Category Archives: experiments


What words would "Mr. Wonderful" say to impress a woman?

What words would “Mr. Wonderful” say to impress a woman?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful's words?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful’s words?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

In 1871, Lewis Carrolll wrote the nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky.” It begins “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves ~ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe…” It’s a well-known poem, often praised for the flow and sounds of the words, and in every English class there are always some students who swear they understand exactly what Carroll was saying.

Author Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was a prominent novelist, poet and short story writer who was also known for Gobblefunk, his own language. Two examples are “swigpill” (disgusting food), and “splath-winkled” (hurrying about). Despite this special language he scattered through some of his writing, his also wrote this: “Don’t gobblefunk around with words.”

Sometimes words work; sometimes they don’t. All writers know this, and most agree that one place where this is particularly true is when they write dialogue. It either works, or it doesn’t. 

To loosen up the writers in my classes and workshops, I often jumped right into exercises on writing dialogue. My favorite prop was Mr. Wonderful, a 12” doll with a flashy smile, a button-down shirt, khaki pants, and real-tie brown leather shoes. Press the palm of his hand and he said sixteen different phrases—all from the heart—and all as fake as his smile. Two of my favorites were “You know, I think it’s really important that we talk about our relationship,” and “You know, Honey, why don’t you just relax and let me make dinner tonight…and do the dishes.”

It was obvious to both males and females that Mr. Wonderful’s words were stilted and didn’t work.   So the writers were to act as his “coach” and choose any three of his phrases and write what a “real guy” would say. After they’d finished, they were to hand the sheet to another writer who would write what an imaginary Ms. Wonderful would say in response. Everyone relaxed with the dialogue of this fake-to-the-core doll. It was a great way to get started.

Before my mother’s dementia, once when she was visiting I introduced her to Mr. Wonderful. She listened to his phrases and laughed. Then she said that some of the hardest dialogue to write was how children talk, so another exercise for my students could be to write what a young girl or boy would say to Mr. Wonderful, telling him how to dress and what to say. I really liked her idea, and asked if she wanted to try writing some examples.

Mom looked around, shook her head and smiled. In her opinion, the best way to write dialogue was to get comfortable and sit quietly, in a waiting room or a classroom or anywhere adults or children talk and do things. Then listen to what they say, how they pause or move when they say something, if they chatter on and on or speak in short sentences, if they mumble or whine. That’s how you learn to write like people really talk, she said. You listen.

And then she laughed and added that you didn’t want to sit quietly too long. You might fall asleep and then some uppity writer might write about how you sleep with your mouth open or snore.

My mother taught me that getting words right is important, but so is watching and learning. And getting your heart involved, too. As John Bunyan, author of THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, wrote: “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

The same is true in life.

This "borrows" from Keep Calm and Carry On.  Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.

This “borrows” from Keep Calm and Carry On. Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.


Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell where the men are.

Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell what happened to the men.


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, special quotations, teaching, writing, writing exercises


Akey and Letta ~ my maternal grandparents.

Akey and Letta ~ my maternal grandparents.







Metal toy wagon, left in tree branches, approx. 1924. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

Metal toy wagon, left in tree branches, circa 1924. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

This happened many decades before I was born, but since I have the tangible proof now, it’s my story to tell. My grandfather called it “a child’s mistake,” but I have trouble thinking of it as any kind of mistake. After all, a mistake is an error, a blunder or oversight, a slip-up or inaccuracy, and I see it as an astounding legacy…a true memory maker.

Supposedly, six-year-old Mary Elizabeth (my mother, who is 96 now) and her siblings were playing by the barn when their mother, my grandmother, came out to pick corn from the family garden. She called for the children to come and help. They had been playing with toys—little metal wagons, carved wooden animals, bent forks and spoons—and Mary E. was scooting one of the metal wagons in the grass. When her mother called them to help, Mary E. looked around for a place to put her wagon, maybe so she could play with it again later. She chose one of the trees nearby.

Standing on tiptoe, she tucked the wagon in a “v” of two branches, pushing it in tight so it wouldn’t fall. Then she ran to help with shucking ears of corn. One thing led to another, and maybe she forgot about her hidden wagon. No one knows for sure.

Years later, my grandfather was cutting down overgrown trees. To his surprise, he found branches grown around the little metal wagon, locking it in place and making it a permanent part of the tree. He carefully cut above and below the wagon, sanded the edges of the wood, and painted the entire piece with leftover paint in the barn.

This wagon-in-the-tree-branch is one of my favorite keepsakes. To me it is not a mistake but a gift, a child’s creative attempt to store a toy, and nature’s way of making it a piece of art. My mother doesn’t recognize it, and telling her the story might make her smile, but she wouldn’t realize it is her story. But as I hold the little wagon, I can close my eyes and imagine my mother as a little girl standing on tiptoe and reaching for the branch.

Rudyard Kipling wrote, “I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards.”   If Mom could remember this story, I think she would definitely cherish it as something other than a mistake. Look at the treasure we have now, ninety years after siblings played in the Missouri sunshine.

Maybe her brothers Sam and Ira saw what she did that day. If so, they maybe nudged each other and did what Napoleon once advised, “Never interrupt your enemy (or your sister) when he (or she) is making a mistake.”   Or maybe, without realizing it, they proved author Brandon Mull’s statement: “Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.” As far as we can tell, neither of the boys imitated their sister and tried doing the same thing with other toys.

I choose to agree more with author Rita Mae Brown: “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” I hold the little wagon-in-the-wood and say it was Mary Elizabeth using good judgment—without realizing it at the time—and leaving a charming keepsake for her daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandchildren. This was not a mistake, but a gift she didn’t realize she was creating.

It’s a good lesson to consider: what we do today may outlive us and affect others in ways we cannot even imagine.  Thanks, Mom.


With llamas--as with kisses--spit happens, but that doesn't make it a mistake.  Not a gift, necessarily, but not a mistake.  (Sorry, but I couldn't resist.)

With llamas–as with kisses–spit happens, but that doesn’t make it a mistake. Not a gift, necessarily, but also not a mistake. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I love this picture.)


Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, special quotations


Books ARE often judged by their covers...and their titles.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Books ARE often judged by their covers…and their titles. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

My possible illustration for Michael R. Young's book, MANAGING A DENTAL PRACTICE: THE GENGHIS KHAN WAY

My possible illustration for Michael R. Young’s book, MANAGING A DENTAL PRACTICE: THE GENGHIS KHAN WAY

A possible book cover for REUSING OLD GRAVES: A REPORT ON POPULAR BRITISH ATTITUDES by Douglas Davies and Alastair Shaw

A possible book cover for REUSING OLD GRAVES: A REPORT ON POPULAR BRITISH ATTITUDES by Douglas Davies and Alastair Shaw


Ask anyone in my writing groups: titles are my thing. If you’ve written a poem, a short story, a novel or a nonfiction book and need a good title, I’m your go-to girl.

When I was a young child, one of the services of my parents’ car dealership was to personally deliver cars to the buyers in other towns. To pass the time during long drives, here’s one game we played:  my mom or dad would make up a title and have me make up a story to go with the title. Even then, I sensed the difference between a really interesting title and a so-so or boring one. A title like “Three Ways To Make A Ghost Get Out of Your Bedroom” could keep me busy for hours.

With some exceptions, unless you intend fraud or deceit, you can use an existing title for your own book. In other words, you could title your book GONE WITH THE WIND.  Why you’d want to do that is another question, but you could. So sometimes my mom would give me the actual title of a book or story she’d read, and I would do the best I could to make up a new story to go with that title.

To show you the importance of a good title, here are a few examples that might make potential buyers  give a book a second look. HOW TO POO ON A DATE (The Lovers’ Guide to Toilet Etiquette) by Mats and Enzo, COOKING WITH POO (“Poo” is Thai for “Crab”) by Saiyuud Diwong, and COOKING WITH POOH: Yummy Tummy Cookie Cutter Treats by Mousse Works.

Or consider STRIPPING AFTER 25 YEARS by Eleanor Burns. Is that title more interesting than How To Spend Years Creating Quilts With Strips of Fabric? And in 2007, Simon & Schuster printed Big Boom’s self-help book with this title: IF YOU WANT CLOSURE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP, START WITH YOUR LEGS.  Catchy title, but I’m just not sure how long a book it would have to be—sounds like the details could pretty well be covered in a magazine article instead of a book.

There are many one-word book titles: IT, JAWS, SHANE, ULYSSES, LABYRINTH, REBECCA, SIDDHARTHA, ATONEMENT, WICKED, etc. According to book authorities, the longest title in the English language is by Jonathan Edwards, preacher and philosopher in the mid-1700s (his famous sermon is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”) His book title is AN HUMBLE ATTEMPT TO PROMOTE AN EXPLICIT AGREEMENT AND VISIBLE UNION OF GOD’S PEOPLE THRO’S THE WORLD, IN EXTRAORDINARY PRAYER, FOR THE REVIVAL OF RELIGION, AND THE ADVANCEMENT OF CHRIST’S KINGDOM ON EARTH, PURSUANT TO SCRIPTURE PROMISE AND PROPHECIES CONCERNING THE LAST TIME.

Be honest; did you finish reading the entire title?  Hmm…how many readers do you think would have wanted to buy the book?

John Steinbeck said, “The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”   To give ourselves the best odds of actually selling what we write, we should spend some time—and have some fun if we can—with our titles.

With all the book titles that include Poo and Pooh, I just had to add this poster for identifying Poop in the Woods (courtesy of Garden of the Gods, Colorado)

With all the book titles that include Poo and Pooh, I just had to add this poster for identifying Poop in the Woods (courtesy of Garden of the Gods, Colorado)


Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, Fort Scott Kansas, writing, writing exercises


Tiger lilies growing wild. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Tiger lilies growing wild.
(All photos by Marylin Warner)

Taking a fresh air break with Mom.

Taking a fresh air break with Mom.

Dear Mom,

Remember how much time I used to spend getting ready for camp or packing for a family trip to visit Dad’s family in California? You paired off socks, matched outfits, and ID-ed everything with my initials. I packed and repacked books, games, art projects, camera and film, notebooks and pens, and packages of red licorice rope candy.

Now when I drive from Colorado to Kansas to visit you, it’s simpler. I make sure my Kindle and digital camera are charged, pack only the things I know I’ll need, and start driving. I have several favorite places along the way where I can pick up meals and tempting desserts that are much, much better than licorice ropes.

There are also other things I do to prepare before I arrive at your door. Maybe some of these will help other caregivers and frequent visitors of parents with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and maybe they’ll share ideas to add to my list.

Here are my five basic preparations for a successful visit:

Decide in advance that laughter will be the go-to response in tense situations.  Not laughter at the person, but at the situation. Things happen, messes need to be cleaned up–sometimes again and again–stress can be high. But if my response is to laugh and say, “Oh, this reminds me of when I was a kid. Remember the time when I…?” it’s surprising how the mood lifts and we enjoy each other’s company.

Chew gum.  I once read an article about hundreds of gum chewers and non-gum chewers who were studied for stress.  Those who chewed gum while doing repetitive jobs–without choking or dropping gum on the assembly line, of course–showed significantly less stress.  You no longer chew gum, Mom, but I do when I’m with you…sugarless bubble gum.  It’s harder to blow bubbles, but I remember once when I blew a huge bubble. You looked over, smiled and reached out. I leaned forward and you had great fun popping the bubble with your finger. In that moment you were involved and entertained, and we shared the added bonus of laughter.

Improve the environment.  We have several green plants growing by your front window, Mom, but nothing perks up the feeling of your living room like fresh flowers. You were once an avid vegetable gardener, but you also grew lilies, lilacs, roses, daisies and many varieties of flowering bushes. Now, whenever I bring a bouquet of garden flowers or a blooming plant from the grocery store, you brighten up and respond to the colors and scents. Once I brought a gingerbread mix that could be baked in the microwave, and you enjoyed the smell of warm gingerbread as much as the taste. Microwave popcorn’s popping sound and buttery scent make you smile every time.

Be prepared TO DO something.  Since I spend the night each time I visit you, we have extra time, so I arrive with several things we can do.  We paint your fingernails, sometimes alternating colors; I wrap up a pair of brightly patterned socks for you to enjoy twice… once when you unwrap the package, and then again when I put the socks on your feet; I bring several colorful postcards, and you can decide who will receive them and what you want me to write on each card.  The activities aren’t costly or complicated, just a fun diversion.

Walk…several times.  Caregivers who are able to take frequent walks do better and have less stress.  When I’m with you, Mom, I am your caregiver, so you and I take our walks together. You have a walker, but I’m glad we kept Dad’s old wheelchair. On nice days I take you outside to see the flowers or feed the ducks. On not-so-nice days we stay inside and make an adventure of rolling along the hallways, greeting people we see, stopping at the bookshelves loaded with books to borrow, or enjoying the framed pictures throughout the facility.  We keep moving for as long as we can, and that helps.


Louis Pasteur wrote: “Chance favours the prepared mind.”

Shakespeare wrote: “All things are ready, if our minds be so.”

And the motto of the Boys Scouts of America is “BE PREPARED.”

In dealing with loved ones who have Alzheimer’s or dementia, we can do only the best we can do at any given moment. Some of my best plans fail miserably, while others succeed amazingly, but only for one visit.  If any of these suggestions help you, I’m glad. If you’ll share your ideas with me, I’d be ever so grateful.

ducks in pond IMG_2021


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren


I require rescue

Help poster

Dear Mom,

Years ago, for your birthday I took you to a writers’ conference. We were walking around before the first session, checking out the bookstore and getting cold drinks. Posted on a wall was a hand written announcement about an upcoming workshop titled “Comming Soon…How To Improve Your Writting.” Yes, coming and writing were misspelled. And it’s was misused for its, plus some other mistakes.  You were so embarrassed for whoever had made the poster. I agreed, but I also didn’t want to point it out in front of others.  So we waited, standing in front of it and blocking the mistakes. Finally a lady came by and asked if we had questions. When we learned it was her poster, we quietly pointed out the errors so she could correct them. You even offered to help.

She laughed. It had been a prop, and we were the only ones who responded.  We received our choices of journals from the bookstore. The title of her speech later was “Why Are Writers Afraid to Help Each Other?”

You could have given that speech, Mom. One of the many things I learned from you is that helping someone else succeed does not take away from our own success. I watched you help children work on their spelling, teens write essays, peers work on poems and short stories.  You could write beautiful passages, but you were also practical and succinct when that was called for. If you were stranded on an island (see above) you definitely would have used stones to write the short, clear, effective message–HELP–and then gone in search of firewood and food.

April is National Poetry Month. Last week you shared your poem, “In God We Trust,” with our blog friends.  Next week, on April 10th is Encourage A Young Writer Day. If you were still able, you’d be the first one offering to help.  But since you aren’t able, maybe some of the rest of us will step up in your place!

I love you, Mom.


Long message posted below a stop sign.

Long message posted below a stop sign.

Gannon makes words.

Gannon makes words.

"So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads."by Dr Seuss (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
by Dr Seuss (all pictures by Marylin Warner)


Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, writing, writing exercises


Santa Ana ~ Patron of Grandmothers and Mother-Child Relations.

Santa Ana ~ Patron of Grandmothers and Mother-Child Relations.

Happy sledding day.  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Happy sledding day. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Dear Mom,

When Jim and I came to visit you last week, Kansas and Colorado were both getting hit hard with the “Rocky” snowstorms that closed interstates and schools, and knocked out power in many places. But in Fort Scott we stayed warm and cozy, fixed an assortment of foods and enjoyed being together.  We knew March was just around the corner.

Every day on the calendar has at least one special day identified with it.  St. Patrick’s Day is two weeks away, but leading up to the Green Beer Day are four special, unusual days that I really like:

Today, March 3rd, is I Want You to be Happy Day, aka Unselfish Day. On this day, the goal is for everyone to do something to make someone else happy. And if you want to go for the gold—do it anonymously!  This would be a natural for you, Mom. Years ago, a local store had a sale on boxed “Thinking of You” cards, ten for a dollar. We bought a box, and during the next month we sent anonymous cards to ten people who were alone or having a hard time. We wrote notes inside the cards, saying something specifically nice about the person…and signed each card: A Friend Who Appreciates You.

Monday, March 4th, is Holy Experiment Day. This is a perfect time to pray for someone to feel better, to get a job, to have a safe day. Pray for a child who is unhappy or a family who has just moved to a new place, or a stranger who seems to need a prayer. Imagine the aura of all those anonymous prayers floating around the world on March 4th.

Saturday, March 9th, is Panic Day.  Or, as some prefer, Don’t Panic Day.  It’s not until the end of next week, so you have plenty of time to prepare.  Googling Panic Attacks brings up an overwhelming amount of advice, much of it involving medications, counseling or costly techniques.   is a 7-minute free, self-contained video with a practical technique: “How To Stop Panic Attacks-#1 Tip”

And finally, next Sunday, March 10th is Middle Name Pride Day.  This blog has previously discussed our feelings about our names, but this day is different. Middle names are legal identifiers; John Smith may be very common, but John Hiram Smith won’t be so easily confused. Also, do you know WHY you received your middle name? Was it for an ancestor? Has it become your nickname? On March 10th find a reason to appreciate your middle name. (This is very different than Name Yourself Day, which is in April.)

March is here, Mom. February’s “Rocky” snowstorm is past, and next month is April, with signs of Spring. If I were going to send you an anonymous card on March 3rd, I’d tell you how wonderful you are, how many nice things you’ve done for others, and how you’ve made the world a better place.   I love you.   Marylin


Last walk after snowstorm.

Last walk after snowstorm.

our snowman






Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren


A February reminder.

A February reminder, with thanks to Hobby Lobby.

Indoor bulbs, beginning in January.

Indoor bulbs, beginning in January.

Indoor tulips, February 1st.It's time to blossom!

Indoor tulips, February 1st, bloom where they were planted.

Dear Mom,

I remember you once said resolutions shouldn’t be made on New Year’s Day. You also said it made more sense to have just one resolution to focus on, instead of making a list. You were right, Mom, on both counts. Of the sixteen friends I’ve polled, only one is still trying–off and on–to keep her resolutions. All the others quit trying in January, and two laughingly admitted they gave up the first week.  I had some resolutions in mind, but I didn’t make a commitment.

Driving home after visiting you recently, I was listening to a radio talk show. A psychologist recited these facts about making and keeping resolutions: first, decide on only one resolution; and second, make the resolution in February. You can think about it, she said; you can make plans and prepare, but don’t begin it until February.

I would add another detail I learned in a psychology class many years ago. Any habit can be broken–or any action can become a habit–in 30 days. Consecutive days, no exceptions; if you miss a day, the next day starts over as Day One. Thirty days of NOT doing something will break a habit. Thirty days of DOING something will make it a habit.

Hmm…make just one resolution, and start it now, in February. Anyone else up for trying this? Our motto can be “Hey You, Get Busy!”

Okay, Mom, here’s something else you always used to tell me. If you make a mistake, correct it. Fix it, make it right.

Sigh. I admit I made a mistake, and now I need to fix it. Remember my blog last week? I was cheering for the Ravens to win the Super Bowl because of the English teacher-connection to Baltimore, Edgar Allan Poe and his poem “The Raven.” There was a second reason, too, and that’s where I made the mistake.

During the game I watched the two Harbaugh brothers: John, coach of the Ravens, and Jim, coach of the 49ers. Lots of rough-and-tumble on the field, and I was cheering for the Ravens. But as I watched the game, I found myself relating more to Jim. His angry, loud challenges, his passionate rants against the refs and bad plays. I kept thinking (silently) that I was more like Jim, but he’s the older brother, and in my family I’m the younger sibling, so it didn’t make sense. Later I rechecked my notes, and–oh, no!–Jim Harbaugh, coach of the 49ers, is the younger sibling after all.

Mea culpa, My Bad, and I apologize. I really do. From now on–hey, especially during the next 30 consecutive days so it’ll become a habit!–I will double check all information before I repeat it or use it as a point in this blog. To paraphrase Poe’s poem: …quoth the raven, Nevermore…will I fail to check the facts.

Wow, Mom, you’re doing it again. Memories of the lessons you taught me years ago are still teaching me today. Thank you.

Tree Lady says, "Get Busy!"

Tree Lady says, “Get Busy!” (photos by Marylin Warner)


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, memories for great-grandchildren