Category Archives: just doing the best we can

HUNTING FOR A MERRY CHRISTMAS

birdhouse

 

melting-snowmanmg_2578

one-red-glove

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty years ago, when she was a 17-year-old student, Anna taught everyone in my high school Writing To Publish class two valuable lessons.

I had assigned this warm-up activity: Write about a dark moment in your life that became one of your happiest memories. Most of the students sat and thought, doodled for a while and then begrudgingly began.   Anna (not her real name) went to a corner, sat on the floor, opened her notebook and began writing.

She wrote about the previous Christmas.  Their mother had left, their father’s hours had been cut back, the furnace had gone out and had to be fixed, and money was worse than just tight.   Dad and the three kids had to somehow make the best of what little they had.

They drew names from a jar.  Each person had $2.00 to spend on the best gift they could find, and wrap the present in the funny pages from the newspaper.   On Christmas morning, after eating French toast, sausage and juice—with popcorn for a treat–they made a game of opening the presents.

For Anna’s scavenger hunt, she’d helped her younger siblings get started with this example. Each person would give their gift recipient a clue, like “Go to the place where lint collects.” (The dryer.)   There in the lint trap would be the next clue, and so on, until finally the last clue led to the gift.   The hunt for presents took them all over the house and even outside.

It was the best Christmas ever, Anna wrote,  filled with laughter, adventures, and hugs. With only $2.00 to spend, each one had searched for a thoughtful, special gift: a mystery for Dad at the used book store;  a new spiral notebook for Anna’s writing dreams;  a package of plastic soldiers from the dollar store;  Superhero pencils and an eraser.

The class applauded after Anna read aloud her article, and after class I suggested she submit it for publication.  To make a long story short, Anna worked hard, followed all the requirements, rewrote, and finally submitted “The Best Worst Christmas Ever” to Woman’s World Magazine.  They bought it for $100!

Anna had answered the looming sad holiday with hope and laughter.   She also followed through by fine-tuning her article and taking a risk when she submitted it to a magazine.  And if Woman’s World had rejected it, she was prepared with another magazine address, plus a third one to try. Her darkest moment, she said, had been when she realized her family had only $20 to spend on Christmas:  $8 on gifts for four people, and $12 for a special breakfast. In comparison to that, she said, a rejection slip from a magazine didn’t scare her at all.

Before her dementia, my mother loved this story.   She shared it with friends who felt sad or discouraged about the holidays.  She challenged a writer friend not to quit after a rejection, but to Try, Try Again.   Mom lent her friend the Writer’s Market to search another place to submit her story, but first she had to find the book by following the clues of a scavenger hunt.

poinsettias

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Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, spending time with kids, writing, writing exercises

NOT A GOOD VISUAL

My response to the yoga improvement discussed on talk radio.

A more polite version of my response to the yoga improvement discussed on talk radio.

From our house in Colorado to my mom’s assisted living in southeast Kansas is a round trip drive of 1,300 miles.  When Jim is at the wheel we listen to sports or news.   When I’m driving, I search radio stations for interesting topics and call-in reactions.  I’ve mentioned several of the strange topics in previous posts, but the one I listened to on this trip home after Thanksgiving takes the prize.  Last place prize.

Briefly, the program I flipped to responded to an earlier topic argued on another station.  The basic theme was making regular activities more interesting during the holidays and into the New Year.  I tuned in to catch up on the conversation about spicing up Yoga groups and classes by doing naked yoga.   Lots of responses to that one, I tell you.

Now, to reset that December visual, here are some other interesting Christmas details.   For instance, did you know that one common superstition says that animals speak on Christmas Eve?   The elderly neighbor who told me this, spiced it up by adding that it was very bad luck to tease animals and try to make them talk.

animals-talk-at-christmas

The second superstition—shared by the same neighbor—was that when you get new shoes for Christmas, if times are hard for others, you should not wear the shoes until later.   Otherwise it might cause hurt feelings, and would tempt you to feel proud.  And pride goes before the fall, which is, of course, more bad luck.

Old shoes at Christmas work just fine, and they don't hurt any feelings.

Old shoes at Christmas work just fine, and they don’t hurt any feelings.

This last one is not a superstition, but a trivia question. What is still one of the most popular, enduring Christmas movies viewed during the holidays?   If you answered IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, you’re right.  Unless you agree with actor Tom Hanks, who says it’s ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, and he watches it every Christmas.   I’ve read Remarque’s sad, bloody war novel, and trust me,  it’s not anywhere on my must-see movie list. But we each have our own opinions.

its-a-wonderful-life-globe

Which brings me to something my mother used to say before dementia clouded her thoughts.  I had a tendency to jump right in and argue about all kinds of things, and she repeatedly  told me that if someone said something I didn’t like or agree with, I didn’t always have to be rude or argue.  I could just shrug, turn away or go on with other things.

If she’d been riding with me and hearing the radio talk show on naked yoga, I wonder if she would have laughed, been shocked, argued with the topic…or just reached out and turned off the radio.  Probably the last…her version of turning away and going on with other things.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for

HAPTIC MEMORIES

"Move the pen, Charlie Brown, or the knitting needles and paint brush. It's good for you! Just do it!"

“Move the pen, Charlie Brown, or the knitting needles or paint brush. It’s good for you! Just do it!”

One of my favorite gifts to give to special friends for Congratulations, Thinking of You, and Get Well Soon is a colorful hand-knitted washcloth wrapped around a bar of fancy bath soap and tied with ribbon.  It’s a relaxing, TV-watching activity for me, but it took awhile to locate the directions.

Years before my mother’s dementia, she learned the pattern for these washcloths, and she delivered the colorful, much appreciated gifts with homemade soap to many friends and hospital patients.   So six years ago when I wanted to knit my own, I expected that Mom would show me how.

“But I never knitted anything,” she said, obviously confused and forgetful of the many scarves and baby blankets she’d made.  She was adamant.  So I sat in the chair next to her recliner, took out my knitting needles and yarns and began making a basic washcloth of horizontal lines of stitches… practical but not unusual or especially attractive.  I put another set of needles and a ball of yarn next to my mother without saying anything.

cloths-and-soaps

It didn’t take long before she picked up the needles and—while still watching the TV—she cast on yarn and began knitting.  Soon I recognized the diagonal increase on each row, then decreases that for years she’d used to create lacy borders on all four sides.  I unraveled my straight horizontal rows and started over.  Mom took a nap, and when she awoke she commented on the pretty piece I was knitting, and asked where I’d learned it.

closeup-on-cloth-on-needles

Haptic memory retrieval occurs through smell, sound, and touch, but most especially touch.  Repetitive physical, tactile activities buried by Alzheimer’s, dementia or stroke damage can be nudged alive via Haptic memory retrieval.  Playing musical instruments, braiding hair, tying shoe laces, digging in soil to plant seeds, drawing and painting are among helpful Haptic activites.

There is one Haptic example that is humorous but not recommended.   In 1901, modern toilet paper began when a Green Bay, Wisconsin company marketed “sanitary tissue.” However, during the manufacturing process, wood chips remained embedded in the toilet paper, which was not a good thing. It was years before another process made “splinter-free” toilet paper.  Needless to say, we’re grateful this is not used as Haptic memory retrieval.roll-of-toilet-paper

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Filed under art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for

FUR A BETTER TOMORROW

Sue Halpern's book is filled with lessons in the good life from an unlikely teacher--it's touching reality therapy.

Sue Halpern’s book is filled with “lessons in the good life from an unlikely teacher”–and is filled with examples of touching, funny reality therapy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Tuesday, November 8th—regardless of which presidential candidate they voted for—most Americans thought that at least the chaos of the long campaign would finally be over.  But the truth is, although the election ended, the hard feelings, stress and worries continued.

This post is a day earlier than usual because I felt the need to share what some are doing to reduce that stress and anxiety right now.  The title is a hint.  The  solution is not anti-anxiety drugs, alcoholic concoctions to numb emotions, or the Hot Line number for a counselor who will help callers sort out their anger and stress.   It’s fur.   Really.

Borrowing from the original “Keep Calm And Carry On” of our friends across the ocean, the current American version is  “Keep CALM AND HUG A PUPPY.”   This is not just for children looking for comfort and a way to de-stress.   It’s for adults in Washington, D.C.  and everywhere.

Dogs to the therapy rescue on Capitol Hill (Fox News)

Dogs to the de-stressing rescue of staffers on Capitol Hill (Fox News)

two-dogs-on-capitol-hill

 

 

In addition to hugging a friendly dog, being open to laughter is also highly recommended.   Dana Perino, former Colorado resident and now author and political commentator on Fox News, combines humor and dogs in this example:

Mug shots of both the guilty dog walker...and the guilty dog.  :)

Mug shots of both the guilty dog walker…and the guilty dog~~off leash.   🙂

This post is not meant to over-simplify the legitimate difficulties, dangers and fears ahead.  It’s a reminder that laughter is indeed sometimes the best medicine, and feeling a dog’s heart beat as it cuddles against you is also at least worth a try to put things in perspective.

Please share other suggestions on how to lighten a heavy situation.  We need all the help we can get.

 

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Filed under autumn lessons, Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, lessons about life

THE BEST MEDICINE

procrastinators-meeting

Before dementia took over, my mother used to pen favorite quotes, writing ideas, and special information in a little notebook she carried in her purse.   One of my favorite things now is to discover scraps of papers tucked as markers in  books, little notes left in sweater pockets, or half-sheets mixed up with handkerchiefs at the bottom of old purses.

Here are several of my favorites: “All human wisdom is summed up in two words, wait and hope.” ~ Alexandre Dumas; “Things start out as hopes and end up as habits.” ~ Lillian Hellman;   and “Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.” ~ Arthur Miller

The main word all three of these quotes have in common is HOPE.   According to the Heart Institute of Louisville, Kentucky, humor and hope are inter-connected, and both are important in maintaining good health and a sense of well being.

The best medicine is a combination of humor and hope.

In the spirit of striving for good health, I’m sharing three things that made me smile (or laugh out loud) this week…and also made me feel more hopeful about the problems of the world.drinkable-book

The first is posted with thanks to Dr. Theresa Dankovich from Carnegie Mellon.   She is responsible for the “Drinkable Book,” with pages to tear out and use to turn raw sewage into safe drinking water.   Each page is printed with a message in the local language, explaining how the paper water filter makes the unsafe water of the village safe to drink.

The second is three cheers for a Georgia police officer, Kenneth Knox.  He performed reverse CPR on a 2-month-old baby and saved her life after regular CPR didn’t work.   Her parents recently asked Knox to be her godfather.  “It is my honor, my privilege and pleasure,” he said, “…my precious angel…I swear I will forever be your guardian…”   (Sometimes happiness and hope come with sniffles, too.)

knox-and-baby-he-saved

And finally, this is with appreciation for the Netherlands-based video editors who used clips from the heated town hall forum for the recent Presidential debate and made it very funny…and a borderline happy and hopeful reminder that this, too, shall eventually pass.  The editors synchronized excerpts of Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s debate and set them to the duet  “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from the 1987 romantic drama, DIRTY DANCING.   Google Clinton Trump Time of Our Lives for your choice of connections.

clinton-and-trump-%22duet%22

In a time of world problems, potential tragedies and discouraging conflicts, do not procrastinate.   Look for–and be open to–happy,  touching, reassuring, laugh-out-loud examples and events that will give you hope and improve your health.

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Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, life questions, special quotations

Writing RAZZIE Titles

Everything I Knos about women

 

 

Does God Ever Speak

 

Last week’s post offered four No Fee, Cash Prize writing contests.  This week’s post shares a fun (and funny) activity that can shake loose writing ideas and get you thinking of new titles and topics: Write Razzie Titles.

In the movie world, Razzies are the opposite of Academy Awards.   GRA (Golden Raspberry Awards) are given for the “worst” movies (and actors, directors, etc.)   There’s no accounting for choices. A good example is Neil Diamond, nominated for both a Golden Globe award for best actor, and a Razzie for worst actor, for the same 1980’s movie THE JAZZ SINGER.

Just for the fun of it, this week try creating a book, short story or poem title that could win a Razzie award.   Years ago my mother was visiting when I was teaching  this activity in one of my Writing To Publish classes for high school students.  She had a great time—and a lot of laughs—with some of the students’ “bad” titles.   Then when they traded titles and wrote the opening lines for another student’s title, the ideas really took shape.   This activity is definitely  a nonthreatening  way to shake loose the cobwebs and fear of writing and come up with creative prompts and writing exercises that lead to real projects.

Oh, how I wish Mom’s dementia would float away so she could again laugh at these titles and maybe even write possible first lines. Because her dementia refuses to budge, I’ll share these actual book titles with you and see what you come up with.

Have fun! (And then get down to business and write.)

 

Invisible DickMommy Drinks

How to Raise your IQ

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, writing, writing exercises

Right, Left…or Mirror?

Basic cursive writing worksheet

 

August 13 is Left Handers’ Day, a time for South Paws to celebrate their talents.  Left-handedness is more common in twins than in singles, and overall left-handed people are also usually more physically balanced.  Although lefties were once believed to be cursed and have direct links to evil, now it’s obvious that they have an advantage in sports like basketball, tennis, fencing and boxing.

Studies have also shown that even temporary “practice” activities that make lefties use their right hands and righties use their left hands is a good challenge and also encourages creativity and clearer thinking.  For a real challenge, also try “Mirror Writing,” which is reversed writing that resembles ordinary writing reflected in a mirror.   Emergency vehicles like ambulances often have their identification also written in mirror writing so drivers can look in their rear-view mirrors and read it clearly.

Ambulance in mirror writing

In the movie (and the book) THE SHINING, Danny writes REDRUM, which is murder in mirror writing, and in MEMENTO “facts” are tattooed on Leonard’s chest so he can read them in reflection.   Episodes of “The Simpsons” and “Scooby-Doo” have used it, too.

I was printing words and coloring ambidextrously when I started first grade.  The teacher hit my hand with a ruler and said I had to choose which hand I would use…and my choice had to be right-handed because the world was set up for right-handed use.  (This teacher retired at the end of that year.)

So at school I became only right handed, and it seemed to be working out fine…until at home and on the sly I began mirror writing.  I’m still grateful that my mom did not make a big deal of this or tell me I had to stop. Instead, she got me chalk to write in mirror writing on the sidewalk, and she also asked me to write stories in mirror writing so she could learn to read it.   After awhile I decided I was happy using it as a game and I went on to other things.

August 16 is National Tell A Joke Day.   I’m including this special day because of the comments made on last week’s blog post about the time I took my mother to her senior exercise class where the favorite activity was doing the Hokey Pokey.

UK blogger Jenny Pellet wrote that “Here we call it ‘Hokey Cokey,’” which still has me smiling.  And Colorado writer Nancy Parker Brummett shared this: “When the inventor of the Hokey Pokey died, they had trouble getting him in the coffin. They put his right foot in but then his left foot came out!”  She had me taking this seriously until the final line of the joke!  Thank you, Jenny and Nancy, for sharing these with us. On August 16 we should all tell a joke to make others laugh. The world definitely needs more good laughter.

try your hand at mirror writing

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, Special days in July and August, special quotations, writing, writing exercises