Category Archives: Dementia/Alzheimer’s

What A Woman’s Shoes Say About Her

high heels


cork heeled sandal

flats shoes


Several weeks ago, I drove from Colorado to Kansas to be with my mother while she was treated for pneumonia.   Mom remained in her apartment taking antibiotics, receiving nebulizer breathing treatments, and being cared for round the clock.   I was the non-essential personnel, the daughter who brought in favorite foods, encouraged her to drink more fluids, and read aloud all her favorite children’s poems and prayers at night before she went to sleep.

Staying busy is not the same thing as accomplishing important goals, but thanks to a local Kiwanis “shoes for everyone” program, I spent one day doing both.   Armed with lots of coffee to drink, damp and dry cloths to clean shoes that had sat unworn for years, and boxes and bags to fill, I tackled the main closet that had held my parents’ clothing and shoes since they moved into assisted living.

At the end of the day I had collected, cleaned and bagged sixteen pairs of dress shoes, summer sandals, pumps and flats that Mom would never wear again.  Each pair brought back memories of her active, busy, productive days before dementia claimed her life.

Imelda Marcos once haughtily proclaimed, “I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes. I had one thousand sixty.”  To which I would proudly now reply, “Well, my mother had a pair of dress shoes that would amaze even you, Imelda.”

In the back corner of Mom’s closet, behind a purse and under a pair of slippers, was a pair of brown leather, sling-back dress heels.  I didn’t remember her ever wearing these shoes, and when I studied them I realized something else, too.   They both were for the left foot!  The expression “two left feet” certainly never applied to my mother.

The writer in me said there had to be a great story in this somewhere, and I laughed at the possibilities: mystery? romance? suspense?

The daughter in me felt sad because the woman who was once an intelligent, happy, helpful, fun-loving woman, would have said, “Let’s figure this out together,” and we would have had a great time coming up with a story.   Now, because of dementia, she didn’t even know exactly who or where she was; shoes, clothing and jewelry no longer meant anything.

I took the two left shoes with me back to the hotel that night.   No great story ideas replaced the sad feelings, and the next morning I threw them away. Driving back to Mom’s apartment, I got a coffee for me and a warm Danish for her, hoping a little morning sweetness might make her smile. I   knew she would be resting in her recliner, wearing warm casual clothes, fluffy socks…and slippers instead of shoes.                                                                                            duck galosshes

bare feet


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, special quotations, writing, writing exercises


Drexel University's mascot, the Dragon

Drexel University’s mascot, the Dragon

Think like a peacock and decide when to show your brilliance.

Think like a peacock and decide when to show your brilliance.

Mark Twain wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowline, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sales. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Twain’s words are a good introduction for April 23rd, TAKE A CHANCE DAY. At work and at home, with long-range plans, fragile hopes or heartfelt dreams, now is the time to take a chance, give a goal your best shot, or think like a peacock and proudly spread the feathers that show your brilliance.

Or, for a lighter endeavor, April 23rd is also “TALK LIKE SHAKESPEARE DAY” and “INTERNATIONAL NOSE PICKING DAY” (I couldn’t find out the original source for this second one, but I can guarantee it wasn’t my mother, at least not for public behavior).   April 23rd is also “SLAY A DRAGON DAY,” which can be a nudge to either slay your own personal dragons or slay dragons of all kinds, everywhere.

Here’s an interesting response to the day for slaying dragons. Writer, painter and sculptor Brian Andreas wrote, “Anyone can slay a dragon…but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again.”

April 23rd is pretty much like every other day in April…and every month of the year. It comes with opportunities and challenges, joys and sorrows, the feelings of success or the struggles of going two steps forward and one back…or three steps back. At the end of the day there can be a sense of exuberance or exhaustion, or sometimes numb relief. Whatever it is, each day belongs to each of us, to do with it as we will.

Annie Dillard, author of PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK, reminds us: “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.”


Taking the stairs instead of waiting for an elevator.

Taking the stairs instead of waiting for an elevator.



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, lessons for great-grandchildren, special days in April, special quotations


The first "hut" at the corner of Kellogg and Bluff

The first “hut” at the corner of Kellogg and Bluff


Dan and Frank in 1958

Dan and Frank in 1958

I grew up in the southeast corner of Kansas where a rugged swath of the Ozarks createsd a countryside of rolling hills and woods of stunning beauty. The area was also rocky farmland and hard scrabble little towns where generations of Italians worked in the strip mines and built family-meal  restaurants that still thrive today. There were numerous stories of hard-working parents who refused to give up and went on to build better lives for themselves and their children.

When my grandson went with me to visit my mother two months ago, he also introduced me to another Kansas success story. On our drive home, I asked Gannon where he wanted to eat, and he chose Pizza Hut.  The nearest one was in the little town of Burlington, and from the outside it looked like a typical Pizza Hut.  But inside it displayed many pictures and details of Pizza Hut’s humble beginnings.

In 1958, two college-aged brothers, Dan and Frank Carney, borrowed $600 from their mother to purchase second-hand equipment and rent a small building on a busy street in Wichita, KS.  They worked long hours and didn’t give up  (and yes, they also repaid their mother’s loan), and this first Pizza Hut became the foundation of the world’s largest and most successful chain of pizza restaurants.  (For my friends across the ocean, I add this detail:  in 1973 Pizza Hut began in the UK.)

In the Burlington Pizza Hut, important messages were printed on posters and chalk boards:  “From Humble Beginnings Come Great Things”;   “Work hard, Stay humble”;   and “Do Your Best.”   As Gannon and I went to the buffet, we were greeted with smiles from the helpful employees.   The Carney brothers did not grow up in this town, but their philosophy thrives.

A teenage girl ahead of us at the buffet wore a tennis T-shirt.   On the front was a picture of Arthur Ashe, and this was the message:  “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”   This profound reminder is from a superb tennis player and a wonderful man who died in 1993 after contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion he received during heart bypass surgery.

I almost protested Gannon’s choice of Pizza Hut for lunch that day, but it turned out to be an excellent choice. You just never know in advance what lessons and reminders you’ll learn while waiting for pizza.

Pizza Hut box


"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special days in April, special quotations, spending time with kids


Before Dad’s Alzheimer’s and Mom’s dementia, they used a tag-team response to childish whining about “There’s nothing to do.” He would say, “Every day is a gift,” and she would say, “If you don’t open the present, you’re wasting it.”    To honor this philosophy, there are five—count ‘em, FIVE!—great gift-day opportunities coming up this week, and every one is better than April Fool’s Day was last week.

Tire Swing  April 10th is NATIONAL SIBLINGS DAY. The picture I’m using here is of my grandchildren. True Irish twins (11 months apart) neither remembers a time when they didn’t have each other, and together they can make even a tire swing a great way to spend the afternoon. I, on the other hand, once stabbed my brother’s hand with a fork…but that was only once, and on numerous occasions he told me I was adopted.   Hmm…maybe I’ll use April 10th to make a list of reasons I’m glad he’s my brother…and actually, there are many.

April 13th is SCRABBLE DAY.   Our favorite version of Scrabble is the kids’ version. You empty all the letters (upside down) each person takes 20 and puts together words, drawing more letters as necessary. The first to use all the letters is the winner. We have a lot of fun, and this is a good mind/thinking exercise, too.   Gannon ~ word scrabble


April 14th Is INTERNATIONAL MOMENT OF LAUGHTER DAY. The goal is to get others laughing because, as the saying goes, “Laughter is the best medicine.” I’ve kept my favorite “getting older” card–it still makes me laugh–beneath the dour old lady on the front are these words:  “Age and treachery will triumph over youth and skill.”     I also enjoy the humor in nature. Pictures of the Pygmy Owl and The Red-Footed Boobie work for me, and the antics of our puppy Scout keep us laughing, too. There are all kinds of ways to lighten up on April 14th.    In the U.S. it’s the day before taxes are due, so laughter is really important.

age and treachery                                                 Red-footed Boobie (Jeopardy)


pygmy owl




Or, if you’d rather, April 14th offers two other choices: LOOK UP AT THE SKY DAY (and marvel, dream, imagine, appreciate), and NATIONAL REACH AS HIGH AS YOU CAN DAY.   What are your hopes, dreams, goals? What do you really want? Make a plan and go for it.    Remember: “It is never Too Late To Be what You Might have Been.” — George Eliot, (pen name of writer Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880)                       George Eliot

look up at the sky day


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Lessons from birds, making a difference, special days in April, special quotations


Burger King



Morton Salt

On this day in 1998, Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper.” The ad was very successful, and many customers ordered the fake sandwich. It was April 1st, April Fool’s Day.     April is National Humor Month, and the left-handed burger got a lot of laughs.

In 1700, English pranksters popularized playing practical jokes on each other, and the slams and pranks continue. Am I the only one who thinks that many of the things we’ve seen and heard recently from both the Democrat and Republican candidates seem like they should be followed by a laugh and the words, “April Fools! Just kidding!”

Through the years there have been many surprising and hurtful “jokes” played on adults and children on April 1st.    Years ago, long before dementia got in the way, my mother said that on April Fool’s Day  everyone should treat the day with a pinch of salt (meaning to maintain a degree of doubt or caution). Even with salt ready to pinch, I think there are certain topics that should NOT be jokingly used:   being offered a job or being fired from a job;   marriage proposals or divorce suggestions;   the results of medical tests or procedures;   the loss of a pet.   I have heard of all these being used on April 1st, and when a joker says, “April Fools, only kidding!” it’s small comfort after a child has been told his hamster died, or an employer said he’d decided to hire his nephew in your place.

By the time you read this, April Fool’s Day will be almost over and on April 2nd you can celebrate Children’s Book Day or National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. But then on April 3rd, Don’t Go To Work Unless It’s Fun Day, you might want to rethink the suggestion.    And on April 4th, Tell A Lie Day, it’s almost another April Fools’ opportunity.

The good news is that April showers will bring May flowers, and April is also National Poetry Month. Read or write humorous poems, and you’ll have it covered. Skip over Plan Your Epitaph Day on April 6th, and make the most of the 7th, which is both National Beer Day and No Housework Day, and you’re on your way. Just don’t play mean tricks on anyone, okay?   They might not be armed with a pinch of salt to protect themselves.

April 1, 1984, singer-song writer Marvin Gaye is shot and killed by his father.

April 1, 1984, singer-song writer Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his father.

April showers bring May flowers.

April showers bring May flowers.

April 1, 1970, President Nixon signed legislation banning cigarette ads on TV and radio.

April 1, 1970, President Nixon signed legislation banning cigarette ads on TV and radio.


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, special days in April, special quotations

OH, JOE! (More Than Just Food And Drink)

"Sloppy Joe"-- when a messy sandwich is a full meal.

“Sloppy Joe”– when a messy sandwich is a full meal…and fun.




Espresso is something to take seriously.  Don't give any to a child, or a kitten.

Espresso is caffeine to take seriously. Don’t give any to a child, or a kitten.

Here’s a short list of baby names in 2015: Swayze, Orson, D’Artagnan, Nyx, Fenella, Larkyn and Monet.   So far in 2016, some of the names are Mhavrych, Beberly, C’andre, and Abcde.

Then there’s Joe. In the early 1900s, Joe (or Joseph) was the fifth most popular baby name, and in 2011 it ranked 22nd in popularity. And that doesn’t include Joe Cool, Average Joe, G.I. Joe, Sloppy Joe, or the feminine Jo, JoAnn, Joey and Joley. Joe is one of America’s most popular, enduring names, as evidenced in actors, sports legends, politicians, phrases, and establishments.

March 27 is National Joe Day. Celebrate it over a cuppa joe with friends, and consider a secondary celebration: For one day, call yourself Joe (or some version of the name) and see what happens.  Supposedly, one day of being Joseph or Jo Ann will give you new insights. (Just don’t sign checks or any legal papers with your one-day name, or it will also give you a whole new set of problems.)

Changing your name for one day gives you a chance to see the world—and yourself—differently.  Is JOE or JO ANN kinder, smarter, happier, more hopeful or helpful?   Does JOE or JO ANN order foods you don’t like, get more done, or kick back and enjoy being a couch potato?  If for a day you’re JOE or JO ANN, will you take a risk, apologize to someone, express what you’re really feeling, sing in public, hug a stranger, or confront a bully?

National Joe Day is yours to do with as you will. It’s not like entering the Witness Protection Program or legally changing your name.   It’s just one day to be someone else and see the day through new eyes.   Or just have a cuppa joe with a friend and talk about what it would be like—good or bad—to have a different name for a day, and be a different person.  This isn’t an exercise to experience what  it’s like to have Alzheimer’s or dementia, but you might be surprised.

Senator and Vice President, Joe Biden

Senator and Vice President, Joe Biden

Shoeless Joe Jackson. Supposedly his nickname came from wearing on his socks while trying to get used to his new baseball shoes.

Shoeless Joe Jackson. Supposedly his nickname came from wearing only his socks while trying to break in his new baseball shoes.

Saint Joseph, husband to Mary.  (All Joe/Joseph pictures, Wickipedia)

Saint Joseph, husband to Mary. (All Joe/Joseph pictures, Wikipedia)


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, Special Days in March


Dentophobia (fear of dentists)

Dentophobia (fear of dentists)

Cyclophobia, fear of bicycles.

Cyclophobia  (fear of bicycles)  (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

Before her dementia, my mother loved to try the writing exercises I created for my students. Here is one of our favorites.

There are hundreds of phobias. Some are very familiar: Aerophobia (the fear of flying); Claustrophobia (the fear of being in tightly enclosed spaces); and one of the most common ~ Glossophobia (the fear of speaking in public).

For my classes, the assignment was to understand fears and incorporate them in the personalities of characters. I wrote out dozens of phobias (and their meanings) on slips of paper. Students drew a slip, and in one page they were to create a character suffering from that fear…and also create the event that made the character afraid.   My mom loved this activity because it didn’t stop with the WHAT, but also attempted to understand the WHY.   She was the kind of mother, teacher, friend, CASA volunteer and ally of children who believed that if people could identify both the WHAT and the WHY of their problems and worries, they had a very good chance of also finding a solution.

My mom was an avid learner who enjoyed new facts and ideas, and the phobias I selected were uncommon.   Here are some examples: Achluophobia (fear of darkness); Chorophobia (fear of dancing); Aulophobia (fear of flutes), Allodoxaphobia (fear of opinions); Arachibutyrophobia (fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth); and with apologies to my friends across the ocean, Anglophobia (fear of England and/or English culture).   Other phobias are illustrated on the pictures above and below.

Since Mom is deep in dementia now, I share these phobias with all of you. Have some fun with them, creating a possible WHAT and WHY for one… and maybe a solution as well.    March 26th is “Make Up Your Own Holiday,” and you never know:  you might create a Freedom from A Phobia Holiday.  Don’t be afraid to give it a try!

Achluophobia  (fear of darkness)

Achluophobia (fear of darkness)

Ophidiophobia  (fear of snakes)

Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Special Days in March, writing, writing exercises