Category Archives: “Christmas Memories With Mom”


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.


Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for great-grandchildren, sewing, special quotations, spending time with kids, Things to be thankful for


"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.


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


Art wall next to Old Colorado City Library in Colorado Springs.

Art wall next to Old Colorado City Library in Colorado Springs.

Web creativity by grass spiders in Abilene, KS.

Web creativity by grass spiders in Abilene, KS.










Dear Mom,

Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.”  But I have a lifetime of experiences that confirm that this is also your philosophy.

You don’t remember, but one of the many ways you passed on the joy of creativity was when we decorated our Christmas tree as I was growing up. If we got it from the tree lot, I usually chose a sad tree with uneven branches and bare sections, much like the Charlie Brown tree that came later. I knew we could make it beautiful, and we always did. Year after year we’d string the lights and hang some special ornaments, but your philosophy was that the best art was homemade. You applauded  when we cut snowflakes out of newspaper, created our own decorations from pine cones gathered in the yard, and tied paper dolls and small toys to the branches with ribbon.  Neighborhood kids sometimes joined in because the trees at their houses were fleeced or specially decorated and delivered from the green house.

In honor of all the individual acts of creativity you applauded, I’ve created a little test on who-said-what to share with our friends who visit this blog. After all, schools will soon be letting out for vacation, and nothing says Merry Christmas like a test!

Here are the choices:   A) Carl Sandburg    B) Mary Shepherd    C) Jack London    D) Henry Ward Beecher    E) Sean Connery   F) Pablo Picasso  G) Maya Angelou  H) Winston Churchill    I) Lou Holtz    J) None of the above

Here are the quotes:

1) “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”

2) “You write your first draft with your heart, and you re-write with your head.”

3) “To draw, you must close your eyes and sing.”

4) “One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude.”

5) “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

6) “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”

7) “Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.”

8) “Why, honey, that’s beautiful. You’re so creative. I love it!”

9) “The stone age didn’t end because it ran out of stones.”

10) “’No comment’ is a splendid expression. I am using it again and again.”

The answers are posted in the first comment box.

If you were asked to comment on creativity, what would you say? Do you have a favorite quote from someone else? Share it with us!

Tree sculpture carved from a dead tree. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Tree sculpture carved from a dead tree. (All photos by Marylin Warner)


Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren


Dear Mom,

Many years ago, I read to you from author Ray Bradbury’s wonderful book of writing essays, ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING. I especially remember his chapter about investing dimes. It was a chapter I used as a writing exercise with my high school students in the Writing To Publish class I taught.  I loved what the chapter revealed about Bradbury, his priorities, and his writing habits.

In 1950, Ray Bradbury was a writer with a wife, children, and a mortgage. Although he sold many penny-pulp stories, he didn’t make a lot of money. He was easily distracted from writing by his children. When they wanted Daddy to come outside and play, he did. Good for the kiddos, but not so good for the writing.

Bradbury began making a daily trek to the typing room in the basement of the library at UCLA. He carried writing ideas in his head, notes on folded papers, and loose dimes in his pocket.  He learned that when he put a dime in the slot of an electric typewriter, he had 30 minutes to write nonstop, without overthinking or agonizing over which words might be better.  Write, write, write. He did it day after day, dime after dime.

It cost him $9.80 in dimes to write and finish the first draft of THE FIRE MAN…which later became the famous sci-fi novel, FAHRENHEIT 451.

I remember our discussion about the Writing On A Dime exercise. You liked to write in longhand on steno notebooks, especially in pencil. You liked the time to think and the feel and sound of a pencil scratching on the paper. You also liked to be able to erase words and write better ones. I was just getting started with an Apple IIe–oh, this was so many years ago!–but I admitted to you that sometimes it got crowded around the computer table with Jim and Molly waiting for their turns. Writing in notebooks was a nice, quiet, private change of pace.

During one of my visits while Dad was still alive, the caregiver stayed with him while I took you to the Ft. Scott Carnegie Library. We sat at a table in the corner of the quiet area. We each had notebook paper and sharpened pencils. I looked at the clock and said, “Go!”  The plan was that we’d each write for ten minutes.

As a writing plan, it wasn’t very successful. I started strong, writing sentence after sentence for maybe a full five minutes before I couldn’t resist peeking at what you were doing. You had made a list of things Daddy might like to eat, or maybe it was just a short list of foods, and you were doodling little pictures in the margins.

I wish I’d kept that paper, Mom. I’d frame it and hang it over my big-screen iMac, to remind me of writing on paper, scratching ideas with pencils, smelling wood wax in a charming wide-windowed library, and spending time with my mom. We don’t always have to write something profound or publishable, do we? Sometimes it’s enough just to be with a friend on a sunny day and spend ten minutes putting pencils to papers.  And doodling; doodles are good, too.

Last week I posted the winners of The February Poetry Contest. The idea came from a poem you wrote about fishing instead of writing many years ago, “My Great Hobby.” Last December, writers submitted their stories for another contest: “Christmas Memories With Mom.” That idea came from my time with you, too.

You probably don’t remember the stories or poems from the contests, but trust me, some really nice people and good writers met online and shared their writing ideas and talents because of you. During your life you watched things and people, jotted down ideas, doodled in the margins of your notebooks, and created poems, essays, stories and illustrated children’s tales that still trigger ideas in other writers today.

Good job, Mom!

Love, Marylin


Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, teaching, writing, writing exercises


Dear Mom,

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do at Christmas was make something special.  One year I folded white paper and carefully cut shapes that were then taped to the windows to look like lacy, happy, irregular snowflakes.  Another year I made “bird seed balls” and hung them with red ribbons from the trees; and a favorite year with teachers and neighbors (or so I thought) was when I washed out jelly jars and filled them with my own concoction of powered milk, cocoa, sugar and marshmallows, and tied the jar lids with gold rickrack.

The year that really taught me about “making things” at Christmas, though, was the year a neighbor tried to break a difficult habit by staying very, very busy.  She spent hours and hours and hours making a sequin/ribbon/mock-pearl and lace Christmas tree skirt.  Every stitch was by hand, painstakingly perfect.  A few days before Christmas, she was down to the finishing touches on the gold satin star–attached with lots of glittery beads–in the center of the the green felt.  She worked on it late into the night, then fell asleep on the floor next to the tree.  She awoke the next morning, shocked to realize she’d attached the star to the green felt with hundreds of beads and sequins, but without realizing it she’d also sewn the  star’s stitches all the way through to the skirt of her nightgown.

She called for help, and you responded.  Very creatively, I realize now:  you helped her cut a star-shape out of the hem of her long nightgown.  Then while she dressed in the bathroom and cried, you carefully trimmed away all the excess nightgown fabric from the underside, smoothed the ornate skirt around the base of the Christmas tree, and arranged the wrapped presents to cover the bumpy places. When you told me in confidence what had happened, I don’t remember you being critical.  The neighbor was doing the best she could to get through a hard time, you said, and she just needed a little help.

Through the years, Mom, you made place mats, table cloths, “O, Come Let Us Adore Him” wall hangings (one is pictured above, with every letter, bead and ribbon sewn by hand), and, later, you made Nativity scenes (a full set for each grandchild).  These things you created with love, in the spirit of Christmas.  But the real message you conveyed during the holidays–and every day–came from the way you always willingly helped others…and believed the best about their efforts.

Thank you for that message, Mom.

Love, Marylin


Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for grandchildren, neighbors

“Christmas Memories with Mom” Winner(s) Announced!

What a varied and amazing group of entries I received.  Thank you all for sharing your memories.  The stories were touching, funny, charming, sad…and wonderful.  Through your stories, I feel I know you as more than fellow writers. Now you are friends.

Three judges read all the stories–without consulting or comparing their choices–and this evening I received the scores.  When the totals were in, the first place winner was only a few points higher than two second place winners who were tied.  Such talent, and all three deserve a prize!

The first place winner will receive a $25 gift card to her choice of Starbuck’s or Amazon.  The two second place winners will each receive a $10 gift card.

And now–drum roll, please!–the winners:

FIRST PLACE:  “Christmas With Mom” 

by Leslie Hobson of King, Ontario

It’s that smell that brings it all back.  Some heady combination of pine tree, cinnamon candles and cookies.  The feeling in my stomach of anticipation so strong that I can’t sleep.  I sneak from my bed and watch her sitting by the Christmas tree–its multi-colored lights and the crackling fire are the only lights in the room.  She hums a carol softly to herself and I feel warm and safe as I tiptoe back to my bed.

This Christmas, she’s in a locked ward and ther memories are lost.  Sometimes she doesn’t know me–but I remember her.

SECOND PLACE (TIE):  “Gingerbread”

by Jaime Norwood of  Anthony, Kansas

 Gumdrop shingles.  Candy cane siding.  Frosted orange slice shutters.  Cobblestone hard candies of various colors.  Someone’s been eating all the chocolate fence posts, and I know who!  I caught her wide-eyed on Christmas Eve with cherry cream filling on her lips and a guilty little smile.  She breaks off the prized peppermint patty chimney all covered in icing, and hands it to me with a wink.

It’s a sneaky little secrt my grandmother and I share one delightful Christmas Day.

SECOND PLACE (TIE):  “Christmas With Mom”

by Mary Zalmanek of Monument, Colorado

 We knew that Christmas 2004 would be my dad’s last.  I could see the fears on my mom’s face, in her gentle attentiveness to him, in their sweet conversations.  I bought birthday and other special occassion cards that would be sent in the future from him to my mom, his children and grandchildren.  He signed them before he died in March.

I mailed a Christmas card from my dad to my mom in December.  A few days later, my mom called.  “Last night I dreamed your dad said he had a message for me, and today I got his card.”


With special thanks to all the writers who entered stories, to the judges who gave each entry careful consideration, and to author Jaye W. Manus, who loves good writing and supporting writers.  She will be posting the winners on her fiction blog.


Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom"