Category Archives: Fort Scott Kansas

STRENGTH FROM DEEP ROOTS

(My favorite Sandzen painting from the Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg, KS)

(My favorite Sandzen painting from the Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg, KS)

 

 

(Early autumn glory in Abilene, Kansas)

(Early autumn glory in Abilene, Kansas)

Last week when I visited my mother, at night as she lay snuggled under the quilt on her bed I read aloud to her from chapters in Robert Fulghum’s ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN.   Mom had been a kindergarten teacher at one time, and before she became lost in dementia, she really enjoyed this book.

But that evening I flipped the book open to the wrong chapter about villagers in the Solomon Islands who had a unique way of taking down a tree.   They didn’t chop it down with axes; the entire village yelled at the tree every day for a month, and the tree fell over.   When I read this aloud, Mom frowned.   With her eyes still closed she scrunched up her face and adamantly shook her head NO!.

After my parents built our house on a large empty lot in 1953, my mother planted 16 varieties of trees (27 trees, total) and did all the landscaping herself.   She has always loved trees, and by example she taught me to love them, too.

As an apology for reading about the villagers killing trees by yelling at them—even though it was meant as a lesson for children to always using kind, gentle words—and also in tribute to my mother, I dedicate this post to all of us who love trees.   And just for the record, to make up for my mistake that night, I read aloud to Mom for another hour, but only from the chapters that made her smile.

As Andrea Koehle Jones wrote in THE WISH TREES, “I’m planting a tree to teach me to gather strength from my deepest roots.”

And as a concluding reminder of the long-term importance of trees, Jim Robbins, author of THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES, wrote this: “Planting trees may be the single most important ecotechnology that we have to put the broken pieces of our planet back together.”

(Woodrow Wilson tree on my walking route in Colorado Springs.)

(“Woodrow Wilson tree” on my walking route in Colorado Springs.)                              

(Kansas sunset)

(Kansas sunset)

 

(Easter egg tree near Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.)

(Children’s Easter egg tree near Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.)

53 Comments

Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, gardening, importance of doing good things, kindergarten lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Spiritual connections, Things to be thankful for

Put Your Right Foot In

my feet w:frog

 

two feet

 

4 feet

 

My mother had this great idea: “Come with me to senior exercise class,” she said one morning while I was visiting her.   “All the other mothers will be SO glad to see you. We’ll have such fun!” She was very excited, so I smiled and agreed.

Three of the women waiting in the main room of the community center were the mothers of my friends from high school, and they were all in their seventies at this point.  The other six women in the group were in their eighties. (This was twenty-five years ago, when my mother was seventy-three, long before she had dementia.)

The group “leader” was almost eighty; she used a cane to walk over and welcome me with a warm smile…and ask if I had my doctor’s permission to participate in their exercise class.     I was pretty sure my doctor would approve…the most strenuous activity was “The Hokey Pokey.”

You put your right foot in…you take your right foot out…you put your right foot in, and shake it all about.

line of people

Then you do the same with your left foot, then your right arm, then your left arm.   And for the grand finale: You put your whole self in…you put your whole self out…you put your whole self in, and shake it all about.    Everyone sang along with a loud recording of The Hokey Pokey song.

At the end of the forty-five minutes of stretches followed by hand waving and foot stomping, we concluded by marching in place, then holding onto chairs for balance while swinging our legs (one at a time) and tapping our feet until we were “glowing”—ladies didn’t sweat then, they glowed—from all the exercise.

Afterward, in the spirit of camaraderie for surviving The Hokey Pokey, we filled my car with other “glowing” seniors and went for donuts and conversation at Daylight Donuts.   Some even splurged and had a cup of hot cocoa, too, with whipped cream!   These ladies really knew how to have a good time.

August 6th is “Wiggle Your Toes Day.” All of the exercises above can be adjusted to include toe wiggling, or you can do my current favorite foot exercise, “The Alphabet Exercise.”   Lie on a mat or sit in a chair and stretch out your legs. Point the toes of both feet and simultaneously “draw” the letters of the alphabet, A-to-Z. And if you’re ambitious, do it again to really get those toes, feet and ankles going.

Do this on August 7th and 8th, too, for Happy Feet.   If it wears you out, August 9th is Book Lover’s Day to relax and curl up with a good book,  and August 10th is Lazy Day.    Donuts are optional.

The Bath  MG_1803

45 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, just doing the best we can, lessons about life

The Practice of Remembering

Shepherd tombston

 

 

pot of geraniums

There are so many things we forget: keys, passwords, New Year’s Resolutions, important dates like birthdays and anniversaries. We also forget to take medicine, get things at the store, pay bills, return calls or answer emails.  But there are some things we should always remember.

This Memorial Day, our daughter Molly and our grandchildren, Grace and Gannon, drove with me to Fort Scott for the weekend. We went to visit my mother, to take her fun foods, and to sing songs and read to her, hold her hand and talk to her until she fell asleep at night.  It was our way of making contact and thanking her.   Without her, none of us would be here.

People were scattered throughout the cemetery adorning other tombstones when we took fresh silk flower bouquets to my father’s gravesite. We removed the faded silks and greenery from the marble vases at each end of Dad’s headstone, and we put bright bouquets of spring flowers in their place.  As we paused for a few private words and thoughts, we left pennies lined up along the top as a reminder we’d been there.

Molly divided the extra flowers into four groups, one for each of us. We went our separate ways to find neglected tombstones—no newer than 1899—in need of care, attention, and kind words.  It was a serious, touching time, each of us showing respect for a stranger who had been forgotten.

old headstone

Author Tess Gerritson wrote: “Only the forgotten are truly dead.”

It’s also a lesson for remembering the living. Poet W.H. Auden wrote, “And none will hear the postman’s knock ~ Without the quickening of the heart ~ For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?”

When the four of us returned to my mother’s apartment, she was waking from a nap. We sat around her and told her about the flowers we’d taken to Dad’s grave, and how nice it all looked. She smiled, then asked, “What about my sister Wanda? She deserves flowers, too.” I explained that Wanda was in Tennessee (I didn’t say she was buried there) and I was certain her children visited her with flowers, too. Mom smiled and nodded.

Then we put fresh flowers in a vase and set it next to Mary Elizabeth—nicknamed Mary Ibbeth by her siblings—because she deserves flowers, too.  On Memorial Day special care must also be given to remind the living how much they are still appreciated.

vase of flowers

So her great-grandchildren will remember how much she loved and enjoyed them before the dementia, we show them pictures from years ago.

So her great-grandchildren will remember how much she loved and enjoyed them before the dementia, we show them pictures from years ago.

48 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for

THE ICE INITIATIVE

Play Your Strong Suit

 

typewriter w: 4 hands

 

 

Picture this: the day after school lets out for the summer, a twelve-year-old daughter whines and complains she has nothing to do. The mother takes an envelope out of her purse. It’s filled with clippings from newspapers and magazines, and handwritten notes on scraps of papers. “Here it is,” she says, waving a piece of newsprint. “We’ll do this!”

The “this” is a contest looking for the best original Helpful Hint; the postmarked deadline is that very day, and the first prize is $50. She smoothes the rumpled newsprint on the kitchen table and says, “I’ll enter if you will.” And then as her daughter sits there moaning, the mother pours them glasses of tea and opens a tray of ice from the freezer. As she adds ice to the glasses, one cube falls onto the table.

The daughter looks at the cube and sighs. “I’ll try doing it, but only until that ice cube melts. And then I’ll quit and do something else.”

By the middle of the afternoon the ice cube has long been water on the table, and the girl and her mother are laughing and taking turns at the typewriter. The mother’s entry is about keeping an envelope full of contest opportunities so that whenever she needs something fun or different to try, the envelope holds the answer.

The daughter’s entry is called “Before The Ice Melts,” and it’s a simple timer. Before an ice cube melts, any boring, must-do responsibility or chore must be accomplished. Or if a babysitter wants to keep rowdy kids in line, all they have to do is sit at a table with an ice cube on a napkin in the center and do their homework or read a book or work on something without talking…but only until it melts.

The mother and daughter are both excited and telling jokes as they finish typing their entries (the daughter can only two-finger hunt-and-peck type, so it takes awhile), and then they fold their entries and put them in envelopes. They have twenty minutes to get to the post office, so while the daughter gets the stamps, the mother goes to get the entry information and address.

The rumpled square from the newspaper is gone! They search everywhere—the kitchen counters and drawers, under the table, in the typewriter room and even the bathroom—as the clock ticks.   The post office closes, and they still haven’t found it.

“Thanks, Mom,” the daughter thinks more than fifty years later, “for losing the address and ruining my chance to write the Great Ice Cube Initiative and become famous.”

But she smiles as she thinks this, wishing her wonderful, idea-rich mother had somehow sidestepped dementia and could laugh with her now as they watch ice cubes melt and talk about all the fun ideas they created together.

what deadline

ice cube on plate

44 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for, writing, writing exercises

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

51 Comments

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

A CLUB YOU DO NOT WANT TO JOIN

Molly wishes her grandmother a happy birthday.

Molly wishes her grandmother a happy birthday.

    

Molly made a birthday wall wreath of flip-flops.

Molly brightened the room by making a birthday wall wreath of flip-flops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the Friday evening dinner, Maggie and my mom were a great team. sleeping through most of the fun.

At the Friday evening dinner, Maggie and my mom were a great team; Maggie slept through most of the fun beside Mom’s recliner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We celebrated my mother’s 97th birthday last week. It was almost a month early, but this was the only time when her children and spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren could all get together. Especially her youngest grandchild, who flew all the way from China for the reunion and was swamped with hugs.

It was a wonderful combination of family, food, and fun, but the early-birthday girl slept though almost all of it. She sometimes smiled at the flowers, cards, hugs and kisses, but she didn’t realize who we were or what was happening. That’s how it is with her advanced dementia—and how it was with my dad’s Alzheimer’s–but we still do the best we can to celebrate our parents’ lives and show our love.

June is ALZHEIMER’S & BRAIN AWARENESS MONTH. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and a similar population percentage is found in countries all over the world. Alzheimer’s is a non-exclusive club that is open to everyone, and it charges very high dues.

Here are the latest research suggestions to promote brain health and prevent or postpone Alzheimer’s. Basically, heart healthy and brain healthy guidelines are very compatible:

~ the more you eat of the richer, deeper colors of vegetables and fresh fruits (especially berries), the better; ~ limit the amount of meats and processed meats you eat; ~ do NOT smoke; ~ monitor and control your blood pressure and cholesterol; ~ walk daily and/or exercise for 30 min. 3-4 times a week; ~ participate in games, classes, and activities with others; ~ brush and floss daily, and see a dentist regularly. 1-2 cups of morning coffee each day is still a plus against Alzheimer’s, but isn’t specifically listed for heart health.

My parents lived by everything on the list above—except the coffee; they drank tea—but Dad still died of Alzheimer’s at 89, and Mom’s symptoms began when she was 91. There are certainly other variables to be identified and studied, but for overall health the suggestions above—especially eating healthy foods—are a good start.

I read this advice on a poster with a picture of a huge garden with children picking baskets of vegetables: When it comes to food and labels of ingredients, here’s the plan: If you can’t pronounce it, do not eat it.   And I think Doug Larson was both correct and funny (humor is good medicine, after all) when he wrote, “Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”

Here’s to fun, family, friends, and food (especially if it smells like bacon)…and doing our best to stay out of the Alzheimer’s Club.

Her great-grandchildren made a 2'x3' poster board card for her living room.

Her great-grandchildren made a 2’x3′ poster board card for her living room.

Flowers for Mom's early 97th birthday celebration.

Flowers for Mom’s early 97th birthday celebration.

Five million w: Alzheimers

70 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Special days in June, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

POEMS WRITTEN UPON THE SKY

birdhouse pole in trees

 

Our family home, built in 1954 ~ no trees, but lots of space, and opportunity for planning and hard work.

Our family home, built in 1954 ~ no trees, but lots of space, and opportunity for planning and hard work.

 

In my own home now, this is my favorite tree wall art of semi-precious stones.

In my own home now, this is my favorite tree wall art of semi-precious stones.

My brother and I, posed in front of the shell that would be our family home.

My brother and I, posed in front of the shell that would be our family home.

 

 

 

 

 

When our family moved from a wooded rural area in Missouri to southeastern Kansas, my parents built a house on a double lot that had no trees. My mother planted everything herself. Three gardens, two of them raised above ground; grape vines, flowering bushes, spring bulbs and perennials that blossomed until autumn flowers took over; a long border of regular, lemon and chocolate mint plants, and a total of twenty-seven trees. Four were fruit trees, and the rest were an amazing assortment of pines, blue spruce, maples, ash, oak, and elm trees. They provided shade and beauty, plus a sense of deep roots around the house my parents made their home for more than fifty years, until Alzheimer’s and dementia forced them to move.

Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Trees are the poems that the earth writes upon the sky.” The trees around our house were also my mother’s lasting signature on a barren piece of land.

I inherited my mother’s love of planting trees, signing my signature on Colorado soil that has a much shorter growing season. After Molly was born, one of her special birthday gifts each year was an aspen tree, rose bush or evergreen planted in the yard. Then when she became a wife and mother, a tornado ripped through their Kansas town. Insurance rebuilt and repaired their home, but did not replace the trees that had been destroyed, so our special gift to them was six red maple trees. Our family has a long tradition of investing in trees, and it began with my mother.

The stories she told us at home and shared with the children in the church nursery were often about trees, about planting and caring for them, appreciating their shade, thanking them for the branches that held nests for birds. And her lessons of trees always wove their way back to lessons about life. My mother chose her words as carefully as she chose what she planted in her yard. She knew she was investing in long term growth.

Our daughter, Molly, age 3, in front of one of her birthday aspen trees, with her dog Paige.

Our daughter, Molly, age 3, in front of one of her birthday aspen trees, with her dog Paige.

Our granddaughter, Grace, with our dog Maggie.

Our granddaughter, Grace, with our dog Maggie.

 

Grace and Maggie are both older now; how can you read a book to a dog unless you have the shade of a tree?

Grace and Maggie are both older now; how can you read a book to a dog unless you have the shade of a tree?

61 Comments

Filed under birthday traditions, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, gardening, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, special quotations