Category Archives: “Christmas Memories With Mom”

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?

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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

This Comes Without Ribbons

The Christmas tree in Mom's asst. living apartment, with family pictures scattered among the decorations.  Even Scout's is included.

(The Christmas tree in Mom’s asst. living apartment, with family pictures scattered among the decorations. Even Scout’s is included.)

 

 

Our tree is a Charlie Brown tree, very basic with one red ball and one Christmas Pickle ornament. It's on a table so Scout can't get it.

(Our tree is a Charlie Brown tree, very basic with one red ball and one Christmas Pickle ornament. It’s on a table so Scout can’t get it.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!… Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps … means a little bit more!” ~Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

An eleven-year-old boy can be caught up in multiple sports, computer games, and all the statistics surrounding Fantasy Football and his favorite NFL teams. But if this boy is also sweet and thoughtful—and a treasured grandson, too—he might make a surprising offer: “Mor-Mor, I want to go with you to visit Great-Grandma.”

The drive was 200 miles each way, with errands to get things for my mother, plus silk poinsettias to put on my dad’s grave stone, but Gannon’s offer was sincere.

He was a wonderful travel companion, a masterful Word-Search player, and a blessing not just for me, but for his great-grandmother as well. My mother had not been responding for almost two days, but without hesitating Gannon pulled up a chair beside her and opened her favorite book of A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS AND PRAYERS.   He began reading aloud to her, and when he put his hand on hers, she began to hum. He kept reading, and soon she opened her eyes, looked at him and smiled.

Being with our family is always wonderful. Even chasing after puppy Scout this Christmas has worn us all out, but it has also kept us laughing and happy, cuddling the fur ball of energy. The list of special moments goes on and on. While I will remember them all with heartfelt gratitude, I will be especially thankful for the memory of our grandson reaching out and patting his great-grandmother’s hand as he read aloud her favorite poems and prayers.

This post comes to you without ribbons and tags, but with many genuine wishes for Christmas joy.

And of course birthday cake!  Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus!

And of course birthday cake!

Scout (and her shadow) waiting at the door for more fun and mischief.

Scout (and her shadow) waiting at the door for more fun and mischief.

BOOK OF POEMS AND PRAYERS

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Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, spending time with kids, Spiritual connections, Things to be thankful for

Eye-Eye, All Aboard!

A front section of the restored railroad station. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

A front section of the restored railroad station. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

no preaching no peddling sign

 

 

beware pickpockets

 

 

Yesterday was my eye exam with my ophthalmologist. Full exam, including having my eyes dilated. Not my favorite thing to do and then drive home on a sunny afternoon. But if you have to spend an hour and a half getting your eyes checked, there’s no better place to be. My doctor’s office is in a restored brick railroad station. The interior brick walls are covered with authentic depot signs, including those you’ll see scattered throughout this post.

do not flush

My favorite Christmas memory is when I was in second grade, and our family took the train from Kansas City to Vista, California for a family gathering. The train ride was two days each way, and for hours each day I practiced learning to write cursive. My dad and I went up to the viewing car after lunch, sat at a little table and each ordered a Coca-Cola with a cherry. We turned over the paper place mats, Dad took out a ball-point pen for each of us, and during the trip he patiently transformed his 7-year-old daughter’s printing skills into cursive writing skills.

Both of my parents had excellent penmanship, but while my mother knitted and my brother played with baseball cards, I had my dad’s full attention. Away from business, church, hospital and bank board meetings, Dad was relaxed and focused on teaching me cursive letters, words, and sentences. The crowning accomplishment was when I rewrote the printed menu entirely in cursive on a paper placemat.

After Christmas vacation when the teacher asked what we’d learned over the holidays, she was surprised when I said I could write cursive. She gave me chalk and let me write basic sentences on the board.  When I finished, she—and my classmates—cheered and clapped for the result. But after school she gave me a Big Chief notebook to use for writing cursive…at home.  Many of the students in my class still hadn’t perfected even printing all the letters of the alphabet yet, and she didn’t want them to feel discouraged. That was okay because my parents took over, and several times each week I’d come home from school and on my desk would be an envelope with a letter written inside from my dad or my mom. Since cursive requires practice in both reading and writing, after I read the letter then I wrote a response, tucked it in the envelope and “mailed” it to their desk.

Yesterday was a good reminder that even dreaded appointments can also be excellent opportunities. My eye exam was actually an exercise in seeing the past clearly and appreciating those memories. If I’d had more time, and some blank paper, I would have rewritten the depot signs in cursive. Especially the one to beware of pickpockets and loose women. My dad would have loved it.

no spitting -$500 fine a yr inprison

 

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A TWO-FACED NEW YEAR

Wikipedia's statue of Janus in the Vatican Museum

Wikipedia’s picture of a statue of Janus in the Vatican Museum

A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS & PRAYERS by Joan Walsh Anglund

A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS & PRAYERS by Joan Walsh Anglund

Blackeye Peas:  good luck and 100 cal, 4g fiber and 7g protein.

Blackeye Peas: good luck and 100 cal, 4g fiber and 7g protein.

So far in 2015, Colorado has been snowy and miserably cold, but January’s mythology still makes it a fascinating month.  January is named for Janus, Roman mythology’s god of beginnings and transitions, and statues of Janus are two-faced.  Not in an insincere or deceitful way, but because one face looks back at the past, and the other face looks forward to the future.  For me, looking back at the old year is important preparation for looking forward and making resolutions and plans for the new year.

My breakfast on January 1st included traditional blackeye peas. I don’t focus on the many possible interpretations of this tradition.  I actually like blackeye peas, and the idea that they might welcome a lucky new year is nice, too.

January has many unusual days and observances, and each of the pictures below represents a special day this month.

When I was with my mom in Kansas before Christmas, at night when she was tucked snugly in her bed, I read to her from Joan Walsh Anglund’s book,   A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS AND PRAYERS  She couldn’t see the colorful little illustrations, and the individual poems and prayers received mixed reviews. If Mom didn’t like one, she said “You can quit now,” and that was her response several times. But even more frequently she would say, “Read that again.” I ended up reading the entire book twice, leaving out the rejected poems and prayers the second time.  Two stand out as read-it-again poems/prayers. They seemed to me—as maybe they were to my mother as well—excellent thoughts for the new year.

The first is an American Indian Prayer:O Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds, and whose breath gives life to all the world. ~ Hear me! I am small and weak, I need your strength and wisdom. ~ Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. ~ Make my hands respect the things you have made, and my ears sharp to hear your voice. ~ Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people. ~ Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. ~ I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy…myself.”

The source of the second prayer is Unknown:Dear Father, hear and bless ~ Thy beasts and singing birds, ~ And guard with tenderness ~ Small things that have no words.”

This first week in January, I wish us all appreciation of the past year and hope for this new year.

January is National Hot Tea month and Oatmeal month.

January is National Hot Tea month and Oatmeal month.

Find a way to "Get A Balanced Life" this month.

Find a way to “Get A Balanced Life” this month.

Cousin Glee unplugging toilet at the Girl Cousins' Reunion.  January is also "Someday We'll Laugh About This" month.

Cousin Glee unplugging toilet at the Girl Cousins’ Reunion. January is also “Someday We’ll Laugh About This” month.

January is "Walk Your Dog" month.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

January is “Walk Your Dog” month. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

‘Bye, Santa…Hello, PC Writing Contest

Say good-bye to Santa as he loads up his RV to go on vacation. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Say good-bye to Santa as he loads up his RV to go on vacation. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

 

 

 

Say hello to pioneer-style RV travel.  What story would you write about this?

Say hello to pioneer-style RV travel. What story would you write about this? (Is woman’s work ever done?)

After I moved my parents to an assisted living apartment (he had Alzheimer’s, she was showing signs of dementia), I began telling Mom about unusual writing contests. We didn’t have to actually enter the contests; the goal was to use the guidelines as writing prompts, and also to encourage her to talk about ideas and keep writing.

In the spirit of post-holiday writing, here is a real contest opportunity that also makes a great writing prompt. The PC does not stand for Politically Correct (haven’t we had enough of anything to do with politics?) The PC is for POST CARD Story Writing Contest, and writers can use any post card and then write up to a 500-word story about the cover.

The deadline for The Geist Literal Literary Post Card Story Contest is Feb. 1, 2015, and entries can be made online. The cash prizes are $500, $250, and $150, and this Canadian contest is open to ALL writers everywhere. For full guidelines, details and examples of past winners:   http://www.geist.com/contests/postcard-contest/  

Another contest for All writers is the Narrative Travel Writing Contest/2015. There is no entry fee, and the first prize is $500 for a creative narrative entry about a great travel suggestion: http://www.transitionsabroad.com/information/writers/travel_writing_contest.shtml

If I were still using writing contests as prompts for my Mom, I would show her the postcards below and ask her to make up stories.  For the Dust Bowl, maybe she would tell a story about mothers putting wet sheets over the insides of windows and doors to keep children from choking on the blowing dust.  Of if I showed her the post card about cowboys taking a Saturday night bath in a pond, she might make up a funny story.

The post card of another Kansas personality, President Ike Eisenhower, shows him talking to the troops in WWII. What fictional conversation would you write to create a story?  

As we approach the beginning of a new year—with new opportunities for writing, creating, sharing our ideas and talents—remember that sometimes practice writing can blossom into excellent entries in writing contests.  Plus, practice writing keeps us thinking, and when we’re actively thinking, it’s a good way to keep our minds active.

A Saturday night bath in a pond? There's a story somewhere in this card.

A Saturday night bath in a pond? There’s a story somewhere in this card.

 

How will your characters protect themselves against a Dust Bowl?

How will your characters protect themselves against a Dust Bowl?

Could they be talking about something other than war?  Write the story.

Could they be talking about something other than war? Write the story.

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Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, paying writing opportunities, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

BREAD, SALT AND WINE

Mom in her rose-bud flannel pajamas. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Mom in her rose-bud flannel pajamas. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Hummel figurine Mom got in Germany in 1970.

Hummel figurine Mom got in Germany in 1970.

One of the hand-stitched wall hangings Mom made for each of us.

One of the hand-stitched wall hangings Mom made for each of us.

Dear Mom,

A Christmas tradition in our family is to watch the movie IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  There are many memorable lines, but one of my favorites is the blessing Mary Bailey gives to a family as they move into their little house .

The couple stands at the threshold of their new home, and she presents them with three things: “Bread, that this house may never know hunger. Salt, that life may always have flavor. Wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever.”

Three genuine, inexpensive and heartfelt gifts ~ perfect blessings to be incorporated in a Christmas movie.

Bread, salt and wine…and in our family, after a big  Christmas dinner with special dishes we all love, we also have a specific dessert: Birthday cake with white icing and candles. We sing “Happy Birthday” to the Baby Jesus, and the kids make the wishes and blow out the candles.

We don’t have an abundance of commercial decorations or give extravagant gifts. In addition to lights, a tree is decorated with homemade and collectible ornaments, a poinsettia plant or two adorn tables, and maybe a fresh wreath with a red velvet ribbon hangs at the front door. The Hummel figurine of the Christ Child and little animals sits on the mantel. Each family still has a handmade wall hanging you stitched for us almost thirty years ago: “Oh Come Let Us Adore Him.”

The gifts are often practical, personal, and memorable. This year, Mom, your ten-year-old great-granddaughter, Grace, gave you flannel pajamas that match hers, so you can be slumber party buddies even though you live two hundred miles apart. I let you open this one present early. The night was cold and dreary, and you snuggled under the blankets wearing your rose-bud jammies while Grace wore hers and snuggled under the blankets on her own bed.

And–spoiler alert, so we won’t let Grace see this post until after Christmas–she’ll be receiving a pink pillow made from one of her favorite T-shirts. Zoey was the kids’ little pug dog who died several years ago, and Grace’s T-shirt was her favorite because it looked just like Zoey. Now the memories will sweeten Grace’s dreams as this pillow joins the others she’s received as presents. Brother Gannon’s favorite sports sweatshirts will be his new pillows.

Maybe Christmas, the Grench thought, doesn’t come from a store.  ~ Dr. Seuss

In our family, Mom, we would say that the Grench is absolutely right.

Grace's pillow gift of her dog Zoey.

Grace’s pillow gift of her dog Zoey.

Poinsettias are the December flowers of choice.

Poinsettias are the December flowers of choice.

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THE GIFT OF OBSERVATION

"Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings." IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Maggie the Reindeer Dog; observe her antlers?

Maggie the Reindeer Dog; observe her antlers?

St. Lucia, "Bearer of Light"--do you observe the candles or the cupcakes?

St. Lucia, “Bearer of Light”–do you observe the candles or the cupcakes?

Dear Mom,

Humor columnist Dave Berry wrote this about Christmas shopping:  “Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.”

Berry is right about one thing, each of us “observing” in our own way. Before the dementia, Mom, you were an astute and creative observer of life.  Then you would take out your tablet and pen, and your favorite observations became poems.

Today as others hustle and bustle around busy malls, searching for perfect gifts, I’m going to again share the poem you wrote in 1990 about the perfect romance you discovered in a shopping mall.

“SHOPPING MALL ROMANCE”   ~by Mary Shepherd

Surrounded by parcels I sat there,

On a bench in the shopping park mall.

I had finished my Christmas shopping

And in exhaustion feared I might fall.

I could see him coming toward me;

His eyes sought mine all the while.

I tenderly watched his quick footsteps.

He held out his arms with a smile.

I glanced at the pretty young lady

Who possessively grabbed for his hand.

Did she know what a treasure she held there?

The greatest in all our fair land.

He fell on my lap and clung to me.

I patted his plump-diapered rear:

A seventy-two-year-old grandma.

And a fifteen-month toddler so dear.

As you shop for those last minute, perfect presents this Christmas, may you have the gift of observation.

In the early stages of dementia, Mom reading to her great-grandchildren.

Years ago, in the early stages of dementia, Mom reading to her great-grandchildren.

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Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, Mary Shepherd's poetry, memories for great-grandchildren