   She varied the readings she chose, nudging me to evaluate for myself what rang true and what did not.

She also read aloud to her grandchildren, and in the years before her dementia she read aloud to her great-grandchildren, too.  She shared with them  the music of words, the taste, touch, scent and sound of words.   She gave them a wonderful gift.

Now, coming full circle,  I read aloud to my mother.   At 98, dementia has caught and held her  in confusing earlier times, but she still responds to the music of words read aloud with love and enthusiasm.    Our daughter and grandchildren sometimes travel with me to visit my mother, and they read aloud to her with the gentle voices, affection and humor they learned from her.   These visits are our turn to give her the gift of words.

Tuesday, November 8th, is YOUNG READERS DAY.   It encourages reading to those who cannot yet read,   and  listening appreciatively to young readers and beginning readers when they read aloud to us.   Sharing the music of words is a genuine gift for both the readers and the listeners.   I encourage you to make the most of this opportunity.  You’ll be glad you did.

I was thrilled when my story, "First Child, Second Place" was one of the 2016 BLR prize winners and published in this issue of BELLEVUE LITERARY REVIEW, where science and literature meet. (A note: the cover is of children singing and learning; the stories and poems in the journal may be about children, but they are adult stories.)

I was thrilled when my story, “First Child, Second Place” was one of the 2016 BELLEVUE  LITERARY REVIEW prize winners and published in this issue of BLR, where medicine and literature meet. (A note: the cover is of children singing with the nurses and helpers; the stories and poems in the journal may be about children, but they are adult stories.)

from "Somebody" an anonymous poem in this book:  "Somebody loves you deep and true.  If I weren't so bashful, I'd tell you who."   ;)

from “Somebody” an anonymous poem in this book: “Somebody loves you deep and true. If I weren’t so bashful, I’d tell you who.” 😉   Read a children’s poem and smile!

 

42 Comments

Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference

THE BEST MEDICINE

procrastinators-meeting

Before dementia took over, my mother used to pen favorite quotes, writing ideas, and special information in a little notebook she carried in her purse.   One of my favorite things now is to discover scraps of papers tucked as markers in  books, little notes left in sweater pockets, or half-sheets mixed up with handkerchiefs at the bottom of old purses.

Here are several of my favorites: “All human wisdom is summed up in two words, wait and hope.” ~ Alexandre Dumas; “Things start out as hopes and end up as habits.” ~ Lillian Hellman;   and “Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.” ~ Arthur Miller

The main word all three of these quotes have in common is HOPE.   According to the Heart Institute of Louisville, Kentucky, humor and hope are inter-connected, and both are important in maintaining good health and a sense of well being.

The best medicine is a combination of humor and hope.

In the spirit of striving for good health, I’m sharing three things that made me smile (or laugh out loud) this week…and also made me feel more hopeful about the problems of the world.drinkable-book

The first is posted with thanks to Dr. Theresa Dankovich from Carnegie Mellon.   She is responsible for the “Drinkable Book,” with pages to tear out and use to turn raw sewage into safe drinking water.   Each page is printed with a message in the local language, explaining how the paper water filter makes the unsafe water of the village safe to drink.

The second is three cheers for a Georgia police officer, Kenneth Knox.  He performed reverse CPR on a 2-month-old baby and saved her life after regular CPR didn’t work.   Her parents recently asked Knox to be her godfather.  “It is my honor, my privilege and pleasure,” he said, “…my precious angel…I swear I will forever be your guardian…”   (Sometimes happiness and hope come with sniffles, too.)

knox-and-baby-he-saved

And finally, this is with appreciation for the Netherlands-based video editors who used clips from the heated town hall forum for the recent Presidential debate and made it very funny…and a borderline happy and hopeful reminder that this, too, shall eventually pass.  The editors synchronized excerpts of Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s debate and set them to the duet  “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from the 1987 romantic drama, DIRTY DANCING.   Google Clinton Trump Time of Our Lives for your choice of connections.

clinton-and-trump-%22duet%22

In a time of world problems, potential tragedies and discouraging conflicts, do not procrastinate.   Look for–and be open to–happy,  touching, reassuring, laugh-out-loud examples and events that will give you hope and improve your health.

61 Comments

Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, life questions, special quotations

DOUBLE LIVING

seasons-of-my-self-book

 

 

The message I wrote to my mom inside the blank writing book I gave to her.

(The message I wrote to my mom inside the blank writing book I gave to her.)

Christmas of 1976, I gave my mother an Abbey Press writing book titled SEASONS OF MYSELF.  Through the years, she penned several stories on the blank pages of her book, including one story about “Marrying The Right Man.”   In it she changed the names and some details, but the emotional truths stayed the same.   This was long before her dementia, and she had a talent for writing honest, compelling tales.

Mom had told me of her junior year in college, when two very different but equally wonderful young men wanted to marry her.   In the end, she of course chose the man who later became my father, but a great deal of solitary thought and prayer—and wondering What If?—had gone into her decision.   Reading the story and remembering her process taught me to pause with my own writing ideas and spend time considering the many possibilities of “What if?”

In response to her story, I asked myself what if Mom had chosen the “other guy”?   How would her life story have been different?   And what would have been my story, the stories of her grandchildren and great-grand-children…and so on? What if?  Hmm.

( What If?)

       ( What If?)

On the back cover of the “Write your Own Book,” the publisher offers suggestions for uses and also shares quotes of famous writers. My mother put two check marks by Catherine D. Bowen’s quote: “Writing is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living.”   Later in the journal Mom wrote that quote again and defined it this way:  “Double does not mean double dealing or double cross, but in having twice the usual size, strength, consideration and power for understanding.”

September 28th is “Ask A Stupid Question Day.”   Instead, maybe we should ask a smart question—What If?—and then write our own responses so we can experience the best kind of double living.

(The back cover of uses and quotes printed on the writing book, SEASONS of MYSELF)

(The back cover of uses and quotes printed on the writing book, SEASONS of MYSELF)

Top picture: Me holding Molly as a baby. Lower picture: Molly holding her baby, Grace.  What If? my mother had married the other guy?

Top picture: Me holding Molly as a baby.  Lower picture: Molly holding her baby, Grace. What If? my mother had married the other guy?

42 Comments

Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, special quotations, writing exercises

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

60 Comments

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

CHOOSING THE ONE YOU LOVE?

Before her dementia, my mother's favorite garden flowers were roses and lilacs. (pictures by Marylin Warner)

Before her dementia, my mother’s favorite garden flowers were roses and lilacs. (pictures by Marylin Warner)

lilacs

 

She would have hated the Corpse Flower, which smells like a rotting animal. Fortunately, it blooms for less than 48 hrs., every 7-10 years.

She would have hated the Corpse Flower, which smells like a rotting animal. Fortunately, it blooms for less than 48 hrs., every 7-10 years. (This one bloomed in Denver last August.)

Drinking coffee upset my mother’s stomach, but she loved the smell of freshly brewed coffee. When I came home from school after my mother had hosted a group or club, as she cleaned up she would empty the coffee pot last, and I’d watch her breath deeply and smile. Now her dementia has diminished her appreciation of favorite smells, and she no longer responds to coffee, fresh pineapple, frying bacon, or the scents of lilacs or roses.

The power of smell is undeniable. My favorite descriptions in books are often about scent. One of my favorites is from author Neil Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS: “The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”

This week I was surprised to learn about a new plan for matching up couples.  Those of you looking for perfect mates can forget about going online, trying speed dating or lunch-only meetings, filling out long questionnaires or trusting the blind dates arranged by friends. Instead, trust what your nose tells you.

Several services offer matching mates by smell. One of them, Smell of Success, sends each participant a T-shirt to wear for 3 days—no using deodorants, powders, colognes or after shaves allowed—then mail back the T-shirt. Each person will receive at least 10 samples cut from the shirts of other participants to sniff at their leisure. After they choose, the service provides phone numbers. (Currently, this service is available only in New York.)

Before my dad died of Alzheimer’s, he and my mother were married more than sixty years. I remember once asking Mom what made her fall in love with Dad when he was a gangly kid in high school.  She laughed and said, “Well, it wasn’t how he smelled. He used this goop stuff in his hair, and he wore more Old Spice than my brothers and their friends put together.”

This from the woman who loved the smell of coffee but couldn’t drink it without getting an upset stomach. Yet she fell in love—and stayed in love—with my over-scented dad.   Ah, the surprising power of true love.

Imagine how THIS T-shirt would smell after 3 days...

Imagine how THIS T-shirt would smell after 3 days… True love?

48 Comments

Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, life questions, special quotations

Scout: The Girl And The Dog

Nelle Harper Lee

Nelle Harper Lee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lee's two books

Nelle Harper Lee died today. Better known as just Harper Lee, she was author of one of my favorite novels, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and also the novel I liked much less, GO SET A WATCHMAN. In fact, I agree with the critics who argue that Harper Lee possibly did not intend for it to be published, at least not as it was.

In TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, the character of Dill was based on author Truman Capote, Harper Lee’s close friend and author of IN COLD BLOOD.   The character of Scout was based on Harper Lee.   The character of Atticus Finch, Scout’s widowed father, the attorney who defended a black man in a controversial case, is one of my most-loved characters of all time, but only in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The Finch character in  GO SET A WATCHMAN doesn’t appear on my list of favorites.

When we adopted our puppy from the Humane Society in December, I named her Scout. That’s how much I loved the book character, the young girl with moxie, courage, curiosity and loyalty…and very little understanding of how the real world worked.   Which was pretty much a spot-on description of our puppy…then and now.

Charles Schultz, creator of PEANUTS, wrote that “Happiness is a warm puppy.” I would add that real happiness is a warm, potty-trained puppy, and we’re almost to that happiness goal. American radio and television writer Andy Rooney said, “The average dog is a nicer person than the average person,” and I can say with confidence that our puppy Scout is definitely going to be a nice person. Funny, too, plus very affectionate.

In appreciation to Harper Lee and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I sincerely thank her for the character Scout.  In the book, she says that Atticus “…told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.”     This is good advice in general, but also especially for writers.

Today, February 20, is LOVE YOUR PET DAY.   Dog or cat, bird or iguana, whatever your pet, this is a good day to show extra affection, share a few special treats, or make a contribution to your local animal shelter.    February 22 is WALKING THE DOG DAY.  Our Scout is still at the puppy stage, walking us, tugging the leash toward every sound, exploring everything in her path, and carrying sticks like trophies.  But sometimes, if we pause and try to see and hear the world as she does, it really is quite amazing.

So here I will close with another line by Harper Lee in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD:    “People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.”

Our daughter Molly posing with Scout for the camera.

Our daughter Molly poses with Scout for the camera.

 

Our granddaughter Grace is a warm and helpful training partner for Scout.

Our granddaughter Grace is a warm and helpful training partner for Scout

61 Comments

Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Special days in February, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

There are Doors…and then there are DOORS

Door fence at Molly's

door on side w:bird cage

In architecture, protection, and decoration, doors are getting second looks…and second lives. One new trend combining all three is “door fences.”   My favorite example is pictured above.  These very old doors were given new function and appreciation as a privacy fence entrance to a charming Kansas farmhouse, built in 1881 and then restored after a tornado in 2008. Only one door actually opens and closes. Can you guess which one?  (Answer at the end of the post.)

In moments of confusion and forgetfulness, doors offer an opportunity for clarity. For instance, when you go from one room to another, intent on getting or doing something, if you can’t remember what it was, turn around and go back. Crossing the threshold of the original doorway often triggers the memory.

In life and literature, doors are metaphors for opportunities and choices.  Boris Pasternak, author of DR. ZHIVAGO, advises us to listen closely because    “…when a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it.”  Actor Milton Berle’s advice is to choose our “tools” and take charge: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”  Whatever our approach, Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Be an opener of doors,” and Emily Dickinson reminds us to be open and ready: “Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”

Building on the words of Emerson and Dickinson, here is a contest to open the door for a writing opportunity. The contest asks: what would be the title of a book written about your life—and then made into a movie? This is not a time to be serious or profound.  Interesting titles that make the judges smile, or even laugh, will have an advantage.  For instance, here’s a sample idea of a title and tag line from the contest judges: A LITTLE OFF THE TOP ~ One man’s struggle with male pattern baldness.

There’s no entry fee; length is a maximum of 50 words total for title and tag. The online deadline is August 17 (come on, you aren’t actually writing a book or movie script; have some fun with this!). The winner will be posted in early September, and the prize is the online Gotham writing class of your choice. This is open to everyone. https://www.writingclasses.com/contest/movie-of-your-life-contest-2015 

Charles Dickens wrote: “A very little key will open a very heavy door.” Try this contest and see if a very few words will gain you a very good prize.

(Answer to the question in the first paragraph: The door that actually opens and closes is not the door on the side, next to the bird cage. It’s the white door with the glass pane.)

Look closely at doors and keep them in perspective. What do you see in this door picture?

Look closely at doors and keep them in perspective. What do you see in this door picture?

The door on the left is regular size; the door and little window on the right are much shorter and more narrow, almost child size.  (all photos by Marylin Warner)

The door on the left is regular size; the door and little window on the right are actually much shorter and more narrow, almost child size. (all photos by Marylin Warner)

65 Comments

Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, special quotations, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

You Can Sell A Book By Its Cover

still stripping - title

 

 

(Look closer; the cowboy is knitting!)

(Look closer; the cowboy is knitting!)

Yard sales often offer books for sale. This week at a community yard sale, one little paperback diet book had everyone laughing, and also had several people wanting to buy it just for the novelty of the title: NEVER EAT MORE THAN YOU CAN LIFT.

The two book covers pictured above are also interesting. If you just read the title of Eleanor Burms’ book—STILL STRIPPING AFTER 25 YEARS—your first thought might not be that the book is about knitting and crocheting with strips of fabric. And the cover of Dave Tougner’s book, THE MANLY ART OF KNITTING, speaks for itself. Both books would at least make you look twice.

In a competitive book-selling market, stunning or clever book covers and compelling, surprising, humorous or outrageous titles might be just the nudge that makes someone buy a book rather than put it back on the shelf.

Judge Judy Sheindlin, of the popular  court television program, gave her book this successful title: DON’T PEE ON MY LEG AND TELL ME IT’S RAINING: America’s Toughest Family Court Judge Speaks Out.

Many successful books have one-word titles: IT, JAWS, MIDDLESEX, DIVERGENT, FRANKENSTEIN, and DUNE are just a few examples.   And some VERY LONG titles pretty much summarize the book’s content.   Here are two of my favorites: Christina Tompson’s COME ON SHORE AND WE WILL KILL YOU AND EAT YOU ALL: A New Zealand Story, and David Rakoff’s DON’T GET TOO COMFORTABLE: THE INDIGNITIES OF COACH CLASS, THE TORMENTS OF LOW THREAD COUNT, THE NEVER-ENDING QUEST FOR ARTISANAL OLIVE OIL, AND OTHER FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS.

I love libraries, book stores and yard sales that offer books. I also love surprising and interesting titles and book covers, but what really counts in the long run for me is the quality of the content between the covers.  I love to get lost in good books.

Before the dementia, my mother loved the same things. She still likes to be read to, especially books of poems and prayers for children. But when I was growing up, she had shelves of good books, and two were her special favorites.   Jessamyn West’s EXCEPT FOR ME AND THEE, companion book to THE FRIENDLY PERSUASION, and Helen Doss’ nonfiction book, THE FAMILY NOBODY WANTED.  She bought spare copies of both books.  That way she could  always have her own copies, but still lend the books to others to enjoy, and tell them to pass the books on to others when they were finished.

Yes, you can sell a book by its cover. But it’s what’s between the covers that will make you cherish the book.

The profound, touching and wise story of a couple  in the 1950s who just wanted a child of their own, but had hearts big enough for many that no one wanted.

The profound, touching and wise story of a couple in the 1950s who just wanted a child of their own, but had hearts big enough for many that no one wanted.

A Quaker family practices what they believe with honesty, humor and charm.

A Quaker family practices what they believe with honesty, humor and charm, even during the Civil War.

 

 

58 Comments

Filed under art, Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life

CHOOSING WILBUR

Michael Caine as Dr. Wilbur Larch  (Wikipedia photo)

Michael Caine as Dr. Wilbur Larch (Wikipedia photo)

CIDAR HOUSE RULES, novel by John Irving.

CIDER HOUSE RULES, novel by John Irving

Many years ago, before my dad’s Alzheimer’s distracted my mom’s writing, and then her own dementia stopped the writing altogether, she had an idea for an adult short story. Prior to that, she’d written children’s stories and poetry.

The idea for the story grew out of an actual event, a hurtful situation caused by a member of the family, and it had nagged at Mom for a long time. She wanted to write it just for herself—to sort it out and get it off her chest, like writers sometimes do—but in case it was ever accidentally found, she wanted to use a fictional location and names for the characters.

Many of the writers in my classes use books of baby names, search telephone books for name ideas, or read headstones at cemeteries.  Another way to study names for characters is read a lot of stories and novels.

Author John Irving’s books contain a variety of fictional characters’ names: Garp, Egg, Owen Meany, Piggy Sneed, etc. One of my favorite Irving novels, CIDER HOUSE RULES, features Dr. Wilbur Larch’s orphanage for children whose mothers did not come to him for abortions, but ended up abandoning their babies after giving birth.

One of the babies who was unsuccessfully adopted several times had been named Homer by Dr. Larch. As an adult, Homer helped choose names for other orphan babies, so the book is full of names. One charming practice at the orphanage is Dr. Larch reading aloud to the orphan boys each night, and closing with this tribute: “Good night, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.” I suspected Mom would choose one of the female characters’ names for her story, and if her story had included a male, she might also have considered the name Wilbur.

If I had a son, I would not name him Wilbur. But through good writing and story telling, I have appreciation for the name. In E.B. White’s 1952 classic, CHARLOTTE’S WEB, the barn spider’s friend is Wilbur the pig.  Wm. Joyce’s book, A DAY WITH WILBUR ROBINSON, is about a twelve-year-old searching for a pair of false teeth. And then there’s Wilbur Wright, co-inventor and co-pilot of the first successful airplane.

Even though the dementia has erased the story Mom wrote and the search for alternate names, I close this post with a tribute to her: “Good night, you princess of Kansas, you queen of kind living and gentle lessons.”

On my walk near the Garden of the Gods yesterday, I saw children with their pet pig.  His name?  Wilbur.  Their advice:

On my walk near the Garden of the Gods yesterday, I saw children with their pet pig. His name? Wilbur. Their advice: “Don’t get too close. He’s hungry.”

66 Comments

Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Kansas, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, special quotations, writing, writing exercises