Category Archives: Colorado Springs

SHARED LESSONS: Harpists and Writers

 

"See" your words.  Write on paper, in the sand, on a computer...doodle, draw, dream. Switch hands and see what new thoughts appear.

“See” your words. Write them on paper, in the sand, on a computer…doodle, draw, paint, dream. Switch hands and see what new thoughts appear.

 

 

Practice!  Practice!  Keep practicing!  Move around; change locations, but do your work.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Practice! Practice! Keep practicing! Move around; change locations, but do your work. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

What’s the definition of an optimist? ~ A harpist with a tuner.

How long does it take to tune a harp? ~ That’s a hard one. Nobody knows yet.

How many harp players does it take to change a light bulb? ~ 5: one to handle the bulb, and the others to debate which is the best hand position to use.

The members of the Colorado Celtic Harp Society we met at the writing retreat at the Franciscan Center had a delightful sense of humor.  But the truth is, those jokes also apply to writers.  A writer who dreams of writing the Great American Novel is also an optimist, even if the dream becomes a nightmare.  How long does it take writers to write the perfect novel? ~ Nobody knows yet.   And as far as changing a light bulb, writers are always arguing about the right and wrong way to write, edit, submit and publish.

Here are two jokes that aren’t interchangeable: (If it weren’t for the dementia, my mother would love these!) ~ Why are harps like elderly parents? ~ Both are unyielding and hard to get in and out of cars.   And this one for writers: Did you hear the one about the pregnant writer who began yelling, “Couldn’t! Wouldn’t Shouldn’t! Didn’t! Can’t! ~ she was having contractions.

The weekend writing retreat was filled with writing, thinking, drawing, painting, and responding to the harpists playing nearby.  At the harp recital on Saturday evening, there was a great deal of laughter woven in with beautiful music, and that’s one of the lessons that was repeated throughout the weekend:  Creative endeavors require discipline, hard work, and commitment.  There are also difficulties and disappointments along the way, so make the most of every opportunity to renew yourself with the gifts of laughter and shared camaraderie.

For other lesson reminders from the weekend, read the messages written below the pictures.

And for those of you who asked for a writing prompt, here is one to get the pen moving and the ideas flowing: What is one thing you’ve lost that you hope will not be found?

Take a chance ~ When it's dark, don't be afraid ~ just try your wings ~ and you can catch your star.

“Take a chance ~ When it’s dark, don’t be afraid ~ just try your wings ~ and you can catch your star.” (message on ceramic plate c)Irene’99)

                                                                                    

Accept the solitary work required to reach your goal and make your dream a reality; learn to find your own way.

Accept the solitary work required to reach your goal and make your dream a reality; learn to enjoy your own journey.

Painting on the dorm wall of the former convent; oil by Sister Carmillia. The lesson? Share your visions and talents.

Painting on the dorm wall of the former convent; oil by Sister Carmillia. The lesson? Share your visions and talents.

It's never too late to expand your creativity and pursue a new project. Art begets art!

It’s never too late to expand your creativity and pursue a new project. Art begets art!

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Filed under art, celebrations, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren

The Doors We Open and Close

1800s log home with door covers in case of attack.

1800s log home with door covers in case of attack.

Modern Santa Fe-style door with glass art panels.

Modern Santa Fe-style door with glass art panels.

"Santa Fe Door #1"--oil painting by E.W. Strother. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

“Santa Fe Door #1”–oil painting by E.W. Strother. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

 

 

Entrance door with gate and pergola.

Entrance door with gate and pergola.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I visited my parents in Kansas during my dad’s last years with Alzheimer’s, I always took my mother out for a ride. Sometimes we shopped for special foods or things they needed. Other times we just started driving to see where the road took us.

We both loved houses. Not big fancy houses, but regular family houses, or old rambling houses. And we especially liked doors. As years went by and Mom started showing serious signs of dementia, I created the “Guess what’s behind the door” game. Here’s how it worked.

I’d drive along a street or around a neighborhood, and Mom was supposed to be looking for a house door that caught her attention. Sometimes I had to remind her what she was looking for; other times she’d get excited and say, “There! That one!”

I’d slow down and we’d both take a good look at the door she’d chosen. Then I’d give her a prompt and say: “When you open that door and go inside, what is the first thing you see?” (or hear? ~ or smell? ~ or feel? -~ or even taste?) Then as we drove on, we’d create a story based on how she answered the question. And always–always!–after we played this game, she was hungry and wanted an ice cream cone. (Thinking is hard work, you know.)

Through the years I’ve learned that Alzheimer’s and dementia closes many mental doors, but sometimes I can put my foot in the way before a door closes completely, and I can connect a memory or an idea with my mother. As Flora Whittemore (1890-1993) wrote: “The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.” There is probably no truer statement for those who suffer with Alzheimer’s or dementia…and also for the rest of us, too.

Try the door game. Choose one of the doors on this post and imagine opening it. Create a first response for each of the senses. Your answers will lead you to a story genre–horror or romance or mystery or sci-fi or adventure, etc.–and even if you don’t want to write anything, your creative juices will be flowing! Or maybe you’ll be like my mother and just crave an ice cream cone. And that’s okay, too.

In addition to Flora Whittemore’s wise words, here are some of my other favorites about DOORS:

“Sometimes you don’t know when you’re taking the first step through a door until you’re already inside.” ~ Ann Voskamp, author of ONE THOUSAND GIFTS

“Every now and then one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door and serves as a stepping stone to other things.” ~ Artist Pablo Picasso

And from Dejan Stojanovic, poet and journalist from Kosovo: “He tries to find the exit from himself, but there is no door.”

Doors on a supposedly condemned building.

Doors on a supposedly condemned building.

 

Screened-in porch entrance door.

Screened-in porch entrance door.

 

Rockledge Ranch farm house.

Rockledge Ranch farm house, Colorado Springs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Abilene Kansas, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for great-grandchildren, writing exercises

Deliver Your Message…In Just A Few Words

Wall decor messages. Thanks to The Dive Diner in Colorado Springs.

Wall decor messages. Thanks to The Dive Diner in Colorado Springs.

 

 

 

sarcasm served

Years ago, after I taught a writers’ workshop called “Write Short: Greeting Cards, Posters and Bumper Stickers,” I shared some of the samples with my mother. This was long before dementia began confusing her, and she was still writing poems and short stories.

She hadn’t realized that the words on T-shirts, posters and bumper stickers were often written by freelance writers who were actually paid for their words, and she decided to practice writing a few. I gave her two basic prompts—“SMILE…” and “Speak softly…”—and asked what she would write to finish each thought.

Those of you who have gotten to know my mom through this blog probably aren’t surprised to read these “finished thoughts”:

SMILING ISN’T ENOUGH…BUT IT’S A GOOD START   – and –

SPEAK SOFTLY AND KEEP A SENSE OF HUMOR

We weren’t entirely sure if these were originals—creativity floats all around us, and writers sometimes aren’t sure where ideas come from—but we had a good time putting pen to paper and turning creativity loose by writing mini-messages. Anything that makes us stop…think…and write is very good exercise.

If you want to practice writing what you think, feel, believe or want to protest in a few words, pretend you’re writing bumper stickers, aka “traveling messages.” They’re an excellent way to practice conveying long ideas in short phrases.

Here are examples of messages I’ve read on the bumper stickers of cars, trucks and vans. “My Dog Is Smarter Than Your Honors Student” ~ “Keep Your Doctor…Change Your Senator” ~ “Stop Texting and Drive” ~ “Warning: Driver Is Painting Her Nails…Her Toenails” ~ “Warning: In The Event of the Rapture, This Vehicle Will Be UnManned” ~ “If You Can Read This, Thank A Teacher” ~ and, “The Golden Rule Is Still Worth Its Weight In Gold.”   Beneath short, seemingly simple bumper sticker messages are religious beliefs, philosophies, observations, and protests or endorsements.

If you’re interested in creating and selling messages, photography, or art (digital and physical), check out contests and information at http://www.hallmarkcontest.com/

Guidelines for submitting rhymed/unrhymed card messages at Blue Mountain Arts: http://www.sps.com/greetingcards/writers_guidelines.htm

 

The basics in life.

The basics in life.

The back of a Cheerios box. (photographs by Marylin Warner)

The back of a Cheerios box.
(photographs by Marylin Warner)

 

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Filed under art, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, paying writing opportunities, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

 

Kansas church window... look into the window, and out the "other side" (These two photographs by Marylin Warner)

Kansas church window… look into the window, and out the “other side” (These two photographs by Marylin Warner)

 

 

 

 

 

Stone bridge in winter, Brown's Park, Abilene, KS. The journey is not finished.

Stone bridge in winter, Brown’s Park, Abilene, KS.
The road may be less traveled, but the journey is not finished.

 

Unfinished Business is more than just the title of numerous published fiction and nonfiction books.  It’s also more than what actress Elizabeth Taylor left behind when she died before learning how to cook a hard-boiled egg. (Supposedly, that’s one of the things she wanted to learn to do but never did.)

Here are some other examples of unfinished business:

~ the one thing you always planned to do but never did;

~ the “last words” a person wanted to say before someone died…but waited too long to say them;

~ decades-old unsolved crimes that still gnaw at law enforcement;

~ something you deserved and expected an apology for but didn’t receive…or something you should have apologized or made restitution for, but didn’t;

~ a painful event you never learned the truth about or the reason why it happened: the business that failed; the betrayal by a spouse or a friend; the person who died too young or who took his/her own life;

~ a crime you committed or a wrong you did against someone else…that has never been revealed.

Writer, poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote: “Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night…”  She was writing about a person who is gone, but if you replace the “you” with trust, resolution, justice, or whatever your unfinished business is, her description is still valid.  Unfinished business has a way of continuing to gnaw at us for a very long time.

When I was in junior high school, a man in our town died suddenly in a compromised situation. I heard the expression “he left a lot of unfinished business” and asked my mother what that meant. She said (paraphrased but true to context) that when you die you want to have lived your life without leaving unfinished business, so the people who love and trust you will be left with happy, loving memories instead of bad or hurtful memories.

This post is not about the unfinished business of politicians, countries, world leaders, or missing airplanes in unknown waters.  It’s about us, people who haven’t kept all the promises we’ve made to ourselves and others.  It’s about misplaced dreams and hopes and plans.

The good news is that Tuesday, March 25th, is “Old New Year’s Day” based on the old Orthodox new year. Anyone who missed a chance to make (or keep) a New Year’s Resolution that might finish some unfinished business has a do-over, a second chance.

And if that’s too heavy to consider, Wednesday, March 26th is “Make Up Your Own Holiday.”  It’s up to you how you use it.  As American songwriter and actor Eminem said, “The truth is, you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.”

 

Norman Rockwell's "Secrets"--if you decide to write about your unfinished business, don't leave it where your brother might find it.  Just saying...

Norman Rockwell’s “Secrets”–if you decide to write about your unfinished business, don’t leave it where your brother might find it. Just saying…

Norman Rockwell's "Feeding Time"--unfinished business can sneak up on you if you're not paying attention.

Norman Rockwell’s “Feeding Time”–unfinished business can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention.

 

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Filed under Abilene Kansas, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, special quotations

End MUD MONTH In Style

"Bubbles and Bella" ~ www.MyrtleBeachSafari.com

“Bubbles and Bella” ~ http://www.MyrtleBeachSafari.com

1978 ~ Mary Shepherd and her first 2 grandchildren getting ready for a nap; baby on left, Molly, will be the mother of Mary's two great-grandchildren (picture by Maryin Warner)

1978 ~ Mary Shepherd and her first 2 grandchildren getting ready for a nap; baby on left, Molly, will be the mother of Mary’s two great-grandchildren. See first two pictures of post “TEN WORDS” (pictures by Maryin Warner)

Ah, finally, the last week of February!  In Colorado and Kansas, 2014’s “Mud Month” (Old English Solmonath means Mud Month) has been one for the books.  But as my parents always said, “Don’t wish your life away…enjoy every day.”

In the spirit of that wise advice, here are four dates to celebrate the end of February in style!

Today, on February 22 (or any day before the end of the month) celebrate George Washington’s birthday with one or more of his favorite foods: Cream of Peanut Soup; Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Coconut; String Beans w/ fresh Mushrooms.  Or, his favorite breakfast food was Hoe Cakes—basic pancakes made with cornmeal.   (See one public-posted soup recipe at end of post.)

Don’t feel like cooking?  February 27 is No Brainer Day.  This is the perfect day to enjoy tasks or activities that require little or no study, talent or work on your part.  Kick back and laugh, applaud, appreciate or grin at someone else’s efforts.  My favorite (with thanks to Nancy Gibbs)—and I promise you’ll love this—is Bubbles and Bella– http://www.youtube.com/embed/RR0BlQzbOUk?rel=0

End Mud Month with a double-wonderful last day:  February 28 is both Floral Design Day and Public Sleeping Day.  My favorite cheer-the-harshest-winter-day flowers are tulips and lilies.  Both brighten even the snowiest day and make me hopeful for spring.

And on the same day, what says “Good-bye Mud Day” better than Public Sleeping Day?  Conserve your energy (or make a public statement about working too hard); say no to demands and take a nice long nap, even in public if you want (but not while driving, operating machinery, holding a scalpel or a weapon, etc. You get the idea.)

March 1st is just around the corner. You want to be well fed on Washington’s favorite foods ~ happy and encouraged by the antics of Bubbles and Bella ~ inspired by fresh flowers ~ and refreshed by a long nap.  Like every month, March will have challenges of its own, and you’ll want to be prepared!

Red Stargazer Lilies arranged with greenery.

Red Stargazer Lilies arranged with greenery.

Pink tulips growing in glass container. (Flower pictures by Marylin Warner)

Pink tulips growing in glass container. (Flower pictures by Marylin Warner)

David Wallace, Colorado Springs, acting the role of George Washington (Picture by Jim Warner)

David Wallace, Colorado Springs, acting the role of George Washington (Picture by Jim Warner)

NEW WILLIAMSBURG PEANUT SOUP
1 med. onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 chopped fresh tomatoes and/or sweet red peppers
1/4 c. butter
3 tbsp. flour
2 qts. chicken stock or canned broth
2 c. chunky peanut butter
1 3/4 c. light cream
Saute onion and celery in butter until soft. Stir in flour until well blended. Add chick stock, stirring constantly, and bring to boil. Add peanut butter and cream, stirring to blend thoroughly. Heat, but do not boil. Serve garnished with peanuts if desired.  Serve with cayenne pepper for each person to use as desired.

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Filed under birthday celebrations, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, special quotations

WHAT WE LEARN WHILE WE WAIT

Penny, the visiting dog who waddles in for pats. (Photographs by Marylin Warner)

Penny, the visiting dog who waddles in for pats. (Photographs by Marylin Warner)

All we need love & a dog

Mom and I hold her great-granddaughter Grace's Flat Stanley project.

Mom and I hold her great-granddaughter Grace’s Flat Stanley project.

I’ve been asked, many times, exactly what it is I do when I visit my mother each month.  From my house in Colorado to her assisted living apartment in Kansas, it’s a round-trip drive of 1,300 miles.  English poet George Herbert wrote, “Every mile is two in winter,” and between November and March, I brace myself for bad roads.

In Colorado I’m busy with friends and family, writing and editing, organizations and activities, and taking hikes with my husband and our dog, as well as being open to all kinds of plans and adventures.  In Kansas, within limits, Mom and I might eat the foods I bring, take walks outside in nice weather (I walk and she rides in the wheelchair), watch television and “play beauty shop.”  She will ask questions, sometimes the same ones again and again, including asking if I’m someone she knows, which is the nature of dementia.  I also know that we’ll sit quietly together in the living room while she naps.  In other words, I spend a lot of time waiting.

Before you nod off or retch in your shoes at this Dickens-type dreary scenario, let me say this: I’ve also found that while I wait, I learn. A lot. Seriously. And I always leave a little smarter than I arrived.

For instance, because I have time to read magazines and newspapers and flip through the channels on my mother’s television, I learn information I never would have had time for on a regular, busy day.  Some of what I learn is a little strange. Like the article about the wife who donated one of her kidneys to save her husband’s life…and now she wants it back. It seems he was mighty grateful at first, but now he’s having an affair, and she’d like to give the kidney to someone who deserves it.  Anyone want to debate that issue?

There are also happy lessons, reminders of  “the kindness of strangers.”  There is always some quiet, kind, unexpected gesture from one of the caregivers that reminds me that the little things make a big difference. And then there’s the man who visits the residents and brings his little dog Penny to waddle in for pats and smiles. Or the friends who’ve sent me amazing links that finally I have time to watch: this Tchaikovsky Flashwaltz at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem is the most stunning example of  “the kindness of strangers” I’ve ever seen. Please, do yourself a favor and invest two minutes…you’ll be astounded:   http://safeshare.tv/w/OXHZUxUXXN

I also glean all kinds of health information from the magazines stacked in the mail room. Seriously, I now know the most important times to drink water to be healthy:   2 glasses of water after waking up helps activate internal organs             ~ 1 glass of water 30 minutes before a meal  helps digestion  ~ 1 glass of water before taking a bath/shower regulates blood pressure  ~ 1 glass of water before going to bed helps you avoid a stroke or heart attack.    Yea! for H2O!!!

Mostly, though, each month I’m reminded of basic truths:  1) Our mothers were right ~ a smile does make all the difference;  2) When we pause to visit with someone who is sitting alone or has nowhere to go, it’s a very good thing for both of us;  3) Slowing down, taking time to wait and think, to watch and listen and learn, is actually a gift.

February is the shortest month of the year.  No matter where we live, no matter what our age or health or economic status, for all of us there are only twenty-eight days this month.  If you have an opportunity to sit with an elderly relative or friend who knows who you are–or doesn’t even know who she is–who is healing from surgery or just hoping for a visitor, I encourage you to welcome the opportunity. You may have to sit quietly for a while and wait, but there’s a good chance you will learn something important.

Leave it to the Brits to have fun!  The Little Tikes for kids (on right) is now for adults, too. I learned that they're windowless, have seat belts, and can go up to 70 miles per hour!

Leave it to the Brits to have fun! The Little Tikes for kids (on right) is now for adults, too. I learned that they’re windowless, have seat belts, and can go up to 70 miles per hour!

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Filed under Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, friends, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, Special days in February