Category Archives: “Christmas Memories With Mom”

IN MEMORIAM

1920 ~ Mary "Ibbeth" and her doll baby.

Mary “Ibbeth” and her doll baby.

 

MARY  ELIZABETH  SHEPHERD

July 12, 1918 ~ December 22, 2016

 

A woman whose faith sustained her, whose love and kindness sustained others, and whose devotion to children everywhere made a difference in generation after generation.

1949 ~ Ray and Mary and their family, daughter Marylin and son David

Mary and Ray with their family, daughter Marylin and son David

1978 ~ Mary holding Marylin's daughter Molly and David's son Andrew- grandson Nic born later)

Mary holding Marylin’s daughter Molly and David’s son Andrew (grandson Nic was born three years later)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ray and Mary holding their first great-grandchild, Grace

Ray and Mary holding their first great-grandchild, Grace (soon followed by her brother)

Mary with their two great-grandchildren, Grace and Gannon

Mary with their two great-grandchildren, Grace and Gannon

 

 

 

 

 

"Be near me when my light is low."  ~ from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "In Memoriam" by

“Be near me when my light is low.” ~ from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”

In loving memory of a life well lived.

 

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HUNTING FOR A MERRY CHRISTMAS

birdhouse

 

melting-snowmanmg_2578

one-red-glove

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty years ago, when she was a 17-year-old student, Anna taught everyone in my high school Writing To Publish class two valuable lessons.

I had assigned this warm-up activity: Write about a dark moment in your life that became one of your happiest memories. Most of the students sat and thought, doodled for a while and then begrudgingly began.   Anna (not her real name) went to a corner, sat on the floor, opened her notebook and began writing.

She wrote about the previous Christmas.  Their mother had left, their father’s hours had been cut back, the furnace had gone out and had to be fixed, and money was worse than just tight.   Dad and the three kids had to somehow make the best of what little they had.

They drew names from a jar.  Each person had $2.00 to spend on the best gift they could find, and wrap the present in the funny pages from the newspaper.   On Christmas morning, after eating French toast, sausage and juice—with popcorn for a treat–they made a game of opening the presents.

For Anna’s scavenger hunt, she’d helped her younger siblings get started with this example. Each person would give their gift recipient a clue, like “Go to the place where lint collects.” (The dryer.)   There in the lint trap would be the next clue, and so on, until finally the last clue led to the gift.   The hunt for presents took them all over the house and even outside.

It was the best Christmas ever, Anna wrote,  filled with laughter, adventures, and hugs. With only $2.00 to spend, each one had searched for a thoughtful, special gift: a mystery for Dad at the used book store;  a new spiral notebook for Anna’s writing dreams;  a package of plastic soldiers from the dollar store;  Superhero pencils and an eraser.

The class applauded after Anna read aloud her article, and after class I suggested she submit it for publication.  To make a long story short, Anna worked hard, followed all the requirements, rewrote, and finally submitted “The Best Worst Christmas Ever” to Woman’s World Magazine.  They bought it for $100!

Anna had answered the looming sad holiday with hope and laughter.   She also followed through by fine-tuning her article and taking a risk when she submitted it to a magazine.  And if Woman’s World had rejected it, she was prepared with another magazine address, plus a third one to try. Her darkest moment, she said, had been when she realized her family had only $20 to spend on Christmas:  $8 on gifts for four people, and $12 for a special breakfast. In comparison to that, she said, a rejection slip from a magazine didn’t scare her at all.

Before her dementia, my mother loved this story.   She shared it with friends who felt sad or discouraged about the holidays.  She challenged a writer friend not to quit after a rejection, but to Try, Try Again.   Mom lent her friend the Writer’s Market to search another place to submit her story, but first she had to find the book by following the clues of a scavenger hunt.

poinsettias

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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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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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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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‘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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