Category Archives: experiments

The Nose Knows

My mother's nose at 23. (All photos and copies property of Marylin Warner)

My mother’s nose at 23.
(All photos and copies property of Marylin Warner)


Mom's nose at 93, smelling an Easter lily...and remembering how she used to take lilies to shut-ins at Easter.

Mom’s nose at 93, smelling an Easter lily…and remembering how she used to take lilies to shut-ins at Easter.


Recently, the research into Alzheimer’s and dementia has focused on the connection between the sense of smell and memory. This is nothing new.

Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and association are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.”

And in the 1950s, conservationist and author Rachel Carson agreed. “For the sense of smell, almost more than any other, has the power to recall memories, and it is a pity that we use it so little.”

Six years ago, I read an article about stimulating memory by baking popular foods. To test it, I bought a roll of frozen gingerbread dough and made cookies in the oven in my mom’s kitchen in her assisted living apartment. As they baked, she awoke from her nap in her recliner. And as she enjoyed her cookies, she smiled and asked me if her mother was there. As it turned out, her mother—my grandmother, who had died many years earlier—had baked gingerbread for Mom, and the scent of the cookies had started Mom telling me some stories.

It you have a family member or a friend who struggles with Alzheimer’s or dementia, I recommend you try the power of scent to encourage their memories. Food, flowers, colognes and strong scents like lemons and vinegar are a good start, but you might be surprised how gasoline and turpentine—just a little bit on a paper towel—will also nudge awake memories, especially in men.

Do you remember the expression, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”?

Comedienne Chris Farley has a scent-adjustment on that: “In the land of the skunks, he who has half a nose is king.”

I’ll add this. “In the land of Alzheimer’s and dementia, favorite scents might be the best guides to help locate memories.” It’s not a joke; I hope you’ll try it.

But this is a joke, and I just couldn’t resist including Robert Byrne’s humorous rewrite of the moccasin adage: “Until you walk a mile in another man’s moccasins, you can’t imagine the smell.”    

Even my granddaughter Grace's Picasso-style portrait of me knew the importance of a nose.

Even my granddaughter Grace’s Picasso-style portrait of me knew the importance of a nose.  It just isn’t my nose… 

Eeew...what's that smell?

Eeew…what’s that smell?


Even when our Maggie had trouble hearing, nothing got past her sense of smell.

Even when our Maggie had trouble hearing, nothing got past her sense of smell.


Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, making a difference, special quotations

One Night, One Day, One Month

Photos by Marylin Warner

(Photos by Marylin Warner)








Comedienne Rita Rudner once quipped, “All my life, my parents said, ‘Never take candy from strangers.’ And then they dressed me up and said, ‘Now go beg for it.”

Halloween. When we dress up to be someone else and go trick’o’treating. One night, the last night of October, is about dressing up, playing pranks, and getting goodies.

 church window  All Saint’s Day on November 1st, and All Soul’s Day on November 2nd are for honoring saintly people of the past and praying for the souls of those who’ve gone before us. In churches and cemeteries and homes, these days are for remembering others.

November 2nd is also one day for us to think about our own lives…and how we want to be remembered after we die. Nov. 2nd is PLAN YOUR EPITAPH DAY.

angel marker

During the early stages of my mother’s dementia, we took long drives together when I visited her each month. I’ve written about the ways we created story and poem ideas during those rides, but there’s something else we did. We sometimes visited cemeteries. On nice days we’d walk in the sunshine at one of the local cemeteries, read tombstones and pay our respects. One tombstone was my mother’s favorite, and mine as well.

It’s a wide, marble, double headstone: the wife’s full name and dates of birth and death are on side of the carved heart; the husband’s full name and dates are on the other. The husband outlived his wife by many years. On the back of the marble headstone are two carved hearts intertwined. Below are two girls’ first and middle names, but only one date ~ the same date of death as their mother’s death. Below the girls’ names is this epitaph: “They took their first breaths with God.” At this headstone we paused and prayed for the mother who died with her still-born daughters, and the father who lost them all.

Planning our epitaphs isn’t about deciding what will be set in stone after we die. It’s one day when we think how we want to be remembered, and in doing so, consider how we’re living our lives.

The entire month of November is LIFEWRITING MONTH. This is the month to take notes, to write essays, stories, poems (or paint pictures and organize photographs) of our lives or the lives of those we love, and events, people and places we want to remember.

If these November Days seem heavy-handed, realize that it’s also PICTURE BOOK MONTH, NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH, PEANUT BUTTER LOVERS MONTH, and NATIONAL SLEEP COMFORT MONTH. That’s just to name a few; there are many other choices. Depending where you live, the month of November might be a darker, colder month when trees lose their leaves and it’s more likely to sleet or snow than to rain, but it’s certainly not a month with nothing to do.

Computer, typewriter, pencil and paper, crayons or chalk: look at all the November writing activities.

Computer, typewriter, pencil and paper, crayons or chalk: look at all the November Days to express yourself.





Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Spiritual connections, writing

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



Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, importance of doing good things, Kansas, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for


Wow! And now they taste good, even with O trans fat!

Wow! And the new ones still taste good, even with O trans fat!

Write the words, THEN eat.

Spell the words, THEN eat.

Macaroni isn’t just for eating; it’s also for learning.  In college, I was a tutor for a third-grade boy who had trouble with spelling. When traditional flash cards didn’t help, I bought a bag of alphabet macaroni and spread them out on the table. I’d say the word, and he’d spell it by putting together the letters of macaroni. It took longer than spelling them out loud or writing them on paper, but there was something about the tactile approach, the “feel” of the letters that helped him learn and remember.

Several years ago, when my mother’s dementia was in the middle stage and she still responded to sensory stimuli, I  tried alphabet cookies. I’d spread them out on the table, and together we’d try to create cookie words and sentences with the letters.  She would participate for more than an hour at a time, probably because she also ate the letters she thought she didn’t need.  It was a fun activity to share, and she was notably more alert and happy afterwards.

September is WORLD ALZHEIMER’S MONTH. Every day there seems to be new studies, new results, new trial drugs, etc., about the best way to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia.  My dad died of Alzheimer’s and my mom has very advanced dementia, so I try to stay current, but sometimes it’s overwhelming.  One of the goals of my blog is to share the things that have helped one or both of my parents, at least temporarily. The overall most successful lesson I’ve learned is this: Make the most of sensory details.

Here are a few suggestions:  play CDs of music and songs they might remember; gently rub vanilla-scented lotion on their hands as you share a memory of a holiday or something you used to do together; bake cookies (frozen dough is great when sprinkled with cinnamon before baking); share popcorn as you watch a familiar TV program, or assemble a child-sized puzzle together.  If you have other suggestions, please share them with us.

World Alzheimer’s Month is not a tribute to the disease, but a reminder that it’s a very real international threat. It’s also a reminder to do what we can to help those who suffer with the disease, and a nudge to do the best we can to help ourselves remain alert.   So it’s okay to play with your food this month, especially if it’s alphabet food that will keep you thinking…and laughing!

Fragrant flowers cheer the spirits and trigger memories.

Fragrant flowers cheer the spirits and trigger memories.

What's your cookie word IQ? The bottom two are dictionary words; the top one will be in the new dictionary.

What’s your cookie word IQ? The bottom two are dictionary words; the top one will be in the new dictionary.


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


My mom's favorite book to have read to her at bedtime.

My mom’s favorite book to have read to her at bedtime.  I think it reminds her of poems and prayers from her youth.







What is the mark we leave behind?  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

What is the mark each of us will make to leave behind? (All photos by Marylin Warner)

When I visit my mom, my favorite time is at night when she’s tucked into bed, and I pull up the rocking chair and read to her. Her favorite book—the one I always read several times from start to finish—is Joan Walsh Anglund’s A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS AND PRAYERS. Sometimes Mom naps, sometimes she smiles, and sometimes she hums along with her own rhythm to the words and poems.   All else falls away.

This is the first example on the first page of Anglund’s book. Originally the page displayed only the title, but this handwritten addition was made later:

What you do ~ What you say ~ How you work ~ How you play ~ Day by Day ~  

It all matters ~ When all is done ~ It’s what you leave behind ~ Saying who you were.

Imagine taking a philosophy class and having the professor write this quote by Aristotle on the board: “We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness then, is not an act but a habit.” And then, instead of assigning some deep, intellectual essay to expresses the best way for individuals to live, imagine that the assignment was to write a very brief set of instructions, so simple a child could understand them. If a professor gave you this assignment, what would you write?  I’ve already shown you my simplistic answer. (Obviously, the assignment was not to write good poetry.)

August is WHAT WILL BE YOUR LEGACY? month. It’s intended to be a time for us to reflect on our past and present actions and vow to make positive changes that will affect the future and be the legacy we leave behind.

The suggestions for making the most of this month are numerous. Everything from thanking those who have made a difference in your life to “Playing The Legacy Game” and having everyone in your group tell how they would like to be remembered and what they can do to make this happen.

What you decide to do—if anything—is up to you. I’m fairly certain that if it weren’t for her dementia, my mother would say that since she and Dad were married in August, everything that came out of that union—including their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, plus the business they built and the differences they made—was their legacy.

If thinking about your legacy—or writing a bad poem about what you want to leave behind—isn’t what you want to do, August has numerous other opportunities. It is also Happiness Happens Month, Boomers Making A Difference Month, and Get Ready for Kindergarten Month. You’ve already missed Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Night and National Garage Sale Day (both on August 8th) and S’mores Day (August 10th), but you can go ahead and do those things anyway.

That could be your legacy…breaking the rules and doing things on the unexpected days!

P.S.  —  The link I gave for the 50-word Gotham contest had an “invisible space” (according to the very nice Gotham editor who responded to my email cry for help.)  Here is the correct one, which seems the same, but the space has been removed.   I tried it, and it works!  Jump right in and enter by the 17th!!!           black butterfly

grasshopper on leaf


Filed under celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions, special quotations, writing, writing exercises


Eyeballs"--colored by Hillari Dowdie

Eyeballs”–colored by Hillari Dowdie–came from POSH ADULT COLORING BOOK: SOOTHING DESIGNS FOR FUN & RELAXATION.




"Secret Garden"--published by Laurence King--is one of the downloadable coloring pages.

“Secret Garden”–published by Laurence King –is one of the downloadable coloring pages.

Author Barbara Taylor Bradford once said that success is often a matter of knowing when to relax.   Lyricist and novelist Paulo Coelho wrote, “It’s a good idea to always do something relaxing prior to making an important decision in your life.”  And Ray Bradbury’s advice was four words: “Work. Don’t think. Relax.”

This summer’s hottest trend would fit right in with all three suggestions, and it’s as simple as turning to the right book. The right coloring book.   Boston psychologist Alice Domar, Ph.D., says coloring offers complete absorption…and keeps you in the moment. It engages “both sides of your brain…creative and tactical…and brings you back to a simpler time.”  Coloring (with pens, colored pencils, markers, even crayons) is this summer’s hottest trend, and it’s just getting started. Rumors have it that in addition to the many adult coloring books already available, Game of Thrones also has a coloring book in the works.

My mother was into her own form of  “adult coloring” long before it was popular.   She used to carry a small double-sided notebook (lines on one side, blank pages on the other) so that wherever she was, if she had an idea for a poem or article or story, she could jot it down. But before she began writing, she doodled an illustration on the blank side of the page.  By the time she had colored the illustration, she had a fuller, more vivid picture in mind and was ready to write.   Or sometimes she drew a picture, and later she wrote about it.

The July 12 issue of PARADE MAGAZINE calls coloring a way to “cheer up, chill out, and get your creative juices flowing.” It lists titles of successful coloring books with everything from whimsical animals and flowers, to Hindu and Buddhist mandelas (symbols that represent wholeness). PARADE also invites us to get started by going to for free downloadable coloring pages.   All the coloring page examples on this post come from that site, and there are many more choices.

To stop over-thinking and start relaxing, try the joy of coloring.   Or like my mother used to do before the dementia, illustrate a thought and move it from color to words.

birds design from POSH Coloring book

Fish design, and bird design in next picture, are from POSH Coloring Book; both pages are downloadable

Fish design, and bird design in picture above, are from POSH Coloring Book; both pages are downloadable.



Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, kindergarten lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations


Excuse me...double dog dare?  Really?  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Excuse me…double dog dare? Really?  I don’t think so.  Sounds like a dare a cat would make.   (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

JUNE: the Ancient Romans named this month after the goddess Juno, the patron of marriage—think “June bride”—and June also comes from the Latin word “juvenio” (referring to young people). Juvenile is an excellent way to see the special day of June 1st: DARE DAY.    Not D.A.R.E., the Drug Abuse Resistance Education for students, and also not the first Saturday in June when Dare County, England celebrates its Dare Day.

June 1st DARE DAY is for daring someone to do something risky.   The dare can be heightened by the “double dog dare,” and the highest degree of challenge is the “triple dog dare.”   Whatever that means. The specific rules and consequences are up for grabs, embellished for effect, but often the outcome is dangerous or out-of-character behavior. Which is a good reason why the goddess Juno was also responsible for looking after the well being of women and girls…who might be “dared” to do things they don’t want to do.

When I was growing up, one of the things that got my mother quickly involved was to hear children “dare” another child to do something.   Mom equated dares with the acts of bullies and cowards who prodded others to do something against their best interests.   I remember one day when she overrode a double dog dare by sending me to my room to sort out WHY I had thought making such a challenge was a helpful thing to do to anyone.

At its personal best, DARE DAY on June 1st can be a day to challenge yourself to take a risk, meet a goal, or make yourself do something you’ve been meaning to do but keep putting off.

Michael Jackson wrote this about taking dares: “In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream. And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe.”

On June 1st, if we have no personal challenges or dares to give ourselves, we can choose one from Jackson’s list above. Or we can send ourselves to our rooms to think quietly until we create our own personal and positive dare.

Who would dare a kid to try to push over a huge boulder in the Garden of the Gods?

Who would dare a kid to try to push over a huge boulder in Colorado’s Garden of the Gods?

What if someone triple dog dares you to pierce your eyebrow?

What if someone triple dog dared you to pierce your eyebrow?


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, Special days in June, special quotations