Category Archives: lessons about life

Back To The Future

Mom as a junior in hs

 

Mom at hs grad

dad at hs grad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the movie BACK TO THE FUTURE, time travel transports the main character back to his parents’ teen lives, so of course they don’t recognize him as the son they will some day have.

I’ve seen many pictures of my parents—as infants, toddlers, young children going to school—and then there’s a gap followed by their pictures as a couple, then as parents of their own children as infants, toddlers, young children, teens and adults.

Recently I found several old photos in a folder stuck at the back of a drawer in my mother’s apartment. I’d never seen these pictures of my parents as teens, and based on the serious, hard working stories I’d heard about them, these pictures were a surprise. In these official class pictures, they have a cocky kind of rebelliousness. For instance, in the picture of Mom as a high school sophomore, she and her front-row classmates (except for one grinning, mischievous boy who looks like he’s going to set off firecrackers) are all posed with crossed arms. And look at the frown she gives the camera. THAT was my sweet, happy mom?

And then in the formal group portrait of both Mom and Dad as part of the Plattsburg (MO) High School Graduating Class of 1936—formally wearing caps and gowns and posed in front of the school—look at the jaunty, defiant angle of their caps!  I noticed this immediately because on the morning of my own high school graduation, my dad very seriously straightened the cap and told me to wear it properly.

I look at these pictures not just as the daughter of these two teens, but also as a high school teacher who for thirty years watched many of my students resort to the same antics just as the photographer clicked the group picture for each graduating class.

And actually, I’m not complaining. During this month of graduation ceremonies, I’m thrilled to finally have pictures of my parents’ graduation. I miss the stories that go with these pictures, the snippets of their lives that I could pass on to my grandchildren. But it’s enough to say, “These were your great-grandparents when they were only six or seven years older than you are now.  And you’re here because these two very real people fell in love, married and had a daughter who grew up and had her own baby, and that child grew up and had her own babies…the two of you.  It’s a long story, but it’s all part of who you are, and that makes it quite wonderful.”

My daughter, holding the portrait of Baby Grace, given to her daughter Grace and her son Gannon when they are 2 and 1.

My daughter, holding the portrait of Baby Grace, given to her daughter Grace (named for her great-great-grandmother Grace) on her 2nd birthday.

Baby Grace Shipley, my dad's mother. She died when my dad was not much older than she is in this picture.

Baby Grace Shipley, my dad’s mother. She died when my dad was not much older than she is in this picture.

My granddaughter Grace, age 2 1/2, posing with a lawn figure.

My granddaughter Grace, age 2 1/2, posing with a lawn figure.  There’s something so sweet about the two little girls named Grace, and how they pose for the camera.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, spending time with kids, 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

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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

A Word To Tackle: TOSKA

Even the outside of the Old Colorado City Library inspires you to read.

Even the outside of the Old Colorado City Library inspires you to read.

 

 

Local knitters keep the library trees colorful, creative and warm.

Local knitters keep the library trees colorful, creative and warm.

For Mother’s Day one year, I gave Mom a deck of cards for writers.  52 cards, not for playing poker or bridge or any card game, but for picking a writing prompt.  The idea was to “play your best hand” and write without stopping for fifteen minutes.

Mom laughed at the first prompt card she drew from the deck.  It said to write for fifteen minutes about where a lost child might be found.  “That’s too easy,” she said. “My first place to look for Marylin would be the library.”

I love libraries, especially very old, small libraries that smell of floor wax and have wide, tall windows and comfortable chairs scattered around the stacks of books. One of my favorite quotes about a library comes from Albert Einstein: “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”   I first saw this quote boldly printed on a map of the town of Chautauqua, New York.   The map was posted on the bulletin board of the Smith Memorial Library, and someone had used a marker to make an X where the library was: “You are here. Make the Most of It.”

Library bulletin boards are fascinating sources of information. Last week when I returned some library books, there were coupons for the nearby coffee shop, note cards with job opportunities, and contact numbers for poets looking to start a group. There was also one yellow card thumb-tacked to the board, with the word TOSKA printed in large letters.

Below the word TOSKA, in smaller printing was this message: “Among other things, Toska means melancholy, anguish, boredom, nostalgia, homesickness, sorrow, loneliness. If you know someone who suffers from one or more of these maladies, you can help heal them with a visit, a kind word, the touch of your hand on theirs as you listen to them talk about themselves and something they once treasured.”

I read this message again, almost feeling my mother’s presence.   If it weren’t for her dementia—and even though I doubted she had ever heard the word Toska—I knew she had helped many others by sitting beside them, holding their hands and listening.  Take that, Toska!       

Before the dementia, Grace and Gannon often enjoyed being read to by their great-grandmother.

Before the dementia, Grace and Gannon often enjoyed being read to by their great-grandmother.

Make the Most of itMG_5559

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

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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

FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

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.”

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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

FIVE DAYS TO CLAIM YOUR GIFTS

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

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

A PINCH OF SALT

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.

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